Monday, 23 January 2017

Maggie Roche RIP

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Maggie Roche, Who Harmonized With Her Singing Sisters, Dies at 65

Jon Pareles
The New York Times
21 January 2017

Maggie Roche, the songwriter whose serene alto anchored the close harmonies of the Roches, her trio with her sisters, Terre and Suzzy, died on Saturday. She was 65.

Suzzy Roche said in a statement that the cause was breast cancer. She did not say where her sister died.

“She was a private person, too sensitive and shy for this world, but brimming with life, love, and talent,” Suzzy Roche wrote on the Roches’ Facebook page. “She was smart, wickedly funny, and authentic — not a false bone in her body — a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.”

Ms. Roche developed a pop-folk songwriting style that could be droll or diaristic, full of unexpected melodic turns and often inseparable from the way the sisters’ voices harmonized and diverged.

On albums from the early 1970s into the 2000s, her songs chronicled a woman’s life from early stirrings of independence (“The Hammond Song”) and amorous entanglements (“The Married Men”) to thoughts on longtime connection (“Can We Go Home Now”). They often mixed heartfelt revelations and flinty punch lines.

In “Broken Places,” recorded on a 2004 duo album with Suzzy, she sang:

I love you for all of this
Struggling towards happiness
When the chips are down we play our aces
Hiding them in our broken places.

With the Roches, and in duos with each of her sisters, she released more than a dozen albums. The Roches never had a major hit but maintained a devoted following. They shrugged off disappointments in “Big Nuthin’,” a song the three of them wrote together.

“We’d like to make a million dollars and be set for life,” Maggie Roche told The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “We’ve been lucky, though. We have a career, and that is a gift. I guess I want things to be easy, but that’s not the way it is.”

Margaret Roche was born on Oct. 26, 1951, and grew up in Park Ridge, N.J. She and her two younger sisters sang in Roman Catholic church choirs, and she started writing songs after getting a guitar for her birthday in 1964. She and Terre formed a duo, performing at first for Democratic Party fund-raisers in New Jersey.

They attended a songwriting seminar given by Paul Simon at New York University in 1970, and he had them sing harmony on his 1972 album,“There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.”

Mr. Simon signed them to a production company he had formed for young musicians, and he was also among the producers of Maggie and Terre Roche’s album “Seductive Reasoning,” released by Columbia in 1975.

Suzzy Roche joined her sisters in 1976 and, as a trio, the Roches became a local sensation at clubs in Greenwich Village. One of their onstage favorites was a snappy three-part-harmony version of the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Their debut album, “The Roches,” released in 1979, was produced by Robert Fripp of the band King Crimson. It included “The Married Men,” which was also later recorded by Phoebe Snow.

Despite modest sales, the Roches persisted, making albums for Warner Bros. and, later, MCA and Rykodisc. Their songs appeared in the soundtrack to the 1988 film “Crossing Delancey” (in which Suzzy Roche appeared); in 1991, they provided the voices for a trio of animated cockroaches on an episode of the Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon series “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

The Roches released a Christmas album, “We Three Kings,” in 1990, and a children’s album, “Will You Be My Friend?,” in 1994. The trio disbanded after the release of “Can We Go Home Now?” in 1995, but Maggie and Suzzy Roche recorded albums as a duo in 2002 and 2004, and the Roches released a final trio album, “Moonswept,” in 2007.

In addition to her two sisters, Ms. Roche is survived by her partner, Michael McCarthy; her mother, Jude Roche; her brother, David, also a singer and songwriter; and her son, Ed McTeigue.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

It's National Roy Wood Day...

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And to celebrate it, here's an interview with Uncle Roy from just over a couple of years back:

The 'new' album still hasn't materialised...

And here's the man in action with early ELO:

And solo:

With The Move:

Friday, 20 January 2017

Dead Poets Society #23

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Disregard by Ai Ogawa

Overhead, the match burns out,
but the chunk of ice in the back seat
keeps melting from imagined heat,
while the old Hudson tiptoes up the slope.
My voile blouse, so wet it is transparent,
like one frightened hand, clutches my chest.
The bag of rock salt sprawled beside me wakes, thirsty
and stretches a shaky tongue toward the ice.

