You could play Swinging Sixties London bingo with Peter May‘s Runaway (Quercus, 2015), even if Del Shannon’s single of the same name doesn’t figure in the soundtrack. Slightly unfair criticism, you might say, given Runaway is the tale of five Glasgow teenagers – a beat group formed at school called The Shuffle – trying to make it up in the Big Black Smoke in 1965, but the clincher was one of said merry band at a fashionable party, off his head on drugs, diving of a roof with the words “I can fly” not long left his lips. Eyes down look in for, among other things:
- a scene-maker and qualified pharmacist to the stars called (of course) Dr Robert
- who has Bridget Riley originals hanging on his wall
- picks up a demo tape en passant Abbey Road (“This is where the Beatles record, you know“)
- helps Pennebaker with the filming of Dylan making that video in a Central London side street (“He seemed to me to be in need of a square meal“)
- (more interestingly) is involved with a thinly veiled R.D.Laing and his experimental anti-psychiatry Kingsley Hall community
- and climactically hosts a party where”The air was heady with the perfume of marijuana and simmering with unfettered sexuality.”
Basically Runaway has two timelines: 1965 (though it’s never quite clear who is being addressed with these sometimes very specific memories); something bad happened back there and then, and 50 years later one of the group, dying in a Glasgow hospital, sees a newspaper item that motivates him to gather the two other members of the band who returned to Glasgow to remake that journey (escaping from hospital in the process) in order to clear up what exactly happened back then and exact justice.
To be fair, the two journeys are quite eventful and not a bad read. Before becoming a full-time novelist Peter May did a lot of television drama and the action sometimes reads more like a detailed shooting script than a novel. Indeed, with a decent budget it would make a stunning TV drama wherein body language and motion and close-up shots would do away with the redundancy of, say, a discussion about road directions (p104) and various clichés like someone having “the startled look of a deer caught in headlights.”
Again, to be fair, it’s a pretty sour – and probably not without grounds – look at Swinging London, and there is some good stuff about friendship and growing old, but plot twists involving a). revealed adoptions and, b). an abortion that didn’t happen, creak mightily, though the resolution of the crime, of what actually happened on the fateful day in 1965, although a staple of crime fiction, is neatly done. Which cannot, unfortunately, be said about then 17 year-old narrator Jack, for whom premature ejaculation was obviously never a problem, losing his virginity:
All my primitive sexual instincts wanted me simply to be inside her. But she made me wait for that, teaching me instead that we could give and receive as much pleasure with our mouths. Things I would never have known , or thought to do. But which, ultimately, led to the most heightened moment of release when finally I was inside her, feeling her grip me with her muscles as my hips rose and fell to the most ancient rhythm known to mankind.
I got hold of Runaway because of a recommendation in one of those year-end round-ups in a newspaper. I discover that Peter May – with a lengthy back catalogue involving crime sequences featuring a Scottish/Italian ex-forensic scientist living in France and another set in Hong Kong – has lately become flavour of the month among crime novelists with his recent highly praised Lewis Trilogy (the island, not Morse’s chum) picking up all sorts of awards. I’m afraid that for me, though, the name of Peter May will always first conjure up the Surrey and England cricketer of the same name, a big hero of my dad’s.
… I am indebted to the novelist Peter May for an insight that I find it hard to believe had never occurred to me before over five decades; the music had just floated by me. There’s probably a moral to be had in that. They are gathered at a record shop to hear the new Beatles single. Yes kids, it really was that exciting. Rachel has escaped a very bad relationship:
We joined the crowd … in time to catch Ticket to ride for the very first time. Hearing the first play of a new Beatles record was like sharing in a part of history. Our history. A seismic shift from the past and our parents’ generation.
But Rachel was listening to the words. ‘God, Lennon sounds just like Andy,’ she said. ‘Like it was all my fault, or hers in the song. Because, of course, he was bringing her down, and that’s why she had to leave. Couldn’t possibly have been because he was such a shit.’
[There are a couple of Kinks references in Runaway; I’ll write about them elsewhere, in the Kinks in Literature chronicle here in Lillabullero some time soon.]
Out and about
Scribal had a birthday – its amazing sixth – and there was cake. The Antipoet were doing new stuff, Paul Eccentric dashingly dressed as if – to these eyes – about to collect a well-earned Honorary Degree (“I’d refuse it,” he said). Mr Hobbs made his debut as a qualified storyteller with a reworking of a traditional tale or two wherein bears did indeed shit in the woods. [02.03.16: I would like to qualify that statement: after representations made to me by Mr Hobbs’ alter ego Pedantic Pete in the Comments below, I now recognise this was actually the first public airing of his first apprentice piece]. I came to a jarring halt in my stint when turning over the third page of a four page epic trilogy – large font size, mind – only to find a blank sheet staring back at me; last-minute revises freshly printed … and realising … as rationality defeated panic … placed straight off the printer the wrong way round in the plastic. New Bard Vanessa was everywhere this month. Another mighty fine show.
