Sanditon – Jane Austen & Another Lady (1975)

 

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I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Andrew Davies adaptation for ITV and was fascinated to find out more about what was actually just a fragment of a novel.  Jane Austen probably intended it to be her seventh novel beginning it in early 1817 and of which the first approximately 26,000 words survive.  Midway through Chapter 11 she became unable to continue due to ill- health and passed away in July of that year.  It took until 1925 for the unfinished work to be published for the first time.  It is this fragment which Andrew Davies chose to finish for television, in his style.  He was not the first to do this.

No further plot outlines or developments were left but in the mid 1970’s the anonymous “another lady” who was “an established author in her own right” had a go at completing the work and has done a remarkably good job.  This “lady” was later revealed to be Marie Dobbs, an Australian-born author who lived and worked in many countries yet gained most fame for her version of the small, minutely observed world of Jane Austen and her creation of the seaside town of Sanditon.  There have been other continuations since, the most recent being the 2019 novelisation of the TV series by Kate Riordan, but this first version is for me thoroughly satisfactory.

Charlotte Heywood is spared by her family to spend the summer at the developing seaside settlement.  (Austen based it on Sidmouth but placed it geographically near Peacehaven) under the care of the Parker family led by Tom, a keen supporter of and investor in the town.  Here she meets the somewhat fierce Lady Denham (played brilliantly by Anne Reid in the TV version) living with her favoured relation Clara Brereton, whose presence threatens the inheritance of two other of Lady D’s kin, Sir Edward Denham and his sister Lucy.  Other visitors to the town include the heiress Miss Lambe, from a West Indian family and the rest of Tom Parker’s brothers and sisters, a bunch of hypochondriacs apart from the dashing Sidney who Austen had most likely earmarked for the hero and eventual love interest for Charlotte.

From here the TV adaptation went for Sidney emerging naked from the sea (not too many complaints with Theo James in the role), another working class man interested in Charlotte, a furtive relationship between Miss Lambe and her beau (complicated further with her being Sidney’s ward) and an odd relationship with the younger Denhams which looked incestuous but wasn’t.  “Another Lady” went for much gentler fare- a trip to a neighbouring seaside town and a Ball but there is much talk of elopement and a probable upping of Austen’s original plan in the drama stakes with a little more forthright flirting than we might have anticipated and an abduction which actually happens rather than is reported which was how Austen sometimes dealt with her more dramatic twists.  But having said this, I for one thought it was continued seamlessly and couldn’t see any joins (some of the later continuations dispense with Austen’s opening altogether) and I actually enjoyed myself more than I did when I last re-read “Pride And Prejudice” which may surely have Austen fans clutching at their corsages in horror but I totally relished this joint effort and it is one of this years’ reading highlights which I never would have discovered without ITV taking a chance on it.

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This continuation of Sanditon was first published in 1975.  I read the 1976 Corgi paperback edition.

100 Essential CDs – Number 14 – 60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s

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60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s (Connoisseur Collection 1991)

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This three CD compilation was one of the first CD box sets I ever bought, thrilled to replace my 7″ and 12″ vinyl collection of many of these classic tracks.  I continually regret my decision to chuck away the vinyl but this has been a purchase which I have played consistently over the years.  I also bought its companion release, the inevitably titled 60 Classic Dance Hits in this new indestructible format – but it rotted.  In the early days of CD there was a chemical reaction which occurred between the CD in its case and the paper inserts and it went a horribly browny-gold colour on both sides and became unplayable.  This fate did not totally escape this collection but it has just gone the funny colour of the front of the discs which hasn’t, thankfully, effected its playability.  There are, true, a number of tracks which I have on other CDs, but a number which I only have on this collection.  I think twenty-eight years on the damage would have been done by now so I think I’m fairly safe.

I think this is a little different from many dance/disco collections as it has a very British bias.  The sleeve notes contain the UK chart positions (that saved me a bit of time) and a number of them were hits only in the UK and were by UK artists.  There’s a fair share of the big American names with songs that we might expect to see on disco compilations but these were probably more evident on the earlier collection.  Here, we dig a little deeper to include reggae, northern soul, slow dances as well as the more obviously disco tracks which do span the decade but with the greater majority coming from the mid/latter years.  With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD1

1.Rock Your Baby – George McRae (1974) (UK#1, US#2) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2” and  “Disco Classics

2. Disco Nights (Rock Freak) – G.Q (1979) (UK#42, US#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

3. He’s The Greatest Dancer – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#6,US#9)

4.  Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – The Jacksons (1979) (UK#4, US#7) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

5. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems” and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

6. Whodunnit- Tavares (1977) (UK#5, US#22)

7. You See The Trouble With Me – Barry White (1976) (UK#2)

8. Is This A Love Thing – Raydio (1978) (UK#27)

9. Boogie Nights- Heatwave (1977) (UK#2, US#2) (also on “Disco Classics“)

10.Disco Inferno – Trammps (1977) (UK#16, US#11) (also on “Nights In Heaven“)

11.Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey (1978) (UK#3, US#1)(also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

12. You’re My Everything – Lee Garrett (1976) (UK#15)

13. Yum Yum (Gimmee Some) – Fatback Band (1975) (UK#40)

A delicious squelchy bassline on this highly likeable slab of street funk.  The lyrics are absolute nonsense about liking ice cream and cornflakes yet the rhythm and feel of the track makes it cool and just a little startling when we heard it first back in 1975.  The first of their 6 UK Top 40 hits they perhaps were never as hard-hitting as this again, softening the sound and upping the commercial feel on bigger hits such as “Do The Spanish Hustle” and “I Found Lovin'”.  The Fatback Band always had potential for me to be a funk supergroup but were unable to find pop chart success in the US.  They had quite a few fine moments and this is one of them.

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14. Blame It On The Boogie – Jacksons (1978) (UK#8) (also on “Disco Classics“)

15. We Are Family – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#8, US#2)

16. Good Times – Chic (1979) (UK#5, US#1)

17. Young Hearts Run Free – Candi Staton (1976) (UK#2, US#20)

Up there amongst the greatest disco tracks of all time, this combines southern soul and subtle country and western influences (especially in the lyrics) with disco music and a sheer uplifting danceability which is nothing short of genius.  Candi puts in a great vocal on this track which was produced for her by Dave Crawford who propelled her into the big time.  It’s a great song of independence and empowerment.  Lyrically, I always smile at the couplet “Encourage the babies every time they say/self-preservation is what’s really going on today“.  Candi knows some very articulate babies!  Not even “I Will Survive” deals with a toxic relationship, which was the source of this song, in such an uplifting way.  Further collaborations between Candi and Crawford were equally positive but did not have the depth of this song and did tend to sound like “Young Hearts.”  It has scored chart placings for Candi on the UK on two separate occasions in 1986 as a re-mix and most successfully in 1999 as a re-recording when it got to number 29 when Candi was hot again thanks to her participation on the club classic that will never fade away “You Got The Love”. In 2018 Candi released her 30th album, appropriately titled “Unstoppable”.

