Welcome to reviewsrevues

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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……………….

Book Bingo – A monthly update

It’s already month number three on my local community library’s Book Bingo fund-raiser and I feel that I’m just pootling along a little and will need to crank up to a higher gear if I’m going to finish within the next couple of months.  It’s not that I’m not reading, it’s just that what I’m reading for review purposes does not always fit in with the categories on my Bingo card.  I’m not griping because I love having a stack of books to read!  (Publishers take note!!)

Last month my Bingo card looked like this:

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And this month

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So let’s see what is newly covered………..

On the top line to get the bunny I had to purchase a book from the local charity shop.  That was certainly no hardship with a local hospice charity shop, The Earl Mountbatten charity shop having a good selection of books at three for £1.  From this I purchased Michael Crichton’s “Next” alongside two other books which will sit on my shelves for  a while longer.  I’ve had to stop buying books from this particular shop as sometimes I can come out with 6 or 9 so it was great to have the opportunity to go back in there and put my book-buying to a worthy cause.

Underneath the bunny sticker there’s “written under a pseudonym” and one of the most famous pseudonyms of the last few years helped out here.  When JK Rowling began writing as Robert Galbraith I bet she never dreamed that one day she would help me get a dog sticker on a Book Bingo card, but she has with “The Silkworm“.

When I started reading this I had it lined up for the top left hand corner which needed a book with “an animal in the title” and then a copy of “The Mayfly” by James Hazel turned up on the doorstep, which meant I could use Robert Galbraith for other purposes and got me the chicken sticker.  I also answered a question this month which was on the author of “Black Beauty”- not going to catch me out with that one!

Right, concerted effort to get more stickers covered starts here but I’m lacking a little in confidence as I know that the books I have lined up will not help out.  I’m just going to have to read more…………shame………..!

 

Next- Michael Crichton (2006)- A Running Man Review

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Prior to this I have read two Michael Crichton novels and they are not the ones you might expect.  He is most famous for creating “ER” for which I will be eternally grateful; but also for “Jurassic Park” (1990) and its sequel (1995); his debut in his own name “The Andromeda Strain” (1969) and “Westworld” (1974).  I haven’t read any of these, the two books I have read are “State Of Fear” (2004) a startlingly complex merge of environmental issues and science combined with a gripping, readable thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed and “Timeline” (1999) which grappled with quantum physics and time travel and which unfortunately did not work nearly as well and came across as tosh masquerading as science.  It’s the application of science which Crichton specialises in and with “Next” it’s the complex (for my little brain anyway) field of biogenetics.

If like me, your sole knowledge of biogenetics is limited to an awareness of the existence of GM crops, cloned animals (Dolly the sheep) and that nightmarish picture of a mouse with a human ear growing on it then you might think that all this might be a tad too complex for you.  Well it is, but that actually doesn’t matter as Crichton guides us along the issues in another very readable novel.

Interestingly, there’s no discernible main character in “Next” which is a little off-putting for those of us who like a central character for relationship dynamics to bounce off and this does mean that there isn’t really the depth of characterisation that a main protagonist and their relationships with others would provide.  What is there are a lot of interweaving plot strands, which Crichton keeps good control of.  I did find myself having to leaf back a number of times to recall what was happening to certain characters  as and when their story was resumed although that often proved to be needless as the author is good at prompting our memories.  You can see from this how he could manage long-running television drama with its ongoing story lines.  I know some readers balk at this style of writing but here it has been done well.

Basically, it is a novel of ideas with the plot developed to illustrate these.  The practice of patenting genes has impeded medical research and has potentially ludicrous legal ramifications when “ownership” of genes, cells and tissues gets called into question.  This is an area Crichton is keen to highlight, using real news stories along the way, demonstrating that he is not dealing with fictional flights of fancy here as his ideas are embedded in fact.  There’s a couple of genetically-modified animal hybrids including ape/human combinations who can talk and an African-grey parrot who can not only talk like a human but think like one too.  At times these plot threads come across as a little “cutesy”, but it’s the way they fit into a tale of medical research so rooted in fact that becomes alarming.

This sits in the middle of the three Crichton novels I have read.  It’s not as good as “State Of Fear” which had a stronger element of gripping thriller writing and was the novel which immediately preceded “Next” but it is considerably better than “Timeline”.  Michael Crichton died in 2008 yet his 18th novel under this name, the recently discovered “Dragon’s Teeth” was published earlier this year.

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Next was published by Harper in the UK in 2006

The Real Full Monty (ITV 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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It’s been 20 years since film-goers were captivated by a depiction of unemployed Sheffield steel workers who became a male strip troupe to the sounds of Hot Chocolate, Tom Jones and Donna Summer.  “The Full Monty” was a massive hit and even had Prince Charles alarmingly joining in on the action.  The film had much to say about men, about what unemployment does to a community, about thinking outside of the box, about friendship and featured a group of men discussing issues and coming to terms with things that Sheffield steel workers might find difficult.

