Art Chronicles: A Trip to the Mayfair Triangle …

Cross Regent Street into Mayfair – having first fortified yourself with a short latté and cinnamon bun in the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square – and immediately you’re in a world of high rents, high fashion and ostentatious money. [If you’ve ever played Monopoly you’ll know what I mean.] And now, more than ever there’s art. That’s art with a hefty price sign and a capital A. There were always small and slightly exclusive galleries along Cork Street and its neighbours; and, of course, there’s the Royal Academy, recently much-expanded, to the south on Piccadilly. But in recent years the big movers and shakers in the art market have moved in with a vengeance. Hauser and Wirth – who have galleries in New York and L.A., Hong Kong, Zurich and Gstaad – and on a farm in Somerset – now have a double gallery on Saville Row, across from West End Central Police Station [and just a little way up from where my good friend, the late Tony Burns, laboured in the tailoring trade.] Gagosian, with galleries in Rome, Paris, Hong Kong, Geneva, New York, San Francisco and Beverley Hills, have opened no great distance away, on Grosvenor Hill; and Victoria Miro, having previously been in Cork Street, returned to Mayfair in 2013 with a gallery on St. George Street, immediately behind Sotheby’s on Bond Street; this is in addition to a vast double gallery converted from a former piano factory between Hoxton and Islington in North-East London and an intimate canal-side location in Venice,

Our first stop on this particular morning is at Hauser and Wirth, where one gallery is currently showing work by Swiss artists from the 1930s to the present day, curated by Gianni Jetzer; the other has an exhibition of photographs by August Sander, Men Without Masks. My guide and companion, who has previously visited both, suggests we leave the Swiss for another day.

August Sander’s central ambition was to create a picture of Germany in the first half of the last century, doing so in the main through a vast number of portraits which ranged widely across class, occupation and gender. His basic method was to photograph his subject full-on, often against a neutral background, and in the majority of cases with the subject looking back directly into the lens. It suggests a kind of neutrality, removes any too obvious trace of the photographer himself, allows the subject, as it were, to own the picture, command the frame. This is me: this is who I am. Well, that’s the illusion, that’s the idea – Men Without Masks, indeed.

Almost all the examples of Sander’s work I’ve seen previously have been quite small in scale and what is exceptional about this show, which is on till July 28th, and makes it especially well worth visiting, is that these, in the main, are in a larger, full-scale format.

cri_000000324347

Man of the Soil

 

cri_000000172100

Member of Parliament

cri_000000119040

Sisters

You don’t have to spend long with the work to be conscious of the influence Sander had on photographers who came after him; on Diane Arbus, on Walker Evans. Nor, looking a the portrait of the ‘peasant woman’ below is it hard to see the inffluence on Sander of artists like Cezanne.

cri_000000119028

Peasant Woman

Moving on, the current show at the Gagosian [till July 28th] is Howard Hodgkin’s Last Paintings, comprising the final six paintings he finished in India before his death in 2017, and twenty others not previously shown in Europe.

I remember – and how’s this for a brazen display of one-upmanship and name dropping? – a conversation I had about Hodgkin with Geoff Dyer some twenty years ago, when we were travelling by coach across Romania as part of a British Council delegation of writers. I’d been luxuriating in having an open ticket to the exhibition of Hodgkin’s work at the Hayward Gallery, making the point quite strongly that the more opportunities I had to see the paintings, stand in front of them and look at them properly, the more I liked them. Ah, said Geoff, well I think I feel precisely the opposite.

Which shouldn’t have been enough to make me revise my opinion, though I suspect that it did – or, at the very least, got me to consider the possibility of revising my opinion, which, in fact. I think I did in time, and might even have done so without Geoff’s prompting. I was certainly feeling pretty agnostic by the time of the Time & Place paintings shown at Modern Art Oxford in 2010, though my positivity was partly reclaimed by some of the later pieces  in Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery in 2017.

hodgin-2

“Patrick in Italy” 1991-93

While remaining to some degree resistant to Hodgkin’s frequent assertion that his work is representational rather than abstract, there’s perhaps enough in a painting such as Patrick in Italy (above) to agree that it works on a level partly of metaphor, partly a gesture (well, several) towards a kind of representation. [Oh, Lordy! Is that what metaphor IS anyway? Discuss. Or, better, don’t.] And actually, I don’t too much care. I’m responding on a level outside the purely intellectual. Like most of Hodgkin’s best work, the painting’s appeal is overwhelmingly sensual. It’s about the paint and the way it’s applied. About colour. The richness of colour. [No wonder he was obsessed with India.] It’s the richness that wins one over; the sensuousness of the texture, the brilliance of the paint, the warmth, the – yes – the sexuality of it.

