All hail the Bard! Photo (c) Andy Powell.

All hail the Bard! Photo (c) Andy Powell.

First let us praise Stony Stratford’s new Bard, Vanessa Horton Jonklaas, not the least among her talents being the ability to embarrass her teenage daughter with a quick burst of rap.  But later for more of that.

Now let us go back in time to New Year’s Day, when fine mellow weather brought out a bumper crowd and more motors than you could shake a stick at, at the annual winter Stony Stratford Classic Car Festival.  I’m not a car person (once owned a Lada) but, rain or shine, I always look forward to this.  As is now traditional here at Lillabullero, a couple or three of personal favourites (Click, then click again when the page changes to get the full picture):


A grille of great beauty: a 1938 Triumph Dolomite

Cheeky chappie or ghoul by daylight? Either way, winking. A Fafnir-Hall Scott Special, a centurion give or take a couple of years.

Cheeky chappie or ghoul by daylight? Either way, with a winking headlight. A Fafnir-Hall Scott Special, a centurion give or take a couple of years.

An AC Cobra. Car's OK, but the tress, the trees ...

An AC Cobra. Car was okay, but the trees, the trees …

January Book Group book was, at over 400 pages, way too long – too much detailed description, too much agonising – and, at times, too clever and/or gross for its own good.  When I say the writer was David Baddiel, some of you, at least will understand when I say that, even though I’m never going to listen to it, I was relieved to see that the reader of the audiobook edition wasn’t the author himself.  The death of Eli Gold (2011) is certainly ambitious and not without its merits, though one of which is not, unfortunately, the elimination of wasted words.

Baddiel - The death of Eli GoldEli Gold, the world’s greatest living writer, is slowly dying in a New York hospital; in fact, other than in reminiscence, he’s in a coma for the length of the book.  We get to see him through the eyes of four protagonists:

  • Colette, the precocious 8-year-old daughter from his fifth and last marriage (a narrative device that invariably gets my goat)
  • Harvey, the 44-year-old son from his third marriage, which ended badly with Harvey’s mum taking him to live in a feminist commune when he was a boy; he is overweight and in therapy.  He ghost-writes celebrity autobiographies, and has written one novel; we are given a quote from the novel’s review on Amazon – “I just didn’t like any of the characters.  Especially the hero (?) and narrator, Jake, a self-obsessed and obnoxious character who, at the end of the day, just wasn’t a very pleasant person to spend all that time with.”  Yeah, right.  (The question being, of course, is this authorial playfulness, or evidence of Ian Dury’s contention that, “There aint half been some clever bastards.”)
  • the coldly avenging gun-wielding Mormon twin of Eli’s fourth wife, a marriage which ended in a failed joint suicide bid; given Eli’s in a coma you’d have to say there’s not much tension to be had in an assassination attempt (though it does, as it happens, lead to quite an interesting climax)
  • Violet, Eli’s first wife – an English war bride, while living modestly with whom he wrote his breakthrough novel in a tiny flat in London.  She’s now 89 and living in an old people’s home in London.  Only sees he’s ill by chance in someone else’s paper.  There’s an entertaining little sub-plot involving her condescending sister.  Interesting on living in penury with a struggling writer – what’s on the page as opposed to what’s happening in the life – and the consequences of success.
  • Philip Roth (wouldn’t you know it) and a charismatic Bill Clinton also have walk-on parts, and we see a fair bit of Eli’s last wife, controlling the social death process.

Even more than usual at the Book Group we expressed disbelief at the quotes chosen to advertise the book’s merits on the paperback edition cover.  Agreement that it was not “Shockingly good” (The Times), disbelief from this quarter at “Better than anything Martin Amis had done in decades” (Sunday Express) (being the token male of the group, the others were, naturally, in no position to comment, but, you know, not in the same league), qualified acknowledgement of “Thoughtful and often hilariously funny meditation on ageing and fame” (The Times, again), though hilarious is definitely pushing it.

Yes, it has its moments, and I wouldn’t necessarily advise, “Don’t bother”; just be prepared to skim, and look up a few names on Google (as I had to do with Hughie Thomasson and Hester Prynne, for example).  I liked the intriguing did-he-or-didn’t-he? aspect of the presence on the internet of a transcription of the police interview treating Eli as a murder suspect, after his failed part in the dual suicide bid, that so fuelled the fourth wife’s brother’s vengeance; there’s a suggestion (also teasingly queried) that, rather than being the real thing, it was Eli himself who wrote and posted it to the conspiracy theory website.

In the end a better title might have been ‘The redemption of Harvey Gold’ (you could see it coming), though I guess that would have hidden the ‘Great Man’ theme – an exploration of changing notions of both fame and masculinity – somewhat.

PS: The bitch in me was particularly tickled by this passage:

In his mind’s eye Harvey had seen her transform – in the bustle of the room, with bodies being moved out and policemen asking questions – into a classical widow, assuming the mantle of dignified grief as easily as a great actress dons Jocasta’s black. That is what she will be for the rest of her life, forever wreathed in the sad smile of memory: she will be his Yoko Ono.

That set up a bastard of an ear-worm that I couldn’t place, so had to look that up too.  It’s the Barenaked Ladies, they of Big Bang Theory‘s rather wonderful theme tune.  Their song Be my Yoko Ono.  Which, from the evidence of the official video, would seem to have her approval.

Words, music, apples

Vaultage Jan early 2016First Vaultage of the year saw Narius doing his sophisticated seated guitar strut and the Essex Folk Federation of Fraggle Fletcher (aka EFFOFF), an accomplished thrash folk punk duo from Essex of great energy and wit, singing the praises of tea and lager and name-checking Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (now there’s a name I’ve not conjured with for a couple of decades).  Fraggle (or partner) toted a furiously strummed miniature guitar that was definitely not a ukulele.  Great fun.  (That’s me, with beard, top left on the poster.)

Scribal Jan 2016Scribal Gathering, moving round the corner and down the road apiece, returned to the Cock, the more spacious venue it had graced a few years ago.  Who better to draw the crowds in for the January gig than Forest of Fools, who, if you’ll excuse the expression for a folk accordion and percussion driven musical enterprise, rocked the joint.  It’s a unique sound, with a double percussive and bass attack (conventional bass plus sousaphone making some extraordinary noises). Superb musicianship and, a rare thing indeed in the realms of Scribal, dancing was partaken of.  The dapper Poeterry was immaculately Poeterry, though mystifying one or two it must be said.