The popularity of the film even had royals joining in (I’ve spared you the video of this!)

One of the things us men still feel difficult to talk about is prostate and testicular cancer.  This one-off documentary showed an attempt at linking a celebration of the film’s China anniversary with raising awareness.

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The man at the centre of this was “Pointless” host and possessor of a surprising yet profitable singing voice, Alexander Armstrong.  He enlisted the help of Dance legends Diversity’s inspiration Ashley Banjo to put together a routine for a group of male celebrities who were expected to eventually bare all in front of a packed crowd at the London Palladium.  Male celebrities willing to do this were a bit harder to find, 600 were apparently asked and of those who agreed some had been directly affected by prostate cancer themselves, Wayne Sleep, Dom Littlewood who had endured cancer diagnoses and Elliot Wright, brother of the more famous Essex boy Mark, whose father was about to undergo radiotherapy for the condition.  They were joined by a couple of ex-Strictly alumni, McFly’s Harry Judd and swimmer Mark Foster and also Stuart Wolfenden from “Emmerdale”.  A representative from the Afro-Caribbean community was welcomed in Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules, who also had dancing experience.  This was a particularly appropriate move as we found out in the programme that those from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to be affected by prostate cancer.  A visit to a garage mechanic who was working hard to promote awareness provided sobering moments.

From rehearsal to performance

ITV produced a good documentary here .  It certainly had the potential to be cheap and cheesy.  The process followed by Ashley Banjo to teach the dance would have been familiar to those of us who have watched his various Sky 1 series.  I always made a point of watching these because of the sheer passion for dance from the Diversity crew and how this infectiousness spread during the course of every episode towards group of often inactive workmates keen to astound loved ones with a professional standard street dance routine.  But here on ITV there were other issues to contend with, mainly getting naked in front of a packed London theatre.

The first unveiling down to underwear saw two surprising objectors (Sleep and Wolfenden) and added tension came along the way when Danny John-Jules had to pull out over work commitments and Ashley (whose body, let’s face it, is highly impressive) had to wrestle with his conscience to see if he could bring himself to bare all alongside the other celebrities.  Along the way there was a visit to Sheffield to see landmarks from the film and a trip to meet the stage cast of “Calendar Girls” who are also stripping off for our entertainment.  The message that ran through was that men should be checking for lumps and getting tested for the often symptomless early stages of prostate cancer.  To do this in what was actually a fairly family-friendly show in which there was a chance to see celebrities get naked (!) was really quite a canny idea.  Okay, so it was not especially original but it did have an original slant, it was well-paced over its 90 minute length and it was heart-warming.  Overall, it recalled audience responses of 20 years ago when we willed on those original Sheffield steel-workers in the movie.  I found myself doing the same for this equally unlikely group of strippers.

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I did feel, however, that at the end of the programme the ITV announcer could have been a bit more pro-active at pointing viewers in the right direction to get help rather than just talking about up and coming shows.

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The Real Full Monty was shown on Thursday 15th June at 8.30 pm on ITV.  It is currently available on ITV catch-up services.

More information on the issues raised by this programme can be found on:

Yourprivates.co.uk

Macmillan info on Prostate Cancer

The Brazilian – Rosie Millard (Legend Press 2017) – A Chick-Lit From A Male Point Of View Review

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In a Victoria Wood tribute I watched recently I saw for the umpteenth time “The Shoe Shop Sketch” and I laughed at every single line, as always, feeling almost overwhelmed by laughter at the end.  Such a clever writer.  It got me wondering what would have happened if Victoria had followed the lead of chums Celia Imrie and Julie Walters and written a novel.  Would she have gone for comedy and would it even have worked?  Would it have been possible to sustain her brand of humour (which I find very funny) over the entire length of a novel.  To do this is notoriously difficult……

 

Legend Press invited me to read Rosie Millard’s second comic novel “The Brazilian”.  Rosie is a journalist and as BBC Arts correspondent has been on the TV herself a fair few times so eases herself into that group of women novelists that includes Dawn French,  Fern Britton, Celia Imrie,  Meera Syal and Helen Lederer who we feel we know something about already due to a public persona and “celebrity status”.  So long as they are written by the person named on the cover (not Katie Price then), I’m really quite interested in reading them.  In fact, it was a celebrity moment, a television appearance on the fairly ghastly sounding “Celebrity Five Go To Lanzarotte” in which Rosie took part which provided the inspiration for this novel.

