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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……………….

100 Essential CDs – Number 46 –Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles – Over The Rainbow

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Over The Rainbow – Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles (Spy 2002)

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There are four distinct phases in the recording career of this legendary R&B girl group.  The first phase was their earliest recordings which appeared on labels such as Newtown and Parkway, singles releases backed up by a growing reputation as a blistering live act.  There were two Top 40 US pop singles during this time “Down The Aisle”(#37 in 1963) and a drama laden version of the standard from the musical “Carousel”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (#34 in 1964).  In fact there was an earlier, even bigger hit credited to the group, the Bluebelles when the marvellously titled “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman” reached #15 in 1962.  In true exploitative 60’s girl-group fashion this was reputedly recorded by a group called The Starlets, who also recorded for the Newtown label.  The Bluebelles added this song to their repertoire and actually re-recorded it, but apparently it was not them on the hit single, whatever it said on the label.

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The second phase is launched by this particular CD when the quartet of Patricia Holt (later Patti Labelle), Cindy Birdsong, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash signed to Atlantic amongst a very strong feeling that this label would be a perfect match for the group and would lead to great commercial success.  It didn’t.  Despite some great recordings of which this is a representation the hits didn’t come and the ascendancy of the Motown girl groups made the group fade into the background- recording wise, but certainly not in live performances where Patti and the girls could still blow most other groups off the stage.  In fact, to add salt to the wounds the group lost Cindy Birdsong when she hurried off to  become a Supreme when original member Florence Ballard was sacked.  This was something which was always seen as unforgiveable theft by Patti Labelle.

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The unrealised potential had to wait for the third phase when Dusty Springfield’s manager Vicki Wickham took control and re-imagined the group as a space-age, futuristic funk/rock group with theatrical tin-foil influenced costumes and feathers and furs and the group became Labelle, scoring a worldwide hit and all-time classic early on with “Lady Marmalade” (US#1, UK#17 1975).  It looked like Labelle were going to become superstars with their strong image and even stronger vocals but continued commercial success eluded them and they were never as big as they should have been.  Solo careers eventually beckoned .  The fourth stage was when Patti, Nona and Sarah reunited for 2008’s worthwhile “Back To Now” album.  This contained their greatest ever recording as a bonus track.  Originally recorded in London in 1970 and produced by Kit Lambert some years before their “Nightbirds” reincarnation their version of  Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” is perhaps one of the greatest soul tracks recorded in the UK.

Labelle in 1975 and 2008

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But we rewind back five years to 1965 and this debut Atlantic album, full of promise and potential hits.  Detractors say it was clear from this point that Atlantic did not really know what to do with them.  The tracks that had attracted most attention in their pre-Atlantic days were cover versions of standards  such as the aforementioned “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the schmaltzy “Danny Boy”.  In Labelle’s hands these songs were “Patti-fied” to turn them into big, dramatic sounds dominated by the extraordinary Labelle voice.  Although the songs chosen for “Over The Rainbow” would have felt slightly more relevant to the contemporary audience cover versions dominated.

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This was fairly standard practice in the mid 60’s, to put a couple of originals which would be the tracks chosen as singles amongst cover versions.  Atlantic was certainly doing this around the same time with another of their signings, the greatly talented Esther Phillips.  Although neither Phillips nor Labelle got the commercial acclaim due to them at the time the classic nature of these songs means that we can still value them as great song stylists and the tracks have lasted longer than the original songs produced for them.  After a couple of years of trying to break both Labelle and Phillips into the pop charts Atlantic legendary producer and executive , Jerry Wexler decided to approach a different tactic with his later signing, Aretha Franklin.  She had been on Columbia records where the same approach was being used as she was recording tracks such as “Rock A Bye Your Baby (With A Dixie Melody)” and “Ac-Cent-tchu-ate The Positive”.  By the time Wexler began recording with Franklin the mood of America had changed and these recordings began to embrace this and the civil rights movement with classic effect.  I may be in the minority here but I actually prefer Patti Labelle’s voice to Aretha Franklin’s.

The twelve tracks that make up this album were produced by experienced Atlantic producer Bert Berns and the album first saw the light of day in 1966.  An attempt to crack the singles charts had been made with “All Or Nothing” an original song co-written by Pam Sawyer, born in Romford, Essex,  who as a Motown staffer would go on to write such classic songs as “Love Child” for The Supremes and “Love Hangover” for Diana Ross.  Wexler had high hopes for this track which is a good commercial girl group sound made that little bit more special by Patti’s vocal performance but it did not chart.  It did make it onto the album.  The second single was another original, but probably most people hearing this today would put it down as a cover.  Carole Bayer Sager alongside Toni Wine wrote “Groovy Kind Of Love” which is a strong, melodic, playful track which has hit written all over it.  It wasn’t.  With the British Invasion of UK music stars dominating charts the world over it was covered by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders who took it to number 2 in the UK in early 1966 and was the number 2 US follow-up to their American chart-topper “Game Of Love”.  Phil Collins, of course, went one place better on both sides of the Atlantic some 22 years later, but make no mistake, the original and best version is by Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles.

