Back from the Iron Age festival in Cullercoats mentioned in my previous post. Pete Mortimer’s Iron Press was celebrating its fortieth birthday, a remarkable achievement. The redoubtable Pete (who was born up the road from me, in Sherwood, and recently wrote a memoir about coming back to Nottingham) organised and MCed a remarkable array of talent. Even more remarkably, virtually every event was sold out, with over two hundred people at the Friday and Saturday night events. These featured former Iron magazine assistant editor Ian McMillan (above), the ‘bard of Barnsley’ in the Crescent Club and Newcastle man David Almond (whose first two, pre-Skellig, books of short stories were published by Iron) in the Community Centre. Sunday saw a celebratory mural (if that’s the word) on the beach, pictured above.We met loads of old friends (for instance, Andy Croft, seen above, who I edited a short-lived literary journal with back in 1979) and made some new ones. There were several book launches, including Nesting, a ‘best of’ David Almond’s early stories and Miranda’s Shadow, short stories by the wonderful Kitty Fitzgerald (pictured above). I was only sorry that we had to leave after Andy’s Great North Run poems, which meant we missed Melvyn Bragg, Sean O’Brien and co. Congratulations to all involved, and particularly, Pete. There’s nobody like him.
Another particularly enjoyable aspect of the festival was that there was music with every event. The highlights were Me and Mr Jones (pictured), who performed with no less than nine Iron poets (including, and introduced by Valerie Laws), Gemma Gates and Freya Grace at the Salthouse (where the festival continued until late every night) and, opening for David Almond, the wonderful Bridie Jackson and The Arbour )also pictured above) who were a new name to me, but have won a place (from 10,000 entries) to perform on the main stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Their brand of folk, ethereal, absorbing, never twee, is hard to describe, but here’s a track from their Scarecrow single (which I bought, along with their album after the gig), a guitar version of the song that closes their debut CD. You can hear the whole album at their website.
I can’t find enough time to listen to music at the moment. Don’t remember there being a better month for new albums since the 70′s, if then. Tomorrow sees the official release of Vampire Weekend’s stonking third album. Critics tend to say that the third album the key release in determining a band’s longevity, , and in the case of Modern Vampires Of The City, they’re probably right. There are also new releases by Primal Scream (their best for 20 plus years) and Rod Stewart, whose Time is his best album since the mid-70′s ie sincer I saw him with The Faces, 40 years ago this christmas, when they were on top of the world. Seriously. Have a listen to the song below if you don’t believe me. Seems that writing his autobiography has rekindled his passion for autobiographical songwriting. (On a sidenote, its quality makes me all the more annoyed that I was in an apartment with slow broadband when tickets for the opening night of his new tour went on sale, and couldn’t get onto the Nottingham Arena site. If anyone has a couple of spares…). This week also saw the release of the stunning debut by Savages, We Are Silence. It channels influences from 30 years ago, to great effect. I was teaching Tuesday night, when they played the Bodega Social, but I’ve heard a recording of their fantastic show. Next time.
That’s only the beginning. A week on Monday sees the release of the new album by my favourite band, The National, Trouble Will Find Me, and early reports say it’s their best to date. The album’s leaked, on MP3, but I want to wait and hear it first in its full, lossless glory, preferably on vinyl. The same day sees the return of Daft Punk, whose last two albums have been terrific and whose Get Lucky is the single of the year so far (stream here). If that weren’t enough, the same day sees the release of Laura Marling’s fourth album. Each of her albums has been a big step up from the last and I’m a big fan (as this review from a year ago, song still linked, indicates). But I’m deep in dissertation marking, with a novel and a comic script to rewrite and edit. Where will I find time to listen to all this stuff?
Luckily, we have an excellent Bose stereo in the car, and a big journey next weekend, for the 40th birthday celebrations of Iron Press in Cullercoats (tickets still available). The image above is ‘Stormy Sea at Cullercoats’ by John Falconar Slater, from the North Tyneside Council Art Collection. Looking forward to the performances and catching up with a bunch of old mates. Also looking forward to a loud listen to stuff like the two songs below. Enjoy.
This Easter, we managed to get away for a week in Lanzarote, a beautiful island in danger of being over-run by hotels offering inclusive food and drink deals. We stayed in a quiet bungalow at the far end of Playa Blanca, and ate well at local restaurants, swam a lot, visited the sights, and did loads of reading. Here are the books I finished while I was there.
The Successor - Ismail Kadare This had shades of Lanzarote’s late Nobel winning author Jose Saramago (whose museum home we didn’t get to visit, as it’s not on the tourist trips and we didn’t want to rent a car), with a tough, allegorical flavour to a story that, nevertheless, gets at the reality of politics in contemporary Albania. Translated from Albanian to French into English, but you wouldn’t know as the language is very tight and the shifting meanings offered by each successive account – did the president’s designated successor kill himself or was he murdered? – are thought provoking and absorbing. Also reminded me a little of Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, which I read recently.
Never Mind - Edward St Aubyn I’d been avoiding this series of novels about posh people because I thought it would irritate me. Of course it does – the characters are meant to annoy. There isn’t a single likeable one in this opening novel. But David Almond told me he was hooked on them and got me curious. Then I found this, the opening novel, as a 99p Kindle deal of the day so thought I’d check it out. How good was it? Put it this way. I just bought the box set of all five books so that I can read them in order, soon.