Vaultage Jan 21 16Was too tired to stay for the Bard’s Last Stand, but what a grand job he – Pat Nicholson – has done in that capacity, and, with Lois, in consolidating Vaultage as a place to be.  Was interesting to hear Taylor Smith – Mitchell Taylor, fellow guitarist and vocalist Smith1 and cajonist Smith2 – playing Mitchell Taylor’s songs, only previously heard solo in this parish; great singalong cover of The Beautiful South’s Rotterdam too.

We wassailed the apple trees and the back of York House (great photo courtesy of Andy Powell).  The bearded one seeming to burn up is my son Pete; that’s silver-haired me bottom left, the back of his mum in the middle:
Pedro wassailing

Bardic trials 2016And so to the Bardic Trials, held at York House for a change, and a good one it turned out to be.  As far as I’m concerned seating arranged around a bunch of round tables is the best.  What a great evening.  The place was buzzing from the first round with the five contestants’ opening bids all getting rousing receptions.  This was after a double act intro from Terrie Howey (aka Red Phoenix) and Danni Antagonist echoing Eurovision.  In the end it was down to singer songwriter Mitchell Taylor and Vanessa Horton Jonklass.  I’ve not seen Mitchell perform better, and I’ve seen him a a few times, his distinctive songs and delivery winning many friends.  Thanks Mitchell, for the ear-worm “Listen to Sandanista” (which I’ve never done) – I’ve had cheerier.  But prolific poet Vanessa was a popular winner, even without calling on her ode to chocolate.  Displaying loads of wit and commitment, she’ll be a fine Bard.  And as if the Trials themselves weren’t enough, the experience of powerful guest storyteller Usifu Jalloh – originally from Sierra Leone, in full colourful African garb, banging on a big long drum, storytelling barely scratches the surface – was sensational, held us entranced, had us laughing and hugely energised, taking us first on a trip round Africa, then across to Europe, ending up with a call to unity in Milton Keynes.  Wow.  What a night.  Great job Terrie & the Bardic Council.  (Here’s a link to Usifu Jalloh‘s website: http://www.usifujalloh.com/.)

Like diamonds and poisonA night of relative calm the following evening with ex-Bard Danni Antagonist in Stony Stratford Library, for a show of (it says here) “wry poetry and musings on life, love and the weather, and to celebrate the launch of” … the as yet incomplete and so so far phantom … “second collection “Like Diamonds and poison”.  Given her fine first collection, and one of the poems featured on the night, was called Empty threats … as the I Ching says, “No blame”.  Danni was more than ably supported by guest singer/songwriter Mark Owen in thoughtful mode.  With some neat collaborations of the pair of them, and a story from Red Phoenix, an engaging evening full of charm.

Friday night A Pointless Quiz at (and for) York House.  Pointless not so much “We asked a hundred people” as in the mind of the irrepressible Ken Daniels.  I managed to disastrously confuse Clint Eastwood with Lee Marvin, Two mules for Sister Sarah with Cat Ballou.  Due to this and also trying to be too clever, The Lost Marbles could only manage a disappointing mid-table performance.

Stony WordsThe last three events were all part of the annual Stony Words festival.  More to come next week.






Great Bowie Street


Fame requires every kind of excess.  I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the sombre renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings.  I mean long journeys across gray space.  I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic.  Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation.  Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors.  Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity – hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs.  Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.

(Is it clear I was a hero of rock’n’roll?)

Great Jones Street DeLilloThat’s from the opening of Don DeLillo‘s novel, Great Jones Street, published in April, 1973 in the US (and the next year in the UK), that I’d re-read at the start of the year.  It’s a dark sub-culture satire – for Rolling Stone magazine think Running Dog – with a rock musician named Bucky Wunderlick narrating.  It’s pretty good, still one of the best rock novels out there.  At the start Wunderlick opts to, at the height of his success, disappear mid-tour; rumours abound of weird sitings, illness, breakdown, death etc.  Given its period, it’s obvious post-motorcycle accident Bob Dylan is one of the reference points for Bucky – a big deal is made of the Mountain tapes, as opposed to the Basement tapes – and I’ve always thrown at least the self-immolating Jim Morrison and, not having read the book when it first came out, David Bowie into the mix.  That latter supposition has proved to be wrong if somewhat prophetic – fast forward to Bowie’s reported early reckless behaviour in Berlin and that “preferably in a foreign city” over the page in DeLillo’s book …

Anyway, with the announcement of the death of David Bowie and clips of Ziggy Stardust everywhere I remembered that opening paragraph of Great Jones Street and began to wonder who was drawing on whom (is that right, grammarians?).  The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released June, 1972, and its concluding track, Rock’n’roll suicide, had been recorded earlier, in February.  Given the typical turnaround time in book publishing back then (you know, when they used to proof-read, for example) I guess that rules out any cross-fertilisation either way at the time, that it was a case of – showing my age – as Marshall McLuhan used to say, “it steam engines when it’s steam engine time” (not that I can actually source that quote).


When Michael Jackson died in 2009, more than anything I had an urge to read Danny Baker‘s brilliant account of that rare ‘interview’ of his with MJ and the other Jacksons that had appeared in the NME … in 1981 as it turns out – Yes, that good I remembered it 28 years on.  The internet let me down, but it did tell me that The great Greenland mystery (for that is its title) was reprinted in an anthology edited by Dylan Jones called Meaty beaty big and bouncy!: classic rock and pop writing from Elvis to Oasis (1996).  I got a cheap tatty copy via AbeBooks and did not regret it.  Baker’s article was as sharp (and funny) as I’d thought.  An excellent collection it turned out to be, too.  Recommended.

Hunky DoryWhen it was announced David Bowie had died I was not immediately moved that much.  So it goes.  I was, though, surprised to discover – I did have to check – that I didn’t own a single Bowie album.  “Heroes”, of course, magnificent, one of the (slipping into hyperbole) truly great songs of the second half of the twentieth century, always gets to me.  And that movie, The man who fell to earth, continues to haunt.  I admired the accomplished body of work, the intelligence, was animated by a few tracks (Suffragette City and Rebel rebel immediately spring to mind), but there was little I could say I loved this side of Hunky Dory (and not just the gorgeous Kooks), though even that had a touch of the dark about it.

