Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Eyes Turned Skywards

New novel by Ken Lussey, focuses on rumours surrounding a number of real-life events including the death of the Duke of Kent in the summer of 1942 during the Second World War.

Wing Commander Robert (Bob) Sutherland used to be a detective before the War began, he thought those days were behind him, he was wrong.

On 25th August 1942, the Duke of Kent, brother to King George VI is killed in Northern Scotland in an unexplained air crash. A second crash soon after suggests sinister details may be afoot. Sutherland is tasked with visiting the base in Oban and the first crash site in Caithness to gather clues and rule out the threat of sabotage.

Reflecting on a country that is not as united as Winston Churchill nor history would have us believe, and with the kingdom recovering from the bombardment of the blitz, we follow Bob as he unravels lies and deceit from corners of the nation he did not expect.

There is a lovely economy to the writing of Lussey in the growth of Sutherland as a character and how the narrative progresses as he attempts to uncover the truth of the Duke's crash.  Lussey weaves a winning formula of transplanting a detective storyline into the wartime narrative, Sutherland is smart enough to be one step ahead of people and yet stay cool under pressure of which there is many.

Lussey writes with a real efficiency and the dialogue is indicative of putting fictional stories into a historical narrative; a lot of dialogue is exposition so we learn about various medals awarded to Sutherland and the different type of aircraft but it serves as important in the grander scheme of things.

Sutherland has an everyman quality that resonates throughout the book and makes you want to know what is going to happen to him during the remainder of the war time years as well as beyond once he returns to Edinburgh - the possibility of stories from Sutherland's pre-war days in the police force is both enticing.

As an introduction to a new charming character, Eyes Turned Skywards is enlightening and full of enterprise both gripping in its thriller form and wartime context.

Eyes Turned Skywards is released from Fledgling Press on Thursday 28th June

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Jim James - Uniform Distortion

Jim James, the angelic voice of My Morning Jacket, has ventured into areas his band would not have been renowned for when together. Following on from the politically conscious 'Eternally Even' from 2016; James returns with the new album Uniform Distortion.

Whereas, the previous album was a comment within an election year, the new album is more of a reaction to the Trump presidency - an album of anger and looking back.  In the press release for the album, James has mentioned how in the world today 'my head feels like it is exploding with the amount of information we are forced to consume on a daily basis and how that information is so DISTORTED'

Having listened to other American albums from such luminaries as Ezra Furman, there is a general anger simmering in American musicians about how their lives are being governed by a man who distorts his own way of thinking on a regular basis changing the narrative to suit his needs and wants; and thrusting it upon his people.

Whilst James' first album was one of meditation closer to that of MMJ releases, the further he goes down a solo career the more relevant to today's world he is becoming. Whereas MMJ albums would play like psychedelic work from another dimension full of hipster bohemia; James is certainly more of a rock and roll performer currently - in the same vein as Neil Young.

From title opener with its scratching hook 'Just A Fool' to the vitriolic 'Yes to Everything'; James is trying to make sense of the world and of his own place in the world - the latter track being more about regret and remorse than anything else.

There are still moments of lushness such as 'Throwback' a sonic blast of euphoria reminiscent of the best moments of MMJ with soaring backing vocals embracing the hook line, 'When we were young' before rocking out akin to Neil Young at his most bombastic.

Because of Trump, perhaps this is where rock music has to be on this permanent Eddie Vedder type show of angst. A reflective strain of songwriting in reaction to the nature of the world with a slight resignation to the belief that MAGA can happen in this first term of a loose cannon presidency.

From the rock out nature of 'Out of Time' and 'You Get To Rome', there remains an energy throughout the album that rivals many the qualities of a band of four or five. James wants to be heard on this record and heard loud and clear.

However, you cannot discount the voice of James one of those rare instruments in today's music scene that deserves the praise showered upon him, a voice that is full of soul, gravitas and power.

Uniform Distortion is out from ATO Records on 29th June.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Corrupted by Simon Michael

Published by Urbane Publications on Paperback on 21st June, Corrupted is the fourth book in the Charles Holborne series

Having never known of the Charles Holborne series you fear that you may be late to the party, much like the swinging dance parties and afternoon teas that take place at the Ritz in 1964, the year in which the latest Simon Michael novel is set.

There is no fear of that though, Michael has been lucky enough to create a central protagonist in the same vein as Jack Reacher; a likeable everyman who is one step ahead of most people, but one who is not afraid to throw punches (literally) nor get his hands dirty in the eternal pursuit of justice and truth.

Charles Holborne (or Horowitz - to show his birth name, and the still relevant anti-Semitism taking place in London), is 39 a Barrister working in Chambers at the Temple and the Old Bailey, he presides over a variety of cases - yet he himself has a criminal past which will not let go of him. He is well liked by his peers, colleagues and his unwillingness to fall in line with the old boy network does ruffle feathers, he nevertheless gets results.

