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Welcome to reviewsrevues.com.  If this is your first visit – where have you been?  I’ve been here since January 2015.  If you like what you read please consider clicking on the “Follow” button and then you will be notified whenever there is something new on here.   I live on the Isle Of Wight off the south coast of the UK (lovely place if you have never been).  I have been producing book reviews for websites and magazines for some time and now want a place where these can be gathered together.  I really will have a go at reading anything.  I love variation and will skip from genre to genre.   This is what you should find on the site:

  • Reviews of recently read books and pieces about books
  • Murder They Wrote – Crime book reviews
  • Female Fiction – (from a male point of view)
  • Kid-Lit (I was a Primary School teacher for many years and the habit of reading children’s books is hard to break!)
  • The Running Man (Adventure/Thriller reviews- so called because my local library, where I volunteer, uses a symbol of a running man for this fiction category.)
  • Real Life – Biographies, autobiographies, biographical fiction fits in here
  • 100 Essentials – Books and Music – Those that will have a permanent place on my shelves and hopefully in yours too!
  •  What I have been watching – TV, Films
  •  Music Now – What I have been listening to – the future Essential CD’s?

Use the indexes to find out what you may have missed.  There’s also a very good search option in the side-bar if you are looking for something specific.  Thank you for visiting reviewsrevues.com.  I hope you like what you find and that you come back soon.  Feel free to comment on any of the specific posts (you should find a Comment link underneath each post which will bring up the Comment box.)  I always reply……………….

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The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar (2018)

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The second book I have read to make it onto the shortlist for the 2018 Women’s Prize For Fiction.  I was very impressed with Kamila Shamsie’s “Home Fire” with it making number 6 on last year’s Top 10 books.  Expect this one also to be in my end of year best read countdown.

 Here we have a debut novel for ex-Museum worker Imogen Hermes Gowar and with her background of archaeology, anthropology and Art History she has certainly followed the perennial advice to write about what you know and seamlessly incorporated aspects of her experience into a right rollicking novel.

 Set in London of the 1780’s I had slight concerns that it might be overly twee, as perhaps implied by the title.  I actually chose to read it, however, because of this title, as it brought back echoes of “The Ghost And Mrs Muir” a delightful 1947 movie starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney.  This, however, is no tale of a transparent salty sea dog and actually feels closer to a modern slant on WM Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”.

 It is no plot spoiler to say that for much of the novel Mrs Hancock is Angelica Neal, a high class prostitute whose protector has died leading her to face re-entry into society in order to find the next potential wealthy man who will support her.  Angelica is fabulous and has to face the realisation that she might not be the attraction she once was and may end up once again in the “nunnery” of another great character, Mrs Chappell.  Meanwhile, merchant Jonah Hancock is presented with a withered object, claimed to be the remains of a mermaid in compensation for a lost ship.  This exhibit becomes, for a short time, the toast of London and draws the attentions of both Mrs Chappell and Angelica.

 This is all done so well and Mr Hancock’s ascendancy because of his mermaid is an absolute joy to read.  What is slightly less successful for me is when a little fantasy element creeps in during the final third.  I know why the author does this but it doesn’t work quite as well when we lose the very real feel of eighteenth century London society with all its hypocrisies and limited attention spans cooing over Mr Hancock’s desiccated piece of exotica.

 This is an ambitious novel which works beautifully.  It’s the kind of gutsy, spirited writing that I love with rich characterisation and a real feel of a love for history and literature.  It is an extremely impressive debut.

fivestarsThe Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was published by Harvill Secker in 2018

100 Essential CDs – Number 33– The Supremes – Sing Rodgers & Hart- The Complete Collection

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Sing Rodgers & Hart: The Complete Collection (Motown 2002)

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In 1967 The Supremes recorded their eleventh album, a twelve tracker made up of standards written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart.  These were songs from a previous generation dating from 1925-43 and were all part of Berry Gordy’s plan to make the trio (and especially Diana Ross) have a large a fan base as possible.  The producers who had brought about their fame, Holland-Dozier and Holland, were for this album cast aside as Berry Gordy himself took control with musical arranger Gil Askey and produced an album which was both polished and sophisticated.  In the US it reached number 20 in the album chart which was their lowest placing since their non-charting 1965 Christmas album.  In the UK it reached number 25.

Producers Berry Gordy and Gil Askey

It is an album which has always been critically acclaimed.  It had been originally planned as a double album and in 2002 Motown dug out the other 13 tracks from the original recording sessions and topped things off with a live recording from The Copacabana, New York City – a venue which Berry Gordy saw as the epitome of just how far his Detroit recording artists had come.  These twenty six tracks stand up with the best of the Supremes’ output.  A number are the definitive versions of the Rodgers and Hart songs as far as I am concerned.

