Thursday, 30 June 2022

Junior Giscombe brings the groove to Monaco

Who would've thought that those of us who've qualified for a bus pass would be exchanging tips about music with millennials. The kids are now interested in artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s, since our music has been in the charts (Kate Bush), and our artists have played at Glastonbury (Paul McCartney and Diana Ross). In Monaco too Jeff Beck is opening Monte Carlo SBM's Summer Festival, 9 July.

Well, here's a tip for you, whether you're a millennial or a boomer or anything in between. Go and see Junior Giscombe, aka Junior of Mama Used to Say (1981) fame. Last weekend he was on stage for two nights only at Note Bleue, the intimate music venue that attracts respected artists to Monaco. It's recently been refurbished along with the other businesses in the Larvotto district and you can dine on the beach or have cocktails and snacks in the gig area. That's what the Man and I did on Saturday 25 June.

Our table is centre-front of stage, where a few square metres of space has been left clear in the expectation of dancing. I'm a bit worried that the noise level might affect my ageing hearing, but the Man, who knows about these things, declares the venue's acoustic design and sound system to be arguably the best in Monaco.

Junior looks nothing like I remember him. In the early 80s he had an afro and wore pleated-waist trousers. Now he's bearded and relaxed, wearing a brightly patterned shirt, white ripped-knee jeans and white trainers. The backing musicians, Echoes Of, are a Parisian band that started out doing covers of popular funk, soul and R&B hits. It's quite a squeeze getting them all on stage: keyboards, percussion, drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, sax and trumpet.



Audiences in Monaco generally speak English but we appreciate Junior's declaration that, "Tonight on va groover!". Continuing with the French theme the set begins with a couple of songs he says were his best known hits in the French music charts. As the second finishes an enthusiastic bloke at the back shouts, “You guys are tight!” He's not wrong.

Junior's speaking voice retains its South London accent and his vocal performance is as strong as ever, if a bit less falsetto. His play list is put together for dancing tho' and throughout he encourages us to get up. The more senior members of the audience have to limber up first with seated swaying and foot-tapping while a couple of girls who look young enough to be their grand-daughters take to the floor. Then everyone's on their feet. We boomers might be a bit out of practice but no-one cares. One woman holds an infant who's probably only just learned to say mama but has no trouble waving an arm along to the music. A chic chick bops along clutching a fluffy white pom-pom dog. The look on its little face seems to reflect what we're all thinking; "Blimey, this music's great!" Blokes too, some who must have been born within a couple of years of Junior himself, are reliving their disco days.

Get Up and Dance (1981) is one of the stand-out tracks of the evening with its funky guitar riffs expertly played. Not Tonight (1985) too, which features a fab sax solo. The last of the set is Do You Really (want my love) (1985), during which the drummer gets to do what drummers are born to do; a drum solo. This is no prog rock posturing tho'. It never strays from the funky groove required for dancing.



Of course everyone is waiting for Mama Used to Say, which is last but one of the set and also the encore. By now we're primed for a bit of audience participation. Junior gets us clapping and singing the words his mama told him. The band takes up the beat and infuses a 40-year-old UK top ten hit single with new life. Honestly, I'd forgotten what a great track this is, and for the past week it's been an ear-worm in my head every morning.

What a joyful evening! Junior is a real gentleman and was happy to exchange a few words with those of us who weren't in a rush to get home. It'd be great to see him in the charts again. Even better if he makes another trip to Monaco. On va groover encore!

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Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Not a woman who bears grudges?

The Cactus I didn't have high expectations for Sarah Haywood's The Cactus. Goodreads places it in the Chick Lit category, and it's been described as endearing, heartfelt and charming. Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club, and like 'Where the Crawdads Sing', which was one of my most disliked books of the past couple of years, intends to adapt it for the screen.

The story is narrated by its protagonist, Susan Green, who in the first sentence of the book describes herself as "not a woman who bears grudges, broods over disagreements or questions other people’s motives", which implies that she most certainly will do all of those things in the following pages. We quickly discover she's suffering bouts of nausea in the mornings, and that her mother has just died.