That’s the album I shall soon own.  I find now that I miss it; I’d still call it his masterpiece.  Back then my mates and I saw it as an incredibly important album – the wit, the intelligence, the chutzpah (Song for Bob Dylan, “Lennon’s on sale again“), the musical nous – and yet it would appear from the obits it was not a huge commercial success.  Ziggy Stardust just left me confused: Five years is a tremendous song, a great eco-scene setter … but the costumes were a step too far for gritty old authenticity chasing moi.  For me the case was, as Chris Salewicz, another veteran from NME days, put it in The Independent‘s obituary:

The trouble with David Bowie, however, was that it was hard to separate any of his activities from a scent of calculation that seeped into all he did: ultimately there was always something cold at the core of even his greatest work.

But while I hadn’t been particularly touched by the man, it was obvious that many of my younger friends (it’s all relative) had been, and I’m certainly not going to hold that against them.  I’m intrigued at the generational paradox.   Because – I shouldn’t be, I know, because I know all about The laughing gnome and London boys – I am surprised to discover, if that’s the right word, that David Bowie is actually 18 months older than me.  I’ve read a lot about him lately, more than I ever did when he was alive; it’s been interesting to discover that, well …


I turned to Meaty beaty big and bouncy! to see who had the Bowie chapter and was delighted to find a piece by Charles Shaar Murray, written in 1993 for Arena magazine, reflecting affectionately on his career till then, and on his creative lull since Let’s dance.  Its title was The man who fell to earth, taken from the compelling Nick Roeg film of the same name that featured Bowie as an extraterrestrial who did just that.  Again, don’t bother hunting for the text on the internet.  Echoing Salewicz he makes no bones about:

The problem with Bowie – as far as trad-rock orthodoxy is concerned – is that, despite his charter membership of the Big Rock Survivors’ Chums League, he is not trusted.  He doesn’t Mean It.

He recalls, rather tellingly:

The first Bowie I ever met face-to-face was Ziggy Stardust […]  I was on my first ever assignment for NME, which suited the strategy adopted by Bowie’s then manager, Tony DeFries of MainMan, of keeping his boy away from journalists who’d known him in any of his previous incarnations.

And while the ‘actor’ schtick is not exactly new news, I doubt it’s been expressed in a more charming way anywhere else:

The first question I ever asked David Bowie was something along the lines of ‘The most commonly used words in current rock writing are “punk”, “funk” and “camp”.  How much do you think you’ve contributed to bringing this about?’  Bowie seemed intrigued by the question – presumably it made a change from ‘Why is your hair that colour?’ and ‘How does your wife feel about you being bisexual?’ – and he denied any connections with funkiness, sidestepped ‘punk’, and suggested there was something camp about anyone who felt more at home on a stage than off it.  ‘No-one ever called Gerry Garcia camp,’ I replied.  ‘Ah,’ said Bowie, ‘but he’s a musician and I’m not.’  And we were away.

Murray met him many times after that and, after a roll call of various Bowie stage personas, tells us:

In private, though, he was a South London Bloke, albeit with highly arty tendencies, and that’s about as close to the ‘Real Bowie’ as any of us are going to get.”

What I find interesting here is that the qualities CSM reports more of in this article from way back are precisely what is coming out from all the anecdotage appearing of late in the social media and endless newspaper tributes – the politeness, charm and kindness, the ability to switch to ordinary when he wanted; I never saw beyond the mask, the video.  The human being, no less.  Vale.


The official Blackstar promo photo


Can’t leave it without  acknowledging, admiring and appreciating the way David Bowie kept his final illness private.  A dignified model for this celebrity driven age (even if the manner of the release of Blackstar was not exactly spontaneous – theatrical to the end, but I’d say he earned that).

I hadn’t realised that John Lennon was the co-writer of Fame – there’s poignancy.  All I could remember about it was the chant, so it crossed my mind that the lyrics might reflect something of the disquisition on fame in the opening paragraph of DeLillo‘s book that kicks off this post, but no – no relation.

Turns out this wasn’t as off the wall notion as it might seem, though.  Bowie was a voracious reader.  Check out his Top 100 Books and there you’ll find Don DeLillo‘s White noise, a book he’d praised in interviews for its ‘edginess’.  It’s a fascinating list, full of good stuff, the expected and the unexpected, ranging from Homer’s Iliad to Viz and back again.


Two other references I’ve found particularly interesting:

  • Neil Spencer’s acute overview of Bowie’s impact and career in last week’s Observer
  • and another one you won’t find on the internet, the late Ian MacDonald‘s fascinating take on The Thin White Duke’s notorious fascist salute at Victoria Station and the Station to station album – White lines, black magic: Bowie’s dark doings – written in 1999, which also harks back to some of the homo superior stuff on Hunky Dory and looks forward to personal salvation in Berlin; it’s not a knocking piece, I hasten to add.  Reprinted in Ian’s exemplary collection,  The people’s music (Pimlico, 2003).




Andrei Makine 2015 maybeI’ve written about Andreï Makine before, and doubtless I’ll do it again.  I may be repeating myself; in my reading experience he’s unique.  He’s an extraordinary writer who has just had a fantastic novel published; he’s a fantastic novelist who has just produced an extraordinary new book.  It keeps happening, but, despite being reviewed well, because they are translations – he’s a Russian émigré who writes in French, a good story in itself – he has little to no visibility in bookshops or libraries in the UK, and you will only find his work in mega-bookstores if you’re lucky.

 A woman loved (2013; translated by Geoffrey Strachan – UK: Maclehose Press /US: Graywolf Press, 2015) is the latest of Makine’s books to be published in the UK.  The woman of the title is Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796, and the novel is ostensibly about a man – Oleg – trying to tell her story in film, firstly for the Soviet cinema, and subsequently for post-communist, free market, Russian television.

Here’s a quote from A woman loved that is pure essence of Makine:

Several years later Oleg will still remember that lunch with Eva. The USSR will no longer exist, the Berlin Wall will have come down. But when he tries to define what has not changed since then he will call to mind the silvery gleam over the fields, the autumn sunlight on the bare forests, and the tender look in the eyes of a woman smiling and talking about tea leaves.