As per, there were two Vaultages, with the usual suspects and co-host Lois Barrett continuing to deliver up splendid fresh guests, new to most there. Two thirds of the Roses and Pirates gals impressed with their own powerful songs and delivery; a pleasant prospect indeed to look forward to seeing them entire, with their ailing cellist in full flow.
And so to York House again … three times this February
Fire 350! was a series of readings from eye-witness accounts, including the context of the Great Plague the previous year and the spread of the Great Fire of London in September, 1666 – Sam Pepys, Evelyn et al – interspersed with period music played on period instruments by Mr Simpson’s Little Consort. By turn entertaining, educational and moving; surprised at the fire’s ferocity and extent. The consort juggled lute, theorbo (a giant mutant lute, longer than its player), two viols and recorder throughout the evening, sometimes accompanying a cheerful soprano. Ferocious indeed was their closer, a twin viol attack (it’s not just blues guitarists who use open tuning) on Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia with a bass line straight outta AC/DC: “Wondrous machine!”
Evie Ladin, with partner Keith Terry was a sell-out, and no wonder after their show a couple of years ago. Can’t put it any better than they do on their website, where there’s plenty to see: ” Energetic and electrifying clawhammer banjo, bass, percussive dance, storytelling songs old and new, with nuanced, emotive vocals. An intimate, robust evening of acoustic music and dance; a skilled hybrid of American folk arts.” Great charm and fun too. Raised in New York, her dad went to a bluegrass concert at Carnegie Hall and was converted; family legend has it he gave away all his Tamla Motown records. Doesn’t stop her quoting the Stones and Badfinger (“English folk songs”) on one of the songs on the new album. Which I bought, and holds up very well in the country miserabilism stakes, never mind the breakneck banjo workout on The cuckoo.
‘Twas another full and hugely appreciative house for S.S.Shanty! 4, and another grand evening it was of it too. Less of the shanty overall this time, but plenty of maritime songs and hornpipes making up the slack, not to mention Bard Vanessa’s trip on the good ship innuendo and, of course, her paean to the men and women of the RNLI, who the gig was a benefit for.
Due to the pillar in the middle of the room I could only comfortably see four and a half of the six men who make up the lusty and infectious (in the best possible sense …) Five Men Not Called Matt (it’s a local thing) but I had no trouble hearing all those fine voices. Melodeonist Clive Williams did a lovely tuneful set full of charm to belie what the Doxy from Liverpool (the distaff half of Trim Rig and a Doxy) said about melodeon playing methodology: “You depress the keys and every one within half a mile”. Mind, she was sporting one herself. It was to their fine selves that honour of leading the room in Being a pirate; their rendition of a poem about the decline of the Liverpool Docks set to music had a tendency to wet the eye. Similarly Jenkinson’s Folly, with the sucker punch of a cello, also hit the tear ducts with a sad trawling tale. Phil Underwood played another melodeon or two – was one of his the spectacular white and gold Russian one? – and sang from the perspective of a canal boat. Another great evening.
… deserves a sub-head of his own. We travel up city to the theatre for Miracle, his latest stage offering. I think it’s probably fair to say that most of Derren’s audience these days have been to one or more of his shows before; I think this was at least my third. Consequently there wasn’t so much of a noticeable buzz in the foyer for Miracle, and the audience did seem a bit older (self included). Audience expectations of WTF moments can’t be easy for the man, but he continues to deliver all the same. Dramatically, yes – but the WTFF moments weave a measure of contemplative wonder into the head-shaking spectacular. He’s charming, witty, wise and serious as ever. His demystification of his craft – the insistence that there is nothing supernatural going on – is a force for good (which is just as well considering his powers of persuasion). The powerful core of Miracle, involving as per his usual modus operandi, several audience members, is the replication of an American tv evangelist healing extravaganza, in which he shows that something is definitely happening, while making it abundantly clear it has nothing to do with divine intervention; his motif for the evening was the power of the stories we tell ourselves and live by. I was singing “Stealing in the name of the Lord” on the way home.
Book Group book for February was F.Scott Fitzgerald‘s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), a book I found I didn’t have as much familiarity with as I’d thought. So nice to rediscover the book’s many qualities – as Hemingway said of his friend, he writes “like an angel” – and doubly delightful, at just over 150 pages, to have the luxury of reading something substantial in only a couple of sessions. Just as Chuck Berry at his peak and his contemporaries only needed 2 minutes 19 seconds for musical works of great profundity … Poignancy in that Jay Gatsby hardly drank while hosting the drunken revelry at his celebrated parties, while alcohol played a prominent part in his decline. And I wondered when reading about those “blue lawns” of his … thuse enabling me to get a starter question on University Challenge on Monday.
Good turnout of performers at the Aortas Sunday open mic at the Old George, now a monthly event. Naomi did a new song in which she rhymes ‘queen’ with ‘nuclear submarine’.
Those who’ve made it this far may have noticed that I failed even to make the deadline imposed on self in the title of this post. Talk about failed New Year’s Resolutions to keep it short …