BOOK REVIEW: JOHNNY MARR – SET THE BOY FREE

autobiography

 

Here’s Johnny! For years Johnny Marr has created great music and influenced multiple generations of guitarists by wearing various musical hats. Set The Boy Free is the first time the former guitarist of The Smiths has committed the story of his life to paper. This book is a cracking read and it proves that Marr is one charming man, indeed.

Johnny Marr was born John Martin Maher to two young, Irish immigrants in Manchester in 1963. At the age of five he got his first guitar and he grew up to be a lad that was obsessed with music and clothes. As a teenager he would work at a few different clothing shops while he toyed with the idea of forming a band.

In 1982 Marr tracked down Steven Morrissey, whom he’d met through a mutual friend some years earlier. This meeting marked the beginning of a chaotic and important few years where The Smiths would release four studio albums and numerous hit singles. The group helped revitalise interest in guitar rock and independent music in England and their songs are anthems that continue to get played to this day. This period makes up a significant portion of Marr’s book, although he does tend to gloss over the band’s rather acrimonious break-up.

Marr sounds like the quintessential English gentleman in this book. He also sounds like a wonderful and affable chap that you’d love to have a beer with (or an orange juice, as he is now a marathon-running teetotaller and vegan). Unlike Morrissey’s more bitter and cynical, Autobiography, Marr’s story is instead one that is filled with a kind of romantic and misty-eyed optimism. When Marr does tackle a difficult subject like the lawsuit brought against himself and Morrissey by his former Smiths-bandmate, Mike Joyce, he gives the story short shrift, instead choosing to focus his words on sunnier things like music and songwriting. (Although in a curious twist, Marr does say that he met up with Morrissey in 2008 and that they discussed the possibility of a Smiths reunion but that this did not eventuate into anything).

This autobiography may take a positive stance towards things but this could be due to the fact that Marr realises that he has a lot to be thankful for. He met his wife, Angie when he was 15 and the pair remain happily married and together to this day. He’s the father to a grown-up son and daughter, Nile and Sonny, and there was a period where Marr and Morrissey’s friendship was a close and happy one. These elements of Marr’s memoir do not prevent him from being frank and honest at other points. Marr admits that he told a journalist he didn’t like Michael’s Jackson’s Thriller album and he describes the Twitter storm that erupted after he forbade David Cameron, the then Prime Minister of Britain from being (or claiming to be) a Smiths fan.

This book is not the most polished one in a literary sense but it is all of Marr’s own work and it is a fun and easy read. Marr is friends with and has collaborated with lots of people. There are stories involving no less than: Hans Zimmer, Paul McCartney, Neil Finn, The The, Talking Heads, The Cribs, Modest Mouse and Electronic, to name a few. Marr has a great anecdote about the time he discussed some important things with the former Beatle that’s worth the price of admission alone. Marr’s stories are interesting to read and are often filled with great advice and wisdom. For example, Marr received some advice from a teacher when he was a school boy and that was: to find something he liked, be good at it and be an artist rather than getting bored or in trouble. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it with the benefit of hindsight.

Set The Boy Free is a must-read for any self-respecting fan of The Smiths. It is Johnny Marr’s direct and grounded account of a wonderful life in music and his forays into the world of fashion. This rock autobiography is a romantic story from an energetic and enigmatic Englishman who isn’t content to just sit back on his laurels. Johnny Marr wants to continue making great music and he’s revved up by fans who know that in Messer Marr there is most certainly a light that never goes out.

Originally published on 23 January 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/books/book-review-johnny-marrs-set-the-boy-free-is-an-honest-fun-look-at-the-energetic-life-of-the-former-smiths-guitarist-and-quintessential-english-gentleman/

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BOOK REVIEW: BRIAN WILSON & BEN GREENMAN – I AM BRIAN WILSON

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God only knows where pop music would be without Brian Wilson. The genius writer of many of The Beach Boys greatest hits has had a profound effect on popular culture. I Am Brian Wilson (his second autobiography; his first was published in the nineties) is a complex and forthright account of his life in music.

This book is written by Wilson along with Ben Greenman. It’s a story they claim is about music, family, love and mental illness. Wilson is often quite candid about his troubles whether it be his former drug-taking, the schizophrenic voices he hears in his head, the panic attack he experienced before a plane ride in 1964 or the major depressive episodes he has experienced over the years and the “treatment” he received by a domineering, quack psychologist by the name of Eugene Landy.