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18. Take That To The Bank- Shalamar (1978) (UK#20)

A pair of dancers from the US TV show “Soul Train” put together by the producers after session singers of the same name scored first time off with a so-so Motown medley “Uptown Festival”.  Jeffrey Daniel and Jody Hewitt joined forces with vocalist Gerald Brown on an extended financial metaphor of a song which despite their much greater success worldwide in the 80’s for me ranks alongside “A Night To Remember” as my favourite of theirs.  There have been personnel changes over the years with Brown being replaced by Howard Hewitt in their golden period and  Daniel and Hewitt still perform alongside Carolyn Griffey, daughter of the man instrumental in putting the group together in the first place.  Co-written and produced by Leon Sylvers, it would have been a great track for his already established family act The Sylvers who had scored a US#1 in 1976 with their track “Boogie Fever”.  Instead it became the second of 11 UK Top 40 hits for Shalamar.

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19. Galaxy Of Love –Crown Heights Affair (1978) (UK#24)

20. Do What You Wanna Do – T. Connection (1977) (UK#11)

The biggest and best track from this group from the Bahamas who got big local success and moved to Miami and TK records to join the sunshine sounds of  labelmates KC and George McCrae.  This is a track which has improved with age and still sounds like a relevant piece of disco funk.  This was the big hit of their debut album “Magic” and they recorded three more albums for the label before moving to Capitol in the early 80’s where unfortunately their commercial sales continued to dwindle.

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CD2

1.Now That We’ve Found Love – Third World (1978) (UK#10)

2. Can You Feel The Force – The Real Thing (1979) (UK#5) (also on “Disco Classics“)

3. Disco Music (I Like It) – J.A.L.N Band (1976) (UK#21)

4. Hi Tension – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#13)

The Brit-funk movement kicked into action in 1978 with this extremely likeable funky track which put lie to the perception that British soul and funk music was inferior.  This North London band added a bit of a Caribbean feel to the mix with a hint of steel drums over an explosive ear-worm of a chant.  The group at times consisted of Phil Fearon who would go on to have hits in the 80’s leading pop-soul combo Galaxy and Courtney Pine joined them on tour.  Their one album was released on Island Records and I actually thought they were going to be huge.  I bought this single and played just as much the ballad B-side “Girl I Betcha” which had an Earth Wind and Fire feel and was confirmation to me that there was talent in this group.  Both their UK hits, this name-checking opener and the follow-up are included on this CD.  Follow-up “The British Hustle” was a little late in cashing in with the original dance craze which gave hits for the standard, the Spanish and Latin variations but reinforced the Britishness of the enterprise and gave them a higher chart position reaching number 8.  Both tracks were as good as one another and I think there was a considerable amount of untapped potential to this group which perhaps should have demanded a longer term investment from their record company.

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5. Dancing In The City – Marshall Hain (1978) (UK#3)

6. Silly Games- Janet Kay (1979) (UK#2)

7. Reggae For It Now – Bill Lovelady (1979) (UK#12)

8. Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna (1977) (UK#1)

9. I Love To Love- Tina Charles (1976) (UK#1)

We knew Tina’s voice from the 5000 Volts hit “I’m On Fire” and from those cheapie Top Of The Pops cover versions where she was used as a session singer before making her big breakthrough with this Biddu composition and production.  I thought Tina Charles was great in 1976, a worthy successor to the girl stars of the 60’s and when this topped the charts you’d have to go back to 1968 and Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were The Days” to find the previous British solo female chart-topper.  Biddu had scored a chart-topper with Carl Douglas and the Kung-Fu craze and some hits with his own orchestra but with Tina he had his muse and began a couple of years of a run of hits which sold well worldwide but couldn’t crack the US.  This was her biggest and best track, the slight gender shift of the man who only wanted to dance whilst the girl wanted to canoodle made it appealing and the song itself is so catchy and performed superbly.  I’ve seen Tina perform this and her other hits a few times over the years reminding me of the girl in the floppy cap I always had a bit of a crush on when I saw her on “Top Of The Pops” in 1976.

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10. Queen Of Clubs – KC & Sunshine Band (1974) (UK#7)

Their five US pop number 1’s would have to wait to begin clocking up until the following year but we Brits lapped up this debut hit in 1974 and I could argue the case for this being their best ever track.  Stabbing staccato brass gives it a real urgency, KC’s vocal is convincing and it also contains the (uncredited) magnificent falsetto of George McCrae hot on the heels of his own debut chart-topper.  Maybe not as sunshiny as some of their biggest hits but this really helped establish the Miami sound.  In the US they really were one of the big singles group in the second half of the decade, in the UK they had to wait until 1983 for their sole number 1 “Give It Up” which sounded lacklustre compared to their big 70’s hits.

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11. You Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate (1975) (UK#2, US#3)

12. Get Up And Boogie – Silver Convention (1976) (UK#7, US#2)

13. It Only Takes A Minute – 100 Tons & A Feather (1976) (UK#9)

14. British Hustle – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#8)

15. Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – Gloria Gaynor (1975) (UK#14)

16. Dance (Disco Heat) – Sylvester (1978) (UK#29, US#19)

17. From New York To LA – Patsy Gallant (1977) (UK#6)

At one time nicknamed the “Canadian Disco Queen” Patsy is a one-hit wonder in the UK known really only for this delightful slab of very pop influenced disco.  This always reminds me of a stand-up comedy act Pam Ann who is still going strong but who used to be a regular crowd puller in Brighton and London in the 1990’s.  As might be guessed by her name Pam’s comedy was cabin crew based, she wears a stewardess’ uniform and mercilessly rips apart the many airport staff who flock to see her show.  As a finale she would perform to this song in roller boots, which sounds odd, but was something I always found really quite affecting, actually, the hairs are sticking up on the back of my neck thinking about it.  I always liked this song anyway but now every time I hear it I can’t get the vision of a trolley dolly in uniform twirling around the stage and dance floor of whatever venue she was performing in.

