Category Archives: Book Review

Groucho Marx

grouch

Groucho Marx –
The Comedy of Existence
By Lee Siegel
Yale University Press – $16.00

[…]no human being lacks a dark side, and those human beings whose achievements rest on creative expression proverbially draw their art from their dark private undersides – comedians do this above all. Until he appeared on the scene, no other performer exhibited a private side to the public the way Groucho did. Groucho Marx the beloved icon is a contradiction in terms. The foundation for his beloved iconicity is his unprecedented and unsurpassed frankness, and this brutal candour was indivisibly connected to a toxic element […].

               (‘Human, All Too Human’)

We are not allowed to forget that he is, by any social measure, a rat, and an unsuccessful rat at that. But it is his compulsion to expose his own folly along with uncovering the knavery and stupidity of everyone around him that wins us over and makes us laugh. There is a unique sort of integrity to that. Nothing redeeming or pardonable exists about Groucho’s misogyny. Yet it is an honest expression of an ugly human tendency that is rarely revealed – until, you might say, it is too late – for what it is. Like arsenic in rice, the poisonous underside of Groucho’s candour was an organic part of his candour.

               (‘Human, All Too Human’)

One cannot help but read this most socially beguiling of book’s without having to nigh constantly stand back and embrace abject objectivity. An interesting undertaking perhaps, but one that after a mere two chapters in, does become either a tad irksome or something of a most pronounced revelation (of sorts).

As such, there is no denying the fact that Groucho Marx – The Comedy of Existence ensures the reader is on constant alert. By which I mean: one has to readily decipher for oneself: what the truth is, what could be considered as nothing other than overt, over analysis, and what at the end of the day, may ultimately be deemed complete and utter ‘’pompous poo-bah.’’

Nevertheless, these seven chapters (along with an Introduction and Epilogue) do make for intrinsically interesting and entertaining reading; simply by way of being open, honest, and socially/scientifically psychological. To quote Shon Arieh-Lerer, who in Slate, wrote: ‘’Siegel applies his own philosophical acuity to the personal and socio-political aspects of Groucho’s life.’’

Key, is the word ‘’philosophical’’ here, for in referring to Antonin Artaud’s 1932 essay on the Marx Brothers, Lee Siegel writes: ”We have to admit that the humour also includes a certain amount of anxiety – even tragedy – and fatality (neither happy nor unhappy but very awkward to formulate), which runs through it like the revelation of a terrible affliction across the profile of absolute beauty (‘Nothing Will Come Of Nothing’).

Moreover, it is without doubt, that it is Siegel’s own idiosyncratic interpretation of the fundamental life and times and art of Groucho Marx, that essentially underpins these 144 pages throughout. Thus, ensuring they are either readable and believable, and/or, readable and (quintessentially) inconceivable.

A perfect example of which can be found on page 51, where the author is w-a-y over the top when he writes: ‘’Comedy is the naked expression of the spectrum of psychic injury, from amusing slights to resounding blows, and few injuries hurt so much as wounds inflicted in the arena of love and lust.’’
This I completely agree with, although Siegel then immediately follows up with accusatory pomp – the sort of which is surely fraught with the finest of conjecture: ‘’The Marx Brothers’ misogyny can sometimes be appalling – the end of Horse Feathers, when all three Brothers pile onto the college widow, in a kind of gang rape, is hard to watch.’’

If such be the case (and to my mind, it absolutely isn’t), then great swathes of some of the finest comedy ever written and performed might just as readily be deemed ‘’hard to watch.’’ The American stand-ups’ Lenny Bruce and Phil Hicks come to mind. Not to mention the British writer/comic genius that was Peter Cooke. As for the likes of Benny Hill, Siegel would probably term him as the devil incarnate.

As spirited and enlightening as Groucho Marx – The Comedy of Existence clearly is,
it is also (in parts), equally claustrophobic, derogatory and rather conservative.

