"Charles Hawtrey 1914 1988" by Roger Lewis

This is a very short, affectionate and touching appreciation of Charles Hawtrey who, whilst best known for his roles in the British Carry On films of the 1960s and 1970s, made his first stage appearance in 1925 at the age of 11 and continued to have a career of sorts through to the 1980s. In 1972, after he was dropped by the Carry On producers, he slipped into the relative obscurity of pantomime and provincial summer seasons, whilst his alcoholism had steadily increased from the mid 1960s until his death in 1988.

As Roger Lewis acknowledges, as much as we love the Carry Ons (and I do) our affection isn’t based on their artistic merits. Part of the pleasure of this 98 page monograph is reading Roger Lewis’s obvious love for Hawtrey’s abilities and comedic skills (“the positive joy of Hawtrey’s performances imply the possibility of happiness”), coupled with his forthright opinions on some of the other Carry On regulars. His fiercest criticism is reserved for the two Kenneths: Kenneth Connor (“what a pain in the arse”) and Kenneth Williams (“an appalling actor, affected, caustic, shrieking like a peacock and with no sense of dramatic rhythm”).

Ultimately though, this is the tragic tale of a very lonely man: “Poor old Charles Hawtrey, he had a craving for the things that wouldn’t come - superstardom, wealth, the love of naked sailors - and so developed a drinking habit, to put it mildly”. 

This may well be the perfect little book to sum up one of the sadder stories of British showbusiness, albeit one about a natural comedian who, like a select few (e.g. Eric Morecambe and Tommy Cooper), was funny even whilst doing very little.



"The Lowlife" by Alexander Baron

The Lowlife (1963) is the third book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999) and follows King Dido (1969) and The Human Kind (1953). I am now resolved to read all his work - he was a renowned London author and very popular in his day.

His first novel, From the City, from the Plough (1948), was a best seller. It was based on Alexander Baron's own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches.  From the City, from the Plough was the first of a WW2 trilogy. Baron also went on to write many London novels which were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation and which includes The Lowlife

The Lowlife tells the story of Harryboy Boas, a Jewish veteran of WW2, a gambler, a womaniser, a philosopher, and a man of integrity and compassion. All Harry wants is to be left alone to enjoy his solitary life: either - and when his winnings from the dog track allow him the time and space - to eat, read, and meet women, or - when he needs cash - to work in short-term jobs to build up more stake money. 

Harryboy is afflicted by guilt. Guilt about his own dead child who may never have existed and who, despite this uncertainty, Harry believes may been killed during the holocaust. Harryboy consciously tries to get away from his family, his religion, and the expectations of others. His sister Debbie, who has moved out to the the respectable suburbs, worries about him and wants to see him settled down and financially secure. 

Although Harryboy is a confirmed loner he gets sucked into the life of his neighbours at his boarding house, and in particular Vic and Evelyn along with their young son Gregory. Evelyn, with her middle class aspirations, is the antithesis of Harry, and she cannot bear Hackney or the boarding house she is forced to live in. Harry’s involvement with Vic, Evelyn and Gregory is the catalyst for Harry’s life to unravel spectacularly.

This is an extraordinary novel that explores East London, tradition, guilt, snobbery, social history, families, loyalty, sacrifice, immigration, property, desire, racism, pride and all within the framework of an original and exciting tale about gambling, debt, and gangsters. Another splendid book byAlexander Baron who is deservedly getting republished and rediscovered by a new generation of readers.



Happy Friday.  

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Keep on Chooglin’

What is chooglin’?  Does it matter? Well OK, according to the Urban Dictionary it’s a rhythm guitar style that employs a deliberately hard up and down stroke against the strings to simulate the motions of pistons or trains, and was made popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

Sex Pistols - Submission

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Sex Pistols this week and “Submission” never fails to hit the spot.  

I’m on a submarine mission for you baby…

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons - December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)

Timeless classic that always makes my heart soar.  Simple as that.  

Super Furry Animals - Golden Retriever
Another magnificent moment of pop magic from the Furries who live up to their name in this vid.
"Stop!" said the puppy.  

Edwyn Collins - Ghost Of A Chance

One of my favourite tunes by Edwyn, "Ghost Of A Chance" is from Edwyn’s first solo album, 1989’s Hope And Despair. Here he is singing it live at St George’s Church, Brighton on 25th April 2013. I was in the audience.  It’s so wonderful to see him back recording and performing after his stroke.  

Have a great weekend.


"All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque

I’ve read a lot of great books about World War One - and this is the best. 

In a mere 200 or so pages, Erich Maria Remarque perfectly captures the absurdity, tragedy, humour, horror, camaraderie and waste of war. This book packs so much in, and it is beautifully and simply written. 

A room full of German schoolboys, in 1914, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their teacher into enlisting for Germany’s glorious war, where inevitably the young boys become old men in a matter of months. No one back at home can ever understand the horror of this new mechanised style of warfare and quickly the boys, robbed of their lives and their youth, realise they only have each other. Inevitably, one by one the boys die or get injured. 

Erich Maria Remarque touches on many aspects of the conflict: the violence, the terror, the politics, the home front, the pettiness, and so on. 

If you only have time to read one book about World War One then read this. It’s stunning.



"The Ministry of Fear" by Graham Greene

A perfect book: accessible, clever, beautifully written, evocative, tense, and quietly profound. A palpable sense of dread and unease runs throughout the story set in the early years of World War 2 in England, primarily London.