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Rosie Millard

Rosie has cleverly incorporated the characters from her first novel about North London neighbours in “The Square” (2015) into a holiday setting, rather in the way that comedy classic “Are You Being Served?” did when it was expanded into a movie, but here with much better results.  I read and reviewed “The Square” and enjoyed it as a North London comedy of (bad) manners which evolved from the location so I initially felt that uprooting some of these upmarket existences felt like a bit of a risk.  I said of the first novel; “Most of the women are ghastly and the men not worthy of any of the female lustful attentions” but that certainly doesn’t diminish its comic potential and by opening it all out into a relaxed holiday setting the women can become more ghastly and the men less worthy.  Over the years much situation comedy has indeed focused on ghastly women and inept men.

The location for all this is Ibiza.  A couple of The Square residents have been chosen to take part in a daytime reality show “Ibiza (Or Bust)”; there’s a holiday for Jayne, Patrick and their son where a babysitter is needed and with boyfriends and wives making their way over to the island it takes about eight characters out of “The Square”.  I’m sorry that recently rich lottery winner Tracey has only a bit part to play here.  Central character this time round is Jayne who during her family holiday becomes more monstrous, self-centred and devious than in the previous novel.

The title refers to both a character from the Reality Show and a certain waxing Jayne has in preparation for her holiday.  The TV show aspect gives it more structure and ensures it builds towards a climax rather than lose momentum (which I feel “The Square” was a little guilty of).  There’s some new characters to spice things up.  I must admit I like my humour a little warmer than what is on display here but the prickly comic situations are enjoyable enough although I didn’t laugh out loud.

The cover compares Rosie Millard to Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen and Arnold Bennett but that’s more fitting of the socially mannered “The Square”.  If we’re looking for a classic comic comparison I’d be more likely to go with E F Benson and his monstrous characters Mapp and Lucia who gave him enough comic potential and staying power to last six novels.  I think there’s still potential for the author to go further with these characters.  Taking them back to “The Square” with their Ibiza experience behind them could pay dividends.  All in all, although I preferred the set-up of the first novel I think that “The Brazilian” is better structured, the humour is more sustained and therefore a more satisfying sequel.

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The Brazilian is published on 14th June 2017.  Many thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

The Brazilian Blog Tour here tomorrow!

I have been asked by the lovely folk at Legend Press if I would take part in my very first blog tour.  This is to celebrate the publication of the new book by Rosie Millard.  I read Rosie’s debut “The Square” and this is the follow-up.  I will be posting my review tomorrow but just to whet your appetite here are the blog tour dates for Rosie’s latest, in case you’d like to trawl the blogosphere to see what we thought of the book.

I’ll be back tomorrow…………………………

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The Mayfly- James Hazel (Zaffre 2017) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Corporate lawyer James Hazel quit his job specialising in commercial litigation and employment law in order to write and, if that was a risk, it has paid off as his debut novel sees him as a welcome addition to the quality British crime-writing market.  The man’s enthusiasm for crime thrillers comes across strongly in the first of a projected series featuring lawyer Charlie Priest.

Hazel’s hero has a disassociation disorder which causes him to float in and out of (usually stressful) situations so they feel less “real” to him.  This genetic condition has led to a family tragedy in his past and Priest has moved from crime-solving as a former policeman to building up a successful law practice.

Priest discovers he is embroiled in some dark deeds when a ruthless burglar breaks into his apartment looking for a flash drive.  This leads to a situation which originates from Nazi medical experimentation towards the end of the Second World War and theories on suffering and torture.  It seems that there is a British revival of these theories going on and a dried insect (of the title) is some kind of invitation to participate.

There seems a blend of styles here from a man who obviously knows his crime fiction yet the chill factor is continuously upped until we get to the horror/crime feel of Thomas Harris and his Hannibal Lecter novels.  It’s handled confidently and well, although Hazel might want to rethink his sex scene writing in his next novel as one here is particularly clunky and seems jarring to the flow of the novel.

The disassociation aspect is interesting and by no means overplayed here which would imply that Hazel has plenty of mileage to use this in subsequent Priest novels.  The climax tests plausibility somewhat but doesn’t cross the boundary into unlikely  so all in all a strong debut.  Those looking for a new quality crime series and for some summer chills may wish to seek this out.

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The Mayfly is published on 15th June by Zaffre.  Many thanks to the publishers for the advance review copy.

100 Essential CDs – Number 71 – Pet Shop Boys – Actually

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Actually- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1987) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position -25

British National Treasures Pet Shop Boys found them ascending, after a couple of false starts, to the top of both the UK and US singles charts with their debut hit single “West End Girls”.  This was a 1985 re-recording of a track that had been out the previous year which had attracted attention in the clubs.  Their second release “Opportunites (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” also had to wait for a 1986 remix to make number 11 in the UK and 10 in the US.  A debut album aimed to install politeness to the record-buying generation, ensuring that they asked for “Pet Shop Boys Please” reached number 3 in the UK and 7 in the US.  It was a solid release, the best track for me being the third single “Suburbia”- a delightful piece of PSB nonsense which got to number 8 in the UK  (and went Top 3 in, amongst other territories,  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Switzerland).