The other painting that stopped me in my tracks at the NPG was this …

hodgk-2012-0015-blue-portrait_crop-1280x1220

“Blue Portrait” 2011-12

One of my favourite pieces in the show and, as a portrait, for that’s clearly from the title what it claims to be, one almost entirely given over to metaphor. Two broad brushstrokes, swipes, if you like, down and across a piece of wood, Hodgkin’s memory of Selina Fellows, standing at the bar in a brilliant blue dress at the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia in 2006. The painting was made in 2011-12. I love it. Loved it then – sorry, Geoff – love it now. And the paintings that I most enjoyed at the Gagosian were of the same ilk, shared many of the same components: they were small, smaller than the rest, unfussy, simple – the richness that made pieces like Patrick in Italy so close to overwhelming, so irresistible, has been reduced to this. Urgent. Quick. Two compatible colours overlapping. Late work. Among the very last.

DSC00531

“Darkness at Noon” 2015-16

DSC00536

“Don’t Tell a Soul” 2016

ebddcdc6bbdd8b486ee1b3d5cb557c5f

“Over To You” 2015-17

Which leaves the final destination on our tour of Mayfair: Victoria Miro. And first, another small back story. In 2016 my partner gave me as a birthday present [78th, since you ask] the catalogue for Women of Abstract Expressionism, a show organised by Denver Art Museum and due to travel from there to Charlotte, North Carolina, hence to Palm Springs and finally to the Whitechapel gallery in London in the summer of  2017. Oh, my God! Those painters – Mitchell, Frankenthaler, Hartigan, Krasner, de Kooning – whose work I have long loved and admired, all too often at a distance, along with more than a dozen others from the 1940s to the 60s. I could not believe it. And I was right not to. For whatever reasons – and when I asked, they  played their cards politely close to their chest – the show would not come to the Whitechapel. Which made it all the more exciting when Victoria Miro advertised Surface Work – “a celebration of women artists who have shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expanse, the language and definition of abstract painting.” Perhaps this would fill the gap left by the missing show from Denver?

Sadly, no. For one thing, there was relatively little from the period when abstract expressionism was at its height [The curators should get some kind of award for sourcing the only Joan Mitchell that could be described as dull] and much of the work on display in the twinned galleries on Wharf Road was more recent, some of it contemporary, and to my  eyes not very good at all. An argument, rather, in favour of the point of view that it is nigh on impossible to create something original and worthwhile in abstract expressionism now. That moment has gone. The only artist who claimed my attention favourably was Elizabeth Neel, with a piece of work created especially for the exhibition. I can’t show it here, but these images give an idea of her style …

elizabeth_neel_american

“American Standard” 2009

1429ab42-1f2a-468f-b15a-232108f5d36d_212_263

“Fixtures Morning to Evening”

So it was that I arrived at St. George Street with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Could they have been saving the best for last? Uh-huh.

7950_6

Helen Frankenthaler: “Winter Figure with Black Overhead” 1959

There it is, smack in front of you as you enter. Not the rich, stained, echoes of landscape Frankenthaler, but energetic, darting – skating – quick and alive; unlike anyone else and so immediately recognisable. And she’s in smart company.  To her right, a painting by Alma Thomas, who was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York – though even then she had to wait until the age of 80 – and whose work was shown in London recently as part of the excellent Soul of a Nation show at Tate Modern. Thomas moved into abstraction relatively late in her career, and here are two examples, not from this show.

SAAM-1980.36.1_1

Alma Thomas: “Fall Begins” 1973

 

thomas_orion

Alma Thomas: “Orion” 1973

On the wall to Frankenthaler’s left is “End of Winter”, a strong, dark, swirling painting by Betty Parsons, better known for running the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, which she did from 1946 to 1982, but clearly no mean artist herself.