I Am Brian Wilson jumps around in time and it is by no means a comprehensive or linear account of his life. Instead, thoughts and ideas are weaved together based on themes and it doesn’t matter to Wilson that one event may have taken place in the sixties and the next memory may have taken place today. In this respect it’s an honest and chaotically-human piece. You also get the sense that you could imagine Uncle Brian in his armchair (a place he calls “the command centre”) recounting all of this to you. Or you could imagine Wilson sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch and doing the same thing. This is all deeply personal and often quite heart-wrenching stuff.

Wilson’s prose has a very gentle and familiar quality that often feels quite childlike too. He describes the famous people he knows rather casually and often with little introduction (for example: Paul McCartney is referred to as “Pablo” while Bob Dylan is met in an emergency department). I Am Wilson goes into some detail about the artist’s upbringing with his late brothers and bandmates Carl and Dennis Wilson and the abuse they experienced at the hands of their abusive and authoritarian father, Murry. Friend, Al Jardine and cousin, Mike Love (the other original members of The Beach Boys) are also described but the latter is painted as a stubborn, opinionated and litigious bad guy who had his own idea about what The Beach Boys should be and this was often incongruous to what Wilson believed.

Some of the anecdotes in this autobiography are worth the price of admission alone. Wilson’s description of meeting The Eagles’ Don Henley is particularly hilarious. There’s also the fact that Wilson once asked Bono for a diet coke, which proves pretty funny. But I Am Wilson is not just about silly little throwaway moments, this book also has real heart. Wilson describes his first marriage to Marilyn Rovell and the births of his biological daughters, Carnie and Wendy. Wilson acknowledges that he was an absent father but this is not the case with his current wife Melinda Ledbetter and their five adopted kids. Wilson gets rather misty-eyed when talking about Melinda because he claims she saved him from self-destruction (and this story is one that is told in the film, Love & Mercy).

This book also includes an in-depth look at Wilson’s song-writing and lots of his views and reflections on music. Wilson admits to being influenced by Phil Spector and The Beatles and is honoured that McCartney counts “God Only Knows” as one of his favourite songs. This memoir is ultimately a forthright look at music-making with Wilson describing his bands past and present as well as his work with session musicians, The Wrecking Crew. All of these things mean that this autobiography is essential reading for fans of The Beach Boys and Mr Wilson in particular.

I Am Brian Wilson is a multi-faceted look at the troubled virtuoso artist and Beach Boy. This memoir is also released at around the same time as Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love releases his own autobiography. The two will have different views on their lives as California boys singing about cars, surfing, girls and the sun but one things for certain, Brian Wilson’s brutal honesty ensures that his story has a modest and sensitive charm. This ultimately means that Wilson’s autobiography is a brilliant read and one that should make you stop and smile.

Originally published on 15 January 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-i-am-brian-wilson-is-a-charming-music-memoir-guaranteed-to-make-you-smile/

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DVD REVIEW: I AM JOHNNY CASH

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A lot of people would be familiar with Johnny Cash’s life and music thanks to the biopic, Walk the Line. But I Am Johnny Cash is a documentary about the late man in black that manages to be a great watch and offers us some more information about this iconic singer-songwriter. I Am Johnny Cash is not a comprehensive or definitive film but it is an entertaining look at his life and legacy as his family, friends and famous fans gather together to look back and describe Cash’s life in an honest and frank way.

Derik Murray and Jordan Tappis direct this documentary and frame the story around a number of Cash’s famous songs including “Cry Cry Cry,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line” and “San Quentin.” It begins by describing how Cash’s mother would sing gospel songs in order to escape the drudgery of working in the cotton fields. It also talks about Cash’s fractured relationship with his father and it was one that suffered a terrible blow when Cash’s brother Jack passed away following an accident at the age of 15. This death was something that left an indelible scar on Johnny.

This documentary is forthright in describing the good and bad times in Cash’s career and saves the viewer from having to watch a hagiography. There’s Cash’s first marriage to Vivian Liberto and the births of his daughters as well as his long absences away from home after he began having success in music. There was also his amphetamine addiction and the career downfall he suffered in his twilight years. There is also lots of footage with Cash and his second wife, June Carter Cash. It was a marriage that lasted the long haul because the pair were like soul mates, so much so that even Cash’s daughter Rosanne admits that she could understand the reason why things worked out between her father and step-mother.

The film includes a number of black and white photographs as well as archive footage, including videos from Cash’s television series, The Johnny Cash Show. The latter sees Cash interviewing famous celebrities like Bob Dylan (the pair would record a duet together) as well as Joni Mitchell and Ray Charles. This documentary also includes a number of talking head interviews with Cash’s contemporaries, collaborators and famous fans including: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp and Eric Church, to name a few.

