Red Wedgy

24 06 2017

 

 

Walls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel

 

Walls Come Tumbling Down charts the pivotal period between 1976 and 1992 that saw politics and pop music come together for the first time in Britain’s musical history; musicians and their fans suddenly became instigators of social change, and ‘the political persuasion of musicians was as important as the songs they sang’. Through the voices of campaigners, musicians, artists and politicians, Daniel Rachel follows the rise and fall of three key movements of the time: Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge, revealing how they all shaped, and were shaped by, the music of a generation.

Composed of interviews with over a hundred and fifty of the key players at the time, Walls Come Tumbling Down is a fascinating, polyphonic and authoritative account of those crucial sixteen years in Britain’s history.

 

 

Pop, politics and nostalgia collide in this rather unusual book which documents the development and disintegration of three big musical and political movements of the 70s and 80s. Commendably, the author has recorded and combined a series of first person accounts from all those who were there at the time (apart, I think, from Paul Weller who is represented by quotes from back in the day) and through these stories we learn about the remarkable force of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge. Inevitably perhaps participants want to claim these movements genuinely changed society and, while there are some reasonable claims about impact (with the anthemic ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ arguably the strongest), music and politics can’t coexist successfully for long. Did anything really change? Yes and no, but there are some great stories on the way and some great memories too. Slightly disappointed about the limited coverage of the Red Wedge shows in Edinburgh which I can remember distributing leaflets for but you can’t have everything.

 





Human Racing

18 06 2017

The Humans by Matt Haig

 

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

A really clever, inventive and witty tale told from the perspective of an alien sent to earth to carry out a very particular task. An easy and entertaining read which nevertheless manages to cover some of the big issues about what it really means to be human.

 

 

 





Selling out fast

10 06 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

 

 

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.

Born in Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in his father’s racially charged psychological studies. He is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a drive-by shooting, he discovers there never was a memoir. All that’s left is a bill for a drive-through funeral.

What’s more, Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Fuelled by despair, the narrator sets out to right this wrong with the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

An unusual Booker winner perhaps. It’s funny, brutal and pretty shocking at times. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller it is genuinely dark and challenging satire which takes on the big current and historical issues of racism in the USA in the most extraordinary way.

 

four stars





Trumpville

3 06 2017

How the Hell did this Happen? by P J O’Rourke

No comedian could have written the joke this election cycle has been. The punch line is too ridiculous (whoever the punch line is going to be). Celebrated political satirist, journalist, and diehard Republican P.J. O’Rourke brings his critical eye and inimitable voice to some serious risky business.

How The Hell Did This Happen? covers the whole election process from the pig pile of presidential candidates circa June 2015, the dreadful key primaries and candidate debates through his come-to-Satan moment with Hillary – ‘She’s the second worst thing that could happen to our nation. I endorse her.’ – to the Beginning of End Times in November.

How The Hell Did This Happen? answers the key question of the 2016 presidential election: Should we laugh or should we cry or should we hurl? (They are not mutually exclusive.)

It’s all a bit Covfefe. Some amusing essays here from the sporadically sharp wit of O’Rourke but some pretty throwaway stuff too. Have always thought he was worth reading despite his political standpoint but unfortunately he is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not quite as funny as he used to be.

 

 





Babylon’s burning

27 05 2017

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

Picked this up having realised with some embarrassment that I’d never actually read it. Was also considering it as a possible book for the Nottingham Reading Programme this year. It is a powerful and compelling read and feels really prescient in these post-truth days. Highly recommended (if you are as daft as me and not read before).





Magnetic field

20 05 2017

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills

 

‘The field looks completely wrong now,’ she announced, one blustery afternoon. ‘It’s all gone out of balance’

The Great Field lies in the bend of a broad, meandering river. Bounded on three sides by water, on the fourth side it dwindles gradually into wilderness. A handful of tents are scattered far and wide across its immensity. Their flags flutter in the warm breeze, rich with the promise of halcyon days.

But more and more people are setting up camp in the lush pastures and with each new arrival life becomes a little more complicated. And when a large and disciplined group arrive from across the river emotions run so high that even a surplus of milk pudding can’t soothe ruffled feathers. Change is coming; change that threatens the delicate balance of power in the Great Field.

 

Strange, surreal, dark and deadpan, this is absolutely pitch perfect and a classic Magnus Mills work. It might be allegorical but then again it might not be. Peculiarly outstanding in many strange parts.

four stars





Golden years

13 05 2017

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

 

One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.

Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love – and find a world of trouble.

Hugely impressive debut this. Set in mid-18th century New York it is full of rich period detail and lots of plot twists and turns. A real rollercoaster ride which remains compelling right to the very end. Recommended.

 

four stars








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