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This 2002 issue of the 1966 album kicks off with a song which has been associated with the act through all of its incarnations.  “Over The Rainbow” was always a staple of live shows and here in this early version Patti is dragging every ounce of emotion from it, ably backed by the other three.  As a solo artist it became compulsory for Labelle to finish shows with it and it was a track she re-recorded.  Her best version is from a live performance.  I found it on the soundtrack of the film “Too Wong Foo” and it is an absolute showstopper.  I remember seeing Patti doing this as an encore for a concert on TV and it was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen as the vocals soared, she rolled around on the floor and produced one of the ultimate musically dramatic performances.  Another great version of this song was performed on X Factor in 2005 by eventual winner Shayne Ward, whose arrangement is certainly inspired by Patti’s.  This 1965 version is a great opener to the album.

Other tracks which are Patti-fied here include “Ebb Tide”, “More” (I think the best version of this song is by Martha Reeves & Vandellas), the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and the Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse show-tune “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)”.  Patti-fying a song means upping the drama level and wringing every ounce of emotion from it, there’s an almost drenching of gospel but the song doesn’t lose its original meaning.  The phrasing is unique as Patti bends and soars with the lyrics in a way which is totally unpredictable.  Every time I listen I’m amazed as to where Patti decides to pitch or hold a note, you think she’s going to do something and she does something else entirely which is probably more extraordinary and technically difficult than what you had imagined.  A track like “People” is evidence of this.  The song would be well known for introducing another technically gifted singer, Barbra Streisand, so could be considered a brave move.  This seems almost like a challenge Patti relishes, she holds notes where Barbra breathes and seems so accomplished with her version.  At the time of this release Patti was 21 years old and yet seems like a vocal veteran.  Her influence on other performers cannot be understated.  In fact, around this time the Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles Fan Club was set up by a superfan who was so enamoured of what Patti could do.  This young lad was called Luther Vandross, who was certainly no slouch in the vocal department and no doubt learned a lot by listening to Patti.

Another original track “Patti’s Prayer” confirms the gospel expertise of this group as does a version of the song “He” which has been a mid 50’s hit for Al Hibbler.  Another track associated with Hibbler is “Unchained Melody” and the group give this a good go too.  This isn’t one of the stand-out tracks.  At the start Patti sounds quite far back in the mix, rather than steaming out of the blocks from her first note, which makes it seem a little understated compared to some of the other tracks available here.  We round things off with a lovely version of “Try To Remember”.

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The girls as postage stamps

So, commercially unsuccessful but a real treat and the one Labelle the group CD I listen to the most often and it was a great move for Spy records to lease the original master recording as part of their Ambassador Soul Classics releases from Atlantic who would have probably left it languishing in a vault.  Anyone keen on the girl group sound, on blistering versions of familiar songs or on the powerhouse vocal of Patti Labelle should certainly seek this out.  For me, it’s an Essential CD.

Over The Rainbow is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £6.95, and used from £3.30 and as a download for £5.95.  An album which features these tracks alongside those from the follow-up album was released in 2014 and would be a worthwhile, if considerably more expensive choice. In the US it is currently $13.74 new $4.98 used and downloadable for $8.99.

A Beautiful Young Wife – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016)

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Scribe have done a great job this year in bringing the work of Dutch author Wieringa to an English speaking audience with translations of his back catalogue by Sam Garrett.  This is the British publication of his 2014 novella “Een Mooie Jonge Vrouvo”

This is the fourth of Wieringa’s novels I have read, enough evidence to strongly suggest that he is an important contemporary European writer with great depth and range in his published works.  One of his novels republished by Scribe in 2016 “Joe Speedboat” became my reviewsrevues Book Of The Year. In “A Beautiful Young Wife” he exquisitely examines a relationship between a couple with a 14 year age gap.  Edward has buried himself in his career as a microbiologist and has missed out on romance until the day he encounters Ruth cycling past the cafe he is in.  The couple meet, fall in love, get married and plan a family.  Edward finds himself having to face up to commitment, fatherhood, respecting another’s values and beliefs with varying success.

I found the whole thing compelling and beautifully written.  There is an explicitness and openness that I hadn’t really picked up on the previous novels.  This might actually upset a few readers but in the context of the relationships he depicts it is powerful and vibrant.  No Bad Sex Award for Mr Wieringa, I’d hope.

Behind this tale of getting on with another is a study of pain.  Ruth, a vegetarian, believes Edward causes pain in animals used as part of his research.  Edward moves towards her point of view as they begin to increasingly inflict pain upon one another.  This study of a relationship is raw and sparse as well as poetic and thought-provoking and is my second favourite of the four books I have read by this highly talented Dutch author.

