Tag Archives: Music

Steve Cole – ‘Made to eat salad’

Steve Cole

On the 482nd anniversary of Anne Boleyn losing her head, Steve Cole walked into the Tolbooth in Stirling for his Off the Page event, to ‘deafening applause’ on a day when a few other things were also happening. Royal weddings, football, warm sunny weather. That kind of thing. He was going to tell us about writing, with the help of a ukulele. The telling, more than the writing, I believe.

Stirling Off the Page

I’d successfully climbed the hill, almost all the way to the castle, and Steve had come all the way from England, and this after his first – very eventful – encounter with oysters. The plane’s cabin crew had apparently questioned whether he really should be flying, but Steve insisted, and with a huge stack of sick bags at his side, he made it all the way.

Steve Cole

He treated us to his version of the Sick Man Blues, on ukulele. I shouldn’t think anyone in the audience will be having a meal of oysters any time soon.

This man who has written 157 books in the last 20 years, got his career started with the diary they had to write for Mrs Cave at school, every Monday. It got so boring he began to make it up, and seemingly Mrs Cave was also bored, so she told him to continue making things up.

Steve Cole

From oysters to salads, and more vomiting, this time courtesy of the dinner ladies at school. Once Steve’s parents realised they made him eat salad every Wednesday, an early introduction of packed lunches occurred. This was the dark days of the 1970s. But let that be a lesson to you; tell your parents if you are ever forced to eat your salad.

Some years after the eight-year-old Steve wrote his own Mister Men book, Mister Paint, he moved on to his Astrosaurs series of books, partly with the help of Enid Blyton’s daughter. The nice one. He told us in great detail how the dinosaurs got their names, but I suppose it’s what you should expect from the office junior at Noddy magazine.

Steve Cole

From Astrosaurs Steve went to writing Doctor Who stories, but then felt the need to return to writing about his own characters. Which must be why he borrowed Lucy the labrador from a child in the audience, and made Lucy – who I am sure is an upright, if doggy, citizen – into a secret bank robber, Canine X, master of crime. It was really to show how you can play with everyday stuff, or dogs, and make them do surprising things. Stories are everywhere.

Steve’s own alternate reality features cows. On this sad anniversary (for Anne Boleyn) he tested the audience on their knowledge of the wives of Henry VIII, and we eventually arrived at ‘the other Anne’ [of Cleves] who appears in his first CIA book. Something to do with a concrete cowpat.

This was a suitably Royal ending to an event on a day when we could hardly avoid hearing about other royal wives.

Steve Cole feedback, or book selling

The children bought books, and filled in feedback forms. (I didn’t, as I was a bit embarrassed about my age. I almost claimed I’m a year older than I am…)

Steve Cole

Steve encouraged the children to ask him questions over the book signing, and as far as I managed to overhear, there were several who required some writing advice.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

There just might have been a hug for me as we swapped questions. I asked if he’ll ever eat oysters again, and Steve asked after Daughter. I almost suggested that next time it might be she who dedicates a ‘space book’ to him.

And no, he won’t have more oysters and advised me not to, either.

As I walked down the hill, I thought, not for the first time, how very dutiful my authors are, whether it’s murderous new boots, or oysters. They persevere, and come to talk to their fans. It’s why I love them.

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Zebra Crossing Soul Song

Lollipop man with soul. Sita Brahmachari’s latest dyslexia friendly book is different. It’s an unusual topic; the friendship between a young boy and the local lollipop man. But also the way it’s been written.

Otis the lollipop man is West Indian, and Sita has him speak in his own accent, which could potentially be hard to understand, if you don’t know how he might sound. On the other hand, I can see that this makes it even better from a point of view of including many readers who have never found themselves in a book.

The other thing is that Otis communicates with young Lenny through songs, and not just any songs, but ones from the ‘olden days’ i.e. my youth. At least I knew the songs.

Sita Brahmachari, Zebra Crossing Soul Song

There are more issues covered in this story. Lenny has two dads, and one of his old school friends has two mums. Lenny is also having to re-sit his A-level in Psychology, which means he’s a year behind his friends, and he is struggling with revising and keeping on top of things.

As he’s doing all this, he also puzzles over what happened to Otis the last time he saw him. We are kept guessing all through the book.

There’s a lot of depth here, and it feels pretty grown-up. I’m hoping Zebra Crossing Soul Song will find many fans, especially among those who don’t read much.

