A Few Days in Nottingham, Part 2

Early – not too early – the following morning, Saturday, we made our way back towards the city centre, in search of coffee and something tasty but not overwhelmingly substantial to eat. During Covid we frequently ordered coffee from Cartwheel Coffee Roasters, partly to help keep them afloat during hard times and partly because their beans – roasted in Sneinton – are pretty damned good. So it was that we found our way to their café on Upper Parliament Street (there’s another in Beeston), found a table, browsed the menu, mushrooms on toast. And not any old mushrooms on toast. Delicious. And quite enough for Sarah and I to share.

Not being people to look gift kitchens in the mouth, or however the laboured saying goes, we returned the next morning. Result … Vegetarian special … again shared.

But back to Saturday. After breakfast, Sarah went off to Hopkinson’s – Nottingham’s treasure trove of second hand finery, while I stepped along the alley to the Five Leaves Bookshop, where I was lucky enough to encounter it’s manager and owner, the redoubtable Ross Bradshaw.

The bulk of the afternoon, from lunch onwards, was pleasantly spent in West Bridgford, in the company of friends first encountered when I was studying for an MA in American Studies at the University – the old one- and from there we returned to our room in the Premier Inn close to the University – the new one – and readied ourselves for watching the World Cup, England versus France. Comment would be superfluous.

Mid-morning on Sunday, after the excellent breakfast described above, we visited the current exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary – ‘Hollow Earth: Art, Caves & The Subterranean Imaginary’. An hour and perhaps a little more were never going to be enough to do it justice, but most of what we did see was fascinating.

Caragh Thuring : Inferno, 2018
Goshka Macuga : Cave, 1999/2022
Chioma Ebinama, 2022

Just time after this for dim sum at The Mandarin Restaurant in Hockley and thence to the station: despite having to change trains at Grantham, we were back at London, Kings Cross in just two hours. Exceptional in these troubled railway times.

A Few Days in Nottingham – Part 1

Some weeks back, my partner Sarah and I went with our friend Duncan to the Oxford Tavern – a short walk away in Kentish Town – to hear the Paul Edis Trio. Paul at the piano, Adam King on double bass and Joel Barford on drums. The missing link between Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau and Debussy suggested the Oxford, while being rooted in the straight-ahead swinging tradition. Not sure about the Debussy, but otherwise accurate as far as it goes. Clearly a busy and active composer, a good number of the pieces they played were Paul’s compositions – a refreshing change to the more usual diet of standards and 12 bar blues, though neither were ignored.

It was a good evening, good enough for me to look up his list of forthcoming gigs the next day, and there, to my pleasant surprise, was Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham, Friday December 9th. Perfect. I had never been to said venue, though my son, Tom, who lives in Nottingham, had been there, I know, a number of times. And any excuse to spend time in Nottingham is a good one, even though it would mean being there on a weekend when Notts County were not playing at home.

One can’t have everything.

Despite some small confusion over seat reservations, our train journey from St. Pancras to Nottingham was straightforward; as was the tram (God! I do love a good tram!) that took us from the station to the Premier Inn in the midst of the many buildings that make up Nottingham Trent University.

Time to rest and unpack before setting out on foot, up the slow hill towards the back of the Royal Concert Hall and the Theatre Royal, then down towards the crowds in the Old Market Square, which, at first sight, seemed to have been turned into a giant building site. But no, it’s a large, temporary, skating rink – by the shrieks of panic or laughter, used to capacity – and sharing the square with a giant ferris wheel, the obligatory Christmas tree and the overflow of stalls from the Christmas market, the Council House a distinguished purple in the background.

Making our way through the crowds, we soon arrived in the café-bar at Broadway (Nottingham’s excellent independent cinema), where we were to meet Tom and his partner, Karen, and our friends Graham and Helen, tempted for the occasion to venture forth from the by-ways of Lincolnshire. Suitably fortified, we walked the short distance to the club, where we had booked a table close to the band.