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A Beautiful Young Wife was published by Scribe in  August 2016.  Many thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

How To Measure A Cow – Margaret Forster (Chatto and Windus 2016)

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Margaret Forster sadly left us in 2016 and this is her final novel published just after her death.  She was a prolific writer of some 27 novels and a number of non-fiction works.  Perhaps her most celebrated novel is “Georgy Girl” (1965) which summed up the swinging sixties as both a book, a film and the theme tune by The Seekers.

I have never before read any of her novels and it seems a little strange starting at the end of her work with this critically well-received publication.

Sarah Scott is starting a new life with a new identity and in a new location following time in prison.  She puts a pin in a map and selects Workington for this.  Sarah Scott is very different personality-wise from the person she has been before.  Will she fit into life in Workington in a mundane job and living in a back-street terrace with an elderly neighbour as her only friend or will her former self break through?

It’s a very tight, tense read with Forster only drip-feeding us information about Sarah’s past.  A reunion of old friends beckons which will challenger her commitment to her new identity.  In part, however, this is a study of the two lead characterss, someone leading a double life and of the lonely neighbour, trying to relearn how to make friends. This element of the novel feels poignant and is very touching.  Plot-wise it all feels like it is building to something immense but this doesn’t quite kick in with the power I was expecting.  There is no denying that it is well-written by someone who was totally confident with her craft and characterisation is strong.  What Forster obviously excelled in is portraying the dynamics between her female characters in a way which feels thought provoking and convincing.  She here has produced a closely plotted novel which will delight her fans.  It has proved a good introduction to her work and I will be seeking out further titles.

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“How To Measure A Cow” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books.  Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Margaret Forster.  You have until  10th February to register your vote.

“How To Measure A Cow” was published in 2016 by Chatto and Windus.

Taboo (BBC1 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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The new season of shows on BBC1 continues with what seems like a brave decision for peak time on Saturday night.  It is best described as brooding – which is traditionally not what we like to do on a Saturday, but this brave decision might just very well pay off.

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What has tempted BBC1 to make this ratings risk alongside its Saturday night family fare of light entertainment and medical drama? Answer- One Tom Hardy.  Oscar nominated for “The Revenant” Hardy has the power to burn up every thing he appears in.  On TV he has been unforgettable as Bill Sikes and as the lead character in the Martina Cole series “The Take”.  Filmwise, it was the otherwise forgettable 2006 low-budget comedy “Scenes Of A Sexual Nature” which had me sitting up taking notice with a full-on-sexual chemistry scene with Sophie Okenedo on Hampstead Heath.  Since then the superbly intense performances have kept coming – the title role in “Stuart: A Life Backwards”; martial arts contender in “Warrior”;violent criminal Charles Bronson; Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” and both the Kray twins in “Legend”.  This is a man who can turn out excellently high-octane performances – so perhaps the BBC are not taking too much of a risk.

Just because I can: (from top left) Tom Hardy, as Charles Bronson, in Scenes of A Sexual Nature, in The Take.  Bottom row – Oscar nominated in The Revenant, in Warrior

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Double Take! As the Kray Twins in Legend

When you look into it the lack of risk actually becomes apparent with this eight-parter.  It’s from an original idea by Hardy and his father who wanted to create a character for Hardy to play; an amalgamation of Bill Sikes, Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, Heathcliff and Jack The Ripper and they believed they came up with the goods with Jack Delaney.  The whole thing has been a labour of love for Hardy father and son and it has taken years to get to Saturday night BBC1.  Their idea has been developed and written by Steven Knight.  Knight is also known as a film director.  In 2014 he received great acclaim for the innovative one hander “Locke” which starred Tom Hardy with just a car and a hands-free phone for company.  Hardy has enlisted Ridley Scott alongside him as Executive Producer and Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm- the man responsible for “The Killing” (a man who can certainly evoke dark and brooding) to direct the series.  On a night when BBC1 introduced light-entertainment-by-numbers show “Let It Shine” and ITV were relaunching previous BBC flagship “The Voice” (for no apparent good reason), “Taboo” felt thrillingly unpredictable.

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It’s London in 1814 and Jack Delaney (Hardy) has returned from Africa for the funeral of his father, a man with shipping interests at loggerheads with the East India Company, headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce).  Delaney has long been believed dead and his return is a shock, especially to his half-sister, played by Oona Chaplin (excellent in BBC2’s “The Hour”).  Delaney’s return means that he will inherit his father’s assets, including a strip of land, Nootka Sound, where Hardy’s mother lived as part of a tribe and where she was reputedly  bought by his father.  His father’s solicitor, Thoyt,(Nicholas Woodeson) does his best not to make it sound like a good proposition;

“If America were a pig facing England.  It is right at the pig’s arse.”