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Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

To appeal to an older generation from those who bought Motown singles an old showbiz trouper was asked to write the sleeve-notes for the album’s original release.  Cue Mr Gene Kelly who tells how he was converted to the Supremes music by hearing his daughter playing their records.  Obviously, a performer of Gene Kelly’s standing was more familiar with the legendary songwriters who inspired this album than Motown’s leading girl group but he approved of the way The Supremes took to this task.  He writes;

“While maintaining the individuality of their own style, these clever singers have avoided the temptation to distort the beat or the music beyond recognition to conform to some far-out tastes.  Yet it is all as modern as this moment in time, and the music and lyrics remain as fresh as tomorrow morning.”

 

supremesrodgers5Gene Kelly

Fifty-one years on from this album’s original release his words still ring true.  This would also be the last album before the group were retitled to “Diana Ross and The Supremes” and the last to feature the original line-up as just after the release of the album Florence Ballard departed and was replaced by ex Patti Labelle and Bluebelles singer Cindy Birdsong.  Listening to this album as a whole I tend to be more impressed by the tracks where Flo and Mary Wilson are less marginalised- a number really function more as Diana Ross solo tracks with a minimum of involvement from the other two.  I just love the harmonising of the three voices but that, by this stage, was becoming less and less Berry Gordy’s plan for the group.

Supremes-at-Brewster-Projects-1967-510x634The days were numbered for this line-up

 

The Rodgers and Hart songbook had been explored before by the trio.  “With A Song In My Heart” had been on their Essential 1965 album “I Hear A Symphony” and the girls had sung on a Rodgers and Hart TV special but for Top 40 pop artists to give over an album to songwriters of a generation or more before was an unusual move in 1967.

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Things get off to a rousing start with a traditional feel on “The Lady is A Tramp”.  This is one of the tracks where Diana largely goes it alone and of course it is no match to Ella Fitzgerald’s definitive version.  This is also the case with a couple of other songs strongly associated with Fitzgerald, “My Funny Valentine” and “Manhattan” the first of the bonus tracks.  On this opener, however, there’s lively piano work over a swinging orchestra and it’s all a lot of fun with Flo and Mary only evident in the closing moments as Diana holds a big note.  You can’t help feeling that this opening track is setting out the stall for the future- a time when Diana the solo artist is moved centre stage.

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The girls work more as a trio in the charming “Mountain Greenery” with those kooky lyrics “Beans could get no keener/reception in a beanery/Bless our mountain greenery home.”  I especially like the tracks where the hint of Motown merges with the show tune style.  “This Can’t Be Love” does this, going at a frantic pace with some “hey,hey,heys” from the back-up which works so well and this ends up as one of the stronger songs.  The gloss of sophistication is back on a lovely “Where Or When” with its tempo changes and leg-kicking Broadway- worthy finish.  “Lover” gets a 60’s girl-group work-out which one again illustrates that they are not playing things totally safe and are exploring different sounds within the remit, all of which are enriched by exemplary productions.

 

The harmonies are to the forefront in “My Romance” another of the strongest tracks which has a great back-up performance from Ballard and Wilson.  The 6o’s feel is certainly present on “My Heart Stood Still” which has a feel of a Holland-Dozier-Holland song and production and would not have been out of place in the pop singles charts of 1967.  The decision was made not to release any of the tracks here as a single but this could have given them a big hit.  The most unusual track comes next.  Unusual, because Diana shares the lead vocal with Mary Wilson whose rich tones on “Falling In Love With Love” make this one of the best tracks on the album.  We don’t hear enough of this voice until the latter years of The Supremes when Mary was the only original member left. Both “Thou Swell” and “Blue Moon” are good versions but are eclipsed by the lovely “Dancing On The Ceiling” a less familiar Rodgers and Hart song which dates from the 1930 musical “Ever Green”.

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These first 12 tracks make up the original album but there are many pleasures to be found in the thirteen bonus tracks which were part of the plan when a double album was scheduled.  These include a revisit of “With A Song In My Heart”, an unusual appearance of a verse on “Little Girl Blue” which I was not familiar with from the Nina Simone version.  There’s also a couple of tracks taken from “Pal Joey” , the show which propelled its lead and this album’s sleeve-note compiler Gene Kelly to stardom, a great uptempo version of “I Could Write A Book” and “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered”.  The strongest moments for me come with the sultry and accomplished “Spring Is Here”, the ultimate feel good factor of anticipation in “Wait Till You See Him”.  Perhaps my most favourite track of all is hidden amongst the bonus tracks the frantic “Johnny One Note” where the girls offer the best version I have heard of this song from the 1937 musical “Babe In Arms”.

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If I was a big Supremes fan in 1967 (I was far too young) waiting for a follow-up to their chart-topping “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” single I am not sure how I wold have felt about the release of this album but with history to help us seeing it as a launch-pad for The Supremes becoming Diana Ross & The Supremes and then eventually Diana becoming the consummate all-round solo entertainer and Motown not writing off the group but continuing it without her this is actually a significant release.  And those Rodgers and Hart songs are just great and have certainly stood the test of time.  If I’m looking to listen to a legendary songwriter’s output Ella Fitzgerald may be my first port of call but the versions on here by this Detroit trio are essential recordings.