David Marx

 

A Swindon Wordsmith

george

A Swindon Wordsmith –
The Life, Times and Works of George Ewart Hobbs
By Noel Ponting & Graham Carter
The Hobnob Press – £14.95

Mrs Crabthorn is an elf-like creature of sixteen stone burden, a head taller than myself, and built upon the lines of a thirty-six gallon cask. Whether she is patriotic upon principle or compulsion I cannot say: but certainly there is no ”waste” about her. Not only so (forgive me, dear Mrs Crabthorn) but I feel certain that John – that is her husband, of whom more anon – must have courted her in the dark; never taking the precaution of providing himself with a lantern.
Of course, I realise there is no blame attached to Mrs Crabthorn in regard to her generous outlines – or her face. I believe in giving censure where censure is due. Dame Nature was the culprit, and she must have been either cross-eyed or had a momentary lapse when she gave Mrs Crabthorn her figurehead.

(‘Mrs Crabthorn v the fairer sex’)

John courted I, I courted ‘e.
We courted one another:
‘E kissed I on me ruby lips,
An said, ‘Now Sal, you’re mine fer keeps.’
‘Fer kips an’ kips,’ ses I to ‘e.
‘Now come an’ tell me mother,’

(‘Mrs Crabthorn in a New Role By George E Hobbs’)

To a certain degree, this book traverses such a wide diversification in subject matter, the likes of which would more often than not fall within the associated parameters of a certain heading. Or, at least, some sort of resolute inclination towards genre.
Whether it be poetry or satire (as marginally hinted at in the above two opening quotes); theology or high-octane technical writing (as substantiated in ‘Pamphlet No. 169’) in chapter five’s ‘Life in the Great Western Railway.’

There again, we are talking of someone’s vast array of collected works here – which just happen to coincide with all the above and a whole lot more besides.

As one of the two author’s, Noel Ponting, makes immediately clear in the book’s Preface: ”It is certainly true that he felt a particular affinity with younger people […] and clearly saw his role as a bit of an educator, bringing to their attention loftier concepts, particularly in the subject areas of classical philosophy and mythology. Old Testament wisdom, evolution, Palaeontology, geology, astronomy and creation theory.”

As such, A Swindon Wordsmith – The Life, Times and Works of George Ewart Hobbs, makes for overtly inspired reading. Even if only from the premise of such an idiosyncratically wide terrain of subject matter. The ever so elongated trajectory of which, cannot but occasionally entail that this book is akin to reading several books in one. Or at the same time.

Admittedly, this is not something one comes across every day, but as the secondary
title makes abundantly clear, this book is both a simultaneous appreciation of and collected works of the writer and journalist, George Ewart Hobbs: ”So-called ‘ordinary’ working towns sometimes hide their lights under bushels, but this book aims to put the record straight, to some extent – by paying tribute to one of Swindon’s forgotten wordsmiths.”

The word ‘forgotten’ is key here, for until Noel Ponting and Graham Carter (writer and former editor of the wonderful yet sorely missed Swindon Heritage magazine) brought this altogether majestic book to my attention, I’d never even heard of George E Hobbs. And I’m originally from Swindon!

Moreover, I’m exceedingly pleased they have.
Primarily because it’s about time the town had something else to feel proud of, other than that ever-so-fab-beat-combo, XTC – whose very own ‘Science Friction’ introduces chapter twelve (‘Science Fiction and the Paranormal’):

Science friction burns my fingers.
Electricity still lingers
Hey, put away that ray.
How do you Martians say ‘I love you?

Love of course, being something never too far removed from the pencil and the poetry of Hobbs himself, who, in such (poignant) poems as ‘The Last Goodbye’ and ‘Love Fills The Void,’ instinctively places matters of the heart at the very vanguard of whatever fraught and seemingly hopeless agenda:

Take now my life, for life has ceased its charm,
Naught is there now for me on earth to live;
Spirit of Death – from thee I fear no harm,
For from thine had re-union thou wilt give.

He that I loved, and loved with passion strong,
Lies ‘neath the sod of Belgium’s stricken land:
Life will to me be meaningless and long,
If ‘tis unblessed by his devoted hand.

(‘Love Fills The Void’ – 1915).

Such semblance and understanding of loss, when aligned with Hobb’s devout clarity of penmanship and devotion, is what, to my mind at least, accounts for so much of this book’s validity and humanity. The latter especially, which the writer appears to have inadvertently embraced all too intuitively.