From NY to LA.  From Patsy to Pam Ann

18. Love Really Hurts Without You – Billy Ocean (1976) (UK#2, US#22) (also on “Disco Classics“)

19. Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few (1975) (UK#9)

20. Reaching For The Best – The Exciters (1975) (UK#31)

CD3

1. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel –Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15) (also on “Disco Classics” and “Rhythm Divine 2

2. Baby Don’t Change Your Mind – Gladys Knight & Pips  (1977) (UK#4)

3. Here I Go Again – Archie Bell & The Drells (1972) (UK#11)

4.Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Three Degrees (1978) (UK#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

After the first surge of success with the Philadelphia International label it would seem a bold move for the Three Degrees to change direction from that smooth Philly sound.  The fact that they were always credited in the UK press of being a favourite of Prince Charles kept them in the headlines and a move to the European Ariola label saw them pairing up with Giorgio Moroder which relaunched the group and gave them another four UK Top 40 hits to add to the 7 from their first phase of their career.  Their biggest hit “When Will I See You Again” was full of the warmth of Sheila Ferguson’s vocal but this feels chilly and even slightly tempestuous as Sheila unleashes the powerful blast of her vocal, sweetened not by Moroder’s icy production but by Valerie and Helen’s backing.  The girls had gone uptempo before with their contribution of their US #1 with MFSB but with this disco track they had become once again relevant and contemporary.

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5. Win Place Or Show (She’s A Winner) – The Intruders (1974) (UK#14)

6. Come On Over (To My Place) – The Drifters (1972) (UK#9)

7. Girls – The Moments & Whatnauts (1975) (UK#3)

8. Feel The Need In Me – Detroit Emeralds (1973) (UK#4)

9. That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

10. Funky Nassau- The Beginning Of The End (1971) (UK#31, US#15)

11. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry (1976) (UK#7, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics“)

12. Disco Stomp- Hamilton Bohannon (1975) (UK#6)

This is a track I have never seen on any other compilation.  I even had a best of Hamilton Bohannon CD where it didn’t even feature, amazingly as this was his biggest UK hit.  Bohannon is a noted percussionist and the drums feature heavily on this thuddingly funky track.  Vocally he does little more than mention the places where everyone is doing the disco stomp but the whole thing feels hypnotic and certainly unlike anything that was in the charts at that time.

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13. I Love Music – O’ Jays (1976) (UK#13, US#5)

14. If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) – Staple Singers (1974) (UK#34, US#9)

15. If You Don’t Know Me By Now – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1972) (UK#9, US#3)

16. I’ve Been Lonely So Long – Frederick Knight (1972) (UK#22, US#27)

17. I Wanna Get Next To You – Rose Royce (1977) (UK#14, US#10)

Those of you who still, after all these years, think that Rose Royce was a female artist rather than a group need to take a listen to this achingly beautiful ballad.  Gwen Dickey, who had powered her way through tracks such as “Carwash”, “Wishing On A Star” and “Is It Love You’re After” is relegated to the background here as Kenny Copeland excels with an Eddie Kendricks inspired vocal.  Producer Norman Whitfield, best known for his work with The Temptations, wrote this for a love scene in the movie “Carwash”.  Lyrically, it touches on the same delusional male approach of “Just My Imagination” and it ranks among Rose Royce’s very best and one of Whitfield’s best compositions and productions.

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18. Best Of My Love – The Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

19. This Will Be – Natalie Cole (1975) (UK#32, US#6)

An incredible debut single, this is sheer joy from the very first notes and introduced a vocalist who was exuberant and ready to make her mark from the off.  I loved it from the very first time I heard it, not even knowing it was by the daughter of my Dad’s favourite singer whose work I knew very well.  Comparisons were made to Aretha, but I actually never heard Aretha with this much verve and optimism.  If it resembles anything it is Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes A Woman” but this is so much more infectious.  I bought the single and pretty much wore it out.  I was given the debut album for Christmas and did much the same thing to that (weirdly I have never bought that album “Inseparable” on CD to replace that vinyl copy). The call and response ending gives it a real gospel feel with Natalie the lead singer doing battle with Natalie on background vocals  but it is the song’s swinging love for life which always hits home.  You could tell that hers was going to be a significant career, in no way at this stage following in her father’s footsteps but obviously having learned so much from him in terms of vocals, phrasing and a jazz sensibility which could all be put to use on this very contemporary debut.

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20. Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale (1977) (UK#8, US# 2)

 

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 16- The Wings Of Love

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The Wings Of Love (Music Collection International 1993)

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Subtitled “18 Soulful Love Songs” you pretty much get what was being advertised in this compilation which I’m sure was available at a budget price in 1993.  The tracks date from 1975-88 but mainly fall into the middle 80’s brackets where big soul ballads became very popular and artists who may have been struggling for years had a taste of big commercial success. This was especially the case in the UK where 8 of 14 of the charting tracks scored bigger than they did in the US, with another two matching the American chart position.

With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

1.On The Wings Of Love- Jeffrey Osborne (1984) (UK#11, US#29)*

Jeffrey began his hit career as lead vocalist for popular R&B band LTD who scored a couple of US Top 20 pop hits during the time he was with the group, the highest charting being their 1977 number 4 hit “(Every Time I Turn Around”) Back In Love Again.  Their other hit “Love Ballad” was better known over here via a 1979 hit cover version by George Benson, whose voice Jeffrey’s resembles.  By the mid 80’s Benson was a huge international star which may have prompted Jeffrey’s decision to leave LTD.  This track penned by Osborne alongside Peter Schless was from the debut solo album and became his second US Top 40 solo hit  but actually hung around a couple of years before it began to climb up the UK charts.  It’s an almost perfect example of a mid 80’s solo power-ballad with its gentle piano intro into a dramatic refrain, a soaring chorus (appropriately given the title), key changes and a switch in tempos.  I bought his debut album off the back of this but really nothing else on it particularly excited me.  This was his biggest European hit and the track he would be best known for internationally, in the US he scored best with his 1987 duet with Dionne Warwick “Love Power”.

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2. Joanna – Kool & The Gang (1984) (UK#2, US#2)

3. Friends – Amii Stewart (1984) (UK#12)

Amii had her most shining moments commercially in the disco era of the late 70’s when she scored a US number 1 with a version of the Atlantic Soul Classic “Knock On Wood”.  A one hit wonder in her homeland, the UK loved even more what she did with the Doors’ “Light My Fire” which, when it reached number 5 in 1979 had got one place higher than its predecessor.  I think Amii’s finest hour came with this more subtle, sophisticated mid-tempo shuffler which gave her a 5th Top 40 hit.  I had this on vinyl 12″ and used to have a thing about playing it at 33 speed for some reason but I also loved it at its normal pace.  Amii is part of a disco dynasty, her half-sister is high-energy star Miquel Brown whose daughter is Sinitta.  Amii fell in love with Europe and moved to Italy around the time “Friends” was released where she became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.  A remixed medley of her two most famous songs saw her back in the UK Top 10 in 1985.