The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart: The Complete Collection seems to be currently not easy to find on CD in the UK.  Amazon have it used and new from £44.72.  A £7.09 download is available consisting of the original 12 tracks.  In the US the CD is available used from $34.22 but the complete recordings are available to download for $12.49.  The original 1967 version is also available to stream on Spotify in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey (2014)

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One of the big sellers of 2014 and the winner of the Costa First Novel Award this book has been my shelves since then.  I really wanted to read it when I bought it but over the time it has been sat there I’ve wondered whether it might be too whimsical, heart-warming or quirky for an old cynic like me and other books have taken precedence.

 However, out of the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge box at Sandown Library came “read a novel where the main protagonist is aged over 60”, so a perfect cue to discover what the fuss around this debut was all about.

 Main character, Maud, at aged 82 fulfils my brief nicely.  She suffers from dementia and when she believes her friend has gone missing she is determined to find out what has happened.  Only occasionally lucid, she has to rely on her hand-written notes but her investigation strategies are continually forced backwards by her confusion and the symptoms of this cruel disease.

 The past also intervenes as her friend Elizabeth’s predicament becomes aligned in Maud’s brain with the disappearance of her older sister Sukey just after the war, a mystery Maud has never been able to come to terms with.  Flashback triggered by the present events seem to bring these days back with greater clarity.

 It is the Dementia aspect, of course, which gives this gentle mystery its unusual slant just as an early best seller “The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time” (2003) by Mark Haddon created something similar with his young, probably autistic detective.  That condition was never really made clear in that book and so it felt more subtle than what he have here although there is little doubt that if you loved that book then this is an obviously worthy recommendation. 

 I actually had my reservations about Haddon’s novel and I didn’t find myself totally buying into this either.  I found it to be all a little too much on one level and as well as being frustrated for Elizabeth I found myself becoming frustrated as a reader as I wanted the novel to move on more than it did.  The “mystery” aspect did not work as well as I expected it to, however, the human aspect of living with dementia and the toll this takes on the family works better, but I’m not really sure that I wanted to read this type of book at this present time. The dementia and mystery elements did not integrate as seamlessly as I thought they would. 

I know I’m in a minority here as this book has been so highly praised for both of these elements and I know it is the subject matter that largely dictates my reservations.  If it feels samey it is because Maud’s world is samey and continually challenging.  I did enjoy it but not as much as I was expecting to.

 Emma Healey’s second novel “Whistle In The Dark” has been published this month (May 2018) and the initial reviews are just as promising.  I would certainly be interested in reading this as there is no doubt that it seems to confirm her status as a writer who takes a unique slant towards the crime/mystery genre.

 

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Elizabeth Is Missing was published by Viking in 2014.  I read the Penguin paperback edition.

Black Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin (2015) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Texan author Julia Heaberlin found herself in the best sellers lists when this, her third novel was published in 2015.  As a teenager, main character Tessie was abducted and dumped in a grave with the bodies and bones of other victims amongst a cluster of Black Eyed Susan flowers.  She survives, a man is tried and sixteen years later his death sentence is due to be carried out.  Tessie, now Tess, begins to doubt his guilt and believes the serial killer may still be at large.

 It feels very much an American novel with is exploration of capital punishment and the race against time within the American legal system.  I felt a little distanced from it throughout.  This is compounded by a dual narrative, one of which features Tessie in the time after her ordeal leading to the trail where she has developed psychosomatic blindness and has to endure probing therapy sessions with the other narrative featuring the Tess who is doubting her original beliefs with the convicted man on Death Row.  I felt the narrative switches too quickly in the main body of he novel which stopped me from feeling as involved as I would have liked to be in a thriller of this nature.

 This is a dark tale.  Tess has been through a horrendous ordeal and is understandably a damaged soul.  Her relationships with men, her upbringing of her daughter are all compromised by what happened in the flower surrounded grave.  In fact, what I felt most chilling were these flowers which continue to insinuate their way into Tess’ life long after her ordeal is over.  Unfortunately, character-wise, nobody is especially likeable and although I appreciated the novel’s darkness I did not find it particularly thrilling.

blackeyed2Julia Heaberlin manages to make these seem creepy!

 I was actually expecting to get more out of this book than I did.  I was in the mood for something with good pace and which would have me holding my breath but for some reason it did not do it for me.  I felt Heaberlin was holding me at arm’s length and I was further distanced by the location and narrative style.  Although I did enjoy it I wanted more from a book subtitled “A Novel Of Suspense”.

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Black Eyed Susans was published in the UK by Penguin in 2015.

 

The 500th Post – What You’ve Been Reading

5002It’s the big 500th Post!  This gives me a chance to sit back, eat cake and sip sparkling wine and to say thank you to all of you who have kept me posting by reading and commenting and suggesting.  On these big occasions I like to take a little look back and see just what it is you have been finding to read here on reviewsrevues.com.  According to my Stats page this is a total of 374,652 words.  Huge thanks if you have managed to read them all!!