The book is set in a hot summer of 1964, a year where the Beatles are returning home from conquering America, Sonny Liston just lost to Cassius Clay and the beginnings of the sexual revolution are slowly fermenting around the swinging London scene.  We first encounter Charles at home with his partner Sally, having recently moved in to a new house in North London; even Charles moans about the commute to work.

Upon his desk though comes a case involving his old nemesis, the Krays twins; the legendary Ronnie and Reggie whose criminal underworld dealings were known and held a vice like grip over London's night life.  The Krays are at war with the Mafiosa, and this leads to a footsoldier Mo Drake being murdered at his home supposedly by the Italians in revenge; yet there is more to the case than meets the eye.

It had long been rumoured for some time that Reggie Kray was homosexual and he was played as such by Tom Hardy in Legend as such; and yet the narrative revolves around a scandalous sex party that takes place at one of Reggie's residencies in Walthamstow, where all manner of high profile dignatries and cabinet members including Lord Robert Boothby attended indulging in fornication and sexual conquests.  In the narrative, a runaway boy Teddy is taken in by Mo and attends the party leading to Mo's death later that same night.

Charles takes on the case to clear the boy whom has been arrested for Mo's murder; yet Charles also has problems at home with Sally (who sadly vacates the scene somewhat abruptly) as Charles will not relent on his dream of fighting in the boxing ring one last time before his fortieth birthday, following a successful amateur career.   Charles goes for long runs on Saturday mornings and sometime evenings, which allows the author to write fondly of London before overpopulation took hold.

Even the premise of placing historical figures such as the Kray twins and all the mythos and legend they carry with them does not restrict nor overawe the character development of Charles Holborne, our protagonist remains front and center and the heart and soul of the book; you never feel your allegiance being swayed by the celebrity gangsters who themselves are written with great clarity and care by Michael, not becoming these overbearing larger than life figures, merely important people doing their job like anyone else.

Author Simon Michael

That is the beauty of this book, for all the gripping thriller elements and the page-turning quality of the narrative that rips along as quickly as that of Child or Grisham; Michael has gone to great lengths to paint a vivid picture of London at that time, as if it was the centre of the world - the glamour of the Ritz, to the stuffy tradition of the Old Bailey.

There is a vibrancy in the writing from the back and forth dialogue from each colourful character Charles meets to the vigour of the scene-setting of nightclubs and bagel shops, you feel a part of the story - something that this reader has not felt for quite sometime.

And with the protagonist Charles, Michael has created an anti-hero who is very much of his time - a chameleon like individual who is changing with the times much like his own city and world is in flux itself in terms of the rise of sexual freedom, feminism with Charles embodying the new breed of outsider and non-public schoolboy combating prejudices daily in his professional career; something the author had to confront during his career as a barrister.

As mentioned, the books 420 pages rips along at quite a clip that you will would be wanting more and with there still six years left in the 1960s for Charles to indulge in, it promises for more yarns for Michael to tell.  This reader for one will be looking back at the three previous installments of the series and looks forward with relish to the rest.

Corrupted by Simon Michael is released by Urbane Publications on 21st June.

In The Wake Extract

Helen Treverrow's debut novel is released from Urbane Publications on 28th June

In anticipation of the release of Helen Treverrow's gripping London based thriller, here is an exclusive extract which features our protagonist Kay heading home after a bad day at work and it encapsulates the psyche of the lead with her emotional upheaval at work, where she comes from and her fraught relationship with her father, Jim and the rewarding relationship with alcohol.

Check out my review here of In The Wake 

Follow Helen Trevorrow on Twitter @helentrevorrow
Follow Urbane Books on Twitter @UrbaneBooks

My thanks to #LoveBooksGroupTours for the opportunity to review

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Lawn - Blood on the Tracks

The new album Blood on the Tracks by Lawn, out now from Forged Artifacts.

It is weird how certain bands and albums come into your life; my brother is a big fan of The Gaslight Anthem, but I missed the release of The '59 Sound; a seminal album of that generation and now 10 years old, as if I need reminding how old I am getting.

The beauty of music and albums is that it connects with you on an emotional level. That is why some people like The Smiths more than Led Zeppelin and vice versa.  Sometimes an album comes out of nowhere that connects with you on a level that is hard to explain, but you know you love the album because it is a breathe of fresh air.

One such album is the album 'Blood on the Tracks' by New Orleans based band Lawn.  Oddly, the band followed me on Twitter before I had ever heard of them, partly because I tweet new music videos and they must have taken a punt on me.

Lawn are comprised primarily of Mac Fogler on guitar and vocals and Rui De Magahales on bass and vocals, with support from Nicholas Corson on drums and percussions and Duncan Troast on keyboards; and they prove to be a tight unit together.