This is what he does.  He captures powerful moments of stillness and beauty outside of history, often arising from the direst of circumstances.  He’s a magician, he takes you there, enriches you, and he does it time and time again.  You finish the book and just want to start all over again.

A woman loved is concerned with many things, all in the context of Oleg’s struggle.  It is special within Makine’s oeuvre in that the life a historical character is woven into the narrative.  This is one of his longer books (UK edition 304 pages, US 243) but one of his great qualities – and I do mean this in the best possible way – is to make you think you have read a much longer book, so much is going on:

  • Catherine_II_of_RussiaCatherine the Great: I knew practically nothing about her but she’s a fascinating subject, a German princess brought to Russia as a young girl for an arranged marriage into the Romanov dynasty.  Her unpopular (and impotent) husband was deposed and she became a reforming Empress, furthering the European shift of Russian society, flirting with the works of progressive pre-Revolution French intellectuals.
  • She did a lot more than flirt with many men at court; her favourites were well rewarded, so what becomes problematic is the notion of love – what was she loved for?  For access to power and preferment? – was she ever really loved?  Did she ever truly love?  The book’s title works both ways.  One of the key events in the novel (if it ever happened … the evidence is pursued in the plot) was the possibility of one genuine love affair which seems to have been different, to have offered a simple more … “a secret journey to Italy“?
  • Her sexual appetite is the stuff of legend, though the notion that she did it with horses is pure propaganda.  Which leads us to…
  • What is history, how can it be written?  Whatever the ideological interpretations at play, the grand historical narratives – the theatre of history, of biography – miss the personal, what really went on in the (secret) real life spaces in between, even with the lead ‘actors’?  Could she, did she, as one reading of the title suggests, have a real love?  “Film what Catherine was not,” as one of Oleg’s girlfriends says.  As opposed to “the chronicles of wars, rebellions, and political intrigues, the tangle of bloody, brilliant vanities that goes by the name of History …”
  • And what does it mean when you are in a position of absolute power and responsibility?  “She lived up to the limits of the games humans play, at the peak of what you and I can imagine in terms of power, riches, sexual pleasure. These limits were her daily fare. So she must certainly have wanted to go beyond them and …”
    They say it as one.”
  • Then there’s Russian history in general:”the time when the last days of socialism still guaranteed a certain economic security and the capitalism people dreamed of seemed like a cost-free Disneyland“; elsewhere “Violence plus utopia, a very Russian formula“.
  • and the specifics of life under Communism and the rampant capitalism that came after.  It’s quite clear from Makine’s previous two books (the outstanding The life of an unknown man and Brief loves that live forever) that while he left Russia because of the lack of freedom, he’s appalled at what has been lost by the mass of the people in what has followed, and almost certainly won’t be going back for any length of time.  His contempt for the oligarchs and their pals shines out.  Interestingly he sees the glamour of success as portrayed in Hollywood movies as having fuelled and polluted Russian visions of the good life.  Which leads us nicely on to …
  • Film making, the mechanics, politics and economics thereof, and by extension the whole struggle to make art, either smuggling dissidence past the Soviet state censors, or fighting against the gross mass market imperatives that ‘freedom’ brings.  We first meet Oleg, the film maker, hauling carcasses around a meat factory to subsidise his film studies.  With the fall of communism he’s a drunken mess.  Until he meets an old buddy from the meat factory who’s made minor oligarch status, runs a TV production company and wants a whole series.  Who also wants an episode bringing the horse legend to life as part of the package.
  • So Oleg, why the fascination, nay obsession, with Catherine the Great’s story?  That drives A woman loved?  Because there’s a German branch in his ancestry, and a family saying blaming Catherine for them being where they are; an ancestor came to Russia with the young princess.  Oleg’s life is inevitably entangled with this intellectual pursuit.  His own love life even involves at least a couple of the actresses who play Catherine at various stages in her and his life.
  • This bit should be a footnote really, but I’ll let it lie here: There is a parallel in Makine’s biography; he had a French grandmother, which makes all the more intriguing Oleg’s discovery, near the end, of a feeling that is “utterly new to him, [that] he passionately wants to explain to Eva. Tell her how the sense he has carried with him since childhood of being torn between his Russian and German identities is slipping away and he is going to learn to live without thinking about it.”
  • And even if we forget about the film-making and Catherine for a moment, Oleg’s life, echoing some of Makine’s earlier short novels about life under postwar Soviet communism as it does, is still a riveting experience.  And, telling us about how it felt in Russia, he never preaches.

A woman loved succeeds on all these levels.  There is a glorious road trip at the end, the route taken from what has gone before narratively.  It’s another tour de force from Andreï Makine.  It sings.  I urge you to read him; he will enrich your life.

A postscript on book jackets

Makine - A woman loved USMakine - A woman loved FrenchMakine - A woman loved UK                            Top left is the US edition, ny favourite; a touch of class in the way it references older classic French book design.  To its right the – obviously – French edition, suggesting costume and scenery and longing (there’s always plenty of frost and snow in a Makine novel); they’ve moved on graphically.  And underneath the disappointingly corny old UK contribution.  Hey – it’s a film!

Another postscript

Here on Lillabullero I have tabulated Andreï Makine‘s works to make sense of the variant titles that have cropped up with UK and US editions, and collected my diverse comments on all his translated works here.  He has no great web presence beyond book reviews and the rare interview; the hits I get on these pages – top of the second page in Google when I looked, and it’s been higher – are testimony to that.  He deserves far greater recognition.

Catherine O'Flynn - What was lostA lot of things are lost in Catherine O’Flynn‘s debut novel What was lost (Tindal Street, 2007), not least the Midland’s engineering heritage.  Set mostly in Green Oaks, a modern shopping centre, wasted lives, obsession, lost souls and disappointment crop up all over the place.

What was lost is full of good ideas but they don’t quite gel together satisfactorily.  Embracing comedy and tragedy, it hints at genres – a ghost on the CCTV, a major unsolved crime at its heart, a child’s diary, urban romance – that never quite add up to a coherent whole.  This is a shame, because there is much of promise going on here.  I wasn’t the only one of our Book Group who had to actually turn back to the opening chapters to confirm what seemed to be just tacked on at the end, which was only the core irony around which the important mystery element of the novel revolves and is resolved by.