988afc3bb4a986efef3ffff24f79e2a9

Betty Parsons : “End of Winter” 1958-59

And beside her and instantly, I think, recognisable for the brownish-orange colour palate and the heavy use of line, an oil and paper collage on canvas by Lee Krasner …

jpg

Lee Krasner: “The Farthest Point” 1981

There’s more, and we look at it but fleetingly; this, I think, is a good place to stop. My companion assures me he knows where there’s a Pret large enough that we can be assured a seat even at what is now the busiest time of the day. And as we head out I’m already tossing up between the normally dependable, and relatively cheap, egg and cress or maybe the also dependable but more expensive chicken and avocado …

Advertisements

More Criminal Openings …

Going back to the opening of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest as I did in my last post, made me think of the distinctive ways in which other crime books begin. Some, like the Hammett, are short and punchy, grabbing the attention at the same time as having a close to perfect satisfaction of their own … others are longer, a deliberately complex sentence that winds you along its length and so into both the style and the narrative, others are paragraph length that draws you in more carefully and often then stays in the memory, sometimes after the book itself has been read, enjoyed and set aside.

Here is a selection of my favourite single sentence beginnings,some of which will be familiar, others perhaps less so …

They threw me off the hay truck about noon.

James M.Cain : The Postman Always Rings Twice

Cain

Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.

George V. Higgins : The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Higgins

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

James Crumley : The Last Good Kiss

Crumley

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake.

James Sallis : Drive

Sallis

When she was killed by three chest knife blows in a station car park, Megan Harpur had been on her way home to tell her husband that she was leaving him for another man.

Bill James : Roses, Roses

James

And here are two of my favourites of the longer variety, each humorous in its own way; the first is, of course, a well-known classic, the second by Brian Thompson, a writer whose forays into crime writing, Bad to the Bone [Viking, 1991] and Ladder of Angels [Slow Dancer, 1999] deserve to be better known and appreciated than I think they are.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard set rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blu suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Raymond Chandler : The Big Sleep

Chandler

Mrs Evans was teaching me the tango. As it happened, I already knew the rudiments of this exciting dance, but never as interpreted by Mrs Evans, naked save for her high heels and some Mexican silver earrings – a present, she claimed, from Acapulco. The high heels were there to add grace and I suppose authenticity, but even with them on, the lady’s head barely reached my chin. We swooped about the room, exceedingly drunk, to the most famous tango of them all, the Blue one. It was past two in the morning and the rain that had been forecast had arrived as grounded cloud, moping blindly about the streets, tearful and incoherent. But we were okay – we were up on the third floor, looking down on the damned cloud and having a whale of a time. Mrs Evans was warm and sit to the touch and her make-up was beginning to melt. For some reason a piece of Sellotape was stuck to her quivering bottom, and as we danced I tried to solve this small but endearing mystery. It came to me at last; it was her sister’s birthday and earlier in the evening she had parcelled up a head scarf, some knickers and a Joanna Trollope paperback.

Brian Thompson : Ladder of Angels

Thompson

Criminal Openings … Dashiell Hammett

Scan

A recent retweet by writer Megan Abbott took me back to the opening sentences of Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, published in 1929 …

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.

It’s all there: the directness, the way it buttonholes you instantly, a hand taking hold of the lapel of your jacket while the voice speaks confidently, not over-loudly, into your ear. And the poetry, the poetry of the vernacular, the rhythm of real speech.

The first sentence in his first novel. I wonder how many times he rolled the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, read it through, tossed in over his shoulder, lit another cigarette, set a fresh sheet in place and tried again? I wonder if he’d been testing it in his head at a little after four, four-thirty, those mornings it was impossible to get back to sleep? I wonder if he had it all pat from the start?

Hammett’s first novel, thirty-five years old. He’d been an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a private detective working for an vast organisation with government connections. He had twice enlisted in the army, WW1 & WW2, and it was during the first of these periods that he was diagnosed with the tuberculosis that would seriously affect his well-being for years. When he was no longer with the Pinkertons, realising, perhaps, that henceforth he would be physically less active, he enrolled at a Business College and set about learning the business of writing. The timing was right. A new pulp magazine called The Black Mask printed his first story, “The Road Home”, in 1922 and a year later the first of a number of stories featuring his nameless hero, the Continental Op. It is the Op around whom the action centres in Red Harvest and its successor, The Dain Curse, a bluff and largely unforgiving figure who would be to some degree romaticised as Sam Spade in Hammett’s best known novel, The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade, private eye:  shamus, a private dick.

For just twelve years, from 1922 to 1934, he wrote stories set firmly in a world he knew.  Then it was over. Whatever had drawn him, driven him to writing had gone. Perhaps it was simply that there was no longer any financial need. Perhaps, for a while, Hollywood fame following the success of John Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, seduced him. Perhaps his on-again, off-again, alcohol-ridden relationship with the playwright Lillian Hellman, in some creative way, emasculated him. He tried to write ‘straight’ novels, but they faltered into failure,unfinished; he set out to write plays but only succeeded in assisting Hellman in shaping hers. Or was it, more simply, that he had done all he could as a crime writer, all that interested him, and after five novels and over a hundred stories there was no place for him to go?