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4. For Ever, For Always, For Love – Luther Vandross (1982)

5. Do What You Do – Jermaine Jackson (1985) (UK#6, US#13)

6. Weekend Girl – S.O.S Band (1984)

7. I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much – Bobby Womack (1985)

8. Reasons – Earth, Wind & Fire (1975)

9. If You’re Looking For A Way Out – Odyssey (1980) (UK#6)

Odyssey seem to be a star turn on my essential compilation albums.  We’ve already had their all time classic as the title track on “Native New Yorker“; “Use It Up And Wear It Out” on “Rhythm Divine 2” and “Going Back To My Roots” on “Funk Soul Anthems” but this is a very different track.  Leaving the disco floor well behind this really showcases the quality of the very under-rated distinctive voice of Lillian Lopez in a track which is in many ways uncommercial and unshowy but which draws the listener in and shows a versatility from the group which may have been a surprise to the American audience who really only knew them for the disco sass of “Native New Yorker”.  Having said that about Lillian’s voice this still very much feels like an ensemble piece.  They still had a couple of excellent tracks in them which also reflected the gentler side of the group in “Inside Out” (I love this one) and the surprisingly melancholic “Joy (I Know It)” from 1982 and 1985.

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10. You Make Me Feel Brand New – Stylistics (1974) (UK#2, US#2)

11. I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More – Barry White (1973) (UK#23, US#3)

12. (They Long To Be) Close To You – Gwen Guthrie (1986) (UK#25)

Gwen began in song-writing scoring hit tracks for Ben E King, Sister Sledge and the lovely “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter” a great female soul ballad which I’m familiar with in versions by Martha Reeves, Marlena Shaw, Roberta Flack, Angela Bofill and a great cover by Linda Lewis which featured Gwen on back-up.  Her solo singing career saw her working with Sly & Robbie and Larry Levan but she scored big time with a self-produced club track, the girl-power, straight talking “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent”, one of the coolest tracks of 1986 and a UK Top 5 hit.  Therefore, it was a strange decision to follow that up with a cover of a Bacharach and David pop standard which was associated with a overly sweet version by The Carpenters and countless filling-rotting versions which followed in that track’s wake.  And yet, it works, there’s a rejigging with the melody which feels fresh and Gwen puts in a great vocal which gave her consecutive UK hits.  Gwen sadly passed away at the early age of 48 in 1999.

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13. New York Eyes – Nicole & Timmy Thomas (1985) (UK#41)

14. And I’m Telling You That I’m Not Going – Jennifer Holliday (1982) (UK#32, US#22)

The ultimate power song.  Taken from the Broadway show “Dreamgirls” this is a real tour de force.  It has unfortunately become a staple of TV talent shows but I think you’ve really got to think you are a great singer if you’re going to take this on because Holliday has put such a stamp on it.  Another Jennifer, Ms. Hudson got an Oscar for playing the same role of Effie in the movie version (the part Holliday played on stage for almost four years) and her version is also excellent but Holliday’s  is exceptional. It was one of those tracks which didn’t get that many plays on radio when it was first released because it ends with a “follow-that!” moment and just slipping on a Phil Collins record after it would just not have cut it.  In the late 80’s there used to be a drag performer called Tzarday (sadly no longer with us) who would lip-synch to this song as the highlight of her act where she would tear off beads and a fur coat, do a lot of reaching out pleadingly with quivering hands and end up on the floor in an emotional heap and every time I hear this song I am reminded of that.  Jennifer Holliday herself is an under-rated performer who I thought would make a huge commercial breakthrough when she released her excellent second album “Say You Love Me” which seemed full of potential hit singles which didn’t happen. Her 8th studio album “Fresh Takes”, a gospel release came out in 2018.

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15. Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr (1986) (UK#10, US#3)

16. Let’s Make A Baby – Billy Paul (1976) (UK#30)

17. Gonna Get You Home With Me Tonight – Eugene Wilde (1984) (UK#18)

18. Piano In The Dark – Brenda Russell (1988) (UK#23, US#6)

Art On The Isle Of Wight

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It’s been a busy week which has thrown out my blog posting schedule a little.  My partner, Karl, is midway through an exhibition of his artwork at Monkton Arts, Ryde, Isle Of Wight.  It has been going extremely well but I’m still going to take the opportunity to give it a shameless plug.

Up until a few years ago Karl’s emphasis as an artist has been on highly detailed black and white pen and ink drawings primarily of landscapes and buildings.  It is extremely fiddly and time consuming. He began to want to experiment with the freedom of colour and structure, having a background in three dimensional design.  This has led to another development of his work which is on display alongside his black and white work.  As you will be able to see from the photos this is also extremely fiddly and time consuming and requires vast amounts of patience which is a little surprising to those of us who know him well!

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I’ll let him describe his process in his own words:

I’ve always worked on detailed, representational pen and ink drawings, mainly of buildings set in their environment which relates to my architectural design background.

My abstract pieces are made from thousands of hand- rolled coloured discs of different sizes. Although I only use about ten different coloured papers I am able by mixing and increasing and decreasing the number of strips in a disc to create a range of tones and effects. I manipulate the discs by pushing them outwards or sinking them in and this affects the viewers perception by creating light, shade and shadow.

The pieces are abstract but for me highly personal. They are autobiographical where I attempt to understand my life and explore my emotions, I’m able to review life events and travel on real or imagined journeys. Some of the pieces include discs made from shredded pages of my diaries. The repetition of rolling the strips of paper is akin to the rolling of meditation or rosary beads and helps me to focus my thoughts. Most of the pieces are not given titles because as well as acting as a private diary for me I’m interested in how others perceive them without guiding them on a particular path.

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The amount of time each piece takes means that he cannot have exhibitions that often and I think we can safely say that this one is heading for a sell out as he has had to take in new pieces every day to keep up with demand which is brilliant.  There is still plenty to see if you are on or around the Isle Of Wight between now and Saturday 16th.