‘Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…’  🎵

Manchester Arena

I’m not quite sure what to write for today, so I thought I’d re-post CultureWitch’s last visit to the Manchester Arena, five years ago. We didn’t go often, but it was our arena, so we might go if there was something special on. Taking Offspring to see Roxette live was one of those occasions:

Roxette

“My, but we’re good at singing in Manchester! And by ‘we’ I don’t include myself, since I neither do voice or lyrics with any great success. But the rest of the thousands of people at the MEN last night knew their Roxette. I was both surprised and not surprised to hear this was Per Gessle’s and Marie Fredriksson’s first Manchester concert. Normally people don’t know who you mean if you mention Roxette, and they are probably less well known in the UK. But the crowd at the MEN knew the lyrics and – as I said – they sang well. Better than most audience participation I’ve come across.

Roxette

They got us in a good mood starting with Dressed For Success, Sleeping In My Car and The Big L, and let’s face it; we had already been hanging around for an hour and a half by then. Mim Grey who had the thankless task of warming us up, was perfectly adequate, but it wasn’t her we’d come to hear. Her songs were fine and she’s got a good voice, as well as the courage to chat to thousands who have little interest in the first act.

Roxette

Never having heard either Per or Marie speak English before, I was impressed. They sound good, and the Swedish-ism at the end might even have been intentional. ‘Our’ singing was encouraged by them, whether or not we knew the lyrics. But when they fell silent, the audience continued without faltering, and for some length of time. Well done, ‘us’!

Roxette

Grateful I wasn’t down on the floor, as they all stood up from the word go, and it would have involved nearly two hours of non-stop standing, and possibly dancing. Some people came to the empty bit of floor at the back and did their own dance routines by themselves.

Roxette

They promised us some new or recent material, but for the most part we got all the old songs. And to be honest; that’s what many of us came for. For a venue that doesn’t allow cameras there can’t have been more than a few hundred in constant use, looking like a friendly flotilla of little boats in the dark sea of the MEN.

Roxette

The stage lighting was very well done, with attractive colours and not too much strobing at the audience. Per and one or two of the others did a lot of jumping up and down, but that could have been boyish exuberance at work. I wondered if we too had to stand up when they burst into a rocky God Save the Queen. Had this been the good old days we’d not only have had to stand, but that would have been the – premature – end.

Marie Fredriksson

They ‘finished’ with Joyride, but the lack of houselights suggested we’d get more, and there were two more, before I suspected they’d done a ‘Roger Whittaker’ and bunked off for their hotel. But no, they had not. They were back for a final Church Of Your Heart, and they took their time over it. Good to see Marie and Per courteously leaving last, and not running either, but stopping on the way out to bow from the corner.

Roxette

Good stuff, from a neighbourhood close to my old one.”

Roxette

This is what it should be like. Fun, without fear.

Wintersmith

After my recent close encounter with Steeleye Span, which made me feel so guilty, I decided the least I could do was give the Resident IT Consultant the CD on which they collaborated with Terry Pratchett.

Steeleye Span, Wintersmith

When we first met I he introduced me to the music of Steeleye Span. I had heard of them, but never really listened to their stuff. I soon found that the Resident IT Consultant’s taste in music wasn’t as totally hopeless as I perhaps had expected, and I listened to quite a bit of Steeleye Span for some years.

But then I slowly moved on to other kinds of music and haven’t listened as much to Steeleye Span in recent years.

It was the Resident IT Consultant who introduced me to Terry’s books as well. Or rather, when I realised there was this much talked about author I might want to find out more about, it turned out we already had one or two paperbacks on the shelves, and I was able to educate myself.

So here I am, listening to the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday present. Maybe I should let him have a go as well.

After that unexpected live performance at the Barbican for Terry’s memorial, I felt they had got ‘rockier.’ Maybe not. I suspect it’s more the difference between live – and loud – music on stage, and how it sounds on your system at home. Maddy Prior sings as beautifully as ever.

I especially liked hearing Terry’s voice on The Good Witch. It felt as if he was talking directly to me.

Retired Roger

About eight years ago I wrote this blog for the Guardian Music. (Yes, imagine that. A Bookwitch on music…)

Roger Whittaker, blue light

‘He’s the greatest singer in the world, so why do so few people in Britain appreciate Roger Whittaker?

I still remember the New Year’s Eve party some years ago, where another guest inquired about my Christmas presents. She perked up when I mentioned a CD. “Which one?” “Roger Whittaker.” My friend was about to offer her condolences, when she suddenly pulled herself together and said, “Did you actually want it?” “Yes.” “Oh, well. I believe my parents-in-law like him.”

