Review: Leave the Capital by Paul Hanley

leave the capitalI didn’t know what a Graham Gouldman fan I was until I made my way through this book. To be fair, I only have two speeds: not interested and totally obsessed. Unfortunately, the obsessions can be really off kilter and sometimes I’m running so fast after the thing that I think is interesting, I don’t stop to question the assumptions passed along the way.

Like 10cc=Godley & Creme. Ha!

10cc (and Godley & Creme)  has been one of those fading in and out interests. Of course Consequences because of the Peter Cook obsession, but one of my top fave singles as a youngster was ‘I’m Not in Love’ and yet it didn’t really sink in that the song was ‘written by band members Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman.’ Ditto ‘Things We Do for Love’ which was the only 10cc record I bought at that time. I know: eejit.

But it goes back further. On my scratchy hand-me-down but beloved Herman’s Hermits LP the best song by a mile (much as I enjoyed all the bubblegum) was clearly ‘No Milk Today’ which of course is also Gouldman. So I’ve been catching up on his solo stuff and kicking myself for being obtuse.

Now about the rest of this book: there’s tons of reviews here and there, and some great interviews (including this new one with Real Gone), so I won’t drone on about the usual things. It’s an inventive angle (A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings) which really brings out the deliberate desire of many Mancunians to ignore London and its machinations as much as possible.

It doesn’t matter that this London isn’t entirely real. The fact that the elitist, greedy, insular, condescending Emerald City exists as much in the collective minds of the North as it does on the streets of the capital doesn’t make its rejection any less important.

The intimacy of the recording tradition in Manchester has a lot to do with it starting small — minuscule even — but also that it’s rooted in the musicians and sound folk wanting to give back to their community. Hanley contrasts this with the whole-hearted embrace of the capital by groups like The Beatles, who not only set up there but in the richest neighbourhoods, too. Savile Row and Mayfair certainly radiated ‘success’ but left them a little rootless.

It’s worth emphasising this again, when Eric Stewart first pondered the possibility of building a professional-standard recording studio outside London, he was completely alone. The thought hadn’t struck anyone else at all.

Strawberry Studios became a nexus of creative sound for the next three decades, an influence that’s still felt. ‘You could tell it was built with love rather than profit in mind,’ the studio’s first female engineer, Julia Adamson, told Hanley.

It’s a fascinating look at pop music, recording, musical influences and the history that binds together any given record made in the city in these formative years. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a terrifically funny book. I read most of it on the train then on a cross-Atlantic flight and I’m sure I annoyed the people around me by constantly chortling at Hanley’s mordant wit (cf footnote 161). What might have been a dull listing of names and dates instead sounds like the best pub conversation you ever overheard.

 

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Review: Truth Always Kills

TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS
Rick Ollerman
Stark House Press

Blurb: A cop in departmental trouble knows his wife is being stalked, but feels helpless to do anything about it. Does he report it and bring undue attention to himself, or should he take matters into his own hands, and damn the consequences? A new thriller from the author of Turnabout and Shallow Secrets.

I knew Ollerman’s writing from his non-fiction on vintage crime writers. His style is mostly lean and mean. I thought this was going to be more noir, but it’s mostly police procedural (or in the case of this character, not procedural). Jeff Prentiss seems to be hiding a secret or two or ten from his estranged wife, daughter, partner, chief — well, pretty much anybody. He’s the loner guy who does things his own way and damn the rules. It seems he thinks justice is more important than rules, but his ‘justice’ gets more and more murky as the story goes on. Also his poor decision-making skills make you wonder how he ever became a cop. I found myself talking out loud to him, ‘Oh come on, that’s the oldest trick in the book. You’re not going to fall for — oh, you are.’

I was wondering if this was part of a series and I missed the first volume; the first few chapters seem to be filling in back story. There’s a lot of potential for intrigue with a notorious cat burglar and rising politician but they’re also the first corpses. I found it hard to get a handle on Prentiss. He treats everyone abominably and then wonders why he’s so isolated. He’s so emotionally stunted that a woman touching his hand makes him think he’s in love — minutes after declaring his undying love for the wife he keeps stalking despite her pleas for distance.

So, he’s a mess. If you like cynical cops who break all the rules in pursuit of their own justice, you’ll find a lot of Florida ambience permeating this quick-paced story. I had to look up lanai (okay, that’s a lie: you easily figure it out from the context). You can certainly feel the heat and humidity which is as close as I care to get to Florida. If not noir, it’s certainly noir-ish. Check it out.