I enjoyed the first chapter. In the wake of her mother's death, Susan reflects on her childhood, which wasn't particularly happy, and comments on her life since she left the family home in Birmingham. Every Christmas she dutifully returned to see her mother, but considers her brother Edward to be "weak-willed and self-indulgent", and has no time for her aunt and cousins. Her life is in London, but she hasn't bothered to make friends at work, complaining that "If it wasn’t for the fact that I have colleagues, office life would be bearable".

Sadly I found the next 75% of the book repetitive, with example upon example of Susan's pomposity, interspersed with unsubtle clues about a family secret. As the story moves towards the big reveal and resolution, my interest picked up again. I especially enjoyed its treatment of the law regarding contesting a will. The dialogue between Susan and her legal friend was well-written, as were the court scenes, which is no surprise when you read on Sarah Haywood's website that she studied law and worked as a solicitor.

Ultimately tho' I didn't find the character of Susan to be credible. As a narrator she was transparent, superficial, and just not likeable. The blurb on the jacket compares The Cactus to Gail Honeyman's 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine'. They are both debut novels, but the latter has more depth and consistency. Eleanor Oliphant made me laugh and cry, whereas The Cactus did neither. 'Convenience Store Woman' and 'Good Behaviour' feature odd women too, but they are more finely drawn. I don't think The Cactus aims to be the next literary masterpiece. It's as light and airy as popcorn and has a happy ending. I prefer something with more taste and bite.

Monday, 16 May 2022

What makes states: walls and writing

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States An acquaintance suggested James C. Scott's Against the Grain might be of interest. We'd been discussing the benefits of small, local forms of self-government versus the large state. I'd recommended Paint Your Town Red, and she countered with Against the Grain.

The author is an American political scientist and his book investigates the formation of the earliest states.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

A fine book let down by poor digitisation

Brown Girl, Brownstones Brown Girl, Brownstones is Paule Marshall's debut novel, published in 1959. It's the coming-of-age story of Selina Boyce, who when the story starts in 1939 is "a ten-year-old girl with scuffed legs and a body as straggly as the clothes she wore". She lives in Brooklyn with her family, older sister Ina, and parents Silla and Deighton, who are West Indian immigrants. They inhabit a 'brownstone' house, which the mother hopes one day to buy. Deighton meanwhile studies accountancy, hoping that when "I finish I can qualify for a job making good money".

Sunday, 8 May 2022

She was only Anne

Persuasion I was heading for Bath and read that Jane Austen's posthumously published Persuasion is set there. Ideal reading for my visit, I thought.

The first few chapters set the scene. Anne Elliot, unmarried middle-daughter of Sir Walter of Kellynch Hall, still pines for her first love, Frederick Wentworth.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

"Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many."

The Lying Life of Adults Who would want to be a teenager again? Not me. Nor, I imagine, the fictional narrator of Elena Ferrante's The Lying Life of Adults.

The book begins with Giovanna Trada remembering an incident when she was 12 years old: "my father said to my mother that I was very ugly". He goes further, explaining, "Adolescence has nothing to do with it: she's getting the face of Vittoria" his sister, whom Giovanna has never met. Piqued by a further description that in her aunt "ugliness and spite were combined to perfection", the young girl contrives to meet this woman to whom she bears a resemblance. As a consequence Giovanna discovers the working-class roots of her academic father, and learns that what adults say is not necessarily true.

Friday, 22 April 2022

The legacy of apartheid

The Good Doctor Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for The Promise, but at book club we decided first to read his 2003 shortlisted The Good Doctor.

The story is told by Frank, a middle-aged, listless doctor who "had swallowed a lot of frustration over the years" and works in a hospital where there are few, if any, patients. It's set in a Homeland region of South Africa, described by Galgut in the Author's Note as "impoverished and underdeveloped [...] set aside by the apartheid government for the 'self-determination' of its various black 'nations'".