So, What was lost is the sort of novel the phrase “it’s a curate’s egg” was made for.  It’s good enough to conjure up thoughts of Charles Dickens and what he would have made of the modern retail complex – the openings of Bleak House and A tale of two cities spring to mind, just for starters.  It doesn’t happen, though.  While convincing in some aspects – particularly the depiction of days in the life of Green Oaks, in the malls and behind the scenes – What was lost fails in others, particularly the main male characters most of the time.  Apart from a 10-year old girl who disappears in 1984 – the opening section of the book is her infectious aspiring detective Adrian Mole-style diary – and the deputy manager of a music store in Green Oaks in 2003, the woman whose experience parallels, presumably, that of the author’s before she got out, no-one else exactly has a life off of the page.  This makes a change, of course, from women saying that men can’t do women characters.

There’s an energy at play that strikes me as fairly typical of both provincial publishing and first novels, but which is also typically prone to simply trying too hard.  So:

Kate was frightened of dogs, though as she’d been bitten eleven times she couldn’t see that it was an irrational fear.

Eleven times?  Then there’s her latest research project with her 60-year-old statistician dad (another story):

This week’s had been a wide-ranging Which-style report on pear drops. Kate and her father shared a passion for them and had visited fifteen different sweet shops to compare size, sugar coating (or smooth), price per quarter pound, degree of acidity.

Fifteen – even in 1984?  Having said that, I find that most of the passages I have bookmarked are positive sparks, showing enough invention to make me interested in the author’s later work.  And the increasingly undisciplined and bitter blind shopper reports tagged on to some chapters certainly made me laugh.  Anyway …

There’s lovelorn Kurt, festering in the Green Oaks’ security team, keeping his old live-in girlfriends’ letters and bank statements, who still “curated the collection, though he didn’t know who for” – as desolate a short passage as you can find this side of poetry, for love had died a while before she literally did.  Lisa in the record store’s ending of her relationship with her slacker partner is nicely done too, after this bit of self-revelation:

It occurred to her that she felt the same about Ed as she did about her job – a kind of numbed acceptance. She thought how rarely you saw the words ‘numb’ and ‘acceptance’ on Valentine cards, and thought maybe she’d buy one for once if they widened their vocabulary a little.

The passages describing various goings on in the shop are particularly rich in nuance.  “Freddie Mercury was assuring everyone that they were champions. Lisa and the lost guy knew differently“; meanwhile the cramped staff room is littered with “Kentucky Fried detritus …”; back in the shop, record store nostalgics will recognise the Classical Department:

Sealed off behind its glass doors, with fake walnut walls, leather armchairs and soft music playing, the department gave the impression of a refuge. Somewhere to soothe the jangled nerves after a day spent on the singles counter. It was, however, a false impression. The truth was that the Classical Department was hell in a box.
The other departments attracted the odd eccentric, the occasional trying customer, but Classical drew the elite like some powerful catnip emitting its scent across the city.

One of our Book Group attested to – having recently been (commendably) doing some charity Christmas present wrapping in Milton Keynes shopping centre, she had had access to the bleak breeze blocked corridors and back-runs behind the shiny scenes of one of Mammon’s showpieces – What was lost‘s description of what it called the keenly felt “apartheid” of the shoppers’ and staff’s experience of such places.  This book has enough going for it to make one’s occasional wanderings in those marbled boulevards never feel quite the same again.

Musical adventures …

… so old they are practically ancient history.  But worth recording.

Vaultage Dec 10 15Vaultage Dec 23 2015Early December Vaultage saw Woburn singer songwriter Steve Gifford’s set increasingly strident from delicate picking beginnings, while The Fabulators (well, two guitarists therefrom) started with a storming Sweet home Chicago and proceeded to deliver an eclectic bunch of covers ranging from Teenage dirtbag (evoking memories of a friend’s dismay at her sub-teen daughter’s ability to sing along to Wheatus word-perfect on the radio) to Ace of spades, and beyond.  The Bogoff Brothers also performed after much discussion as to what they were going to call themselves.  The more literary option of The Brothers Bogoff, after Dostoyevsky, was considered, but rejected in the light of their country-heavy repertoire.  That’s them on the other poster.

Given he never features in the Aortas photomontages he puts together, here's a photo of Dan Plews.

Given he never features in the Aortas photomontages he puts together, here’s a photo of Dan Plews.

The last Aortas open mic at the Old George was a bit special with the cream of the usual crop: Dan Plews himself, of course, and others including Mark, Naomi, and Pat ‘the Hat’ Nicholson – the best I’ve seen him (he put it down to DADGAD tuning, starting with Dylan’s lilting Tomorrow is a long time). Hey, not forgetting an early bonus of Roddy Clenaghan’s dulcet tones not often heard here.  And a solo David Cattermole hitting his effortlessly spellbinding groove: somehow simultaneously relaxed and driving, hinting at revelation.  He joined Dan for a triumphant Heard it through the grapevine to finish the evening off.

The Christmas Eve Eve Vaultage – in a crowded Vaults Bar – was a splendid affair too, graced as it was with (it’s that man again) the David Cattermole Band, on this evening comprising Tom on cajon and another Dave contributing some beautifully lyrical phrasing of the alto saxophone; his first appearance in public for nearly two decades apparently – not that it showed.  We were treated to the extended Can’t find my way home among other delights.  Earlier the – I guess – creative heart of accomplished new young sort of folky-soul band, Reeds, impressed with some originals and then had us grinning and singing along to I wanna be like you from Jungle Book.

Meanwhile, on telly …

an extraordinarily intense and exciting sequence of music contained in one of those BBC4 historical compilation programmes that are usually littered with stuff you never liked in the first place (step forward among others in this instance in particular Argent’s God gave rock and roll to you – as if).  I speak of Old Grey Whistle Test; ’70s Gold.  With its golden core of Bob Marley and the WailersConcrete jungle followed by the magnificent Captain Beefheart (that triumphant grin!) & the Magic Band’s Upon the My O My; then with only a slight hiatus of (only) Johnny Winter’s relentlessly energetic take on Born in a crossfire hurricane, we got a full-blown full-on Roxette from Dr Feelgood, followed by the (ditto) Patti Smith Group doing great justice to Horses.  Stirred a few cockles, I can tell you.

beefheart3As it happens, the good Captain puts in a redundant appearance in What was lost, the book we started with.  The ultimately tragic Adrian, back from uni and with no great plans, plays the Lick my decals off album when he’s helping in the newsagents owned by his dad near where his young friend Kate lives, in an attempt to musically educate the punters; even she has her doubts.  A world in which Captain Beefheart is mainstream; now that’s an alternative reality.