Jazz Club – Bar – Kitchen reads the strap line on the Skylight’s web site – live Jazz with a Middle Eastern inspired menu. All true. The club has an excellent sound system, the food was very good indeed, but – and there’s a big but coming – it suffers from the curse of venues that must, to a significant extent, rely on takings from the bar. Why one would choose to spend the evening drinking copiously and therefore talking loudly somewhere that the majority of people had gone primarily to listen to music, is, to me, a mystery. Mostly, but not always, and thanks to the aforementioned sound system, the music won out, but the overloud conversations and laughter from the back of the room left me feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

Thankfully, as I say, the music won out. On this occasion Paul Edis was accompanied by Jihad Darwish on bass and Andrew Wood – a Nottingham local – on drums. Both excellent. And the trio was fronted for most of the evening by the vocalist Jo Harrop, another name new to me – I obviously haven’t been getting out much – possessed of a strong and flexible voice, particularly effective in its lower register. Most of the material – if I was listening correctly – came from Jo’s solo album and a recent album she and Paul have made together – many of the songs written by Paul and his wife, Kate. A fine set, crowned, for me, by the encore, a storming version of Billie Holiday’s Fine and Mellow.

One sad note to finish on. I learned from Andrew Wood that the bass player Geoff Pearson, with whom I’d read in a number of Notts jazz ensembles over several decades, and who I knew had been unwell, had died. A fine musician and a lovely, generous man.

Angus Wells : 1943 – 2006

My friend and fellow writer, Angus Wells, died sixteen years ago on the 11th April. He would have been 79. 

I first met Angus through Laurence James, with whom I’d shared a student house in New Cross, S .E. London when we were students at Goldsmiths College. While I went into teaching, Laurence began a career that revolved around books and writing: initially a book seller, he moved into publishing, becoming a commissioning editor at New English Library, where he built up a notable list of science fiction and fantasy titles, before opiting to stay home and write – a highly successful decision, with more than a hundred and fifty mostly paperback titles to his credit before ill health forced him to retire.

It was Laurence who, aware that I was becoming restless with my role as teacher, talked me into trying my hand as a paperback writer, and who, several years later, persuaded Angus to follow the same course – although not, thankfully, before he had commissioned me to write for Sphere Books the first of four crime novels featuring Scott Mitchell – the toughest private eye – and the best. Simpler times.

It was clear from my first meetings with Angus that we shared a number of things in common – the most prominent being a love of western movies, ranging from early John Ford to Sam Peckinpah, as well as the European ‘classics;, and of music with an American country feel by the likes of Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Stewart. We worked together on several series of paperback westerns – two of which, Peacemaker and Gringos, are now in the process of being reissued as e-books by Piccadilly Publishing.

When we were both living in London, Angus and I frequented the original Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, seeing, amongst others, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur, John Hiatt and the aforementioned Jerry Jeff; a habit that, after we found ourselves in Nottingham, would continue at the sadly departed Old Vic – on one memorable occasion finding ourselves just about the only two males in the packed audience for visiting Americans Tret Fure and Chris Williamson, who were clearly bemused but not unpleased to hear us singing along heartedly to the chorus of Tret’s “Tight Black Jeans”.

When the market for westerns faded, Angus had considerable success in the worlds of epic fantasy – notably the Raven series, which he co-wrote with Rob Holdstock and his own Books of the Kingdoms. When this market, too, began to fade, his writing lost direction and, accordingly, he lost confidence, and, although we would meet for the occasional meal or to see a movie at the Broadway Cinema, he become something of a recluse. On the occasion of his death I was pleased to dedicate a seat to him in the cinema’s main auditorium – adjacent to that of a certain Charlie Resnick. There they are – Screen One, C5 & C6.

Two Takes on Lester Young … 1. Lester, Resnick & the cats …

Listening to a selection of recordings by Lester Young the other day reminded me of several occasions on which he crops up in my writing – quite frequently, in fact, in the Charlie Resnick novels – if not as frequently as Thelonius Monk.

