Dead Dames Don’t Sing

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Some time ago now, Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop in the States began a series of short stories and novellas under the blanket title of Bibliomysteries – crime stories that, one way or another, have a strong connection with the world of books, book collecting and book selling. The first of these, The Book of Virtue, was written by Ken Bruen, since when authors have included Ian Rankin, Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Denise Mina and John Connolly. Published as single small-format book(lets), they are available in hardcover editions, limited to only 100 copies, numbered and signed by the author, priced $50, and in   in paperback for $4.95 each. They are also available in Ebook format through MysteriousPress.com.*

When Otto first approached me to contribute to the series, I was slightly put off by the minimum word requirement of 10,000 words, the majority of stories I’ve successfully written in the past coming in at considerably less than that; but once an idea had taken hold– the provenance of an unpublished crime novel by a minor but highly collectable Modernist poet, with its origins in mid-20th century Bohemian Soho – and with the considerable expert knowledge of my friend Giles Bird, book seller extraordinary** – I breezed past the limit by a good 3,000 words and very much enjoyed the experience.

This is how the story begins …

Once upon a time Jack Kiley lived over a bookshop in Belsize Park. Nights he couldn’t sleep, and there were many, he’d soft foot downstairs and browse the shelves. Just like having his own private library. Patrick Hamilton, he was a particular favourite for a while, perversity in the seedier backstreets of pre-war London: The Siege of Pleasure, Hangover Square. Then it was early Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Gerald Kersh. He was four chapters into Night and the City when the envelope, pale blue and embossed across the seal, was slipped beneath his door. Notice to quit. The shop was being taken over by a larger concern and there were alternative plans for the building’s upper floors that didn’t include having a late-fortyish private detective, ex-Metropolitan police, as tenant. Kiley scoured the pages of the local press, skimmed the internet, made a few calls: the result, two rooms plus a bathroom and minuscule kitchen above a charity shop in a less buoyant part of north London, namely Tufnell Park. If not exactly low rent, it was at least affordable. Just. And no more a true park than it’s upscale neighbour.

Having to pass through the shop on his way upstairs, Kiley’s eye grew used to picking out the occasional bargain newly arrived on the rail: a v-necked sweater from French Connection, forty percent cashmere; a pair of black denim jeans, by the look of them barely worn, and fortuitously his size, 36” waist, 32” inside leg. The book section was seldom to his taste, too many discarded copies of J. K. Rowling and Fifty Shades of Grey, whereas the ever-changing box of CDs offered up the more than occasional gem. A little soul, late 50s Sinatra, Merle Haggard, a little jazz. He was listening to Blues With a Reason, Chet Baker, when his mobile intervened.

“Jack? I’m across the street at Bear and Wolf if you’d care to join me.”

Kiley pressed stop on the stereo and reached for his shoes.

Tempted? If so, copies may be ordered from the Mysterious Bookshop …

* Ebook not yet available, but will be shortly.

** Giles may be found, professionally, at BAS Ltd., London, N7 8NS

 

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Georgie Fame at the Flamingo

The first time I laid eyes on Georgie Fame would have been at an all-nighter at the Flamingo, somewhere around 1962 or 63. Georgie, already renamed by agent Larry Parnes and no longer Clive Powell, leading a band called the Blue Flames, the nucleus of which had been Billy Fury’s backing band, and was now playing a potent blend of blues and jazz with ska overtones, the overall sound, with Georgie on Hammond organ, owing a lot to Jimmy Smith and Booker T and the M.G.s, his vocals suggested he’d been listening to not a little Mose Allison.

They were great evenings, great nights, dancing up a sweat or just standing around on the side lines, trying to look cool – or, as we used to call it, hip. And there was always the frisson stemming from the rumour  that the place was frequented by gangsters and other dangerous types from the Soho demi-monde – a rumour substantiated when Johnny Edgecombe and Aloysius Gordon fought there over the affections of Christine Keeler and gave traction to what became known as the Profumo Affair.

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Now the BBC [God bless them and the licence] have revisited the first Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames album, Rhythm and Blues At The Flamingo, recorded in September 1963, for its Mastertape series, resulting in two hours of material, music and memory, which will be broadcast in December.

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For more details of this, take a look at this post on Richard Williams excellent music blog, The Blue Moment, here …

 

 

Lee Harwood Night

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Put 15 poets in a room and ask them to read for just three minutes each – every organiser’s nightmare. But that’s exactly what Michaela Ridgeway, putting on a Pighog night in honour of the late Lee Harwood, did yesterday at Brighton’s Redroaster coffee house, and, against all poetry reading odds, it worked. Starting promptly at 8.00pm (in itself some kind of first) the formal part of the evening wrapped up at 9.15, just five minutes behind schedule.

Readers had been asked for either a poem of their own, dedicated to Lee or associated with him in some way, a poem of Lee’s and, possibly, a brief anecdote. Ken Edwards, with a new piece of writing, managed, superbly and with great humour, all three in one. Some of those reading had been part of a monthly poetry group that Lee had guided for years; others – Richard Cupidi, Paul Matthews, Tom Raworth – were very much a part of Lee’s past, his poetry, and his Brighton life.

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In the absence of Robert Sheppard, editor of the comprehensive Salt Companion to Lee Harwood, I had been asked to introduce the evening, which I did, harking back, in part, to the first occasions on which I would have hear Lee read – at the ICA or the Roundhouse in the mid-70s and likely in the company of Libby Houston, Carlyle Reedy and The Liverpool Scene.

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In an interview I did with Lee for Slow Dancer magazine, he talked about one of Soho’s iconic early coffee bars, Sam Widges, where he used to hang out in the early 60s with the likes of Pete Brown, Libby Houston and Spike Hawkins, and where, for the first time, he came across the poetry of Tristan Tzara, a major influence on his writing. One of the few places that then stayed open through the night, I would sometimes fetch up there in the early hours after an all-nighter listening to Ken Colyer at Studio 51 – a style of music that, as Lee was quick to point out, he had long left behind.

I went to listen to Ken Colyer when I was fifteen or sixteen, but then I converted to Charlie Parker and after that it was all modern jazz – Monk, Parker, the Jazz Messengers, Gillespie and then British bands, especially Joe Harriott and Shake Keane, whose music really hit home. I can’t explain why. I just loved it. And I suppose for the same reason I loved the writing of Tzara and Pound and later on Borges, Patchen, Rimbaud, William Carlos Williams, Kerouac, Ginsberg and so on. It was all the same cloth really. It was the same with painting. I loved Kandinsky – a range of forms floating on the canvas and in some way bonding.

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Appropriate then, that the last time I heard Lee read was at Shoreham WordFest in the autumn of 2014, when we were both performing with John Lake’s fine little four piece jazz group. Lee hadn’t worked with them before, but a mutual understanding quickly grew between them at rehearsals and on the evening itself the blend of music and words was just about perfect. It was great to see Lee in such fine form and clearly enjoying the experience as much as he did. If there had to be a final memory of him, this, for me, was about the best it could be.

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