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My real love affair with PSB started with this, their second studio album. I’d bought both “Please” and “Disco” their first collection of remixes which was released in 1986 and reached 15 in the UK album charts but with this album they upped a gear into the Essential Releases category.  It would be their first top class release but by no means their last nor their very best.  I may be going Pet Shop Boys for quite a little while with these reviews so let’s see what makes this particular album so good.

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The CD contains ten tracks, four of these were released as singles with two reaching UK number 1, one reached number 2 and one number 8.  In the US one single reached number 2 another number 9. There were also chart-topping singles for them in amongst other markets, Austria, Germany, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  The tracks are all written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, three in collaboration with other writers and they took production credits for three of the ten tracks alongside other producers, here still learning their craft.

The opening track “One More Chance” was written alongside Bobby Orlando, who had already had a part to play with their career.  The Boys hero worshipped this American producer who as Bobby O was a leading light in the Hi NRG dance music scene, which was by the mid 80’s a staple in gay clubs.  He recorded on a number of different dance labels, under a range of names, although quite often the tracks featured just Orlando himself.  He also produced for artists like drag superstar Divine and girl group The Flirts whose 1982 club hit “Passion” was a huge favourite of Chris and Neil’s.  A trip to interview Orlando when Neil was working with “Smash Hits” led to a request for the duo to record with him- the result being the original (non-hit) version of “West End Girls”.  Bobby O is back with the song-writing credits with “One More Chance” which had originally been the group’s second single three years before this album’s release and had appeared without success on a number of labels around the world.  For “Actually” it was re-recorded with additional lyrics by Chris and produced by Julian Mendelsohn.

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Bobby Orlando

A mood-setting introduction of screeching brakes leads into a street-bound paranoid love song.  A tale of one who is “chained/framed” and is begging for a chance to continue what seems like an unhealthy, obsessive relationship, all of this over crashing club beats.  It’s a good opener.

The most talked about track on the album follows next.  By 1987 arguably the greatest British female singer of all time had been in the musical wilderness and not featured on a top 40 hit for 19 years.  However the Dusty Springfield, PSB collaboration came about it was a stroke of genius.  Neil has often spoken of the painstaking way Dusty liked to record- the ultimate perfectionist, often to the detriment of her career and certainly her peace of mind.  “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” reached number 2 in both the UK and US just before the release of the album.  The crowning moment is when Dusty, initially a little lost in the mix with Neil in the verse comes in with her  “Since you went away/I’ve been hanging around” section.  It makes me breathe out and think “Dusty’s back!”.  And she was back as they collaborated again on “Nothing Has Been Proved” a track appropriately from the 60’s set movie “Scandal” as well as tracks on her number 18 1990 album “Reputation”, a recording which saw Dusty’s first Top 20 studio album for 25 years.  It also paved the way for other collaborations including one of my other Essential CD’s “Results” by Liza Minelli.

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“Shopping” is a bit of fun fluff examining the consumerism of the 80’s, “I heard it in the House Of Commons/Everything’s For Sale”.  It’s very much the “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” of this album.  I don’t know how seriously you can take songs with spellings (“D.I.V.O.R.C.E”& “D.I.S.C.O” being further evidence of this.)  Classic track “Rent” is up next and this is one that features on two of my Essential albums (Liza Minelli’s version on “Results” turns it into a Broadway ballad).  Here it’s faster and gentler than Liza’s and may very well be the first hit single to imply male prostitution or sugar daddy-ism,  but whatever it is Neil is quite happy with the arrangement; “We never ever argue/We never calculate the currency we spent/ I love you/ You pay my rent”.  Great lyrics.  The song reached number 8 as the third single from the album.

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“Hit Music” is a dance track, with nothing deeper in the lyrics than to have a good time.  Music as escapism and works well enough as that.  I’ve always had a big soft spot for the ballad which follows next.  “It Couldn’t Happen Here” and is written by the Boys alongside movie score supremo Ennio Morricone.  It comes from another surprising venture for the boys, a now pretty much forgotten feature film of the same name released in 1988.  The film starred Chris and Neil alongside Joss Ackland, Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt and joined the vast pile of British film starring pop stars which are just plain odd.  The surrealness of the movie didn’t really work.  The resume of it on IMD goes “A young boy’s holiday at a seaside resort includes a crazy blind priest, nuns in suspenders and a whole bunch of fat ladies”.  Enough said.   The song on “Actually” is actually quite lovely, a big sweeping ballad which certainly extended PSB beyond the dance music boundaries.  Another track taken from the soundtrack following the release of the film, the Boys’ version of the Elvis Presley hit “Always On My Mind” eased its way to the top of the UK charts between singles number 2 and 3 from “Actually” and was the 1987 Christmas Number 1.