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Chaplin, Hardy and Pryce

The interest of the East India Company suggests otherwise and political factors make it a highly desirable piece of land.  It is certainly not in Delaney’s nature to give in graciously.  His half-sister states, “He doesn’t belong in this world” and he himself says “I’m not a fit man to be around children”.  Hardy in interviews has been comparing this character to Saddam Hussein, so there is plenty of intrigue and wrong-doings left to enjoy.

And enjoy it I did.  Taboo’s London is the visceral, gritty London of nightmares.  There’s vats of chopped meat being stirred, there’s graverobbing, seedy brothels, mud and grime and the whole thing is probably too dark and too mumbled for the Daily Mail viewer but it was really quite fascinating.  “Peaky Blinders” might come to mind (also starring Hardy) in its approach, but that was never a Saturday night BBC1 show.  It also reminded me of last year’s rather splendid adaptation of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” which was a weekend show (Sunday nights) 0n BBC1.  I think that this has a lot of potential and however much was paid from our licence fees to Mr Hardy the BBC are sure to get their money’s worth.

fourstarsTaboo is shown on BBC1 on Saturdays at 9.15pm.  The first episode is available on catch-up on the BBC I Player.

The Song Collector – Natasha Solomons (Sceptre 2015)

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Natasha Solomon’s fourth novel provides my introduction to her work.  It is a novel about music, which can be a hit or miss affair in fiction but here it works extremely well.  Central to the plot is Hartgrove Hall, a country house, which at the earliest chronological spot of the story, November 1946, is being reclaimed by the Fox-Talbot family after being requisitioned by the military during the war.  This has left it neglected, beginning a decline which will see the next generation striving to turn back.

The youngest of the three Fox-Talbot sons, Harry, is a “song collector”, a music fanatic determined to catalogue every folk song he encounters.  The house becomes a springboard for his musical achievements when he composes a symphony in tribute to it which establishes his career.  The narrative follows two timeframes, the second being Harry’s attempts to get his life back on track following the death of his wife, Edie, a wartime singer of great repute, who we first meet as his older brother’s girlfriend.  The earlier strand is a love story as to how Harry and Edie got together and their attempts to save Hartgrove Hall. It is also very much a love-song to music itself.  This provides Harry’s redemption, his means of keeping hopes of retaining his home alive and also with his musically-gifted grandson it provides his chance to celebrate Edie and to pick up some of the pieces following her demise.

Solomons is a gifted writer.  This is a confident, mature piece with both music and the old house conjuring up an air of yearning which is strong throughout.  There was a point when I noted the unusual occurrence for me of favouring the modern narrative strand rather than the post-war years. (Normally with this type of book I relish the earlier years and tolerate the more modern strand).  I did become engrossed in the relationship between grandfather and grandson and felt a little disappointed when it switched back to Harry and Edie’s earlier love triangle.  Having said this all aspects of the novel are highly satisfactory.  It is very close to a five star read, but it does look like in 2017 I’m going to be just as stingy at giving them out.  A five star book is assured of a permanent place on my bookshelves so with space limited has to really blow me away.  I do sense that Natasha Solomons has a five star book within her (perhaps in her back catalogue, “Mr Rosenblaum’s List” seems highly appraised) or with her next work but for me it just misses out on the ultimate accolade this time round.

“The Song Collector” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books.  Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Natasha Solomons You have until  10th February to register your vote.

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The Song Collector was published in hardback in 2015 and in paperback by Sceptre in March 2016.

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall – Vaughn Entwistle (2014)– A Murder They Wrote Review

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Vaughn Entwistle very kindly sent me this book following our Author Strikes Back interview  which was based on his subsequent novel, the highly enjoyable “The Angel of Highgate”.  This 2014 publication is the first in his “Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” and features two prominent Victorian literary figures in Doyle and Oscar Wilde.  Neither of these are strangers to fictional characterisations.  TV presenter Giles Brandreth has written a whole series of sleuthing novels featuring Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle has  perhaps been most famously fictionalised in Julian Barnes’ “Arthur And George”.

The pair, who were friends in real life, lend themselves very well to Entwistle’s crime romp.  It is not so much a whodunit as a who will do it.  It is set at the time when Conan Doyle’s wife is in the latter stages of consumption and he has tired of his great creation, Sherlock Holmes, and killed him off amid much public outcry.  An invitation to do some detective work at Thraxton Hall seems a perfect short-term getaway from his troubles and Wilde comes along for the ride.  These are  individuals who most readers would have some impression as to what they were like and Entwistle very nicely fleshes out our impressions of the larger than life Wilde and the conflicted Conan Doyle.  This unlikely friendship is a real highspot of the novel.

What Entwistle does with these two is to place them in a classic country house set-up reminiscent of the golden days of crime fiction.  A meeting of the Society for Psychical Research allows for a supernatural element.  Otherwise there’s a group of likely suspects from above and below stairs, a locked-room death and enough tunnels and secret passageways to delight the classic crime fan.  There wasn’t as much out and out fun as the more gloriously unpredictable “Angel of Highgate” and the darker side of the author’s writing was not as evident but it did provide me with considerable enjoyment and is worth seeking out as a successful modern slant on classic crime fiction.  In 2015 the second of this series entitled “The Dead Assassin” was published.