I reset the clocks at the start of the year and so this is the Top 10 of those 500 posts which you have been  reading since January.

10. Collateral –  (BBC2 2018- posted in Feb 2018)

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Much anticipated four part Crime drama series by Sir David Hare had mixed reviews with some finding the writing at times a little clunky.  I did stick with it and there was a great performance from Carey Mulligan but it is unlikely to be the best police drama I will watch this year.

9. Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge (BBC2 2018- posted in April 2018)

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I liked this series as it brimmed with feel-good factor and feels to me like the BBC’s natural successor to the gap in the schedules caused by “Bake Off” moving to Channel 4.  It worked because of the passion of the contestants- people prepared to give up on their 9-5s to produce food, often during their evenings and weekends, often in places like their sheds or domestic kitchens, food which they really believein with a passion and wanting to spread the word.   I also loved the farm-shop setting in Malhamdale, Yorkshire.

8. The Real Full Monty (ITV 2017- posted in June 2017)

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This has received a surge in readers this year as ITV decided to do it all over again with two one-offs over consecutive nights, one with celebrity men and one with women.  My review was for the original 2017 one-off.  Even though I couldn’t really see it working a second time it actually did.  I know there was criticism in some quarters of the press about the amount of money actually raised for charity by these shows but it certainly raised awareness on prime-time television of testicular and breast cancer and that has got to be a good thing.

7. Let’s Groove – The Best Of Earth Wind and Fire (Columbia 1996- posted in October 2015)

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Continues to be the most read CD review I have ever posted, still leading the way two and a half years on.

6. Dynasty (Netflix 2017- posted in October 2017)

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I’m still working my way through the first series of this on reboot of a TV classic on  Netflix and I am enjoying it.  The writing of this review made me go all dewy-eyed with nostalgia for the days of John Forsythe, Linda Evans and of course, Dame Joan Collins and ended up with me buying the complete box set of the original series off Amazon.  Haven’t got round to watching any of it yet- it’s still in its plastic shrink wrap.  Maybe one day I’ll have 165 hours to spare!!

5. The Diary Of Two Nobodies – Giles Wood and Mary Killen (2017- posted in January 2018)

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Despite all the literary treasures I try to put your way the most read of my book reviews this year has been dear old Giles and Mary from “Gogglebox”.  It is actually very readable, laugh out loud funny and quite a long way from most tv cash-in publications.

4. Make! Craft Britain (BBC4- 2016) (Posted in June 2016)

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It seems like I have been urging the BBC for ages to make more of this idea as this one off programme has always attracted a lot of attention on here.  At last, this year BBC4 went with a three parter which explored a range of crafts and has sparked many people who watched it into different artistic directions.  (I have unearthed the knitting needles again after watching beginners produce a hat).  This review was for the original episode- I hope the BBC will make more of these surprisingly relaxing and inspirational hours.

3. The Level (ITV 2016- Posted in October 2016)

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This six part Brighton set series remains the most read review on the site, clearly dominating the statistics in 2016 and 2017.  Although it has slipped off the top spot in this first part of the year it seems people have far from forgotten about it and still want to know what it was all about.

2. Jamestown ( Sky 1 2017- Posted in May 2017)

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Here’s one I feel guilty about.  Sky has aired a second series which has meant good traffic on the site for this review and yet I only ever watched the first episode of the first series.  I gave up with it at this point.  It seems as if I was in a minority……………

The most read review on this site so far this year is…………… (drum roll needed or at least a showbizzy fanfare -there’s a clue….)

Last Laugh In Vegas (ITV 2018 – Posted in April 2018)

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A clear winner here stats-wise for this five part series which started off with car-crash tv potential but actually turned out to be a really quite charming tale of dogged determination in keeping your name up in lights.  Celebrities better known in the 60s and 70’s took on Las Vegas for a night and you ended up willing them to succeed.  Certainly not without its faults, I’m still questioning the motives behind the whole idea but it has obviously attracted attention worldwide.

Well that was post number 500!  Thanks for reading.  Thanks especially if you read something on April 25th 2018 as that was the day I received the highest number of visits ever which spurs me on thinking there’s still life in the old dog yet! Here’s to the next 500 posts!

 

 

 

 

 

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett (2016)

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American author Ann Patchett is a former winner of the UK Orange Prize for fiction for 2002’s “Bel Canto”.  Her family-themed novels have seen her compared to two other Queen Annes, prize-winning titans of modern fiction both, Ms. Tyler and Ms. Enright.  With this, her seventh novel she gives them a good run for their money but doesn’t quite eclipse them in the quality fiction stakes.

 I have never read Ann Patchett before but this book I had earmarked to read since publication because of its impressive initial reviews (“Outstanding” (The Observer)/”Dazzling” (The Sunday Times).  When I pulled out “Read a book by an author whose surname begins with a P” from the Reading Challenge box at Sandown Library this seemed an obvious choice.