Monkton Arts is a recent venture on the Island, a great community space and popular café with separate gallery.  I’ve been lucky enough to have been working in Ryde myself a bit last week and this coming week which has given us the opportunity to meet up during my lunch break and enjoy the great coffee and food.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

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This was our focus text for Black History Month at Sandown Library here on the Isle Of Wight where a number of copies were purchased and a special display created which reflected some of the impact this book had on publication. It has stimulated some discussion from people who have borrowed the book so I thought I’d better get round to reading it.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, an award-winning journalist, was shrewd enough for her first full-length publication to use a striking, emotive, even provocative title, which certainly makes an impact. In her Aftermath, an extra chapter provided for the expanded paperback edition I read she acknowledges that this was the case and quite a bit of the criticism she faced was from people responding to the title rather than what she actually has to say. I have no issue whatsoever with any of the points she makes in this assured and accurate assessment of racism in Britain. She states facts with the evidence to back them up.

She begins with a concise history of blackness in Britain and how that has led to structural racism which is deep-rooted in society. As a child she was told that in order to achieve she needed to work twice as hard as a white child and that tenet proved to be extremely valuable as evidence is clear that hurdles faced by black infants continues through childhood, higher education, in the employment market and parenthood. History and society has allowed this to be.

She explores difficult areas such as white privilege, feminism and class and is powerfully convincing throughout. Liberal-minded individuals may claim that racism is largely now in the past but the global right-wing shift over the last few years says otherwise. I think this makes for a powerful read which each individual needs to internalise and make their own sense from it depending on their own background. It’s not actually something I feel I want to particularly discuss myself. It reinforced a lot of what I suspected had and was happening and does so in a way which saw this book get shortlisted for awards and win prizes. This is not political correctness- it is an important thought-provoking British work.

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Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race was published by Bloomsbury in 2017. I read the 2018 expanded paperback version.

100 Essential CDs – Number 19- Nights In Heaven

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Nights In Heaven (Sony 1995)

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Heaven nightclub opened at the end of 1979 in a very unpromising location underneath Charing Cross arches.  It very quickly established itself as Britain’s foremost gay nightclub and helped pushed gay visibility into the mainstream, attracting much publicity and column inches.  By 1982, such was its business potential that it was purchased from Jeremy Norman, the original owner by Richard Branson and Virgin.  It became known for hosting a diverse range of club nights especially during the week and attracting big star names at weekends.  It provided a launch-pad for DJs such as Ian Levine and Mark Moore both of whom became significant players in the mainstream music business.  The club responded to the AIDS crisis in the UK swiftly and brilliantly raising funds and promoting education.  In 1995 it joined forces with Sony records and The Terence Higgins Trust, the leading charity for AIDS research in the UK to put together a double CD of twenty six tracks with the agreement that a minimum of £10,000 would be donated to the charity.  I was at this time still visiting Heaven occasionally, it was never my favourite club in Central London (I was more of a North London regular)  I preferred the smaller venues such as The Phoenix which used to be in Cavendish Square and the out and out cheesiness of G-A-Y (incidentally the founder of G-A-Y, Jeremy Joseph, is now the owner of Heaven, following the financial collapse of previous stakeholders HMV. )

Now, I can’t say that I ever heard that many of these tracks in Heaven although I am sure they would have been played, particularly around the time of the release of this CD.  Subtitled “The Party Anthems” they definitely are a mixed bunch ranging from camp pop, disco classics, Stock Aitken & Waterman productions, the odd lesser known track and rounding it off with Tammy Wynette’s country classic “Stand By Your Man”.  I seem to recall this was included as it was the track which used to be played at the club when the lights went up (I had gone home by this time, nightclubs are never at their best when the lights go up, neither is most of the clientele!) So even thought some of the tracks might initially appear that they have been selected at random by the people who put this together it actually all works very well and although not exactly representative of how I remember the club it can certainly turn your living room into a nightclub for its duration (with not as much dry ice!)

With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

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1.It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls (1983) (UK#2)

Up there with “YMCA” and “Dancing Queen” as the three most stereotypical tracks that gay men are supposed to love (actually I do love all three of them), this was a surprise big UK hit in 1983 as even then it didn’t sound current.  Written for Donna Summer by Paul Jabara who had penned the Oscar winning “Last Dance” for her, it was soundly rejected and picked up by Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, two in-demand session singers who had worked separately and recorded and performed together as Two Tons O’ Fun, backing singers for Sylvester.  They changed their name for this single, probably not expecting that much success, but it became a huge hit and the name stuck.  One hit wonders they may be but they recorded five albums together and Izora later re-formed the group with her daughter who carried on with new members following the death of her mother in 2004.  Their longevity would have been very much based around this track.  Fuelled by powerful gospel vocals this has also become a hen night karaoke staple and is a great way to kick off this album.  The accompanying video was so cheesy with alarmingly poor special effects that it borders on the distasteful but is one of those things you can’t take your eyes off .

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2. We Are Family (Sure Is Pure Remix) – Sister Sledge (1979/1993) (UK#5)

With Chic one of the biggest groups on the planet Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had acts clamouring to produce them to recreate their unique hit sound.  They decided to go with an act hidden amongst the depths of their label’s roster, the family group Sister Sledge who had scored a British hit in 1975 sounding like the female Jackson 5 but whose early potential had waned in their homeland where they had not crossed over to the pop charts.  Their collaboration on the “We Are Family” album made them just as viable a name as Chic spawning two US Top 10 hits and four UK hit singles.  In the 80’s when Chic had faded into the background the UK was still loving these same  Sister Sledge tracks with remixes of “Thinking Of You” and “Lost In Music” eclipsing their original chart positions.  The girls cemented this success by topping the charts with the non-Chic produced gentle doowop sound of “Frankie”.  In 1993 these tracks were back again with this Sure Is Pure remix giving “We Are Family” its third shot in the charts reaching its highest position of number 5.  (The original 1979 release had reached #8 in the UK and #2 Stateside).  Remixes of “Lost In Music” and “Thinking Of You” also became Top 20 hits in 1993 all over again.  This is the most anthemic of their songs and maybe now best known over here in this re-mixed form.

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3.Your Love Still Brings Me To My Knees – Marcia Hines (1981)

The most obscure track on the album is a little gem of a track from 1981  from Australian citizen Marcia.  Born in Boston she found commercial success in Australia from the late 70’s, where she was the biggest Australian recording act in 1977-78.  In 1981 she scored a hit both in her homeland and around Europe with this cover of a song which had originally been recorded without much success by Dusty Springfield.  Marcia made a comeback to recording after some years of inactivity with an album in 1984 which contained a re-recording of this track which re-established her as a significant Australian artist.  Since then she has maintained her high profile by being a judge on Australian Idol.  Her daughter Deni also scored a series of hits in the late 90’s which included two UK top 40 hits, the biggest of which was her Australian #4 hit “It’s Alright”.  If I hadn’t done this research I would have known nothing about this singer of what I’d always considered to be an obscure recording.