Had this not been the case, he would surely have never been able to capture nor project such intrinsic comedy as that risibly regaled within the many skits on the aforementioned, Mrs Crabthorn (my own personal favourite).

With a veritable dry wit that simply oozes off the pages of ‘The World of Mrs Crabthorn,’ Hobb’s comedic flair was already pronounced, while the ever so English likes of Les Dawson, Ronnie Barker and Kenn Dodd were probably in the midst of being born (give or take).

Examples are a plenty, of which surely the following two, are perhaps the finest examples:

‘’Mrs Crabthorn must have thought that bicycles were made for cross country journeys and also to climb trees. Halfway down the hill she swerved to the left in a wary attempt to run up a fair sized oak tree. The tree resented such an intrusion and shot her back into the road again. Evidently the road has no such scruples for it let her remain there.
No more need be said except that the road-men are busy repairing the road, the doctors are busy repairing Mrs Crabthorn. The bike is beyond repair – but I am free’’ (‘Mrs Crabthorn on a bike and Off: Here Endeth the first Lesson, and the Lady Executioner: George E Hobbs’).

‘’Hoping to shut up her cackle (sorry sir, ‘excessive verbosity’ I should have written) and wishing to impress upon her the importance of my time, I told her I was exceedingly busy upon a scientific treatise.
Naturally, being a woman, she requested to know what it was. And I replied that the treatise upon which I was engaged was the relationship between face fungus and the divine art of osculation [kissing].
I was rather surprised at her swift comprehension. A changed expression journeyed over her vast expanse she calls a face and said, ‘’Well, if you want my ‘pinion, I’d sooner be kissed…’’
‘’I don’t want your opinion,’’ I answered testily, ‘’I want you to get out – at once!’’
‘’Look you ‘ere, sonny me lad,’’ said the dear soul, grimly. ‘’Ever since you writ them articles about me I’ve bin waitin’ to get my own back, an’ now I’ve got me chance. Wot do you think of Rodbern now?’’
‘’Mrs Crabthorn,’’ I replied as courageously as my temper would allow, ‘’I had no wish to take part in this unfortunate controversy publicly, but as you have asked my opinion privately I will tell you.
‘’The district which is no longer graced with your charming presence – that is – residentially,’’ and here I bowed to her, ‘’unquestionably ranks as high in personal virtues as any other district in Swindon’’
[…].
‘’Paradise?’’ queried Mrs. Crabthorne, ‘’Since when?’’
I placed the table between the dear little darling and myself, and replied:
‘’Since you left the district!’’
The crescent in which I live was quite shocked to see Mrs Crabthorn and myself roll out through the front door in quite an unconventional attitude.
As soon as I could disengage myself, I hurried indoors and shut the door. I trust I shall see the dear old lady no more’’ (‘Rodbourne: A Topical Article by Mr George E Hobbs’).
To be sure, A Swindon Wordsmith – The Life, Times and Works of George Ewart Hobbs can only be described as a more than an inspired read – as well as something of a local, literary (golden) treasure.

It ought unquestionably be up there with Nigel (whose future was in British Steel) and he who penned yer ‘Nights in White Satin.’

David Marx

Caribbean Islands

Caribbean_Islands_7.9781786576507.pdp.0

Caribbean Islands
Lonely Planet – £16.99

The Caribbean is a joyous mosaic of islands beckoning paradise-hunters, an explosion of colour, fringed by beaches and soaked in rum. It’s a lively and intoxicating profusion of people and places spread over 7000 islands (fewer than 10% are inhabited). But, for all they share, there’s also much that makes them different. Can there be a greater contrast than between bustling Barbados and its neighbour, the seemingly unchanged since colonial times St. Vincent? Revolutionary Cuba and its next-door banking capital, the Cayman Islands? Or between booming British-orientated St Kitts and its sleepy, Dutch-affiliated neighbour Sint Eustatius, just across a narrow channel?