I press the gas pedal hard.
I'll get back to the house, the dirt yard, the cesspool,
to you out back, digging a well
you could fill with your sweat,
though there is not one reason I should want to.
You never notice me until the end of the day,
when your hand is on my knee
and the ice cream, cooked to broth,
is hot enough to burn the skin off my touch.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Laurel and Hardy tour Britain

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Stan and Ollie arrive in Coventry, 1947

Laurel and Hardy on Tour

Here's a great little programme about Laurel and Hardy's European tours between 1932 and 1954. Only 29 days to listen to it from today, however, so be quick...

Comedy writer and historian Glenn Mitchell examines the impact Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had during their various tours of Europe between 1932 and 1954.

By 1932, Laurel and Hardy had been a team for five years. After completing their second film and another of their short comedies, they decided it was time for a holiday. Stan wanted to visit his native England, while Ollie was keen to try out the golf courses in Scotland. However, before they set sail from the United States they were mobbed by adoring fans and hundreds more welcomed them in Britain.

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In Blackpool, 1932

This response prompted their producer Hal Roach, and his distributor MGM, to turn their visit into a whistle-stop tour. 'We came to Britain on vacation', said Stan, 'but it turned out to be the hardest work we've ever had in our lives'.

Laurel and Hardy made three return trips to Europe between 1947 and 1954. Their subsequent filmed greeting to The Water Rats in 1955 turned out to be their last public engagement together.

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With the staff of The Grand Hotel, Tynemouth

Glenn Mitchell is, of course, the writer of The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia, something which no fan should be without: - although the earlier edition is by far the better produced book.

He is also responsible for the equally good Marx Brothers Encyclopedia

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Gene Cernan - The Last Man on the Moon RIP

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Gene Cernan obituary
American astronaut who was the last human being to walk on the moon

Nigel Fountain
The Guardian
Tuesday 17 January 2017

At 1.54pm on 11 December 1972, Gene Cernan piloted Challenger, Apollo 17’s lunar module, into the Taurus-Littrow valley, near the Sea of Serenity, on the surface of the moon. In later years Cernan, who has died aged 82, would describe the valley where he had landed accompanied by the geologist Jack Schmitt as “our own private little Camelot”.

Three days later, having travelled to such locations as the Sculptured Hills, and the Van Serg and Sherlock craters, the astronauts prepared to leave. Cernan marked out his daughter Teresa’s initials in the dust, where they remain. Before climbing back into the lunar module, he paused and spoke to Mission Control back in Houston: “As we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”

In the intervening years, God, or at least the US government, has been decidedly unwilling. To the dismay of astronauts such as Cernan, who labelled it a “slide to mediocrity”, and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, who jointly appealed to President Barack Obama in 2010, Cernan remains the last human being to have trodden on the surface of the moon. “It was perhaps the brightest moment of my life, and I can’t go back,” he said. “I am one of only 12 human beings to have stood on the moon. I have come to accept that, and the enormous responsibility it carries, but as for finding a suitable encore, nothing has ever come close.”

By the time he made the moon landing, Cernan was already a seasoned space explorer. In May 1969 he had been a crew member, flying low over the lunar surface in the LMlunar module, when Apollo 10 conducted the dress rehearsal for Armstrong and the first moon landing.

In May 1966 he accompanied Tom Stafford on the Gemini 9 mission, which entailed an extraordinarily hazardous space walk with Cernan, 185 miles above the Earth’s surface, entangled in his equipment. Back on Earth, Stafford recounted that Cernan had asked him if he would have left him marooned in space. Stafford told him: “How could you give a shit? You’re already dead.”

Cernan’s roots were in central Europe. His mother, Rose (nee Cihlar), was of Czech ancestry and the family of his father, Andrew, a supervisor at a naval installation, were Slovak. Gene was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in the towns of Maywood and Bellwood, west of Chicago. He left Proviso East High School, Maywood, in 1952 and studied electrical engineering at Purdue University, Indiana. Coincidentally, both Cernan and Armstrong were Purdue graduates.

While at university, Cernan had joined the US Navy’s officer training corps, aiming for a commission in the naval reserves, which he got in 1956. By 1958 he was a naval flier, posted to Miramar, California – later to be known as the “Topgun” air station – and piloted FJ4 Fury and A4 Skyhawk subsonic fighters. Then, in 1963, he completed his training with a master’s in aeronautical engineering from the naval postgraduate school in Monterey, California. It was a CV that made him an obvious candidate for the space programme.