Here’s one occasion, from the second Resnick novel, Rough Treatment

Lester Young photographed by Herman Leonard

Aslant But Still Standing

ASLANT COVER10

Beautifully produced by Nottingham’s Shoestring Press, Aslant contains fourteen poems – some about jazz, some not – some haunted by thoughts of mortality – in addition to a dozen photographs by Molly Ernestine Boiling. Now Molly has made a neat little video, newly available on YouTube, in which my reading of two of the poems is juxtaposed with a selection of her photographs and just a touch of Thelonious Monk.

You can view it here …

“John Harvey’s poetry is spacious, unhurried, measured, taking its time to unfurl its effect but keeping its hooks in the reader by careful control of pace and by making every word count.

The photos by Molly E. Boiling are abstract conceptions, many based on buildings seen from unusual angles and reflect the poet’s interest in abstract art. They certainly contribute to what is a very attractive book-object.”
Robin Thomas: The High Window

Aslant 14

Aslant 6

Aslant 8

“Aslant places John Harvey’s poems alongside evocative photographs by Molly Boiling which provide sharp-edged images of steps, shadows, girders and corners of high buildings. These pictures often suggest entrances and exits or incidental glimpses alongside the telling of a story. Hence they combine well with Harvey’s poems which usually have a strong narrative and reminiscent thread.

“This is no ordinary book: the well-chosen images and the way they complement some consistently satisfying high-quality poems make it, in my view, well worth a tenner of anybody’s money.”
Thomas Owens: London Grip

Aslant is available from bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk  or contacts@centralbooks.com
or, indeed, bookshops anywhere …

 

 

 

 

Captured Online …

Probably an age thing, but I’ve never been one to rummage around online, searching for references to myself or my work; I’ve never, for instance, looked up any reviews of my books on Amazon or similar, and when my publicist sent one of my novels out on a Blog Tour a couple of years back, I had to exert severe self-discipline before I could bring myself to read what the various and worthy bloggers had to say. No disrespect to them, the fault – if such it is – lies with me. [Pauses to consult Guardian Style and emerges still uncertain, except that now I think it should be ‘lays’, ‘lays with me’. More advice welcome.]

Anyway, what I was getting around to saying, was that until I was put in the know by one of my more dedicated readers [hi, Andrew], I had no idea that a goodly number of interviews and the like in which I’d taken part can be viewed online. Without too much searching, I found a dozen or so, dating back to the Bouchercon Mystery Convention which was held in Baltimore in 2008.

Here they are …

Book Talk with librarian Chris Jones, 2020
Inspire Culture/Nottingham Libraries
32m40

In Conversation with Alison Joseph at CrimeFest, Bristol, 2019
4m31

In Conversation with Daniel Pembrey at Bromley House Library, Nottingham, 2016
12m

In Conversation with Mark Billingham, Deptford, 2014
Cornerstone Publishing
5m46

[The above comes from a video recording session which took place in the cells of a disused police station in South London; the other sections from the same session follow.]

Saying goodbye to Charlie Resnick
3m24

Discussing Darkness, Darkness
3m09

Advice to would-be writers
4m16

Reading & inspiration
1m58

Talking about writing crime fiction, 2012
At home, in the garden, walking on Hampstead Heath
Open Road Media for Mysterious Press
2m03

Interviewed by Otto Penzler at the Baltimore Bouchercon, 2008
59m34

… and just for a taste of something different, here I am with the band, Blue Territory, at West Bridgford Library in Nottingham in 2014, reading two pieces about the tenor player, Lester Young; first, unaccompanied, an extract from the short story, ‘Minor Key’, and then a poem, ‘Ghost of a Chance.’
7m27

And now I’ve watched them all – all right, ‘fess up, I might have nodded off once or twice during the 59 minutes plus at Baltimore – I feel in a position to make recommendations. So if I were only going to catch one, and were – shall we say – a little pressed for time, I’d plump for the Open Road video from 2012, which is very professionally shot and edited, with the extra bonus of watching my whiteboard work – a skill that goes right back to my teaching days when I was once awarded a special commendation for my blackboard skills while on teaching practice.

 

The Jazz Steps Story

Jazz Steps is the name under which jazz has been promoted in Nottingham – city and county – for some 20 years, and now there’s a book, nicely produced and copiously illustrated – The Jazz Steps Story – which tells of the development of the organisation and the people behind it, as well as chronicling the many and varied gigs that have taken place under its guidance.