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It’s to “Actually’s” big hit next, a number 1 single which preceded the release of the album.  “It’s A Sin” is amongst the best of PSB tracks of all time and was their first really great single.  Full of Catholic guilt, the single was helped by a memorable video directed by radical film-making genius Derek Jarman, the first of a number of collaborations with the boys.  The whole theme of the song resonated with the world’s record buying public as it topped the chart in at least 10 countries, ascending to the top in both Catholic and Protestant nations.  In the US it was their third top 10 hit reaching number 9.

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Sandwiched between credible but not totally memorable dance track “I Want To Wake Up” produced by PSB with Shep Pettibone and the under-rated album closer slowie “King’s Cross” with its somewhat obscure, strangely poignant lyrics is “Heart” a track which, when released as single number 4 from the album some seven months after “Actually’s” arrival somewhat surprisingly topped the UK charts – becoming their fourth and to this date final chart-topping UK single.  It was accompanied by a video featuring Ian McKellan as a vampire.  Less showy than their previous number 1’s, it is a great Hi-NRG track, although in interviews the duo have tended to dismiss it on occasions.  The feelings I get from “King’s Cross” may still have something to do with the shocking fire at the tube station just a couple of months after the album was released which killed 31 people- Neil sings of “the dead and wounded on either side”, which can have nothing to do with the fire and yet, because this album was still pretty much on  constant rotation at the time of the tragedy it is still linked in my mind.

“Heart” Record sleeve and on set with Ian McEwan

With sales of over 4 million and appearances in books such as “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” “Actually” cemented the global reputation of Pet Shop Boys.  Its variety, the quality of the songwriting, the big hit singles and Dusty Springfield makes this an essential CD.

Actually  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.50 and used from £0.74. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $11.36 new and used from $4.17 and as a download for $9.99.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify. 

Count Arthur Strong (BBC1 2017) & Count Arthur Strong- The Sound Of Mucus (Nationwide Tour) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

 

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This week at my local theatre in Shanklin on the Isle Of Wight I had the great pleasure to see live for the very first time Count Arthur Strong who brought his three man show “The Sound Of Mucus” over to the island.

Despite three series of his half-hour comedy shows on BBC television there were still a number of people who were asking locally “Who is Count Arthur Strong?”  It does seem that this comic creation by Steve Delaney whose inspiration stems from some of the comedy greats of the past is still under-rated.

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For the uninitiated the Count began his broadcasting life with in 2005 with “Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show!” which first brought to attention the  everyday life of this bewildered ex-Variety star.  The TV series is written by Steve Delaney with Graham Lineham and has been nominated for both Comedy Awards and for Best Sitcom at the BAFTAs.  The third series is currently on BBC1 on Friday evenings at 8.30pm.  This is an earlier transmission time which should bring in a younger audience as the Count is perfect Friday night family entertainment.  So far two episodes of Series 3 have been shown. This week’s gave way to Question Time but should be back with us when the General Election has been and gone.

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Predicting the election result?

The first episode of Series 3 saw Arthur roped into carrying out an exorcism and it was amusing but not classic Arthur.  I laughed more at the second episode where Michael (Rory Kinnear) ,whose association with Arthur began whilst researching a biography on Michael’s father (and Arthur’s ex-comedy partner) and who has been stuck with him ever since, was called for jury service and Arthur and odd-ball pals from the local cafe went along to support him.  There have been quite a few classic comedy moments in the previous two series.  Anyone wanting to dip into the world of the Count might want to seek out “The Radio Play” and “Arthur’s Big Moment” from the first series.  In “The Radio Play”, Arthur believes his acting career is due for a revival when he gets a small part in a radio play and “Arthur’s Big Moment” sees him, in a hilariously surreal sequence performing his variety act for a captive audience.  From Series 2 I won’t forget in a hurry “The Days The Clock Went Back” which builds misunderstanding upon misunderstanding and sees Arthur mistaken for a flying instructor in a sequence worthy of the best of “Some Mother’s Do Ave Em”.  Also seek out “Still Life” where Arthur attempts a new career as a living statue – all these have had me laughing until it hurts and so was delighted when he was making a stage appearance just down the road.