 I always think I’m going to feel alienated by the Americanness of tales about family life but Anne Tyler has really drawn me in with hers on more than one occasion.  It’s the quality of her writing that does it and this is necessary to convey the complexities of family relationships in a way which feels both honest and convincing.  With “Commonwealth” Ann Patchett also succeeds with this.

 We begin in 1964 at a Christening Party for Los Angeles Cop Fix Keating’s daughter Franny.  One of the guests falls for Franny’s mother and lives shift from this point.  Two families of step-children meet each summer including Franny and her sister Caroline and a tragedy further complicates family relations.  Fast forward to 1988 when Franny is working a waitress in Chicago and she meets a writer who takes her family’s story to use in his own work, also called “Commonwealth”.  Although Franny is probably the central character her parents’ generation of family together with her sister and step-siblings are all well fleshed out.

 Plot-wise there are not too many surprises, which is why, just on the showing of this novel I will put Anne Tyler slightly ahead but anyone who has enjoyed novels such as the bestselling “Spool of Blue Thread” (one of my essential reads) should certainly seek “Commonwealth” out.

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“Commonwealth” was published by Bloomsbury in 2016.

100 Essential CDs – Number 21– The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go/I Hear A Symphony

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Where Did Our Love Go/I Hear A Symphony (Motown 1986)

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Back in the mid 1980’s the Motown label began a series of releases to capitalise on the vibrant back catalogue CD market.  These releases put together on one CD two albums by one artist giving those of us replacing our vinyl copies with CDs great value for money.  This 1986 release was the best of the lot.  

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The CD was credited as being by Diana Ross and The Supremes yet when the original vinyl recordings were released the trio were just known as The Supremes.  This two in one put together their 1964 second album, which very much marked their breakthrough,  a superb girl-group album containing three of their five consecutive number one singles alongside their eighth album released just two years later (boy, these girls were being worked hard in the recording studio) which gave them another US number 1 with the title track.  Chartwise, on original release the album “Where Did Our Love Go?” reached number 2 in the US and “I Hear A Symphony” reached number 8.  The innocent girl group sound of chirpy three minute tracks had over those two years evolved into a more sophisticated sound which combined the tracks written to appeal to Young America with cover versions of standards which might appeal more to their parents.  This was all part of Berry Gordy’s strategy to make his acts appeal to as wide an audience as possible.  Occasionally, on some recordings this acted as little more than filler around the hits but here sublime Holland-Dozier-Holland productions ensure that this is a top-notch pairing alongside the first classic Motown album.  Neither albums were UK hits but that says more about the UK album chart of the mid 60’s rather than the quality of either of these recordings.

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It had taken quite a while for the career of The Supremes to get off the ground and it would have been likely that had they been with a larger record company they would have been dropped.  But the early days of Motown were very much a family affair, with all the acts supporting one another and schoolgirls Diane Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard had just hung around at the Hitsville studio until they got noticed and continued to hang around until they were offered songs that could become hits. They had been recording singles since 1961.  Berry Gordy, fascinated by Diane (soon to change the last letter of her name) had seen them as his pet project but hadn’t had a hit with the singles he had written and produced for them and neither had Clarence Paul or Smokey Robinson.  People were referring to them as the “No Hit Supremes”.  It took the genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s writing and production skills to ensure that within the space of a few months The Supremes had become one of the world’s top recording artists and it all began with the tracks on this album.

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 Lamont Dozier and the Holland Brothers at the piano

In fact, the game changer was the title track which kicks off this CD.  An H-D-H song and production which was reputedly turned down by the top Motown girl group of the day, the Marvelettes (who to this point had scored five US Top 40 hits including the #1 “Please Mr Postman”) but before it might be offered to the second group in line, Martha and The Vandellas , the Supremes stepped in.  It’s a simple song, distinguished by a stomping beat and set the pattern of Supremes recordings with Diana as lead vocal and Mary and Florence reduced to little more than “baby-baby – ing”. Although early Supremes releases had switched lead vocal duties once the hit pattern was established it became very much Diana Ross’ group.  The song reached the top of the US charts.  In a UK, obsessed with everything Liverpool in 1964 it got to number 3.  The album was released just a couple of months after the single and it did give fans the opportunity to catch up with previously released singles and B sides together with some new tracks.

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The new track that caused the most attention was put out as the follow-up single, something of a rush release in the UK where its predecessor was still in the charts but “Baby Love” just could not be contained.  One of the finest girl group singles ever, it retains the simplicity of “Where Did Our Love Go” and is not so rhythm dominated and just has an extra little sparkle which makes it a phenomenal track.  It topped the charts on both side of the Atlantic and is perhaps the song most strongly identified with the group.  A further US chart-topper “Come See About Me” was less successful in the UK where it stalled at number 27.