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Vaughn Entwistle

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“The Revenant Of Thraxton Hall” was published in 2014 by Titan.

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 11 –Gladys Knight & The Pips – Gold

Gold – Gladys Knight & The Pips (Disky 1993)

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Gladys Knight, born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, was a child phenomenon scooping first prize as an eight year old on the nationally televised “Ted Mack Amateur Hour”.  By the age of 10 she was working as part of her family group- alongside her brother and sister and two cousins.  This three girls, two boys incarnation of the Pips lasted until 1958 when Gladys became the only girl left in the group and two more male cousins joined.  By 1961 they had scored their first US hit as The Pips when “Every Beat Of My Heart” reached number 6.

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There were a couple of other appearances in the US charts in the early 60’s by which time Gladys had become the powerhouse in front of the group and this was acknowledged by pushing her name to the front.  In 1967 Gladys Knight and the Pips signed to Motown where great things were expected of them.  For the next six years they were regular visitors to the pop charts with tracks such as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (#2 in 1967), “If I Were Your Woman” (#9 in 1971) and “Neither One Of Us” (#2 in 1973).  In the UK a couple of tracks that hadn’t exactly hit set the charts alight in their homeland became big hits, “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me” (#13 in 1967) and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (UK#11, US#33).  The group felt increasingly confined by the Motown sound and Gladys, quite rightly assumed that they were not top priority on the label.  By 1973 after 13 US Top 40 pop hits and a reputation of being amongst the very best in the business the group left Motown and moved to Buddah records.

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This is where this 19 track, budget compilation kicks in.  The Buddah recordings upped the sophisticated gloss of the later Motown tracks and by using top producers and great songs continued the run of hits for another few years, during which time the group were really at their commercial peak.  On this CD you get all 7 of their Top 40 hits of this period, including their only US Pop #1 hit.  In the UK the Buddah years were perhaps even more cherished than in their homeland as they scored 11 Top 40 hits between 1975-78, with a run of songs with which they are most closely associated over here.  They are probably one of the greatest groups never to score a UK #1.

Contained within these 19 tracks are three of my all-time favourites singles as well as a resoundingly strong collection of performances which shows how good Gladys Knight and The Pips were.  It kicks off with the biggest and the best, the all-time soul classic which is “Midnight Train To Georgia”.  This Jim Weatherly song started off life as another form of transport where “plane” took the place of “train”.  After the name change it was recorded by Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mum, whose version is very good but it is the vocal interplay between Gladys and The Pips which really took this song to another level.  Released as a single it topped the US charts in 1973 but was not a hit in the UK until 1976, by which time it was already an established soul classic when it reached #10. Gospel roots are very much in evidence as the Pips confirm, question and comment on the proceedings and even get to sound like the train with their “wooh-woohs”.  This is a track I never get tired of hearing and each time I marvel over the quality of the song and the performance.  This is a great way to start the CD.

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“I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” is a funky little track with driving drum and brass work.  There is this perception of Gladys Knight and Pips as a ballads-only supper-club type group but they could excel on the uptempo funk of tracks such as this as well as disco.  This was taken from their debut Buddah album “Imagination” and written by master songwriter Gerry Goffin alongside Barry Goldberg.  The US liked their Gladys Knight & Pips tracks a little funkier and more rhythm and blues based  than we did over here (further proof of this is the lack of pop chart success for the disco tracks that became some of their biggest and best hits over in Europe) and it reached number 4 in the US pop charts as a follow-up to “Midnight Train.”

Two more Jim Weatherly songs follow and first off is their second all-time classic track, one I love so much that I actually had as a wedding song (couldn’t run to Gladys performing it, however).  “The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” is such a well-written song, which could have been sugary in anyone else’s hands but with Gladys’ voice cutting through the whole thing is a sublime treat.  There’s a few lines in here that remain as almost a mantra in my head, one of my ultimate ear-worms as Gladys sings;

“If anyone should ever write my life story

For whatever reason there might be

You’ll be there

Between each line of pain and glory

‘Cos you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Gladys very appropriately named her autobiography “Between Each Line  Of Pain And Glory” (what else could she call it really?) On the best tracks the Pips’ contribution is vital, they operate far more than as backing singers and this is the case here.   It had previously been a chart-topper on the US country charts by Ray Price.  Gladys’ version topped the Soul Charts, went to number 3 in the US  pop charts and became another belated hit for her in the UK two years later when it reached #7 in 1975.

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The third Jim Weatherly song was chosen as the debut single from the Buddah association.  “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” (US#28 1973) puts the Pips in a prominent position.  It’s a gentle, graceful track which is unlikely to be anyone’s favourite Gladys moment but always sounds good and fits in beautifully with this compilation.  This moves into the Pips led version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” which demonstrates clearly the group’s gospel roots.  The vocals are somewhat far back in the mix of this which is strangely effective but I think here Nash’s original version is the stronger track.