 

Lys Guillorn & Her Band: I’m a Boy EP

You need this. I’ve reviewed Guillorn‘s work before. This new EP hasn’t left my car since I got it. This is so right for this moment in so many ways, starting with the title song. It’s hard to improve on The ‘Oo but this version hits the right balance between homage and innovation. The guitar sound offers a jangly mid-60s authenticity but the sweeter backing vocals reveal a complexity to the gender confusion that makes it feel entirely up to date.

‘Something’ highlights the plaintive quality of Guillorn’s voice, with lyrics of loss and heartache that twist into disappointment with ‘Why did you falter? Why?’ The stripped down simplicity of the track has the guitar matching her voice, until gradually the keyboards fade in to lift the sound and the backing vocals echo the despair of ‘Why’ perfectly.

My favourite track at the moment ‘Nothing To It’ seems like the anthem of this insane time where we are all feeling ‘defeated and deranged’:

I heard echoes in the hills of the ones who survived,
who wrote what they knew and stuck to it.
I hovered in a cave a philosopher drew
and spoke of Socrates.

Plus asides about calculus: I love the sheer playfulness of this song that’s really about despair and fear and maybe even apocalypse. I haven’t said enough about Riccio’s drums: taking on Moonie’s rolls shows he’s got courage. He matches the rolling guitar sound impeccably here. I can’s say enough about Guillorn’s amazing guitar playing on this disc. So urgent here: showing the emotion the vocals try to skate over. She’d probably say there’s nothing to it.

‘Boylesque’: marvel at that title. The alternation between ‘Heavily kohled eyes’ and ‘Heavenly cold eyes’ is Guillorn at her most playful. The crystalline purity of the mix: vocals front and back, guitars, keys. It’s all so right. Complexity that sounds utterly simple.

What’s written in the space left blank
at the bottom of the page?
A view of the future hidden away.

Oh the psychedelic guitar in ‘M.K.’ is just so gorgeous. You need like early Pink Floyd video projections or lava lamps to play in the background. But utterly contemporary: it’s like she might have a time machine to go back to the 60s to liberate lost guitar riffs that weren’t appreciated at the time to give them a new home. The alchemy of music with masks:

I wasn’t happy as a child.
When on Halloween a neighbor saw me smiling,
it was the mask that freed me,
if you get my meaning.

I’M A BOY: released March 24, 2017 Little Cowgirl Records

Lys Guillorn – vocals, guitars
Peter Riccio – drums
Julie Beman – keyboards, organ, vocals
Eric Bloomquist – bass, vocals

Produced by Lys Guillorn & Her Band
Recorded by Tom Boudreau at Bonehead Studios, Cheshire, CT
Mixed by Tom Boudreau with Lys Guillorn & Her Band
Mastered by Jim Chapdelaine
Cover photo by Pete Brunelli

Dedicated to gender rebels everywhere.

 

Review: Too Many Crooks by Paul D. Brazill

too-many-crooksToo Many Crooks
Paul D. Brazill
Near to the Knuckle Novella #7

I’m pretty much an easy mark when it comes to Mr B, as you’re doubtless already aware if you’ve read my enthusiastic reviews for his other publications. But I love writers I can count on (see also Liz Hand, the Abbotts, Tess Makovesky and some others I could name but why inflate all those egos?).

Too Many Crooks hits some of the familiar territory: colourful low lifes spread across Europe from Britain to Poland and points in between, salty language, implausible schemes and cataclysmic coincidences. It also has callbacks to other tales he’s written (fun if you know them, interesting hooks if you don’t).

But there’s something more in the wild kinetic machinations: dare I say a touch of the poetic? A lot of mad laugh out loud moments — the Mad Jaffa Cake Eater, a pruney face was so lived in squatters wouldn’t stay there, a Slippery Pole — and a whole bunch of references to classic punk tunes and venerable comedies, not to mention Fall lyrics.

You’d expect no less than offhand Carry On lines and knowing music choices for every mood. There’s a lot more, too:

He was also the world’s leading authority on the Klingon language, apparently and used speaking in Klingon as part of his radical therapy. Hattie had told him she wasn’t interested and had never seen Star Wars and he’d glared at her.

“If you haven’t made a fool of yourself at least once in your life, you haven’t lived,” said Anna.
“Oh, well, if that’s true, I’ve lived more lives than a cat, then,” said McGuffin.