More than that, it also tells the story of live jazz in Nottingham from the Nottingham Rhythm Club, founded in the early 40s, and the Dancing Slipper – which featured a goodly number visiting American jazz players with top British bands throughout the 60s & 70s – to Limelight Club evenings in the Nottingham Playhouse bar, which was where I first read in a poetry & jazz session with the fine little band that were then called, rather cheekily, the MJQ, or Midlands Jazz Quartet. With just a few changes of personnel and several changes of name – from the MJQ to Second Nature to Blue Territory – that was the same group I would be happy to read with on occasion for another 20-plus years.

Jazz Steps 1

The book costs £15 and is available at Jazz Steps gigs and Notts libraries, or from the Jazz Steps web site

Here’s a little taster from my Foreword …

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Charlie Resnick novels or, for that matter, the short stories, will know that the connection between Resnick, jazz and Nottingham is a strong one. Following, more or less, in my footsteps, Charlie would have had his first taste of local jazz Sunday lunchtimes in The Bell, closely followed by evenings at the Dancing Slipper in West Bridgford or at Bill Kinnell’s short-lived Gallery club in Mapperley.

Then there was the Old Vic and, on one night I particularly remember, Charlie Parker’s old sparring partner Red Rodney was up on stage with Pete King, the two of them, alto and trumpet, sailing through the fast and intricate lines of Bird’s bebop tunes as if they had been playing together half their lives.

Jazz Steps 2

Autumn Newsletter

EVENTS/READINGS

Inspire Poetry Festival
Monday, 23rd September, 7pm
Beeston Library
ASLANT BUT STILL STANDING … JOHN HARVEY AT 80

Tuesday, 24th September, 6.30pm
Worksop Library
POETRY CAFE WITH JOHN HARVEY AT 80: A CELEBRATION

Tickets for both events … www.inspireculture.org.uk/poetry-festival

Inspire

Lumen Poetry
Tuesday, 15th October, 7pm
Lumen, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RT
Shoestring Press Poets: John Harvey, Paul McLoughlin, Merryn Williams

Slow Dancer Press Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, 17th October, 7pm
The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JB
To mark 20 years since Slow Dancer Press ceased publication, an evening of readings by a selection of Slow Dancer poets – from Matthew Caley to Tamar Yoseloff with plenty more in between.

Space is limited and advanced booking strongly advised – all tickets are free.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/slow-dancer-press-20th-anniversary-celebration-tickets-70624312219

Murder Under the Mistletoe 2019
Thursday, 5th December, 6.30 – 8.00pm
Heffers, Cambridge
Festive drinks, readings by “a selection of hand-picked crime authors”, plus a quiz from Richard, Heffers’ crime fiction expert in residence.

https://heffersbookshop.business.site/posts/6168421664518806733?hl=en

PUBLICATIONS

BLUE WATCH
Troika Books, October 2019

An adventure story for 12-16 year olds (and others!) set during the London Blitz and dedicated to the memory of my father, who served in the Fire Brigade throughout WW2.

03_BLUE_WATCH_AW PRINT READY copy.jpg

Lost in Leicester

Would I like to take part in this year’s States of Independence, the annual celebration of independent publishing and writing, organised and funded by Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop and the Creative Writing Team at Leicester’s De Montfort University? A forty-five minute slot mine for the asking, 11.00am start. The usual thing, a reading followed by Q&A. Never one to turn down the chance of an audience, I was sorely tempted, even if it mean catching a fairly early train up from London. What nailed it, Notts were at home to Exeter that afternoon, time enough after my session to make the short distance up the line to Nottingham and take my seat at Meadow Lane.

The travel instructions from the university seemed to include everything but the way from the station on foot, but how difficult could it be? And I could see that Leicester City Council very helpfully provided local maps at each and every intersection; scale, however, seemed to be a very variable thing, and once I’d found the tiny red arrow denoting You Are Here, the university seemed to have disappeared. On the next map, there it was again, make a right and then a left and then … Gone. I asked friendly passers-by, some of whom – most in fact – thought I meant the other, more established establishment, THE university, while others sent me hopefully off in several different directions.