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Count Arthur with Michael (Rory Kinnear)

Something I heard somebody say as we left the theatre was “I don’t know why it’s funny, it just is” and that’s actually the joy of Count Arthur Strong.  I think it’s very British humour and seems to be in direct descendant to comedians of the past such as Harry Worth (where there are physical similarities in the hat and coat and from what I remember of Harry through misunderstandings), Hylda Baker (in malapropisms and bungled sentences), a touch of Frank Spencer (in ineptness to function), Tommy Cooper (in his ability to get laughs just standing on stage) and in his pompousness there’s even a touch of  both Captain Mainwaring and  Hyacinth Bouquets  There’s also in its joyful humour and playing with words a childishness which evokes memories of the golden age of children’s television and those people that you either dimly remember or were told about such as Mr Pastry, “Crackerjack” and Peter Glaze, Jimmy Edwards and the humour of “Rentaghost” yet it is more than a nostalgic nod to comedy pasts as it seems rooted in real people.  Like the best of comedy writing and despite its surrealness and occasional flight of fancy it seems authentic  and based upon real  (admittedly eccentric) people.

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Harry Worth most remembered for his shop window routine

Steve Delaney is 63 years old and has been playing this lovable bumbling character for over thirty years from when he was a drama student, down from Leeds and studying at The Central School of Speech and Drama.  The Count was resurrected in the late 90’s where he became part of Delaney’s club act, got the radio show and became a success at Edinburgh Festivals.   It’s been a long process, rather like the whole Mrs Brown phenomenon, another perfect case where I find myself laughing without really knowing what’s funny.

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His stage show “The Sound Of Mucus” is Arthur’s attempt to bring to life that Rogers and Hammerstein musical classic only someone has made a mistake at the printers.  Julie Andrews is suddenly not available to take the stage with Arthur so we have to wait for his friend Renee to arrive on the coach and to do her shopping from Lidl.  It co-stars Dave Plimmer (Eggy from the TV series but here playing stage-hand Uncle Alan) & Terry Kilkelly, as the Count’s PA, Malcolm.  As the show progresses Arthur has a few snifters of his special “Scottish Lucozade” which both loosens and restricts, especially when he has to come to grips with his Sulky Monkey ventriloquist puppet when he aims to re-enact “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”.  The script is both clever and funny and yet I laughed just as much at the moments away from the script, at moments of stillness, even a bench being dragged along the stage..  So did the rest of the audience.  The Count is still a bit of a cult figure and there’s always a danger of the audience not really getting it but he had them eating out of the palm of his hand from the moment he walked on stage.  The response was warm throughout especially when Arthur turned his hand at singing (his version of Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day” was a treat) and when we eventually got to the songs from the “Sound Of Mucus”, “16 Going on 17” had me almost breathless with laughter.

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Steve Delaney taking time off from the Count

The show has quite a few more dates to run over the summer including Plymouth, Weston-Super-Mare, Crawley, Oxford, Derby, Weymouth, Bristol, Margate, Nottingham and finishing off at the Liverpool Empire.  For Tour Dates see http://www.countarthurstrong.com/events/.     If you are an Arthur novice I would suggest watching a few of his clips on “YouTube” to see if this quirky humour is for you.  I certainly had a highly enjoyable evening in his company.

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for both TV and stage show

 

The third series of “Count Arthur Strong” is being shown on Fridays at 8.30pm on BBC1.  Previous episodes are available on the BBC I-Player.  The DVD of Series 3 is released on 17 July.  The first two series are available on DVD.

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (2014) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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I read JK Rowling’s first adult crime novel written as Robert Galbraith earlier this year and was impressed.  I thought “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (2013) was highly entertaining and had a generous helping of humour and warmth alongside the crime.  I liked the relationship between dogged private detective Cormoran Strike and his PA, Robin, and felt the whole thing seemed plausible and very real.

“The Silkworm” feels like a bigger novel, in terms of size; in its nod towards Jacobean revenge tragedies; with its literary quotes and setting in the world of publishing and literary fiction and in its more lurid, darker crime.  I so wanted to like it as much as its predecessor but for me it fell a little short.  Perhaps this was inevitable.  I’d always felt the debut Harry Potter novel was better than the follow-ups and with “The Silkworm”, Rowling as Galbraith falls into the same trap as Rowling as Rowling as the pace falters due to the length of the novel.  Both “The Philosopher’s Stone”and “Cuckoo’s Calling” are tightly written little gems but with “The Silkworm” as in the later Hogwarts epics my attention wandered.

Author Owen Quine disappears after his latest book which attacks his so called friends and colleagues is being touted to publishers by his agent.  Is the whole thing some kind of publicity stunt or is something much darker about to happen?  Cormoran Strike, asked by the author’s wife to locate him seems more in control here, fuelled by the success of the case in “The Cuckoo’s Calling” which has brought him greater kudos as a private detective and a continuing difficult relationship with the Police.  Strike has favours he can call in and with Robin still motivated to find out as much as she can abut detective work the reader is confident Strike will solve the crime before the authorities.