 

“Body & Soul” Reviewed

B & S Front

The fourth and final Frank Elder novel, Body & Soul, was published in hardcover by Wm. Heinemann in April. The Arrow paperback will follow in January, 2019. The majority of reviews have been positive, crowned, perhaps, by Marcel Berlins choosing it as his Book of the Month in The Times. This is part of what he had to say …

“The whodunnit plot is searingly effective in describing a bruised father-daughter relationship. The depth and conviction of emotion is also a hallmark of Harvey’s 12 novels featuring DI Charlie Resnick, a jazz-loving detective in Nottingham with a difficult love life. Elder and Resnick are both greats of British crime fiction.”

Read more here …

Laura Wilson: The Guardian

“Written in an economical style, this is an expertly plotted and moving final act for an old-school investigator of the best sort, from a true master of the genre.”

Read more here …

Mark Sanderson : Evening Standard

“Body & Soul is a clever thriller … that will leave you stunned and staring at the last page in disbelief. … It makes a brutal end to a brilliant career.”

John Cleal : Crime Review

“Harvey’s strength, apart from the superb reportage combined with a trademark sparse, but measured, lyricism and poignancy which make him a true master of his craft, is that his stories highlight the seediness of crime through superb characterisation and a complete lack of glamour.”

Read more here …

Geoffrey Wansell : Daily Mail

“This is wonderfully atmospheric crime writing – a tribute to Harvey’s exceptional talent.”

Read more here …

David Prestidge : Fully Booked

“Body & Soul takes an unflinching look at how love in itself is sometimes not enough – or possibly too much”

Read more here …

Michael Carlson : Irresistible Targets

“Harvey is very good at the small nuances of people’s everyday behaviour; alonside the tension of suspense comes the equally telling tension of their lives.”

Read more here …

Woody Haut ’s Blog

“Harvey’s characters are believable, his locales evocative, and his humanity crystal clear”

Read more here …

Aruna : The Literary Shed

“Harvey’s beautifully pared back writing, tight plot and careful characterisation raise Body and Soul above the bar of what’s merely good crime fiction … His prose seems effortless, the prevailing feeling of the book one of perfectly pitched melancholy, accented by a soundtrack of eclectic, carefully referenced music. Cornwall and London, the main settings for the book, feature prominently; the author’s evocation of rural and urban landscapes both detailed and true.”

Read more here …

 

My 30 (or so) Crime Fiction Favourites

Saturday’s Guardian Review, on the back of this year’s Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival – coming in July – asked the festival’s programming chair, Lee Child, and 21 other writers to nominate a crime novel everyone should read. Top writers, as it says on the front page, choose the perfect crime.

Undeterred by not being included in this merry band of 22 – after all, hadn’t the same publication called me “a true master of the genre” just the week before? – I set to and came up with a list of my own. Thirty (or so) crime novels I count amongst my personal favourites and which I pull down from the shelves and re-read with pleasure from time to time, and all of which I wholeheartedly commend.

end-everythingCoburn 1CainChandlerCoburnCrumley

1. Megan Abbott: The End of Everything (2011)
2. Kent Anderson: Night Dogs (1999)
3 James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
4 Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939) The Long Goodbye (1953)
5. Andrew Coburn: Voices in the Dark (1994)
6. K. C. Constantine: The Man who Liked Slow Tomatoes (1982)
7. James Crumley: The Last Good Kiss (1978)

215605HammettHarrison

HigginsJames21671

Leonard51npUFTJtVL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_51Snp67PMNL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

8. Stephen Dobyns: The Church of Dead Girls (1997)
9. Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930)
10. Jamie Harrison: The Edge of the Crazies (1995)
11. George V. Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970)
12. Bill James: Roses, Roses (1993)
13. Dennis Lehane: Mystic River (2001)
14. Elmore Leonard: LaBrava (1983)
15. Laura Lippman: The Innocents (2011)
16. Ross Macdonald: The Way Some People Die (1951)

McIlvanneyMankellMoodyMosley698931Peace
17. William McIlvanney: Laidlaw (1977)
18. Henning Mankel: Sidetracked (1995) The Troubled Man (2009)
19. Bill Moody: Looking for Chet Baker (2002)
20. Walter Mosley: Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997)
21. T. Jefferson Parker: The Blue Hour (1999)
22. David Peace: The Red Riding Quartet (1995-2002)