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4.Can You Feel It – The Jacksons (1981) (UK#6) Also on “Funk Soul Anthems

5.Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn (1979) (US#12) – Also on “Disco Classics” and “Funk Soul Anthems”

6.Relight My Fire – Dan Hartman (1980)-Also on “Disco Classics

7.You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)- Sylvester (1978) (UK#8,US#36) – Also on “Funk Soul Anthems”

8.Disco Inferno – Trammps (1977) (UK#16, US#11)

“Burn Baby Burn!” This monumental disco track is well known for its inclusion on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack but it had been a British hit by then and was the very first twelve inch single I ever bought.  Here we get the full-length version, which just narrowly avoids the feeling that it has gone on a bit too long.  It didn’t hit the US charts until the movie came out when a UK re-issue also crept back into the Top 50.  This was Trammps’ fifth UK Top 40 hit and they had shown a big of variety with a cover of the standard “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart”, a contemporary take on Doo-wop of “Sixty Minute Man” and the Northern Soul gem “Hold Back The Night” which had given them their biggest Top 5 hit.  By the mid 70’s they were really established as a disco act and both this and their “That’s Where The Happy People Go” are club classics.  They suffered from the disco backlash and “Disco Inferno” was their last hit, amazingly for a group with such a great sense of the commercial and the lead voice of Jimmy Ellis which suggested they could have been for the 70’s and beyond what The Four Tops were for the 60’s.  This is one of the most intense disco tracks which also worked well in a 1993 cover version by Tina Turner which went four places higher in the UK than the original.

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9.Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston (1977) (UK#13, US#1)

10.Pilot Error – Stephanie Mills (1983)

11. This Time I Know It’s For Real – Donna Summer (1989) (UK#3, US#7)

12. I Want Your Sex – George Michael (1987) (UK#3, US#2)

In which George Michael sounds like Prince on racy lyrics which we would have been more likely to associate with His Purple Highness than mid 80’s George Michael.  Accompanied by what was considered at the time to be a steamy video this certainly removed the traces of the Wham! boy teeny-bop star.  George had first gone it alone in 1984 with “Careless Whisper” which topped the charts both side of the Atlantic (in the US it was credited to Wham! ft George Michael), a duet with Aretha had done the same but this was the second single to be released from the multi-million selling “Faith” album, which ensured by the end of 1987 that everyone knew who George Michael was.  This edit from a nine minute plus album track wasn’t an obvious choice for a single but then George would never be one to shy away from controversy.  Helped by its inclusion, especially in the US, on the big selling Beverley Hills Cop II soundtrack it made top three both sides of the Atlantic.  In the US the four singles released from “Faith”  after this topped the charts ensuring his position as a superstar.  This track still sounds fresh and funky but is unlikely to be too many people’s favourite George Michael track.

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1.Smalltown Boy – Bronksi Beat (1984) (UK#3)

2. Could It Be Magic – Take That (1992) (UK#3)

I actually saw Take That perform at Heaven.  It would have been earlier on in 1992 before the release of this single when they were working with producer Ian Levine, who had made his name as one of the club’s early DJs.  Before going on to stage they filed past me and I can remember them seeming very young and very small.  They soon won the crowd over and I can remember them turning out a good performance so it was no surprise that by the end of the year they had become so big.  It was around the time they weren’t wearing all that many clothes to perform, a situation I bet Gary Barlow for one, would probably like to forget.  This cover of a great Barry Manilow song had also been turned into something even more special by Donna Summer for her 1976 Love Trilogy album and Take That’ version is probably closer to Donna than Barry and I think it might just very well be the best of the lot and is my favourite of all their singles.  There’s a driving energy which really turns a strong song into a pop classic.

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3. Take A Chance On Me – Erasure (1992) (UK#1)

4. Venus – Bananarama (1986) (UK#8,US#1)

Look at the chart positions here.  It’s easy to forget that Bananarama took this Stock-Aitken-Waterman produced cover of the song by Shocking Blue to the very top of the US charts.  By this time they’d been notching up hits in the UK for some four years since they linked up with Fun Boy Three and this was the 9th of their to date 25 UK Top 40 hits.  The statistics in the US are not quite so impressive three top 10 hits of which this was their second but it did something they couldn’t do over here where three of their biggest hits stalled at number 3 and topped the US charts.  Bananarama are still going strong as a duo releasing their 11th studio album in April 2019.  They did do a few better songs than this but this is always a crowd-pleasing anthem and you can’t begrudge its inclusion on this CD.

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5. Relax (New York Mix) – Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1983) (UK#1)

6.The Only Way Is Up – Yazz & The Plastic Population (1988) (UK#1)

This song, Yazz’s only UK chart-topper always reminds me of another venue – The Black Cap which used to be in Camden High Street and of which I was quite a regular at the time this song was packing the dancefloor.  The Black Cap was a more mixed club than Heaven and the statuesque Yazz’s appearance and image made her a big hit with the lesbians and with everyone boogieing away to this there was a real sense of community which I had never really exprienced before especially as we were all sticking to the dancefloor.  Something I didn’t know whilst I was loving this track, the second biggest selling single of the year in 1988, was that it was actually a cover version of a 1980 track by soul singer Otis Clay.  At the time I loved Yazz and played her “Wanted” album almost non-stop.  I once queued behind her in at the check-outs in Sainsburys at Muswell Hill and was star-struck.  She now lives in Spain and her most recent material can best be classed as Christian music.

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7. What Do I Have To Do – Kylie Minogue (1991) (UK#6)

8. Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) – Rozalla (1991) (UK#6)

9. I Love The Nightlife – Alicia Bridges (1978) (UK#32, US#5)

Ak-shun! Alicia’s interesting phrasing made this disco hit memorable and became better known in the UK after its inclusion in the 1994 film “The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” and the subsequent stage musical show.  Alicia did not wish to be classed as a disco singer despite the subtitle (Disco Round) of this her only hit.  Her later recordings showed rock, R&B and blues influences but albums did not match the sales of her debut which featured this track.  As one of the few out lesbian singers of the times Alicia certainly merits her place on this album and this is a song which has got even better with age.