Lawn image

So through the link on their twitter feed, I went to Gold Flake Paint website which carried an album stream which was released on 11th May by Forged Artifacts and was blown away by the simplistic 1960s feel of the tracks and with the swelling punk rock energy.

With a mixture of good songs swaying from serious to fun. There is an energy of abundant glee running throughout the album, from opener '2000 Boy' to the ear catching quality of the title track. Interspersed throughout are quick fire cuts like 'Rats' and 'Suzanne' full of fire; as well as the sheer driving force of 'Restless and Tired' which reminded me of early REM and Orange Juice.

A lot has been made in press releases that the band show the influence of The Kinks and The Beatles on their tracks, which is great to hear and there has been a plethora of bands in recent years mining the swinging Sixties for inspiration from Lab Coast and Major Murphy, evident in 'Vinnie' track 6.

The reason being is that there is a colourfulness to the music being produced, a vitality that is being lost in the programmed mainstream, music that is lovely to listen to - the type of music you can put on in the background at work or a BBQ and it slowly earworms its way into your consciousness.  The music of the 1960s laid down the foundations for future musics, it was rock and roll that would eventually morph into glam, heavy and metal.


All songs start with a guitar and the music of Lawn is the type that firstly sounds great to listen to, but also sounds like fun to play - it comes full circle as they have sing-along hooks and a hum-ability not often given the credit or airplay. For this just listen to 'My Boy' track 5.

Lawn have done some shows in America recently as well as playing at South By Southwest - and this album is very much an album of context and location; hailing from the Big Easy in New Orleans there is an almost horizontal laconic ease to their performance and playing that could almost be too laidback, but this comes across in a swath of cool not arrogance.

It has been a while since  an album got me this excited about and left me wanting to share with my followers in sometime; there is a track for everybody on this and it should be heard by as many people as possible with this album being one for music lovers as much as anything.

Too often albums like these get lost in the graveyard shifts of late night alternative radio or playlists, Lawn deserves to be heard by more people.

Blood on the Tracks is out now from Forged Artifacts.

Check out more music at Gold Flake Paint

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

In The Wake - Helen Treverrow

Helen Treverrow's debut novel is released from Urbane Publications on 28th June

When a body is found floating in London's Royal Albert Dock, public relations expert Kay Christie is sent to quiet the media, but things become complicated when it emerges she knows the victim.

Centered around the Excel center in London, a major exhibition is overshadowed by this body being found.  A convoluted narrative structure involving Kay's father who works at the exhibition hall, and the tightly knit support network around her starts to unravel as secrets much like the body rise to the surface.

Opening with the disappearance of a French nurse from her London hospital around Christmas time - the imagery Trevorrow evokes the harshness and cold of the London winter is depicted succinctly, showing the combination of how lonely the big city can be when you are questioning your own decisions in life.

Kay is in her 40s, gay and partnered with Julia, a woman who is enjoying an Indian summer with high-profile media commitments; and yet Kay is not happy. Kay drinks regularly, she is in love with her job but not in love with her routine. The introduction of a female police officer, Polly - younger and vital stirs some lustful yearnings within her which has been absent for sometime.

This melodramatic shift to a women's narrative in unison with the crime story is a risky venture, and on occasion the crime story struggles to be heard beside the Sapphic storyline; at times this reader felt that the love scenes were overpowering the actual crime story narrative and the interest in the case being solved.  Kay is an intelligent, successful woman and yet her life is full of quandry with Treverrow delicately explaining her psyche following a sexual assault from years past; which is told to us in flashback.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Gary McAllister

Full piece appears here

Gary McAllister is one of those players, that when people talk of them they are remembered fondly - not a bad word to be spoken of them, glowing praise radiates in odes to their past glories.

When people think of the Scottish midfielder what comes to mind firstly? A receding hairline or lack of hair altogether. A midfield maestro who could pick a pass with pin point accuracy. A reliable player who elevated every side he played for.

From his early career days for hometown Motherwell he left for Leicester City where in the then Second Division he drew acclaim before joining Leeds United in 1990. For many, McAllister was a key missing piece of a side that eventually won the First Division title, the last before the dawn of the Premier League and he was the lynchpin of a formidable midfield foursome of himself, Gordon Strachan, David Batty and the late Gary Speed - a best of British midfield.

Following a move to Coventry where he rekindled a partnership with Strachan, McAllister was nearing the end of his playing days and in July 2000 he signed a free transfer with Liverpool.  To many an observer it was a strange signing for both the club to sign an ageing but gifted individual, and seen as a retirement move for the Scot taking the bigger payday to seat behind younger team-mates on the bench.