               (‘Welcome to the Caribbean Islands’)

I was on a beach, taking a break from research. Had I been out to the island on the edge of the bay? The fisherman asked. There was a ruin there, stories of the pirates. Did I want to see? His boat was beaten up and its sail made from old plastic sheets, but in we got and dipped over the waves, then waded ashore to a tumble of buildings overgrown with roots and lianas. It felt like Treasure Island and I wondered if all guidebooks came with maps telling you ‘X marks the spot.’ This could only be the Caribbean…

               Paul Clammer
               (‘Why I love the Caribbean Islands’)

I’ve now spent over six weeks sailing around both the Eastern and Western Caribbean Islands, and while I do (sort of) confer with the first of the above opening quotes, there’s a mighty large caveat that really does need to be taken on board.

Yes, there is diversity amid the many islands: Cuba is completely and utterly different when compared to say Tobago, which is completely and utterly different when compared to say Bonaire. So yes, they do obviously, kind of have their own feel and flavour; but were one to take the sun and the sea out of the equation, things really would be entirely different.

And it is said difference, which, oddly enough, goes some way in substantiating their similarities – especially within the eastern section of such islands as Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago and of course, Barbados.

To be sure, with the possible exception of the latter, they’re all essentially interchangeable.

Just like most of those terrible hairy rock bands of the seventies and eighties: all pout’n’swagger’n’much ado about nothing. Only in this instance, we’re talking sun’n’sea’n’swagger’n’much ado with regards the musical trajectory of the legendary Bob Marley. A quality which is luckily enough, intuitively homed in on within the 867 pages (excluding Glossary, Behind the Scenes and Index) of Lonely Planet’s superlative Caribbean Islands.

For instance, the following introduction of Antigua & Barbuda on page 99, is pretty much a description that could just as readily be applied to (m)any of the Caribbean Islands: ‘’[…] life is a beach. It’s corrugated coasts cradle hundreds of perfect little strands lapped by beguiling enamel blue water, while the sheltered bays have provided refuge for everyone from Admiral Nelson to buccaneers and yachties. If you can tear yourself away from that towel, you’ll discover that there’s a distinct English accent to this island […]. ‘’

Clearly, while the ‘’English accent’’ does not apply to any of the Spanish speaking islands (such as Cuba and The Dominican Republic) nor Dutch speaking (such as Aruba and Curacao), the actual descriptive aesthetic invariably does.

Recognising as much, this undoubtedly explains why Caribbean Islands many writers have opted to home right-in on the small print of every island – an invaluable aspect of this travel guide, which has essentially made my travels around the Caribbean a whole lot easier.

Moreover, it goes without saying that really does Cuba stand out.
As well as alone.
Having already spent time on the ”revolutionary” island, it is indeed unique and rather special; qualities altogether touched on in the country’s introduction herein: ”Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat; behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers. It’s these rich dichotomies that make travel here the exciting, exhilarating roller-coaster ride it is. And, as a country on the cusp of change, there’s rarely a better time to visit. Private enterprise is displaying the first buds of a creative spring, while the big-name brands from that well-known enemy in the north have yet to dilute the cultural magic.”

Along with Lonely Planet’s Dominican Republic (which I have already reviewed on this site), Cuba very much warrants and has its own guide.

Although I do have to say, this is a most succinct, concise and dizzyingly impressive travel guide. Along with all the usual indispensable features such as Why Go?, When to Go?, Maps, Sights, Beaches, Activities, Entertainment etc; it really is the accumulation of the varying countries idiosyncrasies that have accounted for Caribbean Islands being nigh indispensable.

David Marx

Outside, The Box

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Outside, The Box
By Sue Kindon
4Word Press – £5.99

I could get used to living

in this brittle body.
I will walk it in the mountains
to tire it of self-pity;
lend it my reading glasses,
the better to see through its own
obituary.

               (‘Settling In’)

Gone astray. They were there, from Monday to Saturday, locked in the vestry with vases of stagnant hymn books, for telling stories or bad colouring-in. The hands don’t know I’m out on the hillside with Marie Antoinette, gathering bilberries for bible-jam.

               (‘I am not your Shepherdess’)

The prime objective with correct and essentially inspired poetry, is to reach out and make an almost immediate impression – if not some sort of indeterminate connection.
Regardless of how tenuous or frivolous.
Sanctimonious.
Or blasphemous.
Or come to that, even subject matter.