11.00am, though still a way off, was getting closer, while the university itself seemed to be just as far away, when suddenly … there it was, left, right, and Bingo! Not just the university but the exact building, the entrance hall already buzzing with people who had left the house that morning with books on their minds and a clear idea of where they were heading.

My event was on the second floor, Room 2.35, still plenty of time to get there and get settled. The young man who was to chair the session introduced himself and together we went off to find the room. I didn’t know I was doing this until last night, he said apologetically –  but I did, he added helpfully, look you up on Wikipedia. With due modesty, I assured him that whatever he said by way of introduction would be fine. By 11.00 almost all the seats had been taken. The chairperson rose to his feet, coughed to get the audience’s attention, introduced me in a single sentence which included the words ‘crime fiction’, ‘poetry’ and ‘jazz’, and sat back down.

Right, then. I explained that I was going to read the first two chapters of my most recent novel, Body & Soul, after which I’d be happy to answer questions about that particular book or any of the others people might be familiar with. The reading seemed to go well and clearly there was going to be no shortage of questions. It was when I was attempting what was already becoming a rather convoluted answer to a question about ‘creativity’ [Why is it always questions about creativity that are difficult to answer?] that I came to the frightening realisation that I wasn’t too clear what exactly I was saying. And certainly not what I wanted to say next. I was, for that moment, just as lost as I had been earlier, finding my way blindly through the streets of Leicester.

There’s a sentence that resonates for me in Jim Harrison’s novel, True North, which I’m currently reading, in which he describes  one of the characters thus: He survived on family money and a small pension from the church given for his general mental incontinence. And that was me. Sitting on the corner of the table in Room 2.35 suffering from mental incontinence. My mouth continued to open, my lips to move and words to come out, words that seemed to bear some relationship to one another without my being too clear what that might be. My questioner continued to nod helpfully, however, as if I were making sense to him at least. And then, just as suddenly, I was. Making sense, that is. Or I appeared to be. Are there any more questions, I wondered, looking around?

Notts County lost, by the way. Already sitting at the bottom of the table, and having dominated for the majority of the game without managing to score – this against an Exeter side who were down to ten men from the first twenty minutes  – they conceded when the ball was bundled into their net with almost the last action of the game. Truly lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again …

Belated best wishes for the New Year with my first post of 2019 in the blog’s rather fine new livery.

After missing out on a number of book events last year, primarily for health reasons, I’m hoping to do better this year, starting with two occasions marking the paperback publication of Body & Soul. Again, a little belatedly, but none the worse for that.

body p'back 1

On the evening of Thursday, 31st January, at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, North London, I shall be joined by Stella Duffy to talk about said Body & Soul, as well as Stella’s most recent publications, the suspense novel, The Hidden Room, and the Inspector Alleyn mystery, Money in the Morgue, which she completed after it was left unfinished by Alleyn’s creator, Ngaio Marsh.

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Then, on the following evening, I shall be flying solo at another of my favourite bookstores, Waterstone’s in Nottingham. Tickets for both of these events are available now.

http://www.owlbookshop.co.uk/events/john-harvey-stella-duffy/

https://www.waterstones.com/events/an-evening-with-john-harvey/nottingham-60757

Move ahead to the spring and two events to launch the Shoestring Press publication of Aslant, which features both my poems and photographs by my daughter, Molly Ernestine Boiling. Any of you who’ve been following her work on http://whyernestine.tumblr.com will have a good idea of what to look forward to.

Molly and I will be at (speaking of favourite bookstores) Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on Thursday, 25th April, and at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden for Hylda Sims’ Fourth Friday, which will also feature the excellent singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

Step forward just one week later and over the Bank Holiday weekend I’ll be up in the north-east at Newcastle Noir. The programme is yet to be officially announced, but it may well reveal that I’ll be paired in discussion with the formidable Norwegian author, Gunnar Staalesen.

Details of these events to follow.

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Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

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Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life