I Am Johnny Cash is a celebration of one complex and mysterious artist. This film manages to describe some key elements from his life but there was also some room for further discussion and exploration. The film features lots of Cash’s music and it is an honest portrayal of an anti-authoritarian, political songwriter and a charming, larger-than-life character who really was an all-American hero.

Originally published on 7 January 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/johnny-cash-dvd-review/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: SING STREET

singst

 

Sing Street is a feel-good musical about the in-between days found nestled between childhood and adulthood. The film is an optimistic one set in Dublin in the 1980s. It was a halcyon time in the post-punk era where a kid could start a band by picking up an instrument and people across the world were falling in love with and saying they wanted their MTV! much like this film- it was a colourful time indeed.

This story is a semi-autobiographical one by writer and director, John Carney. The latter is no stranger to the world of music as he was formerly a member of Glen Hansard’s group, The Frames and the pair had a hit film in 2006 with Once. Carney is almost like an Irish Cameron Crowe here because Sing Street certainly has some things in common with “Almost Famous” even if the protagonist in this film is an aspiring musician rather than a rock journalist.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as Conor, an idealistic dreamer and sensitive, arty kid. Conor’s parents are suffering from money problems and the disintegration of their marriage. To save money, Conor is moved from his elite private school to a Christian Brothers one. This move means that Conor is sometimes subjected to abuse and taunts by the local bully and a mean-spirited teacher/brother.

Conor meets the gorgeous, aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) but he realises she is more worldlier than he is and that she is also out of his league. In order to impress the girl Conor decides he will form a band with a ragtag group of misfits he has befriended at school. Conor’s brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) is a stoner and music fan who serves as his brother’s musical mentor much like Zooey Deschanel was when she coached her on-screen brother William in Almost Famous. The soundtrack is also excellent with the likes of The Cure, Hall & Oates and A-HA featuring quite prominently.

The band make big strides writing their own songs and producing their own music videos. Their sound is a kind of teen angst-fuelled pop one that is influenced by the music and looks of the time including new wave and the romantics. The young actors all put in excellent performances in Sing Street with Conor quite often resembling a young Robert Smith of The Cure fame. Boynton and Walsh-Peelo also share a noteworthy chemistry as young lovers. The special features are satisfactory and include a few making of featurettes with Carny as well as Adam Levine plus videos of the cast auditions.

Sing Street is an exuberant romp and dramedy that is cut from the same cloth as one of John Hughes’ coming-of-age stories. The film is like a love letter to the craft of song writing and the characters are so darned likeable that you will be rooting for them all to succeed and hit the charts sometime soon. Sing Street is ultimately an accessible, multi-faceted story that is so fun to watch it will leave you singing its praises.

Originally published on 28 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/sing-street-blu-ray-review/

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DVD REVIEW: GRAFFITI BRIDGE

graffiti-bridge

 

The late, great Prince was an undisputed, musical genius. But this same praise cannot be said about his filmmaking skills. Graffiti Bridge was considered a kind of sequel to the film, Purple Rain, but it was a disaster at the box office and as a story because it is an incoherent mess of clichés about love, life, music and spirituality.

For Graffiti Bridge Prince wore several hats including lead actor (reprising his Purple Rain role as The Kid) as well as director, writer and soundtrack composer. The film is a Prince machine in every sense of the word but it is obvious from the results that the Purple One was a little out of his depth because it is little more than a mess of different and competing ideas.

The story goes that the owner of the Glam Slam, Billy has passed away and left his nightclub to be divided equally between The Kid and the former one’s old foe, Morris Day (himself.) The pair have a bet to decide who will take over the ownership of the club. Over the course of the film there are some strange moments like Day urinating on a pot plant before setting it on fire. There is also a bizarre love triangle between these two men and a kind of higher force or angel named Aura (Ingrid Chavez.)

Purple Rain was a success because Prince handed over the reins to Albert Magnoli and William Blinn in the writing department and to the former for the directing. The soundtrack to Purple Rain was also Prince’s best album but Graffiti Bridge has none of these things going for it. The songs are adequate, although the spiritual ballad seems sanctimonious. The plot is also flimsy at best and at its worst seems like nothing more than an extended music video clip.