Suffice to say, the word ‘correct’ is fundamentally subjective in this instance; as what one may deem as being correct, might well be considered as literally impotent, incorrect and perhaps utter hogwash by another.

There again, The Waste Land wasn’t written in a day.
And if these thirty-three poems are anything to go by, neither was Sue Kindon’s Outside, The Box. 

At times delicate and beautiful – not to mention ethereal and eco-mystical – a number of these poems simply penetrate ones’ all to (collectively) considered protective psyche, by way of being both implausible yet impossible to refute.

An altogether non-solipsistic process in other words, that is openly and ultimately ordained by way of (dare one say it) the truth.
The centrifugal rubric of which is touched on by Kindon herself in this pamphlet’s touching Preface: ‘’My subject matter is anything that strikes me – something I can push against that might give; a hunch worthy of being pursued. It’s not a question of sitting down and thinking I’d like to write a poem about that. The that must demand a voice.’’

And if Outside, The Box has anything, it’s most certainly the majestic vortex of a mighty b-i-g voice; of which the two aforementioned poems (‘Settling In’ and (‘I am not your Shepherdess’) the title poem itself, ‘Eve’ and ‘Beach Hut Funeral’ are extremely fine examples:

We wear our tears
like shiny badges
with sharp pins

and smile wearily
through the urge to sob.
Who will be next to give way

[…]

We tread water, and smile
For each other; first one home,
Put the kettle on.

To say that many of these poems are anchored within a subliminal slipstream of acute transcendence, might be something of an understatement; but there’s absolutely no denying the detonatory beauty contained herein.

Here’s to the sequel (Inside, The Box?).

David Marx

 

Decoding Dylan

decoding

Decoding Dylan –
Making Sense of the Songs That Changed Modern Culture
By Jim Curtis
McFarland & Company – $35.00

The night song had diminishing social resonance and power to evoke feelings, so Dylan took what seems in retrospect a logical step. He took the longing caused by ineradicable memories of the symbolic woman, and made a metaphysical dilemma out of it.

               (‘Songs of Transcendence’)

[…] his visionary imagination produced a trilogy of songs united by the theme of transcendence: ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ Desolation Row,’ and ‘Visions of Johanna.’ These songs have a remarkably consistent pattern when we think of them as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It is only a moderate exaggeration to say that everything that he wrote before those three songs led up to them, and that everything that he wrote after them followed them in one way or another.

               (‘Songs of Transcendence’)

As is nearly always the case whenever one reads a new book on Bob Dylan, one normally comes away with an entirely new angle; or at least having learnt something new about his extraordinary song-writing ability and all-round towering technique. Decoding Dylan – Making Sense of the Songs That Changed Modern Culture is no exception.

The second of the above two quotes (alone) will, or could, undoubtedly trigger an avalanche of seemingly dense debate among Dylan aficionados.

To be sure, it almost reads like that of a university assignment, with the only things missing being a question mark at the end of the quote itself, immediately followed by the word: Discuss. So, calling all Dylanologists: feel free to respond.

Moreover, like every good university literary assignment, Jim Curtis does much to substantiate his thinking when he writes: ”No matter what creed Dylan has taken up, be it social activism in the 1960’s or Judaism and then Christianity in the 1970’s, sooner or later his restless psyche wants to transcend the limitations of the creed in question. That pattern suggests that he cannot remain satisfied for long with any particular set of beliefs, since he has a spiritual restlessness that will be satisfied only with transcendence itself.

Naturally, this is not what Dylan thought he was doing in 1962 and 1963, or even in 1966. He did not set out to write a cycle of songs about transcendence any more than Picasso had set out to invent Cubism in Paris some 60 years earlier. Creativity is rarely, if ever, a matter of conscious intention. It would seem that creativity has a mind of its own, so to speak. We can now make sense of what he did because we have had lots of time to think about it. We know what came before Dylan, and what came after him, and that knowledge makes the patterns of creativity clearer and more identifiable. And these patterns allow us to decode his mysterious songs.’’

To my mind, the word ‘decode’ might be considered somewhat questionable or off-putting to varying degrees; as to spend time decoding Dylan, surely misses the point?