307438SallisSjowall

SmithTemple206148

23. George Pelecanos: Shame the Devil (2000)
24. James Sallis: Drive (2005)
25. Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo: Roseanna (1965)
26. Neville Smith: Gumshoe (1971)
27. Peter Temple: The Broken Shore (2005) Truth (2010)
28. Ross Thomas: The Fools in Town Are On Our Side (1970)
29. Brian Thompson: Ladder of Angels (1999)
30. Daniel Woodrell: Give Us a Kiss (1996)

ThompsonWoodrell

 

 

 

 

Looking at Lester

There are several, often conflicted, ways of looking at Lester Young, the American tenor player who was born, one of six children, in Woodville, Mississippi, in 1909, and who died, a crumpled, sick man, in March 1959.

One comes from the poet, William Matthews, in an interview with Dave Johnson, originally published in the  High Plains Literary Review in 1995.

Young was the Donald Barthelme of saxophone storytellers. The work is elliptical, funny, smart, blithe surfaced, and endlessly sad.

Another, quite opposite, comes from another tenor saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins -tonally Young’s opposite, broad and hustling, where Young was leaner and less assertive, the two of them vying for prominence in the 40s & 50s.

That Lester Young, how does he get away with it? He’s stoned half the time, he’s always late, and he can’t play.

Planted myself pretty firmly in the Matthews camp [though I can stand a good amount of Hawk, too] I’ve always listened to quite a bit of Lester – 14 CDs worth at a quick count – and so it’s no surprise comes across as a favourite of Charlie Resnick, also,

He makes a first, fleeting appearance in book one of the series, Lonely Hearts, the first paragraph of chapter four.

The sandwich was tuna fish and egg mayonnaise with some small slices of pickled gherkin and a crumbling of blue cheese; the mayonnaise kept dripping over the edges of the bread and down on to his fingers so that Dizzy twisted and stretched from his lap in order to lick it off. Billie Holiday and Lester Young were doing it through the headphones, making love to music without ever holding hands. Resnick couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that he had lied to Skelton, wondering why.

After that, it’s chapter nine of the second book, Rough Treatment, in which Resnick refers to a photograph taken by the great photographer, Herman Leonard in 1956, three years before Lester’s death,

LSY02

Lester Young in France, 1956: Photo, Herman Leonard

Anyone in possession of a copy of Rough Treatment and keen (or sad) enough to want to check, will find a number of changes from the original; some of these have been made over the years, usually ahead of a reading – pencilled marginalia, underlinings and crossings-out – some were made an hour or so ago. A piece of work is (almost) never finished.

Miles met Resnick the instant his feet hit the pavement; the cat had recognised the sound of the car’s engine from the end of the street and come running. Now he made his welcoming cry from the irregular stones atop the wall, strutting, tail hoisted high as he presented, turn upon turn, his fine backside. Resnick reached up a hand and stroked the smooth fur of the cat’s head, behind and below the ear.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get something to eat.”

Once indoors, the other cats came running: Pepper, Dizzy and Bud. Resnick forked cat food from a tin into four bowls, green, blue, yellow, red, then added a shower of dried heaven-knows-what to each. Good, he’d once been told, for their teeth. There had been the usual mish-mash of junk mail inside the front door. From it he withdrew a single white envelope, card-shaped, and slid it between the containers for flour and sugar. The remainder he dropped into the bin. Next, he ground beans ready for coffee and, that done, felt relaxed enough to remove his coat, loosen his already loose tie, unfasten and ease off his shoes. In the living room he selected some Lester Young from the shelf and switched the stereo on low. Sides the tenor man had cut with Johnny Guarnieri in New York City, three days past Christmas ’43 and just shy of New Year. Back when everything must have still seemed possible: the future shining and plump like a fat, silver apple.

“I Never Knew”.

“Sometimes I’m Happy”.

Back in the kitchen Resnick lifted Dizzy away from Bud’s bowl before slicing bread, dark rye with caraway. He scooped the contents from a tin of sardines in soya oil, sliced a small onion and spread the rings across the fish; there was a large enough piece of feta cheese to be worth crumbling over the top. “Tried to get hold of you last night,” Jack Skelton had said earlier, the superintendent barely breaking his stride on his way back to his office. “Time you got yourself an answerphone, Charlie. One that works.”