Graffiti Bridge does have Morris fronting Prince’s pseudo-group, The Time as well as cameos by Mavis Staples, George Clinton and Tevin Campbell. It is also obvious that Prince had good intentions for this film in trying to explore his spirituality, sexuality and musicality. But none of these things make a particularly good film. At the end of the day Prince should have stuck to making music – or if he had to venture into films making concert movies – because at the end of the day, Graffiti Bridge proves to be a bridge too far.

Originally published on 13 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/graffiti-bridge-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: NINA

This image released by RLJ Entertainment shows Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in a scene from, "Nina." (Suzanne Tenner/RLJ Entertainment via AP)

If the late, great Nina Simone were alive she’d have a few things to say about her bio-pic, Nina. The film skips over a lot of crucial points in Simone’s life and instead focuses on her darker moments, her last decade when she was working with and under the tutelage of her assistant, Clifton Henderson. This leaves the story feeling incomplete and hollow and it is likely to leave viewers with more questions than answers.

Nina Simone was an outspoken, African-American woman, a talented and classically-trained pianist and a civil rights activist. The decision that writer and director, Cynthia Mort made to cast Zoe Saldana (an Afro-Latina woman of Dominican and Puerto-Rican descent) seems a tad strange. Saldana does her best with the material she is offered and she even sings in the film, but it’s asking a lot of the audience to suspend their disbelief in order to believe that Saldana sounds exactly like Simone.

Another hard thing for the audience to “buy” is how Saldana physically portrays Simone. In the film Saldana’s skin is darkened so that she exhibits Simone’s natural complexion but there are scenes where it is apparent that the actress is wearing heavy make-up. Saldana is also wearing a prosthetic nose. The film The Graduate springs to mind when you consider Nina, because Saldana was just 34 when she played this role and yet she is supposed to be playing a hard-drinking, sixty-something year old woman who is riddled with cancer. When you consider all of these issues together it is hard to believe that someone closer to Simone’s then-age and physical resemblance was not chosen for the lead role.

This film occasionally feels like Love & Mercy in that it covers a period when a musician battled their mental illness. But while the Brian Wilson bio-pic gives due credit to his creative period in The Beach Boys, in Nina Simone’s recording accomplishments are relegated to a short and fleeting montage. The film alludes to some of the prejudice she encountered (including the fact she was denied entry to the Curtis Institute and that she had to speak out in order for her parents to be admitted to her school concert in front of white townspeople) but a more dramatic and meaningful piece would have centred on these key moments and elaborated on them, especially when you consider the lyrics in Simone’s songs.

David Oyelowo (Selma) plays nothing more than a bit part here. He tries to make the most of things but you really don’t get a sense of who Simone’s assistant really is and why he chooses to have this job. The film shows the meeting between the singer and the assistant but it really doesn’t explain why he chooses to stay with the volatile artist, especially when his role seems to predominantly involve being a pimp, enabler and someone who is forced to endure Simone’s wrath.

This film hits a series of wrong notes and mis-beats despite the actors doing the best they can in the circumstances. The music in Nina may whet fans’ appetite for Simone’s music but the film will leave people with more questions than answers. Fans will be better off seeking out Simone’s original works or the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? a film that captures more of Simone’s essence in a trailer than in Nina’s whole 90 minute runtime.

Originally published on 03 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/nina-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MOLLY MELDRUM & JEFF JENKINS – AH WELL, NOBODY’S PERFECT – THE UNTOLD STORIES

molly

 

John Lennon once sang that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. This idea rings true for Australia’s National Living Treasure and Lennon’s friend, Ian “Molly” Meldrum. The music journalist, talent coordinator, TV host, DJ and record producer has had a brilliant career spanning multiple decades. Ah Well, Nobody’s Perfect is a celebration of all of this, because it sees Meldrum spinning many yarns and anecdotes along with the help of fellow music journalist, Jeff Jenkins and a cast of famous friends and confidantes.

Molly Meldrum has already been the subject of a biography with 2014’s The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story: Life, Countdown and Everything in Between. His first memoir focused predominantly on his time working on ABC TV’s Countdown (a youth culture show). In the latest instalment of Meldrum’s biography, he includes anecdotes from this period (and dedicates the book to Countdown’s creator, the late Michael Shrimpton) as well as describing his work on Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Sunday Night. Meldrum has interests outside of music and this book also includes his love for the Australian cricket team, AFL’s Saint Kilda Saints and the NRL’s Melbourne Storm. The memoir is also named after a line from Meldrum’s favourite film, Some Like It Hot.