The Doctor’s House – Ann Beattie I’ve been reading Beattie for thirty years. She’s probably my favourite short story writer, but her novels are more hit and miss. This, I’m pleased to say, is probably the best since her first, Chilly Scenes Of Winter. Told from three, successive points of view, it’s the story of a young widow’s relationship with her sexually promiscuous brother and the parents who shaped their lives. Beattie doesn’t offer the traditional pleasures of resolution to the story she tells -it’s a little frustrating that, once you exit each point of view, there’s no return, but it’s a brave and powerful, utterly absorbing novel that I polished off in less than 24 hours. Not published in the UK. Indeed, it must be twenty years since Beattie had a UK publisher, which is a damned shame…
An Exquisite Sense Of What Is Beautiful – J.David Simons You know how you save up one book that you know you want to take on holiday and read with complete concentration? For me, this was that book. I was delighted when it was published the week before we went away. I was knocked out by Simons’ previous novel, The Liberation of Celia Kahn and initially disappointed that this wasn’t the concluding volume of that historical trilogy. This, however, is a more commercial book, one that could almost be described as a beach read, which is not to say that it is any less well written. Simons has a terrific, fluent prose style. He lived in Japan for seven years and it shows in this story of an aging author and his return to the grand hotel where he wrote his first novel. It flips between the past and present in alternate chapters with a masterly control of suspense and compulsive plotting: the less you know about the story before you start reading, the better. All I’ll say is that it’s an immensely satisfying read. I made it last two days by rationing myself and, as soon as I’d finished it my partner commandeered it and read it with equal speed and pleasure. If this novel doesn’t break through big for Simons and win prizes then the publishing world really has gone to pot.
Skios – Michael Frayn I missed this off the list originally, because we both read this one, too, but left it behind in the Atlantic Gardens library. An entertaining read by the pool. However not a novel one would be inclined to reread – a farcical romp that builds up to what should be a rip-roaring conclusion but, instead, gives you and an overcooked one that falls completely flat (all but ignoring the character you’re most interested in). Pity.
I also finished Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room but that was for work, and started Philip Kerr’s Argentinian Bernie Gunther novel, A Quiet Flame, which I’m enjoying, on the plane home, but I still have a third of it to go. As usual, I took my back-log of New Yorkers to read in place of a daily paper and read lots of good stuff in there. Of particular interest was a fascinating, long article by Marc Fisher about Brooklyn private school teacher Robert Berman and his cult of damaged followers/victims which is currently available in full online.
Slightly extended version of my review from The Nottingham Post.
This Grammy nominated singer-songwriter from Oklahoma is just 24 and comes with a head of critical steam plus a debut TV appearance on BBC2′s Later this Friday. Fullbright has a rich voice, a rootsy sound and a wide range of material that recalls songwriters as far apart as Ryan Adams and Randy Newman.
In the intimate Glee Studio, he comes on solo with two new, promising songs, then is joined by veteran Oklahoma guitarist Terry Ware. The older man contributes tasty licks and whatever else is needed for the rest of the evening, creating a surprisingly full sound for a duo.
About half of Fullbright’s debut album, From The Ground Up, is spread through the evening, including a strong ‘Satan and St Paul’ and the bluesy ‘Gawd Above’. But Fullbright seems more interested in playing new songs. It’s understandable. While some of the older songs are derivative – of Kurt Weill or Tom Waits in ‘Nowhere To Be Found’, for instance – he’s clearly on a creative roll. Several of the new songs, particularly those played in a long, central piano section, like ‘When You’re Here’, are in a different league. There’s also a great cover of Porter Grainger’s song for Bessie Smith, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’.
‘Most of my songs start as parodies of country songs then turn serious halfway through’, he says before Blameless. The set closer is the glorious Jericho, but even that is blown away by the first encore, a storming piano version of ‘The High Road’ (a guitar version of which can be found on the Live At The Blue Door download album). He leaves the mikes behind for Roy Orbison’s Crying, then he’s gone.
A man with a big future.
A slightly extended version of my review from the Nottingham Post.
Richard Thompson’s ‘power trio’ is a distillation of what has been his core band of the last ten years, last seen here on the Dream Attic tour. That time, perhaps unwisely, he devoted the first 75 minutes to his new album. I bought eight tickets for that show, and none of the people I went with chose to come this time. Nuff said. Tonight, the band start with three songs from Electric (a stronger album) but play just three more new songs during the rest of the set, which blends the new with an astute selection of classics and interesting choices. The set list is clearly aimed at long time fans, some of whom have ‘driven 80 miles to see me’, as he points out before launching into a powerful ‘Shame of Doing Wrong’ from 1975.
The electric trio come into their own on an extended work-out of ‘Can’t Win’. Michael Jerome must be the most dynamic drummer Thompson has ever worked with, while Taras Prodaniuk is a supple, inventive bass player, who also adds backing vocals when required. They provide the perfect companion to Thompson’s fluid, melodic yet muscular electric guitar. He jokes about their being too folky to be a power trio, but if he was American, we’d be ranking him equal with Neil Young as a lead guitarist. Worth noting that, no matter how heavy the song, you can always make out the words. Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed and Wall of Death are highlights.
There are folk elements. Sidney Wells turns into a 9/8 slip jig. Thompson begins the encore with two acoustic requests. I’m taking notes and, unusually for me, don’t call out for anything. But my partner, for the first time in her life, is moved to yell out for her favourite song – and she gets it: the quintessential Thompson story song Beeswing, which is wondeful, and is followed by 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (the only time in the tour he’s done two acoustic requests). Then he surprises us by playing the Hendrix version of Hey Joe (and a bit of Purple Haze). We’re given an extended version of Electric opener Stony Ground before he leaves us with a rousing run-through of old chestnut Tear Stained Letter. Three men, two hours, three standing ovations. Fantastic.
I could happily have handled one more song from his new album, by the way. This new classic is buried on the bonus disc that comes with ‘Electric’.