Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Procol Harum: The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale - Henry Scott-Irvine

Procol Harum: The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of PaleProcol Harum: The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale by Henry Scott-Irvine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a well-written and exhaustive account of the recording and touring history of Procol Harum. It takes us from the days of the Paramounts in the Southend of the early sixties right through to the draining four-year court case that pitted the band's original organist against his former employers over forty years later. The coverage is comprehensive and well organised and the early chapters on the Southend scene are especially engrossing.

In spite of the determinedly factual basis of the book, it's entertainingly written in a relaxed and highly readable style. As you'd expect, there is much quoting from interviews with band members and others closely connected to them and a selection of photographs.

Overall, I found it a little light on analysis perhaps: the author prefers to let the facts and the interviewees' own words stand for themselves rather than offering his own interpretation or critique but then some may see that as a strength of the book rather than a weakness!

Without a doubt, this is an essential book for anyone even remotely interested in the band and its origins. No prior knowledge is assumed: this is definitely not an "insider" book for fans only. Thoroughly recommended.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Empress and the Acolyte - Jane Fletcher

The third volume in the Lyremouth series takes the story into new territory, beyond the original Lorimal's Chalice. The sequel fits right in with what's gone before and the handling of the interactions between Tevi the warrior and Jemeryl the sorcerer is ever more developed. The depiction of Jemeryl's feelings after hearing that Tevi is dead is painfully true to life and overall the writing is more assured than ever in this book. The plot and character motivations convince and it's a delight to spend yet more time in the company of the two leads. I hope there's still more to come!


Monday, September 1, 2008

Swallows & Amazons - Arthur Ransome

The first of Ransome's twelve classic books introduces us to the four Walker children (the Swallows) the two Blackett girls (the Amazons) and their eponymous boats. The lake, Uncle Jim and much else that will become familiar background in many of the remaining books is also introduced. It's hardly surprising that these stories have remained in print for some seventy-plus years: the writing is clear and unfussy while entering fully into the children's world and portraying events honestly and earnestly from their point of view. There's no layer of irony to attract a sophisticated reader: one has to engage with the adventure from the perspective of the protagonists; Ransome makes this not only possible but also a joy, even for the twenty-first century reader.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

The first "Great" Wessex novel is surprisingly hard to get into at first but eventually the going gets a bit easier and the flow of events starts to grip the attention. Bathsheba's near-disastrous marriage pre-echoes Hardy's later, more tragic, treatments of that institution. But in this book good still triumphs at the end and the long arc of struggle eventually yields a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Inklings - Humphrey Carpenter

Ostensibly a "group biography", the focus here is very much on C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. Of course, the same author has covered Tolkien's life pretty thoroughly elsewhere. The picture that emerges here is that it was very much Lewis that "made things happen" while the rather older Williams was an underachieving genius. The vivid depiction of Oxford life is wonderfully evocative and throws the outlandish worlds beloved of, and created by, the trio into sharp relief. The academic and creative life is portrayed in its realistic messiness and the three central figures are shown as fairly ordinary human beings with a "taste for" higher and more epic things without themselves living epic lives or being "higher" creatures. No Hemmingways here! While hardly indispensable, it's an engaging read that satisfies the desire of many readers of these authors to know more about the men behind the beloved stories.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Seven White Gates - Malcolm Saville

The second book in the Lone Pine series of children's stories stays in Shropshire but moves the setting from the Long Mynd of Witchend to the wilder slopes of the Stiperstones. Local girl Jenny Harmon is introduced as the sixth member of the group and the twins charm Peter's fearsome Uncle before getting into trouble on the mountain. No "baddies" in this book but a series of difficulties are faced with bravery and hence overcome.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents - Terry Pratchett

Pratchett brings his work for younger readers and his fabulously successful Discworld series for adults together in this first book for youngsters to share the latter's setting. Maurice the cat, along with two human children and a horde of preternaturally intelligent rats, faces great danger and moral challenges to return normality to a town in the grip of an obscure tyranny. A fun read for a grown up Pratchett fan.