For a time Gladys looked as if she might follow Diana Ross into the world of Hollywood movies.  She starred in the film “Pipe Dreams” but the only thing that is now remembered about that is the title song written by Tony Camillo which makes its appearance next and is a very good example of a Gladys ballad.  Camillo continues the writing honours with Mary Sawyer on “I Feel A Song (In My Heart)” a track which just oozes with class.  It was the lead single from their third Buddah album.  Once again it is the driving quality of the performances that takes this to another level.  As a single, it perhaps wasn’t the best commercial option as its number 21 placing in 1974 ended their run of four consecutive US Top 5 pop hits.  It was, however, another R&B chart-topper for them.

If Gladys is associated with schmaltz it is probably because of the next track.  The song was a bit of a game-changer for them in the UK which saw them begin a run of consecutive hits and established them on radio playlists was a live version of the Barbra Streisand weepie “The Way We Were” teamed up with a hint of “Try To Remember” which Gladys largely speaks through.  It is a sentimental track but the live performance and Gladys’ voice when she gets into singing mode stop it from going over the edge.  In the UK it became the group’s biggest hit to date getting to number 4 and prompting re-issues of earlier tracks which hadn’t made the grade first time round. In the US it hovered just outside the Top 10.

From this point on Gladys’ chart performances were more consistent in the UK as we really took her to heart.  An association with disco supremo Van McCoy brought forth three top 40 singles and includes what I would consider to be the third all-time classic by this group.  I love the work that was done with McCoy, who died in 1979 at the tragically young age of 39.  Where he worked best is with gutsy vocalists who could cut through the lushness of his arrangements which combined together beautifully –so here I’m thinking of  David Ruffin, Melba Moore, Faith Hope and Charity and especially Gladys Knight & The Pips. The driving “Come Back And Finish What You Started (UK#15 1978) the disco bounce of “Home Is Where The Heart Is” (UK#35 1977) are great tracks but eclipsed by “Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind” (UK#4, 1977) which effectively conveys the paranoia towards a partner’s commitment once his “ex is back in town”.  This track also marvellously rhymes “mind” with “genuine” and all to a disco beat.  I know that many soul artists struggled during the disco years and didn’t hold the music they were being asked to do then in high esteem but Gladys is just great at this and these tracks show why.

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Van McCoy – The Disco Kid

Elsewhere we get Gladys re-exploring “The Way We Were” feel with a version of “Georgia On My Mind”; one of the most sensitive vocal performances ever on David Gates’ “Part Time Love” (US#22, UK#30 1975) and a couple of Curtis Mayfield penned and produced tracks which came off the soundtrack for a movie “Claudine” which starred Diahann Carroll.  “On and On” (US#9 1974) is a track which has grown on me over the years and “Make Yours A Happy Home” (UK#35, 1977) has an irresistibly infectious warmth.

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The Buddah association came to an end in 1980 when they signed to Columbia Records.  Towards the end of the stay Gladys and the Pips began to explore solo projects.  The Pips could never be great without Gladys despite good vocals and excellent stage presence but Gladys without the Pips recorded one of the great James Bond Themes in a “Licence To Kill” and topped the US charts as part of the Dionne Warwick led AIDS fund-raiser “That’s What Friends Are For”.  The post Buddah years threw up a few good tracks for the group including the Ashford-Simpson penned “Bourgie Bourgie”.  In 1988, 27 years after their first chart hit the group disbanded and Gladys embarked upon her solo career.  Pips Edward Patten and William Guest are no longer with us but Gladys now aged 72 released her latest album “Where My Heart Belongs” in 2014.  Her recordings encompass R&B, standards, jazz and gospel, where she has remained incredibly active.  She is truly one of the legends of the entertainment business.

I’ve gone for this European budget compilation using tracks licensed from Buddah because it contains the Van McCoy songs which, because of their lack of commercial US success, some compilations do not feature.  There is also of course great Gladys and Pips tracks to be found from the Motown years (the double CD “Anthology”from 1990 brings out the best of these) as well as great tracks from after the Buddah years, but this is the one (although not the easiest to find and with no frill in the packaging department that I would consider to be essential.  There is a 2006 Double CD available also called “Gold” which takes in both the Motown and post- Buddah years but for a single CD compilation this one is hard to beat.

Gold is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £7.99, and used from £0.81. It does not seem to be readily available in the US.

What You Have Been Reading – The Top 10 posts of 2016

Christmas and New Year plays odd tricks with you.  First day back at work yesterday and on journey home it seemed as if the festive season was ages ago.  I was surprised to still see the twinkling lights from the bus and even more so when I got home to see the Christmas tree and decorations all up.  It only takes a couple of days of the New Year to get us all moving on………..