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Other first class Holland-Dozier-Holland recordings on show here include the track which marked their first actual appearance on the US pop charts the #23 hit “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” an excellent but unexpectedly raucous sing-along track for the ladies who would be known for their sophisticated cooing.  On some of the earlier tracks there are male voices (apparently the producers themselves and The Four Tops) and this is certainly the case for the rather startling male grunt which explodes mid-way through.  “Run Run Run” has a honking brass and piano sound and male voices in the back-up and a great rough edge to it.  There’s a much softer edge to the subtle soul ballad “I’m Giving You Your Freedom”, “Standing At The Crossroads Of Love” is a charming piano backed mid-tempo number and “Where Did Our Love Go”’s closer is one of the finest tracks Motown never  released as an A-side.  “Ask Any Girl” sounds like a monumental hit that never was with its flamenco feel, dramatic intro and perfect girl-group feel with a nod towards the best of the Phil Spector groups, the Shirelles  and the Shangri-Las.  The couplet “It’s heartaches without number/ Many nights without slumber” is one of the greatest girl group lines.  It’s a stunning track which has that heady combination of youth and sophistication. 

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 Smokey Robinson

Other song-writing and production teams do get a look-in.  Smokey Robinson was one of those that had tried and failed to give the Supremes a hit and it is rather amazing that he missed out with the sultry “A Breath Taking Guy”, which is unusual in that it features all of the girls having a stab at lead vocals.  The other Robinson track “Long Gone Lover” is a nod back to earlier doowop tracks given a girl group slant.  Norman Whitfield would go on to produce some classic tracks for The Temptations but here his “He Means The World To Me” is an attractive Mary Wells-style track.  Label boss Berry Gordy gets in on the action with “This Kiss Of Fire” without challenging the best tracks on the album.

supremes7Berry Gordy hiding from The Supremes

 

It is likely that “Where Did Our Love Go” with its range of very good quality songs and performances and that great trio of HDH hits would have made it alone onto my 100 Essentials list but here we’ve certainly got more for our money with the other twelve tracker “I Hear A Symphony” on the same CD.

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We fast forward to 1966 and the Supremes are known worldwide.  Berry Gordy, always the businessman has begun, especially on albums, to extend the fanbase and not just bring in the young, the traditional 45RPM single buyers but also their parents and grandparents and has his eye on the world’s most prestigious night spots for his acts to perform in.  By this time all the exciting rough edges have gone from the music and the girls themselves, smoothed out by formidable Deportment Coach, Maxine Powell, a Motown employee, who both Diana and Mary today would credit for turning them into ladies and who took the “girls from the Brewster Project” and enabled them to mix with VIPs and Royalty – all part of Berry Gordy’s plan for his leading act and, especially, Diana Ross.

supremes10Smokey Robinson salutes Maxine Powell

supremes11The Supremes meets The Queen Mother

 

“I Hear A Symphony” reflects this as alongside the four Holland-Dozier-Holland compositions we get show tunes, standards and recent pop hits.  Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier get to produce all the tracks bar one from Norman Whitfield, where the girls tackle the Beatles’ “Yesterday”.  Album-wise since “Where Did Our Love Go” the trio had put out a run of themed long players, tackling the Lennon-McCartney songbook with “A Bit Of Liverpool” (1964 US#21), Country and Western (1965 US#79) and a Sam Cooke tribute album (US#75).  There had also been a non-charting Christmas album all of which showed that the heady days might be over as these albums garnered only a fraction of the sales of “Where Did Our Love Go”.  A more traditional studio album “More Hits By The Supremes” had been a success, reaching number 6 in the US as it featured two more number 1 US singles.

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 The more sophisticated style can be seen in the title track which became their 6th US chart-topper with its classical musical imagery of symphonies and rhapsodies, it feels more complex than some of the earlier hits.  That had been released a few months before the album, which was very much built around the sound of the hit single.  Thus we get the girls’ intepretations of “Stranger In Paradise”, “Unchained Melody” “Without A Song” together with a touch of Rodgers and Hart and “With A Song In My Heart” an idea which would spawn a whole album of these songs in the future.  Earlier Pop hits Johnny Mathis’ “Wonderful Wonderful” and the Toys’ Bach-influenced “A Lover’s Concerto” are also present.  This might sound a little hackneyed and it does veer dangerously close to the middle of the road at times but the performances and productions are exemplary.  I know the people can be critical of Ross’ distinctive slightly nasal voice but given the right song and production and boy, can she shine as a song stylist.  The back-up work by Florence and Mary also works sublimely on these tracks with both the versions of the Mathis and the Toys hits eclipsing the originals. 

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Amongst these you also get the Holland-Dozier-Holland numbers (helped out on two of the tracks by one James Dean).  “My World Is Empty Without You” followed the title track up the charts (US#5) and perhaps better than all these is another of those Motown tracks which should have been a single, the excellent “Everything Is Good About You” which just must have been an influence for Barry White as it sounds so much like Love Unlimited’s “It May Be Winter Outside”.