Xmas day 2014 card4

A.     Let the saxophones and the xylophones
And the cult of every technical excellence, the miles of canvas in the galleries
And the canvas of the rich man’s yacht snapping and tacking on the seas
And the perfection of the grilled steak –

B.      Let all these so ephemeral things
Be somehow permanent like the swallow’s tangent wings:
Goodbye to you, this day remember is Christmas, this morn
They say, interpret your own way, Christ is born.

The closing lines from An Eclogue for Christmas by Louis MacNeice (1933)

A tale of three Billys

Rankin - Even dogsBilly One

Why would you do that?  Surely a sticker would suffice?  And fend off the inevitable redundancy on bookshelves everywhere when the next one – as is greatly to be hoped – is published?  But no, the dust jacket of the hardback of Even dogs in the wild (Orion, 2015), Ian Rankin’s latest addition to the Rebus saga,  permanently boasts its credentials as ‘The new John Rebus‘ as an integral part of the design.  Like he’s Doctor Who or something.

Rebus may be feathering a bit at the edges now he’s retired – by the end of the book he’s acquired a dog (not a big one) that has wandered into his life, he’s getting a all granddaddy, and he’s accepted CDs into his home – but he’s still basically the same curmudgeonly old sod he’s always been, and he’s still driving that ancient Saab.  Getting soft in your old age, John?” he is taunted, at one stage.  “Soft as nails,” he comes back.  He names the dog Brillo.

Even dogs in the wild is essentially a three-hander.  Rebus is back as a consultant helping his protegé DCI Siobhan Clarke on a difficult case, and Rankin continues to keep faith with his later creation, the teetotal Malcolm Fox, ex-Complaints but now gaining his spurs and some cojones in CID (and also at she’s-not-my-girlfriend stage – to his regret – with Siobhan) playing a full part.  This looks to be a template with legs on it, though I’d like to hear more about where Siobhan’s coming from again – didn’t she seriously cycle at one stage?  As seems to be par for the course these days in crime fiction, there are two overlapping and red herring-ing cases on the go at once: primarily a tale of revenge tale arising from unsavoury happenings involving the high and mighty at a youth remand centre in the ’80s, while at the same time organised crime gangs are jousting for position on the same patch.  The unlikely link is Rankin’s reliable old gangster, the ageing-with-Rebus ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty; Indian takeaway menus feature strongly in the investigation as things pan out.

It’s crisply delivered with all the usual hallmarks.  Nicely paced interlocking narratives, sharp dialogue (how I love the Rebus-Siobhan double act), compassion and social commentary, commitment, character and wit, not forgetting the odd drop of Scottish lingua franca.  There’s thankfully less of a soundtrack than usual – a Brit crime trend long past its sell-by date (feel free, though, Ian, to give the Kinks a play again).  That said, there are still some neat musical references.  The book’s title – Even dogs in the wild – is significant, taken as it is from a Billy MacKenzie song on the Associates’ 1980 album The affectionate punch that has a part to play in the drama; it is not a happy song (That’s Billy One, in case you didn’t notice).  I followed through on a lesser Steve Miller song that gets a plug but was less impressed.

There’s humour in the music, too.  “I’m always happy,” Rebus protests to Siobhan at a certain stage; says she, Your taste in music says otherwise”.  “I’m Colin Blunt – no relation, alas,” is how someone helping them with their enquiries introduces himself to them. ‘ To the spy?” Rebus guessed. The singer,” Blunt corrected him with a frown.’

You want a touch of Edinburgh intertextuality?  Rebus and Siobhan again:

“What’s the book?”
He said, changing the subject. It’s Kate Atkinson.”
Any good?”
Someone keeps coming back from the dead.”

Anything more would constitute a spoiler.  (Minor oops.)

Ondaatje - Billy the KidBilly Two

Though Michael Ondaatje is one of my favourite writers – just for starters his atmospheric Coming through slaughter about Buddy Bolden is the best book about a musician I know – I struggled with his The collected works of Billy the Kid: left handed poems (1970) the first time round.  Probably because I wasn’t working hard enough; it does repay close attention.  Didn’t help that the haunting cover of the UK edition I read – the work of Mexican photographer Romualdo Garciá – I discover has absolutely nothing to do with Billy the Kid, save that his old friend and subsequent nemesis Pat Garrett gave him the chance to escape to Mexico which he didn’t take.

Ondaatje Page 1But first a brief digression on the perils of buying second-hand books.  When confronted with an opening page like this, with the text saying, “I send you a picture of Billy made with the Perry shutter as quick as it can be worked – Pyro and soda developer …” there is a sinking feeling – is there not? – that something is missing.  A pasted in place insert, maybe?  Recourse to the internet reveals I am not the first to take this trail, and with that comes the reassurance that I’m not missing anything physically, though quite what one is to take from that blank space – paint your own picture? – remains undefined.  And the discussion from keen historians of photography as to when the first Perry shutters were employed (later than when Billy became the late Billy?) does not help.  Most of the other photos printed (badly) in the book are also enigmatic.

Anyway, what we have here is a collage, a cut and paste and tinkering job in a style that modern tv documentaries have adopted, a story told using a vivid mix of actually mostly prose accounts taken from books detailing interviews from individuals who were part of the young man’s story (always polite when not shooting people etc.) and short poems some of which purport – only in the book’s title is it suggested – to come from him.  The ‘collected works’ are, I suppose, the man’s effect he had on those he met, and the legend.  The unconscious living out of Oscar Wilde aiming to be his own work of art.  Among the last pages is a bleak corpse ballad and, just before that, a crass comic fantasy involving Mexican princesses from the ’60s.  The page over from the blank photo is a simple listing of “The killed” “(By me)” – the longer list – and “(By them)”.  While there are moments of rest, respite and friendship – love, even – it’s an ugly, desolate, disturbing picture of the fabled West, of violence, brutality and madness, vividly drawn.  William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid died aged 21.  Michael Ondaatje‘s great strength as a writer is in freezing moments, of taking you there, taking over your senses.  You have to concentrate though.