Misses the point within the context of his vision and the actual art itself.

That said, from a purely wanting to find out more perspective, there’s clearly a great deal of idiosyncratic inspiration to be gleaned from the (trivial) pursuit of decoding. Not to mention analysis. As one can go on forever. And ever.

This is what essentially accounts for Decoding Dylan being such an invigorating read; as it highlights so many aspects of the songwriter’s work that one wouldn’t normally think of.

For instance: Dylan’s fascination with Chagall has a larger meaning as well. Although Dylan had grown up on popular music, soon after he got to New York he abandoned the widespread notion common in America that popular culture is exciting and high culture is boring. In his music, he is primarily interested in popular culture, whereas in literature and painting he is primarily interested in high culture. Nevertheless, he would never say that high culture is better than popular culture, or vice versa. I emphasize this point because none of Dylan’s political opinions in the early 1960s were even remotely as radical and subversive as his acceptance of, and respect for, both high culture and popular culture’’ (‘Bob Dylan’).

Given much of the above, each of this book’s eight chapters are as informative as they are challenging (the seventh, ‘Dylan and Springsteen’ in particular).
Hence it being such an imperative read.

David Marx

 

Attlee and Churchill

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Attlee and Churchill –
Allies in War, Adversaries in Peace
By Leo McKinstry
Atlantic Books – £25.00

Churchill is universally regarded as Britain’s greatest wartime Leader, his name revered throughout the world. Attlee is at the end of the pantheon of Labour giants, eclipsing other Leaders like Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. In a public poll conducted by the BBC in 2002, Churchill was voted the greatest Briton in history. Two years later, in a survey of historians and political scientists, Attlee was voted the greatest Prime Minister of the twentieth century.

               (‘Westminster Hall’)

In Downing Street there is a leader. Mr Churchill needs a Chairman for the humdrum, essential work of government [..] The Deputy Prime Minister is, in these offices, the first-class captain of a first-class cricket side who is not himself a headliner. He is a political catalyst. The historians will give Clem Attlee his due, even under the shadow of Churchill, for he too is an English worthy, though not a Great One.

               (‘Downing Street’)

Herein, top-notch historian Leo McKinstry has written what many consider to be something of a ground-breaking and altogether revealing portrait of two of the most highly influential, yet different politicians Britain has ever produced: Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill.

Utterly diverse, totally polar and oddly idiosyncratic in their own unique ways (Churchill especially), Attlee and Churchill – Allies in War, Adversaries in Peace traverses the pedestal upon which Churchill remains to this day – unquestionably substantiated by the opening quote – and the impeccable modesty for which Attlee was and remains forever renowned. In the chapter ‘Fulton and Zurich’ for instance, the author quotes Harold Truman who once told Churchill: ‘’’’Clement Attlee came to see me the other day. He struck me as a very modest man,’’ to which Churchill delivered his memorable reply: ‘’He has much to be modest about.’’’’

Such classic one-liners punctuate this book throughout, which, given the fact that we are talking about Winston Churchill, really ought not be surprising. That said, there’s the also the odd one or two memorable one liner from Attlee, such as the following within the same chapter: ‘’Can’t trust the Europeans. They don’t play cricket.’’

Anchored in extensive research and revelatory archival material, Attlee and Churchill (‘’A masterpiece’’ according to Frederick Forsyth) reveals an array of fundamental new insights into the two Leaders remarkable relationship. Remarkable, perhaps being the operative here, for not only were they on complete opposite sides of the fence politically, they categorically led the country in tandem throughout the Second World War.

Surely one of the most trying of times in British history.

Lest we forget they were at the helm of their respective parties for a total of thirty-five years; during which time they forged and maintained a partnership that really did transcend party lines. Until 1945 that is, when each other’s utterly opposing dogmas fundamentally went head to head – nigh all of which is both categorically and coherently captured amid these 632 pages (excluding a list of Illustrations, Acknowledgments, Endnotes, Bibliography, Articles, Broadcasts and Lectures and Index).