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10. Supermodel – Rupaul (1993) (UK#39, US#45)

Rupaul Charles launched onto the music scene a fully fledged superstar with this debut.  Instantly recognisable and once seen never forgotten Rupaul exploded from the New York nightclub drag scene to cable TV to a recording contract with macho rap label Tommy Boy and this debut single which set out the stall perfectly with its combination of contemporary dance with old Motown, Harlem drag balls and the early 90’s obsession with those women who wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.  Full of hooks, including a “Linda, Naomi……” name-check rap this track certainly got attention but should have been much bigger than it was.  It remains Rupaul’s biggest US hit but over here he is best known for his collaboration with Elton John on a club version of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” which was the star track on Elton’s Top 5 1993 album “Duets” where Rupaul took the place of Kiki Dee and they recorded an excellent promo video which helped it get to number 7 in the charts.  Rupaul later scored further chart success when he teamed up with one of the women who kicked this CD off, Martha Wash, in a re-recording of, guess what, “It’s Raining Men”.  Entitled “It’s Raining Men – The Sequel” this got to number 21 in the charts in 1998.  Despite not having mainstream US chart success Rupaul has maintained his recording career for over twenty-five years.  This has much to do with his continued high profile as the brains behind “Rupaul’s Drag Race“.  He consistently features in the most influential people in TV listings and is one of the most inspirational of LGBTQ+ artists in the world.  Naturally he deserves a place on this album.

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11. Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun) – Cyndi Lauper (1994) (UK#4) – Remixed version of her debut hit which scored highly again ten years on.

12. Little Bird – Annie Lennox (1993) (UK#3, US#49)

13. Losing My Mind – Liza Minelli (1989) (UK#6)

14. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette (1975/1968) (UK#1,US#19)

Nights  In Heaven: The Party Anthems is currently available new from Amazon for £6.99 in the UK and used from £0.20.

 

The Familiars – Stacey Halls (Zaffre 2019)

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This is a good quality debut historical novel rich in detail and with a good air of authenticity. Set in 1612 around what is now Lancashire and Cumbria this takes the case of the Pendle witches as its inspiration. Using the names of real life residents of Gawthorpe Hall and those accused of witchcraft at the Lancaster Assizes the author effectively conveys the paranoia and suspicion towards those who associated themselves with traditional remedies, paranoia which led to the accused naming names of others they believed were following witchcraft.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is in her teens and has been married for a number of years already to Richard, Master of Gawthorpe Hall. She has endured miscarriages and while desperate to give her husband an heir is well aware of the precariousness of childbirth and fears for her own life. She encounters Alice whilst on a walk in their wood and Alice’s keen understanding of the properties of herbs leads Fleetwood to appoint her as her midwife. Meanwhile a local landowner has been accusing women of crimes associated with witchcraft, possibly in an attempt to curry favour with King James I, who is encouraging a national purge against “Daemonologie”. Is Alice a witch? Does she associate with those who follow witchcraft, who reputedly have animal familiars, and will she even be around by the time Fleetwood is due to give birth?

Narrated in first-person by the Mistress of Gawthorpe so we know that she survives her childbirth ordeal but nothing else is assured as suspicion, injustice and prejudice begins to sweep the locality. Stacey Halls gets this over very well, making you care for the main character and weaves a convincing tale. I will certainly be looking out for her next novel “The Foundling” due in February 2020.

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The Familiars was published in 2019. I read the Zaffre paperback.

Isle Of Wight Literary Festival – Part Two

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The second session at the IWLF I attended was with Jill Dawson whose latest novel “The Language Of Birds” I very much enjoyed this summer. I’m particularly glad I saw her (not only because at work when we tweeted what we were reading whilst I was half-way through it led very quickly to Jill following us at Sandown Library) but because she was able to clear up certain aspects which had not lain easily with me.

In my review, obviously, not knowing at the time that I would be seeing the author and in a way giving her a right to reply I picked up on the imagery that was going on in the title and within the text where there are references to bird communications, occasionally in human voices. I said “the relevance of this and the title of the novel has passed me by. It is not what I will remember this book for..” and then I went on to say what I would remember it for (read the review!) so I am delighted that Jill dealt with this very early on.

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Jill Dawson

I might just have been trying to read too much into the character Rosemary hearing birds speaking to her. It’s being used here as a symptom of schizophrenia. I’m more annoyed at myself at not picking up on the title. I suppose it shows what a well-adjusted twenty-first century man I am, forgetting that this novel is set in the 1970’s. “Birds” here is also being used in its context of the day referring to young girls and the “language of birds” the chat and perceptions of the two main female characters which was actually one of the aspects of the books which I had highlighted as really liking; “Mandy and Rosemary feel like two young girls new to the London of 1974.

This novel is a fictionalised account based upon the murder of nanny Sandra Rivett by Lord Lucan (with names changed). Although never formally charged because of his disappearance apparently we can legally say that he was the murderer as an inquest, in an unusual situation, deemed him to be so.

Jill Dawson, a patron of a charity supporting those suffering from domestic violence wanted in this novel to bring the focus back to the victim. Of the many reams of newspaper accounts on the absconding toff the woman he killed got short shrift. The statistics on domestic violence are still chilling. They work out that in 2017 a woman was killed by a partner or ex-partner every four days. Mandy was never a partner of the killer (nor was Sandra Rivett) it was a case of them being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The intended victim was Lardy Morven (or Lady Lucan in the real life case) who had endured domestic violence.

In the extract she chose to read aloud Jill Dawson focused on the class divide of the time where Mandy with no actual experience of being a nanny attends an interview and gets the job because it was assumed that young working-class women would just be able to do a job like that. Lady Morven herself couldn’t, she was falling apart at the seams. I must admit I’m not great at listening to extracts I tune in and out if they are out of context (I don’t read extracts at all) even if I am familiar where it comes in the plot, unless perhaps it’s the opening of a novel but I did like the extract the author chose because given the grimness of the case and the motives behind the book it did give a feel for those who had not read it of its lightness of touch, its real feel of the period and the vivacity of the main character which had all appealed to me.

There was an interesting discussion as to whether Jill Dawson felt things would improve in the future. She saw men’s greater participation in fatherhood as a plus (Dickie in the novel obviously feels strongly towards his children but they are viewed as possessions and the children are distant because that was what their relationship was- as indeed were many of our relationships with our fathers in the 70’s). What concerns here is an attempt to shift the culture towards women doing horrible acts, an example of which is “Killing Eve” and many recent novels and films which have posited women as assassins, which is not based on anything but may eventually lead to an acceptance by girls of violence as a solution just as boys can accept violence from their choice of playthings from early years. Jill said of the 99,000 people in UK prisons, 4,000 were women and only a minority of these have been convicted of violent crime. Our media and popular culture would suggest otherwise.