     Double click on the image to get the full glory of The Lone Ranger's prose. On the night the Rocky Road Pilgrims replaced Brian's Bluegrass Bandeiros; claimed to be a gospel group but started with a John Prine song.Billy Three

Hillbilly music?  Another fine night’s singing, plucking, picking and fiddling (and a bit of band hopping) at York House’s Stony Breakdown: 4.  Double click on the poster image to get the full glory of the first paragraph’s prose.  The Harvesters duo came with the added charm of buck dancing and a beaming smile from the distaff side.   On the night the Rocky Road Pilgrims replaced Brian’s Bluegrass Bandeiros; said they were basically a gospel group even though they started with a John Prine song.  No stains on trio Stained Glass Bluegrass’s performance, while the two main voices in Band of Brothers sang so sweetly it came as no surprise to learn the actually were brothers.

The Old Grey Dogs (c) Ken Daniels

The Old Grey Dogs (c) Ken Daniels

The Old Grey Dogs have been playing together for 35 years, give or take the odd sabbatical, and it showed; I don’t mean that in a bad way.  You’d never have guessed banjoist Joe was playing with stitches in his index finger if he hadn’t told us, while the fiddler found places no-one else had ventured near that evening.  Highly accomplished, relaxed  ensemble playing that was thrilling in its own way, delivered with wit and seated élan.  Great stuff, lads.  Then the inevitable joyous finale jamboree.

Scribal Dec 15Scribal Gathering

I’ll admit I was tempted to go with the theme’s flow and call this one ‘silly-billies’ as per adopted Yorkshireman ex-Leeds MP Dennis Healey, but – nah.  Anyway, the ever able Mitchell Taylor kicked things off with a new song full of the joys including lines something like, “If I were Bruce Springsteen / I’d fill this song with hope,” followed by the somewhat optimistic “If I were Joe Strummer / I’d know what to do,” which strikes me as a rich vein of songsmiths worth mining further.  There was a fine set of poetry from Sam Upton, Northampton’s Bard somewhere in there; I wish I’d written his H.G.Wells.  And later Mark Owen rang the changes by doing a couple of covers.  Featured performers the Acoustic Zeroes – for the evening a father and daughter duo – were nimble, intelligent, rocking and tuneful, tambourine very much a percussive force; always good to have a song with local references.

Gary from Leeds

Gary from Leeds. Photo (c) Jonathan JT Taylor (unless I’m told otherwise)

We haven’t had a performance poet from outside the area at Scribal for a while now, so it was great to see Gary from Leeds, up from that London, who bossed it.  Starting off with a portrait of a Yorkshireman compensating for missing Yorkshire by sitting in a bath full of Yorkshire Tea eating Henderson’s Relish flavoured crisps – so not silly at all – he ranged broadly, getting laughs from a glint-in-the-eye deadpan delivery addressing, more than once, a shared pit of futility and despair, quoting, if memory serves, Kierkegaard at one stage.  The heaven and hell of the British canal network, how crap trendy London is, and the perils of declaring oneself a poet – “You should write a poem about that” as refrain – were other topics touched on in an impressive set.

In closing, Lillabullero would like to thank Mr Stephen Hobbs for its No.15 placing in his entertaining and perceptive annual Poetry Top of the Pops (complete with Whole Lotta Love riffing from Mr Phil Chippendale).  To acknowledge all the open mic-ers who haven’t had a mention; doesn’t mean you’re not worthy.  And to record his great appreciation of and thanks to Mr Jonathan ‘JT’ Taylor for keeping this show on the road (and the lollipops).

That time of the year

DomeSunday, November 22:
In Tufnell Park
did the Official Kinks Fan Club a pleasure dome decree as the venue for this year’s Konvention.  (Stately? nah!).  In the Dome – still the Boston Arms but upstairs, entry gained from the edge of Betjeman country at the bottom of Dartmouth Park Hill – a more spacious venue than the more plebeian ground floor function room, entered from the more prosaic Junction Road, which had hosted the gig for a decade or so.  Biggest wrist stamp I’ve ever had, cloakroom £2.00 an item on a dry cleaner’s wire coat hanger and Guinness at £4.50 a pint, which I’m pretty sure was a lot cheaper downstairs last year.

A bit late, I’d foregone my annual mid-day pilgrimage – make that sentimental journey – to Waterlow Park, up on Highgate Hill, a place of succour, respite and inspiration (such trees!) when I first moved to London many moons ago (and lately a place Highgate resident Ray Davies often chooses to do print media interviews).  Turned out I could have made it, such was the amount of time it took for the queue to get in.  So it goes.  But once upstairs, of course, hey – always good to see the usual suspects; you know who you are.

OKFC KOK 1998Muswell hillbilliesThe Kast Off Kinks started off as Fan Club treat.  The first four London Konventions (there had been a couple further afield) were held at the Archway Tavern, where the fold-out cover photo of the KinksMuswell Hillbillies album – my favourite, for what it’s worth – was taken.  The set list was agreed by email and over the phone; no full rehearsals, cassettes were exchanged.  It worked, it was great fun for all.  This was basically the Muswell Hillbillies rhythm section of John ‘Nobby’ Dalton, to whose leukemia charity the profits went, original drummer Mick Avory, and John Gosling (aka The Baptist because Salome cut his head off – no hang on, because of his long hair and beard), with Dave Clarke, a mate of Dalton’s from the Hertfordshire rock’n’roll beat group scene and beyond – no, not that Dave Clarke, this one’s a musician – bravely taking on the roles of both Ray and Dave Davies.  Crucially, without attempting to take on either’s persona, he’s always excelled and has become a firm favourite with the, if you’ll excuse the spelling, the British Kinks fan Kommunity.

Geoff Lewis maintains a website for the band at http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/ with a whole bunch of live videos and some fascinating interviews – variously transcriptions and recordings – with the chaps.

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. (c) Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. © Julia Reinhart.