I have loved Roger’s voice since I was twelve. I used to feel that he’d get away with singing from the telephone directory, if necessary. Luckily he hasn’t had to resort to that.’

And here we leave the Guardian blog post, because it actually gets too confusing, with so many years in between. I just wanted to share him with you today, on his 80th birthday, when he is well and truly retired. No more concerts. Probably no more albums. There is a new one just out, but it’s 98% rehash of old hits; the German hits.

They are not the best, because all Roger has done has been ‘the best’ in my opinion, but the German stuff is good. Very good, as well as a bit different from the usual English language easy listening. Back to the Guardian post again:

‘The Germans really do know how to love their stars. Enormous, sold out venues, with people of all ages going mad, singing and dancing in the aisles. I took my teenagers along last year, and their reaction was simply that they needed a few more Roger Whittaker tracks for their iPods. Seriously uncool, but there’s nothing quite like Ein Bisschen Aroma, especially live.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

That was 2007. I went again with Daughter in 2009 and with Son in 2011, and then had to skip the very last farewell tour in 2013 because it clashed with something. On neither occasion did I have to twist any young arms to come with me.

Roger Whittaker concert

When I was twelve I thought Roger was dreadfully old (he was 32). Since then he’s just got younger, relatively speaking. Retiring at 77 was certainly not too early, and I hope he has many more years of ‘living happily in France’ as his agent put it to me a few weeks ago, with plenty of time to not fall over his dog (Roger’s been accident-prone over the years) or worry his wife too much (he had to go through with the last tour despite ill health, as he was too old to insure…).

Us fans still have the hundreds of albums Roger recorded over fifty years, and let me tell you, he’s not boring or purely parents-in-law material!

Right, that’s me done for today. As you were. Might be back to books tomorrow if you are lucky. I only have one favourite singer, after all.

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Photos Helen Giles and Ian Giles

(And another thing; as I looked at the video link, I discovered a Facebook friend standing practically with his chin resting on the stage. It’s the RW universe.)

The Greystones Press

It’s not every day that a new publishing company is born. The Greystones Press is a brand new publisher’s of quality books, started by Mary Hoffman and her husband Stephen Barber.

Very sensibly they are sticking to what they care about most, which is literature, art, music, history, mythology and fairy tales. This will sound silly, but I feel quite excited at the thought of this, in a world too full of publishing companies who concentrate on, well, other things. And it’s because they do, that people like Mary and Stephen are needed. They want to publish the kind of books that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, or sell in vast numbers. (Although it’d obviously be nice if they did.)

We’ve got used to self-publishing by now. Authors who either can’t get commercially published, or who want to have some level of control over what happens to their books, publish either ebooks and/or print copies. But most of them don’t go all the way and start something that will publish other people’s books as well.

This is quite a brave thing to do, but then where would we be if no one tried something new occasionally? Mary clearly has a lot of experience after her years of writing over a hundred books. One of them, the one about David, is going to be part of their first list, and it’s a book that personifies what The Greystones Press stands for. They also have plans for translated novels later on, which I look forward to.

Among the other first books will be Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish, whose knowledge of fairy tales I have long been in awe of, and here she will expand on what she’s been writing about for several years on her blog with the same name.

Mary also has a YA/adult crossover book for The Greystones Press, called Shakespeare’s Ghost, which rather suitably will be published on April 23rd. Jules Cashford and Kate Snow complete the first list of books this spring.

Heartsong

Expect to cry a little again.

Illustrator Jane Ray went to Venice and discovered some facts about a children’s home there in the 18th century. It appears to have been similar to Coram’s in London, where desperate mothers left their babies, who were then farmed out for some years, before returning to the nuns at the hospital.

Jane wanted to do something with the stuff she found but didn’t know what, until she spoke to Kevin Crossley-Holland, who took her scraps and made them into a story about one girl in particular, who lived with the nuns at the time Vivaldi was music teacher there.

Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray, Heartsong

Laura is eleven and mute. She is musical, but lacks a way of expressing herself until Father Antonio starts to teach her. After a dreadful attempt at playing the viola, Laura finds that the flute is her instrument. It becomes her way of talking.

The children at the home dream of being collected by their mothers one day. Laura’s best friend leaves her behind when her mother comes for her.

But at least she has Father Antonio who is kind and who looks after her, teaching her music and letting her play in his little orchestra. And she has this tune that runs through her head continously…

Very lovely.