Meldrum’s early life is briefly covered in this second book. We learn that he was a country boy from Quambatook Victoria and about his first jobs. This information is interesting, but you get the sense that Molly is a private individual and that we are barely scratching the surface here. Instead, most of this volume is about Molly’s encounters with famous musicians and individuals from the music and TV industries. In some respects, Meldrum’s life shares things in common with photographer, Tony Mott in that both have met and worked with famous celebrities and they both have a swag bag full of great stories to tell. Both Meldrum and Mott would make excellent dinner party guests – you know that there’d never be a dull moment!

The book is a mixture of different anecdotes and stories. It bounces around describing different subjects, something that is very much like Molly’s spirited interview technique. It’s a haphazard approach where different tangents are explored and time is not a linear concept. This means that one chapter you can be reading the questions and answers from Molly’s appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (where he won $500,000 for charity) to moving on to recollections from Michael Gudinski and other important individuals, and then on to travel tips from Molly, that are very much inspired by real experiences. The stories are rich and vivid and they deal with the notorious parties, heated fights, amazing days and unmitigated disasters from Molly’s life. This man in a hat comes across as a lovely, enthusiastic music fan and self-deprecating character who is a practical joker at heart but also not precious about when people are laughing at his expense.

Ah Well, Nobody’s Perfect is a fun and entertaining book by a true music fan and a natural storyteller. It is easy to get lost in these entertaining yarns. The story is from a larger-than-life character who delivers his observations and opinions on the madness, mirth and most of all, the music. All that’s left to say is that any self-respecting music fan should do themselves a favour and immerse themselves in Molly’s Melodrama!

Originally published on 31 October 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-ah-well-nobodys-perfect-by-molly-meldrum-jeff-jenkins-is-about-the-madness-mirth-and-music-surrounding-mollys-melodrama/

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BOOK REVIEW: GRAEME SIMSION – THE BEST OF ADAM SHARP

thebestof

 

The Best of Adam Sharp is like Sliding Doors meets High Fidelity. The third novel by author, Graeme Simsion takes a more dramatic and wistful approach to his previous novels, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. In Adam Sharp, Simison grapples with the question of “What if?” and produces a well-written dramedy and meditation on love, lust, regrets and second chances.

Simsion’s third book stars the eponymous Sharp, a Manchurian, IT contractor who appears to have a comfortable life with his wife Claire. From the outside looking in the pair appear happy. Sharp earns a good income and is a music trivia expert and music fan. One day this bubble of contentment is burst when Sharp receives a simple email from an old flame, a former actress named Angelina Brown.

Sharp and Brown first met in Australia in 1989 while the former was working here on a temporary contract. The two met and had a fling but this soon turned into something more serious as the pair fell in love with each other. Sharp was conflicted and torn between having to leave the country due to work commitments and staying and pursuing his fledgling relationship.

When Sharp receives an email some 22 years later a flood of emotions comes rushing back. He is left having to question what might have been if he had stayed in Australia. He is also presented with the prospect of rekindling his relationship with Brown even though she is married and has children. The book is divided into two parts, the first focuses on Adam’s present life in Norwich and features flashbacks to the time he experienced his first real love in Australia. The second part goes into more detail about the pair’s reunion in France.

This novel has a large Spotify playlist and songs that are also littered throughout the text. These are mostly from the sixties and seventies and help set the tone and underscore the emotions of Adam’s first person account. The narrative deals with some complex issues like: infidelity, death, infertility, emotional abuse, divorce, regrets and passion. The characters are not always likeable but they are very well-written and developed. They are also rather complex and human, especially when they change their mind in a split second or do the silly things that we are all guilty of.

The Best of Adam Sharp is a long, slow-burning novel that reflects on two major relationships in its main character’s life. It also reveals this through the prism of different music, emotions and memories. The story is a little laboured in the middle but the beginning and end hit all of the right notes and show how messy and sentimental human relationships can be. Graeme Simsion does an excellent job of taking the rather simple premise of examining a great lost love and presenting the possibility of a second chance. Simsion ultimately paints a detailed and entertaining portrait of a flawed and wistful man who wants a romance to be more than a silly love song.

 

Originally published on 4 October 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-the-best-of-adam-sharp-by-graeme-simsion/

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BOOK REVIEW: MICK WALL – PRINCE: PURPLE REIGN

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Prince was an enigma. And after reading a biography like Prince: Purple Reign the artist formerly known as remains a real mystery. The book is by the accomplished music journalist Mick Wall, and while it presents some facts, anecdotes and chronology about Prince’s life, there are many aspects that are glossed over or omitted from this slender volume.