Resnick stopped to listen as Lester bounced his way through “Just You, Just Me”, the first chorus almost straight, a trio of those trademark honks marking his place near the end of the middle eight, each perfectly placed, perfectly spaced, rivets driven in a perfect line. An intake of breath, just audible, smooth and quick over the brushes against Sid Catlett’s snare, and then, with relaxed confidence and the ease of a man with perfect trust in both fingers and mind, he made from that same sequence another song, another tune, tied to the first and utterly his own.

What are these arms for?

What are these charms for?

Use your imagination.

The reason Resnick didn’t get an answerphone: how else to keep bad news at bay? The messages that you didn’t want to hear.

He remembered a photograph of Lester Young taken by in 1956. Herman Leonard. Lester is in a recording studio, holding his horn, not playing. The suit he is wearing, even for those days’ fashions, seems overlarge, as though, perhaps, he has shrunk within it. His head is down, his cheeks have sunk in on his jaw; whatever he is looking at in those eyes, soft, brown, is not there in the room. His left hand holds the shelf with which he will cover the mouthpiece, as if, maybe, he is thinking he will slip it into place, not play again. It is possible that the veins in his oesophagus have already ruptured and he is bleeding slowly inside.

The coffee would be ready. In the kitchen Resnick picked up the envelope, trying to work out how long it had been since he had seen that writing. How many years? He wanted to tear it, two and four and six and eight, all the multiples until it was like confetti. He left it where it was.

Back in the other room, he balanced the cup of coffee on the broad arm of the chair. Lifted Bud with one hand and set him in his lap. The first take of “I Never Knew” ended abruptly; some saxophone, a piano phrase unfinished. Lester is standing there, tenor close to his mouth, but now he is looking away. As if something has slipped suddenly through that door in 1943, unbidden, out of time. A premonition. A ghost.

It doesn’t end there. Much of the writing about Lester Young made its way, sometimes barely changed, into the poem “Ghost of a Chance”, which can be found in Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems (Smith/Doorstop, 2014).

Annotated iPod Shuffle, April 2018

1  Saucer Eyes : Eric Dolphy

from Where? (1961) Dolphy (flute) w. Mal Waldron (p) Ron Carter (bs) Charlie Persip  (dr). Great,fluent flute from Dolphy and scintillating brushwork from Persip.

R-725901-1293048893.jpeg

2 Slider : John Stewart

from The Day the River Sang (2006) one of Stewart’s final albums prior to his death two years later. The voice, even with some handy reverb, isn’t what it was, but it does take on a deep, bluesy feel that’s appropriate for this song about a wayward young woman, reminiscent in some ways of the sad and lovely Crazy [”I will drive you, Crazy”] from the 1971 album Lonesome Picker Rides Again. Some nice licks by Stewart himself on electric guitar, too.

The Day The River Sang

3 Milk Shake Stand : The Three Barons

from Still Stomping’ at the Savoy, a fine selection of Jazz & R&B tracks from the 50s & 60s, including Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Errol Garner, Art Pepper, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, H-Bomb Ferguson, Joe Turner, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Little Esther and this track by the Three Barons, a doo-wop group who are still performing, in one guise or another, and will to travel to gigs up to ten miles from their base in Stamford, CT – well, you gotta slow down some time.

MI0002243722

4 Shostakovich String Quartet No. 6 – Allegretto : Emerson Quartet

What can I say … ?

Shostakovich_ String Quartets [Disc 1]

5 Just One More Chance : Alex Welsh Band

Featuring Alex’s trumpet, more broad-toned than usual, on this BBC Sounds of Jazz broadcast from 1981, just a year before he died; Roy Crimmins is on trombone, back in the band after a long break, Al Gay on tenor, Fred Hunt at the piano.

Unknown

6 Sandwood Down to Kyle : John Renbourn

from Live it Italy (2006) about which Renbourn had this to say …

 Anyway one place that still holds fond if blurred memories is Roma’s Folkstudio – a basement club that reminded me of the Cousins, only funkier. I’d go over and play there for a week or so, staying in a room down a little alley leading into the square of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The square at night was utterly beautiful and even the bare room had a certain charm. With the pleasure of good company and the wine from Sacrofano it was a productive time for me.

How this recording came to be made I honestly have no idea. To describe the p.a. in the Folkstudio as a curiosity would be charitable in the extreme. It wouldn’t have been out of place in Frankinstein’s laboratory. Somehow the benign boss Giancarlo Cesaroni engineered it on the quiet. And the result is documented evidence.