On one level the book is a simple story of espionage, fifth columnists, and a hapless man who gets caught up in things he does not understand however there is far more to it than that. The story, which starts at a sinister fete, and rattles along from the word go, also muses on innocence, patriotism, self-delusion, psychology, memory, complexity, love, deceit and heroism.



It’s Friday.  Hurrah.

Let’s get this part started with one of the finest songs of all time…

The Clash - White Man In Hammersmith Palais

After all that excitement you’ll need a bit of a lie down.  Here’s something to set yourself adrift on memory bliss…

Fleetwood Mac - Albatross

Here’s a magnificent Curtis Mayfield production from 1973 to take things up a notch

Patti Jo - Make Me Believe In You

Quite enough excitement there so let’s have one of the saddest songs ever made, and remember Joy Division at the same time.

Joy Division - Decades

No, wait, come back.  We’re going to finish on a high.

Dexys Midnight Runners - Plan B

Have a great weekend.


"Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" by Bob Stanley

Arresting, beguiling, comprehensive, diverting, exciting, fabulous, groovy, hit-filled, inspiring, joyous… you get the idea.

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is a trove of fascinating opinions and insights from Professor Bob Stanley who - in addition to being a a member of Saint Etienne, a journalist, compiler of fine compilations, and a film producer - has a PhD In Musicology.

If, like me you ever listened with impatient anticipation to the latest top thirty chart run down, pen in hand, or pause button primed, then “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is your Bible. It’s all here, the entire modern pop era, from NME’s first chart published on 14 November 1952 (Al Martino’s "Here In My Heart" at number one pop pickers) to "Crazy In Love" when, as we know, the story becomes far less interesting.

750 pages of illuminating excellence. I came away with a c500 song poptastic playlist. Yes, it’s really that good.



Hey ho let’s go

Farewell Frankie Knuckles, a true innovator and legend.  I regard disco and punk as flip sides of the same coin - both genres, at their inception, were genuine outsider scenes for the freaks and the misfits. Both genres crossed over into the mainstream, with all the compromises and dilution that inevitably brought with it.  Frankie was there at the beginning.  RIP.  I absolutely adore this track…

Frankie Knuckles - Your Love

I’ve been absolutely loving “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" by Bob Stanley and every page sends me back to classic tunes from yesteryear.  Here’s one of many examples..

Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine

This next song popped up on my iPod earlier this week and reminded me about the timeless majesty of Slade’s 1970s singles.

Slade’s songs weren’t music, they were aural graffiti, slabs of working class consciousness spray painted across the wall of the Establishment, each new song more misspelled than the last. - Dave Thompson

Slade - Mama Weer All Crazee Now

Here’s another Bob Stanley inspired choice.  The greatest b side ever released?  

The Beatles - Rain

And finally, for no reason in particular, here’s…

The Smiths - Girlfriend In A Coma

Have a wonderful weekend.


It’s Friday.  Here’s five…

Ask me what my favourite track of the moment is.  Go on.  Well, seeing as you asked, it’s Todd Terje’s version of “Johnny and Mary” with guest vocals from Bryan Ferry.  It’s from Todd’s forthcoming debut album. This slowed down, slurred, melancholic take on the Robert Palmer song is total genius.

Todd Terje - Johnny and Mary (featuring Bryan Ferry)

Recently there’s been a plethora of amazing dub releases.. Killing Joke, Dubblestandart, Dub Club, Bill Callahan…. dubtastic..

Dubblestandart - Golden Life feat. AmA

There’s some songs that I just come back to again and again and again - and I’d say not a week goes by when I don’t play at least one song from “Astral Weeks”.  I’d probably take it to that island if I could only take one album with me.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

A new Tackhead album is always cause for celebration and the new covers album is a very funky affair and one I recommend, anyway that took me back to one of their very best…

Tackhead - Stealing

I find it quite surprising that J Mascis’ solo albums are so pared back and  so beautiful and such a contrast to Dinosaur Jr, but they are, and I love them.  This is one of my favourite songs from “Several Shades Of Why”..

J Mascis - Where Are You

See you next week.  Have a great weekend.


The Human Kind by Alexander Baron

I can now add a third book about World War Two to my growing list of masterpieces about the conflict. The Human Kind wasAlexander Baron's third work, first published in 1953, and based on his World War Two experiences. It was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011. 

Alexander Baron's first novel, From the City, from the Plough(1948), was a best seller. It was based on Alexander Baron's own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches. 

Baron went on to write many London novels which were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation. 

This is the second book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999), the first was the excellent King Dido (1969). I now intend reading everything he ever wrote. 

The Human Kind is a fascinating little book, a sequence of unconnected though clearly autobiographical vignettes of life as a young soldier. The stories appear chronologically and chart the journey of the narrator from enthusiastic conscript to war-weary veteran. The beautifully written stories provide little glimpses of a wide variety of personalities. It’s all here: the young, the old, cynics, idealists, corruption, depravity, wisdom, kindness, culture clashes, intolerance, violence, surprises, and the surreal. I cannot praise this book highly enough. It’s extraordinary. Each tale has the ring of authenticity and each vividly illuminates an aspect of life during World War Two. The only caveat being the final story, which is an anomaly, however this does not detract from the magnificence of this short, punch, memorable collection.