Yet the importance and quality of McAllister's dead-ball expertise came to fruition the longer the season went on culminating in a triumphant triumvate of trophies for the red side of Merseyside; in a season where they also finished third in the Premier League.

Starting with a League Cup triumph in Cardiff where Liverpool beat Birmingham 5-4 on penalties on 25th February. Birmingham were a Championship side at that time and came so close to causing an upset, yet the lottery of a penalty shoot-out fell in Liverpool's favour; tellingly McAllister scored the first penalty of the shoot-out, Birmingham missed their first attempt and momentum was with them.

From that game, Liverpool only lost two more games all season (a 2-0 defeat at Leicester and a 2-1 defeat at home to Leeds, who finished fourth and were on the crest of a great season themselves); most famously McAllister had the final say in the Merseyside derby on 16th April on Easter weekend at Goodison Park. An always tense match was locked at 2-2 when deep in injury time a free-kick was awarded to Liverpool the ball safely positioned some 40 yards away from goal. 

Using his wealth of experience and intelligence, McAllister knowing the pitch was wet from rain took the decision to shoot for goal hoping for a shot on target might induce a goalkeeping error; a long run up was met by a shot on target and the ball found the corner of the net under the despairing arm of Paul Gerrard.

It was the first game, three days after the home defeat to Leeds, and the result galvanised Liverpool to go undefeated in the league for the remaining six games of the season to finish ahead of McAllister's former employer in the league. 

McAllister had become the figurehead of the side surrounded by the burgeoning youth of England's finest - Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey. McAllister was the focal point of the side becoming as talismanic as Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and dare I say, Andres Iniesta.  By being able to read the game with a brain, the game can slow down for you and he was able to see passes many would not.

McAllister became the shepherd of the new flock of superstars coercing the best out of this new breed of footballer in the soon to be christened Golden Generation with Owen himself taking over the mantle from Robbie Fowler. Credit should go to Houllier who was able to fit three midfielders like McAllister, Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann into an XI - Hamann could do the dirty work in front of a defence which allowed Gerrard and McAllister to express themselves fully with probing runs and assists.

McAllister's calm from the penalty spot was also seen as the responsibility would fall on his shoulders to convert the spot kick - there was never any doubt when he stood from 14 yards ready to give his side the lead.

Liverpool returned to the Millennium Stadium again in May to come from behind to defeat Arsenal with Michael Owen scoring twice in the final 10 minutes; McAllister himself came off the bench to help change the course of the tie.  Trophy two had been gained.

A mere four days later, Liverpool heading to Dortmund to face Alaves in the final of the UEFA Cup.  McAllister started this game and his influence was everywhere on the night. At the age of 36, McAllister was Man of the Match coolly converting a penalty in the 41st minute to give Liverpool a 3-1 half time lead. Despite the grit of Alaves to keep fighting and pulling back the tie, McAllister would have the final say.

With the game heading to a penalty shoot-out and Alaves down to 9 men; G-Mac stood over a free kick from the left wing; his quality of delivery was telling as an inswinging delivery was met by the fateful head of Delfi Geli who cruelly converted into his own net. With this being the dreaded period of Golden Goal, that settled and ended the match in an instant.  Liverpool players swallowed up the Scottish veteran and jubilation rained on the field as Liverpool completed the cup treble. The first time ever an English side had won both domestic cup competitions and an European trophy in the same season.

McAllister's late season form means that it is his exploits that are more fondly remembered than that of the PFA and FWA Player of the Year Teddy Sheringham; many felt that McAllister's influence and far ranging appeal should have been acknowledged in some respect. However, to many Liverpool fans he is fondly recalled and for two months of 2001, Gary McAllister was perhaps the most important footballer in Europe.

Not bad for someone who was thought to be too slow for the quickening English Premier League.

The Love-Birds 'In The Lover's Corner'

The debut album 'In The Lover's Corner' from The Love-Birds out now from Trouble in Mind Records

From the sunny climes of San Francisco, the debut album from the Love-Birds is out now; and it is a wonderful earworm of an album full of gorgeous summery lilts, jingle jangle melodies and oozing with sunshine and hummable tunes.

The debut single Angela is emblematic of the influence of 1960s Laurel Canyon summer time music, it packs a punch with the reverb on the guitar but there is a drive to the music that sticks with you throughout.

The rest of the album is full of equally appealing tracks from opener 'Again' to 'December (Get to You)'; much like other bands from America who have released recent albums Lab Coast and Olden Yolk this is music for music lovers with an ear to the past to brace themselves for the future.

With 11 tracks this is a short sharp album that is great for the commute or a workout to fill the time; for fans of early REM, Pavement and the Replacements all the way back to the Byrds.

In The Lover's Corner is out now from Trouble in Mind Records

My thanks to OneBeatPR for the preview opportunity.