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I spent a couple of fascinating hours at the IWLF this year. It was the fact that I had already read and enjoyed the books featured that led me just the few miles to the venue, but I like to think I’d be back again next year as it seems to be going from strength to strength, probably once again avoiding the big names and focusing on the gems behind the headliners.

Isle Of Wight Literary Festival 2019 – Part One

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I did something new last weekend and attended my first Literary Festival. I did go to the London Book Fair a few years ago but that was a much larger more impersonal commercial event which lacked the cosy meet-the-authors feel of the smaller festivals. This is the 8th year of the Isle Of Wight Literary Festival which takes place in Cowes, centred around Northwood House. This year spread over three days there were a diverse range of speakers including Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Morpurgo, Jo Brand, Jack Straw, Elly Griffiths, Sir Tim Waterstone, Dan Snow and Kate Adie. These were obviously the big crowd-pullers. Their talks took place in a marquee where the audience were herded around corrals and crammed in to listen to their heroes.
I, very sensibly I think, opted to attend two smaller events to hear authors who this year have thrilled me with their writing. The first of these was Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott whose fictional account of the later years of Truman Capote is certainly in contention for my Book of The Year and listening to Kelleigh talk about her work in the Ballroom of Northwood House on a very wet October Saturday has certainly made its challenge stronger.

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Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Swan Song” is a book which seems to have slipped a little under the radar, as when I read it I expected it to be one of the big publishing sensations of the year. It did get longlisted for the The Women’s Prize in Fiction but missed out on the shortlist and probably was never going to join the Booker longlist because it is so readable. Of the 24 or so people who attended her presentation it did seem only a handful had read it. I felt an urge throughout to let her know how much I had loved the book but kept quiet. When it came to question time I couldn’t frame my response to it as a question and what usually tends to happen is that people who haven’t read the book ask questions which is a little irritating for those who have made the effort, but then that is part and parcel of these sort of occasions as the author is there, in least in part, to shift and sign books and probably doesn’t want a roomful of people who already own a copy.

Kelleigh described her fascination with Capote beginning as a twelve year old when she read “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. She fell in love with his raconteur style and his ability to use words as weapons. With a background in screenwriting she might have been expected to focus in on a more filmic aspect of Capote’s life but it was the story of a literary crime which kept drawing her attention, not the murder of the Clutter family which cemented Capote’s reputation as a leading American writer with his true crime classic “In Cold Blood” but his betrayal in 1975 of a group of women who he loved and who loved him. He did this by publishing thinly-veiled secrets they had told him over the years and mocked them mercilessly in an extract in “Esquire” of his unfinished novel. A crime, because it destroyed him and a number of them indirectly and was almost certainly the cause of a suicide of one woman he dished the dirt on.

As much of her love for the work of Capote triggered this novel Kelleigh found the pull of these society women irresistible and over time came up with the ingenious third person collective voices- the chorus of Capote’s “swans”.

I was fascinated by a bit of back-story of his ambitious mother who almost reached the social standing she believed was her due until her husband’s arrest for fraud led to her suicide. Could this have been an underlying motive for Capote’s literary mauling of these high society women? The six “swans” were pretty much hand-picked by Capote probably because of their potential as characters. If this was a calculated move he certainly played the long game, there was a 20 year delay during which he became very close to all of these women before spilling the beans and devastating their own (and also his own) lives.

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I’m sure I will be talking about this book again at the end of the year which will give you a chance in the meantime to seek it out and become as seduced by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s writing as I have been.

Unicorn – Amrou Al-Kadhi (4th Estate 2019) – A Real Life Review

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Subtitled “The Memoir Of A Muslim Drag Queen” this book will be unlike anything that you’ve read before. It’s an extraordinarily unflinching account of a search for acceptance from an individual hunting for answers at odds with practically all aspects of life and the crushing need to find a place to fit in.

The title refers to a tattoo Amrou Al-Kadhi had inked because “ they are the ultimate outsiders, destined to gallop alone. They share the body of a horse and are similar in form, but are of a different nature, almost able to belong in an equine herd, but utterly conspicuous and irrefutably other.” This fits in with the author’s self- perceptions exactly as well as the unicorn being “also a symbol of pride, of a creative flaunting its difference without shame.” I’d be hard put to think of a more fitting image in any book this year.

I’ve read a lot of coming out tales and accounts of individuals feeling out of sync with society. Amrou Al-Kadhi has battled with issues of sexuality, gender (preferring to be referred to as “they”), family, religion, drugs, mental health issues and OCD and I’ve probably not covered all of them. If this sounds depressing, wrong, the result is an uplifting extraordinary read.

As a young boy in Dubai and then Bahrain Amrou was totally obsessed with his mother and would do literally anything to keep her attention, which provides the first of the book’s many jaw-dropping moments. His behaviour, perceived as feminine, damaged the relationship with his father and an early declaration of his sexuality cemented that sense of rejection as it was so at odds with the family’s view of Islam. A move to the UK saw Amrou obsessively adopting the new Western culture and a determination to succeed in a manner which could only reinforce his sense of isolation.

This desperate striving for academic achievement led to time at Eton (which was equally miserable) and Cambridge University where the formation of a drag night and then a troupe of performers provided both a reason for being as well as bringing all the underlying tensions up to the surface.

This is Amrou’s first book but there is a background in writing and direction in film work, unsurprisingly, as Amrou is a born story-teller who can vividly recreate events that are often painfully honest in every muscle-clenching detail. It’s a journey towards accepting the self and also beginning to acknowledge situations from other’s points of view. At one point this is likened to quantum physics and parallel events which is a little over my head but allows the author to make some sense from the life story. As a writer, there is definite talent and the emotional intelligence with which difficult issues are conveyed shows great potential for future work. It’s touching, very powerful, outrageous, laugh out loud funny and extremely sad. As a read it both shocked and entertained. Whatever Amrou might have felt at the time the life experiences are almost certainly not unique but they have never been aired in this way before. The search for love, especially within the family and the potential catastrophic pitfalls when this is not forthcoming are expertly expressed. The subtitle, appropriate as it is, might suggest something different but this is a thoughtful, learned, literary work.

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Unicorn was published by 4th Estate on 3rd October 2019 . Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.