 The album “I Hear A Symphony” reached number 8 on the US pop charts and is a perfect accompaniment to the earlier album on this CD to show just how good these girls can be.  It revitalised the trio’s career and there would be another 6 US number 1 Pop hits before they hung up the matching sequin gowns and Diana Ross went on to solo superstardom.

The two-on-one CD “Where Did Our Love Go/I Hear A Symphony is available used on Amazon UK from £14.99 and in the US from $7.99.  Both albums are available separately and as a download.  In the UK they are also both separately available for streaming on Spotify. 

The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet – Michael Mosley (2015)

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Something is going very wrong and Dr Michael Mosley has a good idea what it is.  Despite vast sums being spent on healthy eating initiatives around the world more of us are overweight than ever before and many countries are facing a huge upsurge of numbers being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, most often linked to lifestyle and diet.  In the UK in recent weeks we have seen a Sugar Tax introduced but whether this will have any positive long-lasting health implications or is a just a way to extract money from consumers remains to be seen.

 For too long medical advice on diet has been misleading, Mosley argues, which has led us to pile on the pounds and it is hard not to agree with him.  I am not diabetic but have fallen into the category known as “pre-diabetes” meaning I am at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future (me together with probably a significant chunk of the population).  I might wish to put this down to a side-effect of Statin medication that I was prescribed from my thirties but realistically it is also probably due to be a few pounds overweight and not as active as I could be.  At the time the food advice I was given was to fill up on starchy foods- pasta, rice, wholegrain bread, which should be the basis of each meal and to switch to low-fat products wherever possible.  The advice didn’t seem right at the time – I knew from my O Level Biology days that carbohydrates turn to sugar and it only takes a quick look at many low-fat food labels to find out that they are also often laden with sugar.

 So, I did things my own way and followed the  Harcombe Diet which emphasised a diet rich in fats with cheese, eggs and unprocessed meat all on the cards.  I lost weight and felt good but wondered if I had done damage by pushing up cholesterol by eating protein and fat in favour of carbs.  Test results gave me the lowest scores ever but still the medical advice I was given was to lose weight following a low-fat diet and by doing it gradually.

 Mosley’s view is that an 8 week diet keeping to around 800 calories a day, limiting carbs and avoiding all refined sugars should in most cases actually reverse diabetes, which to this point has been seen as a life-long condition often barely managed by costly medication.  This is radical and he has evidence to back it up (in fact more evidence than that which provided the recommendations for low-fat eating in the first place).  His statistics on the potential health crisis world-wide if we continue to put on weight is chilling.

His science make sense to me all the way through.  800 calories does sound drastic and I don’t need the kind of weight loss (an average 14kg in 8 weeks) this promises but I do need to do something so I’m going to follow his principles of the Mediterranean diet if not the exact recipes, as these are not as appealing as I wanted them to be when reading the book nor as joyous as those in the Harcome Diet For Men book which I know works along similar principles.  I’m also determined to get more active over the coming months (it’s been this endless winter to blame for a few of the pounds I’ve put on) to see how it goes.  Today I did download a pedometer app onto my phone and walked a good couple of miles to discover it had only been registered as 500 steps, which was bloody useless and demotivating- I’ve already uninstalled it!  But thank you, Dr Mosley for that little kick-start into summer that I think I need.  In time, I might decide to embark on his programme to the letter but here is once again more evidence to say that low fat diets are ultimately doomed to fail.

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The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet was published by Short Books in 2015.  A recipe book is also available which I will no doubt invest in if I decide to take this further.

100 Essential Books – A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson (2015)

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I thought Kate Atkinson’s previous novel , the Costa Award winning “Life After Life” (2013) was terrific.  I’ve recommended it many times but the feedback I get back can be mixed.  Some readers find the author’s structure off-putting.  Main character Ursula meets with many deaths on her way through the book, reliving parts of her life in different ways in a novel where “practice makes perfect” is an underlying theme.  I personally loved the structure, the rich and memorable cast and the superb sense of the era, especially the years of World War II.

 These years also provide the main focus of this novel, more of a companion piece than any kind of sequel as we revisit the lives of the Todd family through Ursula’s brother, Teddy.  This time, structurally, it’s far more straightforward.  It moves around chronologically but Teddy, unlike his sister in “Life After Life” has one life to live.

 During the war Teddy is a fighter pilot and it is the author’s recreation of his everyday battle for survival which packs a potent punch.  He is a wonderful character and I love the way the author has developed him with this outing.  He really comes alive on the page, especially as a caring grandfather when his war heroics are barely ever discussed by the family.

 I did feel that it was the unusual structure that helped the last book to sizzle and I was concerned initially that this more conventional approach but using some of the same characters might pale in comparison.  It is different but it certainly does not disappoint.  I was totally involved throughout and taken aback by the novel’s depth and richness.  It stands alone from its predecessor and those who like Atkinson’s writing but found its stop-start technique wearying are urged to give this a go.