Live In Italy

7 As Tears Go By : Rolling Stones

The Jagger/Richards song their manager Andrew Loog Oldham passed on to Marianne Faithfull for her 1964 hit; Mick himself recorded it with the Stones a year later [sounding oddly like Marianne].

iu

 

8 Right Moves : Josh Ritter

from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007). Has a great chorus, which my daughter, Molly, and I sang along to heartily at his Kings Place gig a few years back.

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

9 These Foolish Things : Thelonious Monk

Recorded in New York, on December 18th, 1952, with Gary Mapp (bs) & Max Roach (dr)

Thelonious Monk Trio

10 $1000 Dollar Wedding : Gram Parsons

from Parson’s second solo album, Grievous Angel (1974), with James Burton on guitar and Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals and close to keeping Gram in tune. I remember buying my copy for £1.00 from a student at the Stevenage school where I was teaching; she’d got it as a freebee at the Gary Glitter show at Stevenage Mecca the night before.

Grievous Angel

A Few Thoughts on Colm Toibin, “Brooklyn” and Adaptation

Brooklyn

I watched John Crowley’s film version of Colm Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn, again the other night, after reading an interview with Toibin in The Guardian Review. I was particularly interested in his remarks concerning the screenplay, written by Nick Hornby, and the ways in which the film’s ending differs from the original.

Unable to find suitable work at home, Eilis [Ey-lish] has emigrated from her home in south-east Ireland to Brooklyn, where a priest has found her both employment and  somewhere to live. Once settled, she falls into a relationship with Tony, a young man of Italian descent, and, though uncertain of her feelings, when she is called back to Ireland due to the death of her sister, she agrees to marry him, hastily and secretly, before she leaves. Once home, she  resumes her old life with a new maturity and greater self-confidence; a good job presents itself, along with a dependable man of a higher station, whom she likes and who would marry her. She has not told anyone – not the man, not her mother – that she is already married. It’s as if she herself has forgotten: has chosen to forget. Her husband’s letters are shut away, unopened, in a drawer. But gossip and rumour seek her out and Eilis has to decide what to do, which course to take. In this, her dilemma is not unlike that of Isabel Archer at the end of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady [both author and novel much beloved of Toibin] though Tony the plumber is, thankfully, neither as mendacious nor manipulating as Gilbert Osmond.

In both novel and film, she returns to America: there seems to be no viable alternative. But in the novel, her feelings about this are ambivalent at best; the film recasts this in the far more positive light of an inescapably happy ending. Eilis, unburdened by doubt, stands in bright light on the opposite side of the street from the building supplies store from which Tony and one of his brothers emerge, talking; it takes a few moments for the brother, and then Tony, to realise Eilis is there. Almost unable to believe his eyes, Tony, bedazzled, hastens into Eilis’ arms and the final clinch of an unambiguously happy ending.

What does Colm Toibin think of this?

“I’m interested in what Nick [Hornby] did with the structure of it,” says Toibin, “which is so brilliant; how much he left out, how he moved the drama on. But I tear up for the very last section, that I didn’t write.” He doesn’t mind that it changed the novel? “It’s gorgeous. And what were they meant to do, have an ending with her sitting on the train feeling smug: look what I’ve just done to everybody?”

This recognition that different forms of media have different requirements is something that writers perhaps find easier to accommodate than readers, whose reaction, more often than not, is less generous, less understanding; they are more likely to want the film, radio or television version to be as close to the original as possible and expect the author to feel the same.

Over the past years I’ve adapted the work of a number of authors: Arnold Bennett and Ruth Rendell for TV; Graham Greene, Paul Scott, Qiu Xiaolong and A. S. Byatt for radio. The majority of those, sadly, are no longer in a position to complain, and those that are, to the best of my knowledge, have refrained. When Antonia Byatt’s Frederica Quartet was being broadcast, and she was asked about it on Woman’s Hour, she was careful to make clear – before making comments which were, thankfully, positive – that’s John Harvey’s Frederica Quartet, not mine.

With other writers’ work, my process has always been to strip the story down it basic elements, then begin to build it up from there, with the demands – strengths and weaknesses – of the particular medium in mind. Where adapting my own work is concerned – two books for television, two books and three short stories for radio – I think I have been more successful with the latter. When I was writing the screenplays based on the first two Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, I was guilty of forgetting my own rules at times and sticking too close to the originals; favouring a speech, a scene, an exchange of dialogue, because I liked it rather than because it contributed towards an effective piece of film. Which is why, whenever the Resnick books have been optioned by this or that television company since – as has fairly frequently been the case – and I’ve been asked if I would be interested in writing one or more of the scripts, I’ve always said thanks, but no thanks – someone else, experienced and coming to it with a fresh eye, will likely do it better.