The Konvention moved down Junction Road to the Boston Arms in 2002 and over the years more and more ex-Kinks have become involved, to the extent that whereas early on there were support slots, the Konvention Kast Offs became a moveable feast spanning all eras of the Kinks, filling the afternoon by themselves.  At the peak of all this re-gathering I think we had two back-up singers, (was it?) three bassists, two drummers and three keyboard players leap-frogging the performance area.  Ray Davies has been known to turn up and say a few words, sing the odd verse; Dave Davies has never had anything to do with them.  I won a signed photo of Ray in the raffle one year, put it proudly in a frame and the sun faded the autograph faded out of existence.

As things progressed the Kast Off Kinks started doing the odd gig elsewhere, and this has developed into the core members becoming a regularly gigging band up and down the land.  As The Baptist’s presence has diminished, Ian Gibbons, who continues to work with Ray Davies, has become the keyboards man in residence, with Mark Haley guesting.  John Dalton announced his retirement half a decade ago but no-one believed him, and so it has proved; Jim Rodford took up most of the gigging bass duties when available, though the recent resurgence of the Zombies‘ career may limit his appearances in future.  Jim and Ian’s fellow Kinks-as-stadium-rockers band era drummer, the amazingly well-preserved Bob Henrit, has been known to take a turn too; an interview covering his decades spanning career in the music business (including the introductory cowbells on Unit 4+2’s Concrete and Clay) is one of the highlights of The Kast Off’s website, and is well worth your time; he’s published an autobiography too, titled Banging on).

I've taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich's photograph

2015: I’ve taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich’s photograph.

So, Sunday before last, and we’re upstairs in The Dome, which is certainly an upgrade from downstairs.  A two tier stage – “I’ve played in pubs smaller than that stage” says Geoff Lewis – and  improved sound from the PA.  Stage left upper tier were back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirley Roden, looking down on Ian Gibbons, who, as Nobby said at one stage, was “on fire”, and indeed he was, a real tour de force.  He also called him “the funky gibbon”, but I never liked The Goodies, so find that regrettable.  Centre, raised at the back, the redoubtable Mick Avory, in front of him Dave Clarke, and to his right, the aforesaid Dalton.  And on the raised dias behind him, it was good to see the excellent Oslo Horns (from Norway!) again, sporting trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone – always adding something to the sound, never intruding.  Even better to hear them properly this year.

Julia Reinhart 06

2015: Messrs Gibbons, Clarke and Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

Over the years, as the Kast Offs have turned into a working band, I’ve got a bit blasé about these performances, and – dare I say it – it had all got a bit routine.  Something today about the special emotions of an OKFC audience – international, spanning three generations – and the tightness that comes from constant gigging, along with the limited personnel which meant not so much chopping and changing, but this year I think it was the best I’ve seen them, really on top of their game and still enjoying it too.  With Nobby and Ian and the gals helping out on the vocals it was a storming show all round.  No-one’s put up a set list on social media yet so I’m running blind here; they probably played for at least 3 hours, doing most of the hits and more.  Almost at random, my highlights from memory: they do a slow and stately Village Green Preservation Society (outsider for new English national anthem, anybody?); Dave excels on the long intro take on a passionate Celluloid heroes; the band are really rocking with the fabulously obscure It’s too late; Debi fronts up for Stop your sobbing; they do a brilliant Better days.

DC & JD.

A delicate touch: DC & Doolin’ Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

John Dalton always makes a point of saying how much he rates Shangri-La and that wonderful Ray Davies song hidden away for years on the Percy soundtrack album, God’s children (atheist that I am, singing along gleefully), and they are never short-changed.  Alcohol always gets full measure too; how I’d love to see him and Ray doing that as a double act, but later for him.

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

It’s one of those strange inversions that the passage of time brings about, but what could well be The Kinks‘ second worst recorded cover version (nothing can compare with their Dancing in the street) always turns out to be one of the rousing closing climaxes of a Kast Off Kinks show.  I speak of Louie Louie, which is swiftly followed by a Long Tall Sally, to which even I was goaded to dance (thanks … sorry, forgotten your name), and Elvis Presley’s One night, the first song, apparently, that Nobby and Dave Clarke ever played in public together.

Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise2Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise4Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise7Somewhere in the third set yer man Ray Davies came out and said a few words, and towards the end was cajoled into delivering, in fine form, a full reprise of – what else? – You really got me, with Dave Clarke getting the first few bars of Dave Davies’s original guitar solo – something he never normally tries – note perfect. [That’s Ronny Van Hofstraeten’s photo of Ray I’ve mucked about with here]

A fine way to spend a winter’s afternoon.  Thanks as ever to Bill and the Official Kinks Fan Club stalwarts for putting it all together.

Stony Lights Bard launchAnd the next weekend …

… another fine way (with added mulled wine) to spend a winter’s afternoon.

Last Saturday of November is the Stony Stratford Lantern Parade leading up to the ceremonial switch-on of the Xmas lights that brighten the High Street, church Street and Market Square for the season.  Weather was not great – only wet and windy, though, as opposed to the gales and heavy rain at one stage forecast – but that didn’t stop the crowds turning out as usual.  Impressive community dedication.

Gimp night

Gimp night: Photo from the phone of Ray Roberts.

Earlier, a select band gathered in the Library for what has now become an established part of the tradition.  Entertainment and enlightenment from bards past and present, near and wide, poetasters, storytellers and singers, not forgetting the Stony Mummers and local kids’ group Act Out doing a scene or two from their panto.  Excerpts from a new Fay Roberts epic about the child of a mermaid and dragon had us entranced, while, as is now – that word again – traditional, the mighty Antipoet – self-proclaimed Bards of Bugger All – brought proceedings to a splendid end, showcasing new and newish material.  In their quest to alienate as many sections of the community as possible we got another fine atheist piece and a spirited demolition of hipster beards, particularly of a ginger variety; Sam Upton, Bard of Northampton, didn’t seem to  mind.  Then there was Gimp night (was it at the Rose & Crown? – NO: it was, much better, the Fighting Cocks (thanks to my pseudonymous correspondent Pedantic Pete for the correction)), a report on the parlous economic plight of many of the nation’s public houses, necessitating their resort to the promotion of niche nights for all variety of minority interests and perversions, including … poetry.

Here’s a link to Stony’s Bardic Council: http://bardofstony.weebly.com/




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