Wednesday 28 October 2015

The Last Post on the Home Service

I've been a bit quiet on this blog (and elsewhere) over recent weeks. Mostly this is a result of a lack of time, because in addition to normal stuff, I've been making a Radio 4 documentary about the story of the bugle call the Last Post. Which has been a fascinating but quite time-consuming experience.

It's also been completely new to me and I'm deeply grateful to the producer, the admirable Ben Crighton, who has steered me through the project.

Amongst other interviews, we spoke with Peter Wilson and Basil King, who sounded respectively the Last Post and Reveille at the 1965 funeral of Winston Churchill. We also interviewed Paul Field, who played the Last Post at the 1981 funeral of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands - I'm interested in the way that a British Army bugle call was played on both sides in the civil war in Northern Ireland, and this was a rare chance to ask one of those involved about his perception of the call.

Anyway, I'm listening to a recording of the show now, and it's sounding very fine to my ears. Do have a listen: we're on air two weeks today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Last Post on the Bugle

Two weeks today - on Tuesday 10 November - I shall be doing a talk on the Last Post bugle call as part of the Richmond Literary Festival. I'm particularly pleased that this is being staged at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall in Twickenham, since I once wrote the history of the School. If you live in the vicinity, do drop in - it'll be good.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Three-minute heroes

I spent yesterday evening at the University of Warwick (which, obviously, is in Coventry), where they were staging a two-day Festival of the Imagination as part of the university's fiftieth birthday celebrations. I was appearing on a panel to discuss the Two-Tone movement that came of the city in 1979, appearing along with musicians Pauline Black and Horace Panter, novelist Catriona Troth and academics Trevor McCrisken and Jason Toynbee. It was, as I'd anticipated, tremendous fun.

Freddy Valentine

In a previous life, I used to have a website called Trash Fiction. Well, I still have the  site, but sadly I haven't had the time to update it for, oh, over a decade now. Despite which, I remain a self-proclaimed lover of pulp fiction and, in that capacity, I'd like to recommend a fabulous radio play/audiobook in the shape of David Chaudoir's Freddy Valentine and the Soho Ghoul.

On Trash Fiction I used to start with the blurb on the back of the book. This is the equivalent from iTunes:
Freddie Valentine is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, coated in a purple paisley veneer. A record producer, a nightclub crooner, the one-time manager of the heavy metal band Satan's Claw, the bastard son of an eccentric aristocrat, a dabbler in the dark arts - some or none of this might be true. It was the year 2013 but the man dressed in a purple safari suit and stack-heeled boots, and his hair was a matted bird's nest of the Jimi Hendrix Experience variety. He spoke like an East End barrow boy, read trashy women's magazines and kept a budgie called Grayson.
Detective Chetwyn has a problem. He believes his chief superintendent might be a vampire. He believes that Valentine might be one as well, and that he's going to be bumped off by Valentine's Polish hard-man Osaki.
This kind of free-wheeling, over-the-top camp fantasy is a tricky act to pull off. It's all too easy for weird to shade into wacky, for humour to come across as smartarse smugness. Happily, Chaudoir gets it right. This is genuine, unadulterated, Grade A pulp writing.

Picture this: Heavy Metal Kid Gary Holton as a decadent cockney fop with a talent for mind-reading; Richard Davies from Please Sir! as a Welsh copper, plagued with irritable bowel syndrome, who feels that his wife and daughters are conspiring to condemn him to premature middle age; and professional wrestler Mal 'King Kong' Kirk as a Polish misfit 'rumoured to have punched Lech Waleska in a bar fight in Gdansk'. All of them appearing in a story written by Arthur Brown (loosely adapted from an Arthur Machen original) and directed by Ken Russell.

Something like that anyway.

The central trio of characters are all splendidly ludicrous, the storyline is excessive without being (too) silly, and there's an unmistakeable intelligence at work. There are some fine turns of phrase: if the literary version of vampires were accurate, then the world would be plunged into a 'Mathusian fanged apocalypse'. And there are some lovely asides: the members of a golf club 'liked to have a senior police officer popping in now and again. It added to their misplaced sense of superiority.' In addition to which, I find it hard to resist a text that laments the state of modern cigarettes and yearns for the good old brands of Piccadilly, Woodbine and Gitane.

As far as I know, this is a home-made production, but it sounds professional enough: the narration and acting are convincing, and there are enough bits of music and sound effects to lift it.

I'd hope that this is the start of a continuing series (in whatever format) featuring the characters, but in the meantime, Freddy Valentine and the Soho Ghoul is available here.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Book reviews

I've never been very up-to-date in my reading. The majority of the books I own were bought in charity shops, which normally means I'm at least a decade behind the times.

But recently I've been doing some book reviewing, which has given me a chance to read newly published work. And very good a great deal of it is. Unfortunately, some of the reviews aren't available online - so you can't read my piece on Peter Doggett's fine Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the I-Phone - 125 Years of Pop Music unless you subscribe to the Literary Review

I would, though, direct you to my thoughts on a trio of excellent books: Charlotte Higgins's This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC, Philipp Blom's Fracture: Life and Culture in the West 1918-1938 and Dominic Sandbrook's The Great British Dream Factory.

And on the subject of the latter, I would also cite the enthusiasm expressed by Jessie Thompson in the Huffington Post, in which she praises 'a book that is written with the same clarity, energy and humour as Alwyn W Turner's brilliant books on recent history'.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Theresa May: a portrait

Having written some profiles of various Labour figures, drawn from their press cuttings, I thought I'd try a Tory. So here's a portrait of the home secretary Theresa May. She's very dull, I know, but there are some points of interest in her story.