The military and civil competition between the US and the Soviet Union, which had seen the latter put the first satellite into space, and in 1961 the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit, crystallised when, on 25 May that year, President John F Kennedy pledged that the US would conduct a successful moon landing by 1970. The Mercury programme was about getting an astronaut into orbit – a task first accomplished by John Glenn in early 1962. The second stage was Gemini – developing the technology to prepare for a moon landing. The third, Apollo, was about going to the moon. In 1959 the “Mercury Seven” became the first US astronaut team, and Cernan was subsequently inspired by Alan Shepard, the first American in space – albeit for a mere 15 minutes. In October 1963 Nasa accepted Cernan as a trainee astronaut.

After the Apollo 17 mission, Cernan was part of the team on the Apollo-Soyuz project that brought the cold war rivals together in space. In 1976 he quit Nasa and became an oil executive in Houston, Texas. Later he founded a consultancy specialising in energy and aerospace and chaired the Johnson Engineering Corporation (1994-2000). Cernan never severed his links with science and space, and was employed by ABC-TV as a commentator on issues around the space programme.

In 1999 he published, with Don Davis, his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, and last year a documentary of the same name went on general release.

Cernan is survived by his second wife, Jan Nanna, and by his daughter, Teresa, from his first marriage, to Barbara (nee Atchley), which ended in divorce.

• Eugene Andrew Cernan, astronaut, engineer and pilot, born 14 March 1934; died 16 January 2017

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Moonglow by Michael Chabon - review

Michael Chabon Returns With a Searching Family Saga
By Michael Chabon
430 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers.

A. O. Scott
The New York Times
18 November 2016

Michael Chabon’s new book is described on the title page as “a novel,” in an author’s note as a “memoir” and in the acknowledgments as a “pack of lies.” This is neither as confusing nor as devious as it might sound, since “Moonglow” is less a self-conscious postmodern high-wire act than an easygoing hybrid of forms. Chabon has what sounds like a mostly true story to tell — about characters whose only names are “my grandmother” and “my grandfather,” and also about mental illness, snake hunting, the Holocaust and rocket science — and he may not have wanted to be bound too tightly by the constraints of literal accuracy in telling it.

At the same time, he has shaken loose the formal conventions of fiction, liberating himself in particular from the tyranny of plot. In his previous books, Chabon has always shown great skill at operating the novelistic machinery of cause and effect, foreshadowing and surprise, especially in semi-fabulist confections like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” But in more realistic books the humming of those narrative engines can sometimes drown out the interesting cacophony of life. For me, that was the case in “Telegraph Avenue,” a well-observed slice of gentrifying urban life clogged with a bit too much Dickensian contrivance to work as well as it should have.

“Moonglow,” in happy contrast, wanders where it will, framing a series of chronologically disordered episodes from the past with conversations involving the narrator (who never tries to persuade us that he is anyone other than Michael Chabon) and various kinfolk, principally his mother and grandfather. This isn’t to say that the book lacks structure, but rather that its structure is determined by the logic of memory, and that the author has resisted the urge to do too much tidying and streamlining. The action zigzags across time and geography — from Germany in the last days of World War II through a grab bag of American locations in the decades after — with blithe indifference to the usual rules of linearity or narrative economy. A sensational and tragic revelation that might have been at the volcanic center of a more familiar kind of book is disclosed almost in passing. There are moments at which you can feel the irresistible temptation to embellish and invent, to infuse reality with Chabonesque touches of wistful Jewish magic realism, being resisted.

But not entirely. “After I’m gone, write it down,” Chabon’s grandfather instructs him. “Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours. Put the whole thing in proper chronological order, not like this mishmash I’m making you.” “Moonglow” both obeys these instructions and rebels against them, preserving the mishmash and mixing in generous dollops of meaning, a sprinkling of fancy metaphors and an abundance of beautiful sentences so that it becomes a rich and exotic confection. Too strict a recipe would have spoiled the charm of this layer cake of nested memories and family legends, which have been arranged with painstaking haphazardness.