But before I crack on fully with 2017 I want to take just one more retrospective look at 2016.  Personally it was pretty momentous.  At the start of the year I was getting myself prepared for a 10th season at my guest house on the Isle of Wight.  Well, since then, books have taken over.  Following months of uncertainty the guest house has been sold and I have moved to a new house in the same town and have begun working with books (as well as being surrounded by them at home) working within the Isle Of Wight Library Service.  The reviews, interviews and magazine assignments have kept coming and at the times of upheaval, of not knowing where I would be living, of winding the business up, of dealing with the loss of close family members reading has very much kept me sane.  If insanity was threatened it was due to BT Open Reach and EE my internet providers who took forever between them to get me a phone line and internet access – but that’s all sorted now and after a few years of feeling life was on a bit of a plateau 2017 feels a very positive change of year.

I’m delighted with the way reviewsrevues.com has gone from strength to strength (despite erratic postings towards the end of the year- thanks again for making this so difficult, BT).  In fact compared to last year there has been an astonishing 76% rise in traffic on the site.  That’s thanks to you all reading this.  Let’s finish 2016 off with a countdown of your ten most read of the 158 posts I published during the year. Just click on the links to revisit the full reviews.

10. The Author Strikes Back- Benita Jayne – Author of “Sacred Crystal Pyramid”and old school chum makes it into the Top 10 with our interview held back in July

9. The Author Strikes Back – Chris Whitaker – The most read of the author interviews I’ve published on here this year.  Chris had to put up with me interviewing him twice, once for here and once for the Nudge site.  He was charming both times.

8. Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker Showing that the author interviews drive traffic to the original review.  Chris’ crime debut was also a hit on Nudge which has led to a nomination for the Book Noir book of the year.  If you enjoyed his book you can register your appreciation here.

7. The Evenings – Gerard Reve– I had quite a lot of reservations about this book which I reviewed in October but the review of this Dutch translation has attracted a lot of attention.

6. The Rovers – Sky 1 football themed comedy with Craig Cash and Sue Johnston.  This was funny and attracted enough reads on here to suggest a second series is a serious proposition.

5. Giles Coren: My Failed Novel – Sky Arts one-off programme on the perils for a first-time novelist.  A real eye-opener.

4. Make! Craft Britain – Another one-off programme, this time on BBC4.  There’s a lot of crafters out there (and yes I did finish making my Clanger)

3. Lets Groove- The Best Of Earth Wind & Fire– I actually posted this in October 2015 but the lasting legacy of this group and the sad passing of Maurice White (one of the seemingly vast number of celebrities who were imporant to me who died in 2016) has ensured that this has had high readership figures throughout the year.

2. Scott and Bailey – ITV series.  People seemed to be facing up to the disappointment of there being apparently no more by reading about it.  I’ll say it again…  I love Scott and Bailey.

 

 

1.The Level – ITV.  My review of this appeared after the first episode at the start of October.  I moved not long after and lost track of reviewsrevues for a time.  I was astonished to see that views for this had gone through the roof whilst I was doing other things and it is the most read review  on here by a clear mile.  Over 1300 views ahead of the number 2 read.  The series started promisingly but lost its way a little at times but the readers keep coming.  There’s certainly a lot of interest in this series, ITV, if you are thinking of recommissioning or looking towards overseas sales.

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Right. that’s enough 2016.  Let’s get on with 2017!

My Top Re-read of 2016

My Top Re-read is a book I first read 14 years ago and it really impressed me then.  I think it worked even better a second time.  This book is……………

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

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I read and reviewed this back in January, partly because I had agreed to do a piece for Newbooks magazine comparing the book to the film.  Obviously, when I first read the book the film had not been made but this was one occasion where the images of the film had seared their way into my brain.  I re-read the book before re-watching the film, was blown away by both and wrote a piece for NB 88  which to celebrate the lofty position this book has attained for me this year I’m going to republish here.

Atonement written by Ian McEwan ( Vintage 2001) Vs. Atonement-directed by Joe Wright (2007)

When thinking of a modern novel where the film version is of an equally high quality to the book the first that came to mind was “Atonement”.  To see if my initial reaction was correct I have recently revisited both.  On re-reading, the book was even better than I remembered, the film, watched so soon after completing the book, slightly less so, but both deserve to be considered as modern classics and offer five star experiences.

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Ian McEwan had up to this point, not fared as well as might have been expected with film adaptations.  I had high hopes of 2004’s “Enduring Love” starring Daniel Craig but it didn’t match the intensity of the book.  McEwan’s 2001 masterpiece is written in four sections- a country house in a heatwave in 1935: at Dunkirk in 1940; at a London hospital at around the same time and London in 1999.  The first section translates to film sumptuously, closely follows McEwan’s careful plotting and often dialogue (Christopher Hampton wrote the Screenplay).  It is beautifully performed with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley particularly shining throughout.