Wall begins the biography in an objectionable way, including the verbatim 911 call from Prince’s home by an unidentified male on the day the musician’s body was discovered. This biography is bookended by salicaceous text, because at the end also sees Wall speculating on Prince’s alleged addiction to pain killers and other drugs. Fortunately, the rest of the book seems to be more focused on the music and the art.

Purple Reign does not offer any new information for the diehard Prince Rogers Nelson fan (and it is these readers who will notice some glaring mistakes and omissions.) Instead, this biography relies on secondary sources like the few interviews the artist gave himself, as well as articles and books delivered by those closest to Prince. The story is by no means comprehensive, but it does at least present a straight-forward, easy-to-read chronology of the majority of Prince’s projects. This in itself is no mean feat considering how prolific this talented, composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was.

Mick Wall is no stranger to the world of music. He is a music fan through and through. He was also an early champion of Prince’s music as well as many other artists he wrote about in his decades spent working as a music journalist. Wall is also a prolific writer himself, having penned dozens of music biographies for the likes of AC/DC, Lou Reed, Metallica, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, to name a few. There is no question that Wall is an excellent writer who creates interesting sentences that are easy-to-read and follow, but these biographies do feel like they barely scratch the surface.

For casual fans, Purple Reign may satiate your appetite for learning about Prince’s background and the wider cultural context he operated in. There are some interesting moments where you learn about his quest for artistic freedom and his insatiable appetite for writing, recording and creating. But for those readers who want books with more in-depth analysis of their favourite artist, Purple Reign will leave them hungry for a book with more diamonds and pearls.

Originally published on 26 September 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-prince-purple-reign-by-mick-wall/

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DVD REVIEW: EXPRESSO BONGO

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In a period when the term “teenager” was only recently coined, there were films that were designed and marketed towards the “youth” of the day. A film with one of the silliest titles in history, Expresso Bongo was one such film. Like the Elvis Presley movies of the time, it was really just a vehicle to promote and showcase Cliff Richard and The Shadows and to render them on the silver screen. In 2016 the film is ultimately a rather dated and lightweight musical.

The story is about a talent scout/impresario named Johnny Jackson (Lawrence Harvey) who is down on his luck. This is a man who is a rather fast-talking, silver-tongued and charismatic individual. He’s ignorant to the talents of his stripper girlfriend (Sylvia Syms.) One day the pair visit a local coffee shop. It is here that Jackson discovers Bert Rudge (Sir Cliff Richard.) The latter is only a kid playing the bongos but he has a great talent and a certain “it” quality.

Jackson talks Rudge into signing a contract so that he can become Rudge’s manager. They agree on an eye-watering 50/50 split. Rudge is naïve but happy to give up his fairground job and to adopt the stage name, Bongo Herbert. It is pretty obvious in this film that Cliff Richard has not acted very much. His performance is quite average because while he captures the doe-eyed innocence of his character rather well, you can’t help but feel like this character wasn’t that big a stretch for him. It’s obvious that he is a singer and musician through and through.

This story also features some opportunistic supporting characters including a record label executive (Meier Tzelniker) and a fading vaudeville artist named Dixie Collins (Yolande Donlan.) They too want to exploit Herbert’s talent. These sorts of things were quite commonplace for the time- there are lots of artists who suffered from terrible contracts and middle men exploiting their talents.

Expresso Bongo was originally a theatre show written by Wolf Mankowitz and Julian More. It was originally intended as a satire or spoof on the record industry however a lot of this commentary appears to have been lost as the story made the leap from the theatre to the silver screen. There were also some changes with the music/songs and a lot of what is left behind is rather average. In fact the numbers that Richard sings require a large suspension of disbelief in order to be convinced that they would have actually have catapulted him into teen idol territory.

The DVD includes various special features including a trailer, alternative scenes/sequences and a gallery of stills posters and promo material from the time. There are also two film shorts included. Youth Club is a documentary that is pretty self-explanatory while Michael Winner makes his directorial debut in The Square, a film about an old man who is coming to grips with the changes that are occurring in his neighbourhood.

Expresso Bongo is a quirky black and white film that is full of good manners and nostalgia. This send up of youth culture is rather dated and the plot is a tad flimsy and banal. This film is ultimately something either your mother or grandmother would enjoy because it would help her remember the period when she was young. And while it has its moments there are other aspects that seem like they were a little too confined to a cupboard drawer in the past.

Originally published on 2 September 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/expresso-bongo-dvd-review/

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