Like “The Cuckoo’s Calling” the case is involving and well-plotted but Galbraith here takes a little too long to get to the solution, there’s a few too many meetings with suspects and the literary analysis of the work causing the disappearance makes the book feel not as plausible as last time round and slightly irritated me.  It is no means a failure but now the characters have been established I was expecting a real cracker of a novel and that Galbraith would have me eating out of his/her hand but it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations.

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The Silkworm was published by  Sphere  in 2014

100 Essential CDs – Number 34 – Kylie Minogue- Light Years

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Light Years- Kylie Minogue  (Parlophone 2000) 

UK Chart Position – 2

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By the Millennium Kylie Minogue had been churning out UK hits for twelve years but things had gone just a little awry.  After her excellent 1991 album for PWL “Let’s Get To It” (another of my Essential CD’s) attained disappointing sales Kylie moved away from the security of Stock and Waterman and joined the more street-cred label Deconstruction where her first single release “Confide In Me” became her 7th single to reach number 2 in the UK charts.  The subsequent album was her second to give her a name check but this time she had matured to “Kylie Minogue” rather than the more teen-sounding “Kylie” of the first album.  The number 4 placing gave her biggest album success for 5 years and produced two more hit singles demonstrating a cooler Kylie.

Where it went a little wrong for me was with the follow-up where Kylie became so cool that she seemed to have distanced her original fans and became embroiled in indie-chic which just didn’t seem like the Kylie we had known and loved.  “Impossible Princess” was actually Kylie’s most personal work, as she had co-written all the songs and had a significant part to play in production and the whole image of the album.  This was the Kylie that she wanted to be at that time and there were collaborations with the Manic Street Preachers and Dave Ball from Soft Cell. Unfortunately (and somewhat surprisingly) the title of this album was deemed inappropriate in the UK following the death of Princess Diana and it was referred to as “Kylie Minogue” – her second album in a row titled thus.  It was a top 10 album although sales in her usually supportive UK were deemed disappointing.  In Australia it did reach number 4.  I never bothered to get it as it was a Kylie that I didn’t really buy into at the time.

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Confusingly, both Deconstruction albums had the same title in the UK

Following this disappointment Kylie left Deconstruction and got herself a deal with Parlophone and made this clever “comeback” album which won back all the fans who were no longer sure as well as many more.  It became her first album to top the charts in her native Australia, gave her a UK number 2 (her previous chart-topping album had been 11 years before), scored her a 5th  UK number 1 single as well as three more Top 10 hits.  The Kylie that we knew and loved was back with a vengeance. She may have gone on afterwards to have bigger selling albums but for me this is the career highspot and still sounds excellent 17 years on.   Of the 14 tracks on show Kylie received co-composition credits on 9 of them – other names involved in the writing include Robbie Williams with hit-making partner Guy Chambers and 80’s mega-star Paula Abdul.  There is one cover version, a highly successful version of a Barry White song recorded for his girl group Love Unlimited.

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Spinning Around in gold hot pants

Opening track “Spinning Around”certainly spun things around for Kylie when it entered the charts at number 1 in July 2000, her 27th Top 40 hit, prior to the release of the album.  It’s a great club track helped by a video in which Kylie sported what became an iconic pair of tiny gold hotpants.  The song itself was written by a pair of future American Idol judges Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul with the intention of being on a comeback album for Abdul whose eleven year career had tailed off somewhat.  With that album being temporarily shelved the song was given to Kylie, for whom it was perfect.

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Paula Abdul who could have been Spinning Around at the top of the charts

“On A Night Like This” became the follow-up single released just before the album and became her 8th number 2 hit.  It has more of a Europop feel than the opener, enhanced by the odd touch of a Spanish guitar sound and the whole thing feels very Ibiza.  This fits in with the concept of the album with artwork by Vincent Peters being based upon a photoshoot in Ibiza. I actually think this is a stronger track than the chart-topping opener.

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Kylie gets the first of her nine writing credits with “So Now Goodbye” which feels like a classic disco track and the first of three tracks produced by Johnny Douglas.  It’s a great singalong song with strong hooks.  It’s not the greatest of the Disco-tinged tracks on offer but if it had been on most of her previous albums it would have been the stand-out track.  On “Light Years” the quality has been seriously upped.  Further proof of this is “Disco Down” which perfectly recreates the time when Kylie could “boogie in my dreams/To Le Freak and Dancing Queen”.  It’s not subtle but it is great.  The vocodered male “burn this disco down” interludes makes it feel really quite funky with Douglas on production duties it is a real crowd-pleaser.  The whole thing builds beautifully.