To fully quote the aforementioned Forsyth: ‘’In this superb biography Leo McKinstry brilliantly describes both men, what they did and how they reacted to each other… Most of us know quite a lot about Churchill. Attlee, calm, soft-spoken, an MC-winner in World War I, self-effacing, remains for many a forgotten man. Until now…’’

Indeed, to only partially substantiate the latter in relation to Attlee, the author could just as well be writing of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London when he writes: ‘’He learned that middle-class charity could be condescending, that competition could translate into sweated labour, that the East End working-class were more inclined towards generosity than thrift, that the slums were full not of the dregs of society but of decent people who had been denied fair opportunities. ‘From there it was only a small step to examining the whole basis of our social and economic system,’ he said. The seeds of his socialism had been sown’’ (‘Lancashire and Stepney’).

Hence, Attlee’s very considerable implementation of immense social changes (which included the introduction of the NHS and the Social Security System) upon Labour winning the 1945 General Election.

Written in three prime parts: Contenders, Comrades and Competitors, McKinstry’s writing is simultaneously revelatory, daring, beguiling and insightful. In fact, Attlee and Churchill – Allies in War, Adversaries in Peace is one of those books that inadvertently draws the reader unto places neither expected nor envisioned.

Although by the book’s end, one cannot help but feel refreshingly informed.

David Marx

 

Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969

Dylan-for-website

Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969
By Bill Bradshaw
Medina Publishing – £12.95

It was the last year of the decade, the 1960’s were coming to an end. What a decade! There is a decent argument to be made that the world in which we now live was shaped in that narrow window of time. It was the decade Britain finally shrugged off the monochrome hangover of World War Two; a decade of immense social change and of the counter- culture; the decade of Vietnam, political assassinations and protest.

Help Bob Dylan sink the Isle of Wight on august 31st

With so many varying aspects of Bob Dylan’s more than illustrious career (a most profound understatement), it might be easy to overlook the enormous impact of his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival which took place just over fifty years ago.

Until now that is.

As the publication of Bill Bradshaw’s Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969 brings it all back home; with Julie Felix (of all people) immediately reminding us in the book’s Introduction: ”The second Isle of Wight Festival of Music, 31 August 1969…and I was there. It was Sunday and I had been asked to perform on the same bill, on the same day, as Bob Dylan. There were people as far as the eye could see, it was surreal to just look out and not be able to see where the crowd ended.”

Moreover, along with said Introduction, it is this book’s many quotes, anecdotes and colour photographs that account for it being such an inviting pleasure to both read and behold.

For instance, the many ‘I was there’ sections (in bright yellow pages) make for more than entertaining reading; whilst the regularity of The Who appearing throughout is a further reminder of just what a momentous, one-off occasion the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival was. Especially the altogether terrific photo of Pete Townshend (on page 67) taken from the back of the stage, with the guitarist mid-flight – looking out into the truly vast crowd.

Then of course, there’s the inclusion of the two Melody Maker front covers featuring Dylan, not to mention the informative following that rather substantiates the book’s title:

”The set duly unfolded, and it’s been suggested the songs formed a mixture of rebukes from Dylan interspersed with love songs and ballads; bitter medicine followed by spoonfuls of sugar. The new delivery style was appreciated by many, but loathed by others weaned on his earlier rebellious style. Three of the 17 songs he would perform had not been released on record and the remaining 14 were culled from all but the first two of his nine studio albums […]. The clock was turned forward three years now to another Dylan era and the John Wesley Harding album of 1967. ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’ was now showcased for the first time live, anywhere. Here was the real evidence of the shift Dylan had made while in his post-accident Woodstock seclusion. The song demonstrated his push away from the earlier, edgy content and style. Now the sound was more country-rock, more melodious and the lyrics less strident with theological overtones – witness ‘St Augustine’ […]. Dylan conjured up major figures – God, Abraham and Isaac – and plonked them down on a highway route he knew from his home state, Minnesota, and he did so here with much of the plugged-in verve that accompanied its first release. Here was dramatic poetry posted against a juke-box jive (‘I Want To Feel Exalted’).

Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969 is something of a must for any Dylan devotee. It’s words and photos go some way in capturing essence of the event itself, not to mention another era in the kaleidoscopic career of Sir Bob himself.

David Marx