Amy Rigby in the UK

11219583_1011540235535171_8965804032553749749_n

Amy Rigby’s brief UK tour begins tonight at O’Riley’s in Hull. Following that, she’s at the Prince Albert in Brighton on Tuesday, 27th and the Musician Pub in Leicester on Wednesday, 29th; on Thursday she’s at the Thunderbolt in Bristol and, finally, Friday 30th, she plays the Betsy Trotwood in London. After which it’s smartly back to the US and  Hoboken, Cleveland, Knoxville, San Francisco et cetera.

Oh, but before that she’s recording a guest spot for the Mark Riley Radio Show on BBC6 Music on Monday, 26th. Actually, it may be live, I really don’t know.

If you’re unsure who she is, haven’t come across her before, this is from her website

Amy Rigby has made a life out of writing and singing about life. With bands Last Roundup and the Shams in eighties NYC East Village to her solo debut Diary Of A Mod Housewife out of nineties Williamsburg; through a songwriting career in 2000s Nashville and during the past decade with duo partner Wreckless Eric, she’s released records on visionary independent labels Rounder, Matador, Signature Sounds and reborn Stiff Records as well as her and Eric’s own Southern Domestic Recordings.  For the last twenty years she has toured the US, Canada, UK and Europe, appearing on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, World Cafe, Whad’Ya Know, All Things Considered, BBC Radio 6 Music’s Marc Riley Show and Mountain Stage. She lives with Wreckless Eric in the Hudson Valley. Her record “Dancing With Joey Ramone” is a staple of Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show, and kitchen sink anthem “Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?” is played in cafes and bars around the country by real life mod housewives and husbands.

And here’s what some people have said about her …

“She is smarter, sharper, and maybe even more melodic than she was way back when, when mod housewives kept diaries and danced with Joey Ramone.”
— Dave Thompson, Goldmine
“Her whimsical, often autobiographical songs are masterful. Funny and enticing, she is up there with the likes of Paul Simon and Randy Newman.”
— New York Times
“Rigby combines formidable aural craftsmanship with blunt, self-deprecating honesty.”
— Village Voice

I first came across Amy Rigby thanks to an article in the Guardian magazine about her living deep in the French countryside with her partner, Wreckless Eric. [You remember Eric, don’t you? If for nothing else, for his great Stiff single, “Reconnez Cherie”.] After that, I started listening to her songs and, quite simply, found I wanted to listen to them again and again, which I still do …

 

“Don’t Ever Change” from Till the Wheels Fall Off

“That’s the Time” from Little Fugitive 

“Keep it to Yourself” which I found on the anthology 18 Again. (All rights to the video below belong to the original owners.)

 

Why do I like them so much? Aside from the fact they’re tuneful, the music is uncluttered and I like her voice? It’s because they’re true; direct and true. Amy’s also a writer of short stories and it shows. After getting her permission, I took the liberty of taking the basic idea from “Keep it to Yourself” and making it into a short story of my own. [Titled “Handy Man”, it’s included in a recent collection, Going Down Slow, published by Nottingham’s Five Leave Publications.] And the reason she’s out on tour? A new album, The Old Guys, her first in a good while. This is how it’s described on her website …

The Old Guys, Amy Rigby’s first solo album in a dozen years, measures the weight of heroes, home; family, friends and time. Philip Roth and Bob Dylan, CD/cassette players, touring, the wisdom of age and Walter White, groupies, Robert Altman, egg creams and mentors are paid tribute. Twelve songs written unmistakably by Amy and recorded by Wreckless Eric in upstate New York, The Old Guys is the sound of a good girl grown up, never giving up.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, check her out, go see her, have a listen. I think she’s special.103766-the-old-guys

Peter Temple Interview

I just wanted to draw attention to this interesting and to the point interview which Bob Cornwell did with Peter Temple on the publication of Peter’s final novel, Truth.

Peter’s wife, Anita, by his definition, “a hard marker”, called it “the best Q&A with me she has ever read.”

You can read it here, along with a link to Bob’s review of the novel.

f766fb7e9847741bf4277ee88cd2096c7cdd532a

Peter Temple 1946 – 2018