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Where we have a deviation with the intensity of the novel is the second section, particularly on the road to Dunkirk, which to an extent, is glossed over.  This is a brutal, visceral section of the book, quite difficult to read and obviously deemed too difficult to watch.  The Dunkirk of the film has been rightly praised for the vividness of the depiction but is a place of far more hope than McEwan’s vision and by taking away some of the bleakness it, to an extent, diffuses the power of some of what comes afterwards.  This had passed me by on first viewing but with McEwan’s words and images so firmly in my mind it became apparent.  I had to keep reminding myself to breathe when I was reading the book, and although, the film was intense, it was less so.  To an extent the viewers have been spared quite a bit of the horrors of war, which probably made sense when marketing the film.

The end section avoids the delightful sense of completion to the story but does make a final twist more definite and more shocking which had me scurrying back for the book for confirmation.  Without doubt the film-makers got it right and made a film which was stunning in both appearance and content.

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Top 10 Books Of The Year -Part 2 (The Top 5)

Without any further ado here are the five books that did it for me in 2015.  To find the full reviews please click on the titles

5. Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (Scribner 2016) (Read and reviewed in September)

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This is the one that should have made the progression from the Booker longlist to the shortlist.  An astonishing debut.  It’s 1920s Alabama and a plan to bring electricity to Roscoe Martin’s farm goes badly wrong.  It’s the second tale of rural survival on my list but is imbued throughout with hope -throughout the darkest moments there’s hope and Reeves conveys this beautifully.

4. His Bloody Project – Graeme  Macrae Burnet  (Saraband 2015) (Read and reviewed in August)

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My pick of the Booker Prize shortlist.  Published by a tiny Scottish independent this was one that would have slipped through my net had it not had the Booker nod.  A historical novel that reads like true crime is an interesting concept but what makes this special is the real feel of the crofting community of the Scottish highlands in 1869 through  a prison journal, witness statements, official documents and court transcripts. Sold well after its Booker recognition but a win would have turned this into one of the year’s big books.  It is certainly a big book in my opinion.

3.Black Narcissus – Rumer Godden (Virago 1939) (Read in June and reviewed in August)

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Love the film but have never actually got round to reading the book.  Neurotic nuns up a mountain – what’s not to love?  I wasn’t sure if Godden would have been able to convey the technicolour lushness of the film but she certainly does.  Hopefully in 2017 I’ll be able to seek out more by her.

2. Life After Life – Kate Atkinson  (Doubleday 2013) (Read in April and reviewed in May)

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2013 Costa Novel award winner. I am the last one around to read this?  Structurally superb, risking accusations of style over substance but producing a novel which is both technically surprising and first class. “Practice makes perfect” is a theme of the novel and Atkinson here gets close to perfection.

Time for the long silence before the winner is announced (oh, can’t do long silences on a blog so I’ll get straight on with it .The reviewsrevues Book Of The Year 2016 is……….

1.  Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016) (Read and reviewed in May)

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In any other year there could have been as many as three Wieringa novels in my Top 10 as the other two I have read are hovering outside the Top 10 and are both very good.  This is also how I felt last year with his “These Are The Names” published by Scribe and which saw them embarking on a programme to of bringing out his earlier Dutch novels translated by Sam Garrett. A 2009 debut this was apparently the biggest ever selling Dutch debut in his homeland and it deserves a huge audience here.  A coming-of-age novel about Frankie, who has survived a horrific accident and becomes swept up by the antics of newcomer Joe Speedboat.  Like all the best books it provokes a myriad of emotions- it is touching, unpredictable, outrageous and laugh out loud funny.  Scribe have been a great support to this blogger this year, but there’s certainly no favouritism.  This book has reached my summit on merit.

This is the second year I have gone for a book in translation for my top pick.  Last year’s Top 5 can be found here.  I have probably read more translated novels this year but that is because of authors such as Tommy Wieringa.  If there is a pattern, and I wouldn’t have said there was, but looking at my ten titles I can see that there may very well be one, it is to make my top 10, authors, set your novels in the past.  I wouldn’t have said I was a great historical novel fan but this list suggests otherwise… We’ll see what 2017 conjures up.  Bring it on!

As I read a lot more books this year than I normally do there are a number of titles that I feel bad about missing out on my Top 10 – so here are a few special mentions for recent publications.  The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale, Hot Milk-Deborah Levy, The Double Life Of Kit Kavanagh- Marina Fiorato, Eileen -Otessa Moshfegh, Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeliene Thien,  Rembrandt’s Mirror- Kim Devereux, Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker ( incidentally a nominee for the newbooks Book Noir book of the year) , Angel Of Highgate – Vaughn Entwistle, Himself- Jess Kidd (the last four authors I have had the great pleasure of interviewing this year- always one of my personal highspots of reviewsrevues.com)

In my next post I’ll honour the re-read that gave me the most pleasure this year.

See my Top 10 Books Part 1 – numbers 10-6 here