 Within both of these novels Kate Atkinson has taken pains to remind us that we are experiencing fiction and there is a bit of toying with us as readers to bring this home.  What we have here is a writer in superb control of her craft.  Her next novel, due later this year, will take us in a different direction and it would be good if, in the meantime, I could catch up with her four books featuring detective Jackson Brodie (of which I’ve only read the first so long ago that it will need revisiting). 

 With “A God In Ruins” Kate Atkinson also won the Costa Novel Of The Year.  On the evidence of this pair of celebrated novels she is one of our finest living novelists writing at the height of her powers.

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A God In Ruins was published by Doubleday in 2015. I read the 2016 Black Swan paperback edition.

Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge (BBC2 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I have a limited idea as to who Tom Kerridge is.  Initially, I did think he was on the last series of “Strictly Come Dancing” but that turned out to be another follically-challenged chef, Simon Rimmer. I did watch one episode of his “Lose Weight For Good” which has spawned one of the biggest selling books so far this year but decided as a television format it didn’t have much originality  and there is a limit to the number of new year-new start-new you programmes you can watch whilst dealing with January blues.  I preferred to stick with the diet-testing Channel 4 Show “How To Lose Weight Well” probably because I like Dr Xand Van Tulleken.

 I don’t often watch tv featuring chefs (other than Mary Berry who is more a national institution than chef) but Tom Kerridge is obviously an important enough figure in the world of TV cooking to put his name in the title in this new format which had two of its eight episodes shown on consecutive nights on BBC2 this week.

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 It wasn’t the named presenter but the format which drew me in.  It is only indirectly a cooking show as the food preparation has largely been all done by the time we meet the contestants but it is about passion.  Artisan food producers (of which there are a growing number) bring their products to a farm shop in the Yorkshire Dales to compete against three others to entice shoppers into buying their products and being in with the chance of being judged the best in terms of sales, taste and business viability by judges artisan expert Alison Swan Parente  and  entrepreneur and founder of Mowgli Street Food restaurants  Nisha Katona (no relation to Kerry).      

topoftheshop3Tom Kerridge with judges

 What I like about this format is that being judged here are people who have already put their lives on the line and are so committed to their project that they are selling on some scale, either locally or on-line and are ready to spread their belief to a much wider audience.  In the first episode we had preserves and the competitors were members of a family who made a runner bean chutney from the beans in their garden, an apple and chilli jelly made from the by-products of cider-making, a handmade peanut butter and a passed down the generations recipe from the Philippines of a papaya pickle.  My mouth was watering throughout.

topoftheshop2Who will buy our runner bean chutney?

 It watered even more in the second episode where the focus was on cheese and there were a couple of goats cheeses (including one from a man who had just one goat with obvious issues of business viability there- a local environment officer who produced the spiced cheese in his shed) an apple-smoked cheddar produced at the weekend initially as a hobby and a Welsh cheddar.  The competitors set up their stalls in the shop and midway through use their produce in a recipe which is sold in the tearoom of the farm shop.  These people are dedicated and so enthusiastic about their product that is hard not to be drawn in and there wasn’t one of the competitors in the first two episodes that didn’t deserve to do well.

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The cheesemakers with the judges

 The star of the show for me, however, is the farm shop itself.  It looks a lovely place and I would love to have such a venue walking distance from my home.  The people in that Yorkshire Dales village are extremely lucky and I hope they are doing everything they can to ensure that a place like that continues to thrive.  I live in an area which attracts tourists and has a strong farming pedigree but there is nothing anywhere near as good as the farm shop/tea room with its real community feel shown on the programme. 

topoftheshop6Inside the farm shop

 There’s a lot of elements to be considered which makes the programme more fascinating than watching an episode of “Masterchef” (which I have never done).  Pricing for one (there was some very expensive peanut butter which could have potentially restricted sales) and as the winners from each category meet up in a final I’m sure the business elements will become even more of a focus.  In fact, I might have liked a little more idea as to how the judges came to their decisions about the winners, I’m not arguing about the decisions they have made thus far but wonder how much they have taken all their criteria into consideration.

 There’s one thing I’m not happy about.  Why do we have to see scenes from both the episode we about to watch and the rest of the series before the opening credits?  This drives me absolutely nuts, as does the “Next Episode” preview at the end.  Do any viewers actually like these?     I know anyone watching TV with me is likely to become exasperated by me reversing and forwarding to get to the moment where the episode I have chosen to watch actually starts.  I might like the odd reminder as to what happened in the last episode if I am watching a Drama series but I don’t need to know what is coming up.  I think I should make a note about the programme-makers who don’t do this and praise them to the skies rather than continually grumble about the majority that do.

 Anyway, with this series we have a likeable format with devoted competitors with a proven commitment other than just wanting to be on telly.  I’m certainly going to be sticking with it and, even though it’s been pretty unheralded this far (and on consecutive nights – grr!) this actually could be the “Bake Off” replacement hit that the BBC are looking for.

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 The first two episodes of Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge were shown on Tues and Weds 17/18 April on BBC 2 at 8.00pm.  They are currently available to watch on the BBC I-Player.