Mementos, curios and old photographs figure prominently, as evidence of past actions and symbols of their hidden significance. Through these objects, recollected dialogue and his own powers of speculation, Chabon constructs a loving, partial portrait of an unlikely, volatile and durable marriage. At a synagogue gala in Baltimore in 1947, an irascible veteran from Philadelphia meets a melancholy refugee from France with a fetching accent, a young daughter and a concentration camp tattoo. The daughter will be Chabon’s mother. His scapegrace father, whom readers of “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” will recognize, makes a few brief appearances later on, but this book dwells mainly on the mysteries of the maternal line.

The union of Chabon’s grandparents is disrupted by hospitalizations and imprisonment. His grandmother, who grew up near a tannery in Lille, is haunted by visions of a “skinless horse,” a monstrous creature that seems to embody the unspeakable, intimate horrors of Nazism. Her delusions test her husband’s patience, but they also illuminate his loyalty and ardor. A tough man whose temper is hot enough to bring him close to murdering an employer (which earns him 20 months in a New York State prison), he is guided by ethical instincts that seem to him as inarguable as the laws of physics. Promises must be kept, bullies must be brought down, hypocrites must be exposed, and the weak must be protected. He is stubborn and chivalrous, blunt and generous, physically brave and intellectually nimble.

In literary terms, Chabon’s grandfather might be the humbler cousin of Swede Levov, Philip Roth’s tragic paragon of American Jewish manhood from “American Pastoral.” He occupies a similar mid-Atlantic, rapidly assimilating geographical and cultural space and embodies similar secular Jewish virtues. But the book, rather than witnessing his fall, elevates him. It’s not a chronicle of filial revenge; it’s a grandchild’s testament of wonder and devotion. Grandpa chases the Nazi rocket-builder Wernher von Braun in Germany at the end of the war and stalks a pet-killing reptile in a Florida retirement community many years later. Fascinated by space travel, he designs rockets, builds a model moon base and drives for hours to watch the shuttle launch.

Grandma, meanwhile, fascinates young Michael with her old-world mannerisms and her witchy association with tarot cards, scary puppets and haunting tales. “Almost 50 years later I still remember some of her stories,” Chabon writes. “Bits of them have consciously and unconsciously found their way into my work.” And this book, a love letter to two temperamentally opposite grandparents — one a rational, practical American, the other a dreamy, romantic European — is also an account of their formative influences on the writer their grandson would become.

These are not so much explained as felt, woven into the very fabric of Chabon’s supple and resourceful prose. He brings the world of his grandparents to life in language that seems to partake of their essences. When he describes an asylum pageant staged by his grandmother, the feverish poetry of the images seems like the product of her tormented, enchanted consciousness: “Darkness falls over the field of clover, dawn breaks on the moon. Jagged moon mountains glow cool and silvery blue in the background as the bee herder, hatchet restored, strolls along unfazed by his new surroundings. He passes silver moon trees like the skeletons of cacti.”

This fantastical landscape coexists with an all-too-real one — a blasted German town described in the precise, engineer’s language of the grandfather: “The stray 88 had knocked the square tower off the shoulders of St. Dominic’s Church. The beams holding up the roof, which was clad in metal, had collapsed and caught fire. In their collapse, the roof beams had formed a kind of bowl or funnel into which the metal roof, now a molten pool, had poured. The glowing drizzle had burned a hole in the sandstone floor, then flowed through to fill the crypt. What missed the hole spread in ripples across the floor, setting fire to everything it touched that was not made of stone.”

Whatever else it is — a novel, a memoir, a pack of lies, a mishmash — this book is beautiful.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Laszlo Torday - Photographs of Newcastle

Laszlo Torday (originally Tordai), who emigrated from Hungary to Tynemouth in 1940, was a chemical engineer and industrialist who took thousands of photographs of the centre of Newcastle and the suburbs of High Heaton,  Heaton, Byker and Jesmond in the 1960s and 1970s. His images have been bought and digitised by Newcastle City Libraries and are avilable here:

He is the father, I believe, of Paul Torday, the late novelist known particularly for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

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Bigg Market and old town hall. Remember the zoo?

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High Bridge, 1970

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The Side

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Northumberland Street

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High Friar Street

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Blackett Street

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Nelson Street

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Northumberland Street

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Fenwick's, Blackett Street

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Swing Bridge

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High Bridge

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Grey Street/High Bridge

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Grainger Marker

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Handyside Arcade

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Grainger Market

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Bigg Market

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Groat Market