He watched Leslie leave the café and put up her umbrella, which flapped in the wind like a black crow.

He was hungover from a bad dream, or maybe a bad life.

The old grandfather clock had just struck thirteen.

Obviously I could go on and on. Just the audacity of naming a primary character McGuffin (snort!). Get it. You need the laughs. Because all orange clowns should be fictional.

FFB: People Who Knock on the Door by Patricia Highsmith

9780349004976-usI started reading this on a transatlantic flight thinking I would be able to nod off get a little sleep. But it’s Highsmith, so of course I finally had to force myself to close the book so I could sleep a little. As Sarah Hilary’s astute introduction spells it out, ‘Her great skill was to make us, dear readers, complicit….Highsmith, let’s face it, is addictive.’

I’m not sure there’s a ‘typical’ Highsmith, but this one’s definitely an outlier. For one thing the protagonist is a high school kid. Written in the midst of the rise of the so-called Moral Majority in the Reagan years, her contempt is palpable for the grubby little hypocrites who trumpet ‘morality’ whilst using religion as a club to batter down any dissent.

But it doesn’t at once seem like a ‘crime’ novel. After a while I stopped waiting for something ‘criminal’ to happen and just settled in to the life of Arthur Alderman (oh, what a name) in a seemingly idyllic Midwestern town where everyone is a specifically odd reality and the sinister march of darkness creeps through the niceness everyone desperately struggles to maintain.

That unease: that’s Highsmith. That’s the art I struggle to put a finger on. How easily, how pervasively she develops it. I need to study her more closely. It feels effortless, but it’s got to be so carefully built. Into the maelstrom of religious tension, abortion controversies, money matters and always intimations of ‘morality’ that slowly drive a wedge into the ‘perfect’ family.

You always knew they were not perfect. But when it all explodes, it’s still a shock.

Her racism is much more on show here. Highsmith makes it a part of the small town outlook, a nodding us vs them mentality. The mindset that Arthur struggles against, both with his father’s closing mind after his ‘born again’ moment and with the ‘why not just settle’ message he gets from almost everyone else.

He comes to a conclusion, a philosophy that seems to finally bring him peace:

Take life as it comes. Enjoy and be grateful. Not grateful to God, but to luck and chance. Tread carefully, speak carefully, hang onto what you’ve got. Be polite to what you’ve got.

Of course that’s when, as they say, all hell breaks loose. Of course, this is Highsmith country.

Discover your new reads at Patti’s round up of overlooked tomes.

 

2016 Books: Round-Up

I’m woefully behind on reviews, having more or less come to the conclusion that I will never catch up and therefore must stop agreeing to try. Here are a few in brief that I can’t help mentioning.

IT’S ALL TRUE (ALTHOUGH IT MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED): Bratkovič has a collection of stories that offers a noir take with a lot of mordant humour. His protagonists usually manage to cock things up through their best efforts to succeed and by wanting more than their abilities can produce. My favourite is probably ‘The Tribe’ in which a messianic leader wreaks havoc in a mental institution. ‘The Tie’ and ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ make the most of the blackest of black humour. Check it out.

BUFFALO AND SOUR MASH: Richard Godwin, known best for his sleek and sexy thrillers tries something new here: a Western! Well, sort of a western because the rodeo comes to Surrey. Now if that doesn’t already intrigue you, there’s also his usual mix of psychotic violence and sexual obsession as well. Murphy has a single-minded plan to bring the rodeo to the UK until he finds a new obsession to get racy Rhona to be its star — but Rhonda has plans of her own. If you like Godwin’s style, you’ll be intrigued by his appropriation of the western.

DARK MINDS: I’m only a few stories into this collection but I wholeheartedly recommend it. Solid quality and a good cause: All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to Hospice UK and Sophie’s Appeal. There are forty authors here, some the top of the field, many are exciting newcomers (and yeah, folks I know but then I only hang out with quality). In hard times we turn to crime: at least keep it fictional, right? Because we have enough crime to deal with in the government 😉

RAISE THE BLADE: Tess had a fab story in an anthology I edited so I was really pleased to see her publish a novella with Caffeine Nights. Then I decided to save it up for when I could savour it — and forgot! So I’ve cracked it open and it’s just as terrific as I knew it would be. In fact it’s been hard to tear myself away from it to do the things I need to be doing, but I highly recommend it. Tess has a great style that’s deceptively easy-going until WHAM! Pick this up.