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Kylie and Robbie Williams

The sublime disco continues with “Loveboat” written by Kylie with Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers,  a track with as much summer in its pores as Wham’s “Club Tropicana”.  The “ba-ba-ba” vocals give it a Pearl & Dean coolness, there’s French lyrics and the whole thing is exquisitely Mediterranean (or what a couple of Brits and an Australian see as Mediterranean).  Kitsch levels are ramped to high with its nod to the ultra-camp 70’s TV series of the same name- but unlike this series this track certainly goes somewhere.  It’s also a perfect track for the kind of highly visual performance which would go on to dominate Kylie’s career.

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All aboard the Loveboat baby!

Things get just a little rockier with “Koocachoo”, but in a finger-snapping cool rock world.  It takes us away from the Disco camp for a four minutes but we are certainly plunged back with the anthemic “Your Disco Needs You” – the greatest Kylie track not released as a UK single, although it charted in some territories.  The power of Disco is here seen as the cure to world’s ills and Kylie is the recruiting officer.  It’s as tongue in cheek as the best of Robbie Williams, who with Guy Chambers took on writing duties.  From its opening Pet Shop Boys influenced “Go West” vocals (something Robbie was still using with his 2016 release “Party Like A Russian” ) from the breathy reprise of the word “ass”, to the French section (translated into other languages for different markets), to the great build of female operatic voices and its explosive ending, this is a real statement and a “follow that!” track.  It is for me the undoubted highspot.

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Following that is the much more gentle but classy Spanish influenced track “Please Stay” with it’s handclappy castanet feel and guitar sound.  As the fourth single off the album it reached number 10 and provides the perfect cool-down after the previous track. It is another of the first-class tracks. Things get even gentler for the only ballad on the album, the very pretty “Bittersweet Goodbye” written by Kylie with producer Steve Anderson.  Although some might think of “Light Years” as Kylie’s disco album, when you listen to the whole thing the range of styles of tracks is impressive.  The same writing team works on next track “Butterfly” although this is produced by American club DJ Mark Picchiotti and it is back to the more contemporary club feel of the opening tracks .

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It takes a brave artist to cover a Barry White song with their lushness and complex arrangements but Kylie gives Love Unlimited’s  1973 hit “I’m Under The Influence Of Love” a great go.  There isn’t quite the build as there is in the original  but this is a very good Kylie cover even if it doesn’t eclipse the original where I love the soon to be  Mrs Barry White’s Glodean James’ vocal and the whole girl-group sound his production gives this.  I do love the swirling opening bars of Kylie’s version .

Kylie vs Love Unlimited – both under the influence!

The William/Chambers/Minogue next collaboration “I’m So High” is the least successful of their tracks and is the only track which smack a little of album-filler.  It leads into the duet with Robbie, “Kids”, which became chart runner up number 9 when it attained second position when released as the third single.  It feels more like Williams than Minogue, with its “Let Me Entertain You” rocky vibe, but it doesn’t feel out of place and saw the duo paired in a swimming pool for the closing moments of the video with its typically unsubtle Williams champagne cork popping for the video’s climax!

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Closer track “Light Years” has the feel of Giorgio Moroder and sees Kylie as our space age purser for the trip of our lives.  It’s “I Feel Love” meets Crown Heights Affair’s “Galaxy Of Love” with a great heap of Kylie kitsch.  A strong closing  nod to all that has gone on before.  With this release Kylie had tweaked the image somewhat and the public was back with her.  Her next album “Fever” contained the international smash hit “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” which topped the charts in over 40 countries and gained sales of over 5 million.  That album saw her back at number 1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Ireland and Germany amongst others and took her to number 3 in the US Billboard charts, returning her to the worldwide market stronger than she had ever been.  “Fever” is another first-class, but not essential album.  Kylie’s subsequent albums have been strong but have never attained the heights of the two early Millennium albums.

Kylie may have started out with a music career tacked onto her soap star celebrity status but through hard work and a shrewd awareness of what was going on around her, perhaps even more successfully than the Queen of Reinvention, Madonna, she has remained much loved for thirty years.  She has battled breast cancer and many broken relationship headlines (There are rumours which link her currently to Prince Andrew).  The public have always adored her.  We, of here consider her a national icon and she is not even British!  In 2010 she was proclaimed the most powerful celebrity in Britain in a survey of brand identification and only The Queen has had more Madame Tussauds waxworks made of her – showing the sheer power of her longevity and ability to reinvent.

“Light Years” , for me, remains her finest moment.

Just in case you doubt the power of disco here’s Kylie recruiting the whole of the Royal Albert Hall!

Light Years  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £2.53 and used from £0.01. It can be downloaded for £9.99. In the US it is currently $8.15 new and used from $0.56 and downloaded for $12.49.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.