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.

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'".

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Networking in Monaco

There are lots of businesses hoping to gain a foothold in Monaco, but making contacts can be difficult. Bradley Mitton's Club Vivanova is one of the organizations putting buyers and sellers in the same room. So...

When business in Monaco's slow
There's a bloke that you should get to know.
Don't sit there and pout
Give Bradley a shout.
Your network will soon start to grow.

Check out Vivanova's website for events in and around Monaco (and Berlin).

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Nice use of the subjunctive mood

Farewell, My Lovely (Philip Marlowe, #2) On a warm day at the end of March, LA private detective Philip Marlowe is idly looking at a neon sign for "a dime and dice emporium called Florian's". Another man, who "looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food" looks at the sign too, then enters the building. It wasn't any of Marlowe's business, but he pushed open the doors and looked in too.

So starts Raymond Chandler's second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely.

Friday, 15 April 2022

A limerick about limericks

I've been writing verses recently, trying my hand at metre and rhyme. Apparently there are rather strict rules for the rhyming elements of limericks, and I'm still not sure I've got them right. Here's another attempt.

Limericks bring such delight
But they're really not easy to write.
I have a hard time
With the rules about rhyme,
And try as I might, mine are sh*te.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

A limerick for Lola

A punter in Copacabana
Was roused by a showgirl's fine cha-cha.
Her boyfriend saw red.
One man was shot dead.
The poor girl's now old, drunk and gaga.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Ghosts of loss, death, injury and trauma

The Greatcoat Helen Dunmore has been described as "first and last, a poet", but I discovered her through her ghost story, The Greatcoat. Set a few years after World War II, it is unnerving and nightmarish.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A limerick for today

I logged on to Facebook this morning
To make a quick check on a posting.
I've sat and I've scrolled
For three hours, all told,
When I could have been limerick writing.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Marcel Marceau, miming artist

Source: Chariserin-Flickr
Creative Commons
French mime artist Marcel Marceau was born today.
Here are a few lines about him.
Marcel Marceau, miming artist,
Stripy shirt and whitened face.
He, the art of silence practised;
Pulled on inconspicuous ropes,
Leant on walls that went unnoticed,
Took large bites from fruit unseen,
Struggled in the face of tempests.
Famously, in Mel Brooks' Silent
Movie (nineteen-seventy-six)
Marceau speaks. He says quite clearly,
"Non!"

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Monday, 21 March 2022

First day of spring

Here's a little verse to celebrate the first day of spring.
A blustery breeze and bright sun in the sky.
Thus far escaped Covid. So why? Tell me, why
On this first day of spring, when buds start to unfold
Must I sniffle and snuffle and suffer a cold?

Friday, 4 March 2022

This was not the face in the doorway

The Fortune Men Nadifa Mohamed's The Fortune Men was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and praised as an excellent example of historical fiction that explores present day issues, in this case, racism and injustice. But it's more than fiction. The characters are real people whose voices have never been heard, and the story is taken from a real life incident that happened 70 years ago.

Monday, 28 February 2022

A teenage boy with raging hormones

The Rachel Papers Charles Highway is a "chinless elitist and bratty whey-faced lordling". He's the protagonist of Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. His saving grace is that he's young, nineteen going on twenty, and if you can remember how awful you were at his age, you'll be able to laugh at the "devious, calculating, self-obsessed" little twit.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Antigone, Iphis, Electra and more

Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths It was eighteen months after reading a review of Antigone Rising before I bought it. I'd forgotten what had drawn my attention to the book and assumed it was just a general interest in the Greek myths or perhaps a recent book club choice, Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie's modern retelling of Antigone. So it was something of a surprise, a pleasant one, to find it was actually about how those myths are being appropriated by feminists and non-binary people in the 21st century.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Living through a period when politicians don’t merely lie

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia When Boris Yeltsin became President of the new Russia, I was working for a bunch of London-based management consultants who were looking for opportunities to provide advice to the new Russian entrepreneurs. Our strategy was to employ two young Russians. The man introduced himself. He took my hand, bowed slightly, and I swear I heard his heels click. As for the young woman, she was terrified of flying, something of a disadvantage for a jet-setting consultant. Throughout a flight she would grip the arm rests but as soon as the Captain announced our descent she reluctantly let go and fished in her handbag for lipstick and mirror. No matter how terrible the situation, she told me, no Russian woman would ever allow herself to be seen without make up.

Other than a handful of students, that's been the limit of my personal knowledge of Russians.

Monday, 7 February 2022

A cock that could drill a hole through stone?

Beautiful Antonio: Il bell'Antonio Beautiful Antonio ticked a lot of my boxes. It's set between WW1 and WW2, with themes including fascism, hypocrisy, and gender inequality. Unfortunately I wasn't able to give the book my full attention, and read large chunks without digesting them. So it's a good job Tim Parks, the British novelist and translator of Italian works, had written a helpful introduction.

The story is set in Italy, the Sicilian town of Catania to be precise, and concerns a sensitive young man named Antonio, reckoned by family, friends, and random women to be the epitome of an "Italian stallion". All is not as it seems tho'.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Our pockets not picked in Paris

This is a true story. The events described took place in Paris in 2018 and are narrated by The Man. Sometimes he thinks he's in a Philip Marlowe novel.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid August, with the queues not moving and a look of resignation on the face of The Dame. I was wearing my navy-blue long shorts with leg pockets, white polo shirt, black sandals and no socks. I was cool, clean, bearded and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed traveler ought to be. I was crossing the City of Lights.

My lack of imagination?

Harmless Like You This is a review of the first 13% of Harmless Like You. Perhaps it's a good story. It was in a list of books I'd found on the theme of family relationships. It was shortlisted for a few awards too. The two main characters are Yuki and her son Jay, whom she abandoned when he was 2 years old. I found it mostly unreadable.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Do I like this?

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery Art Objects is a book for readers who relish language, its rhythm and its sounds. In other words, the art of the written word. In it Jeanette Winterson explores the idea of literature as art in a series of essays, using examples of the literature which she admires: the modernists, especially Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.

I did wonder if I'd get much out of the book, since the only reading I have in common with Winterson is Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Winterson's own books, and Shakespeare. But I didn't let it put me off, and neither should you. This is a book that oozes love of literature.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

The worst of times

Autumn In simple terms, Autumn is about the relationship that develops between a 9-year-old girl called Elisabeth, and her elderly next door neighbour, Daniel Gluck. There's a lot more to it than that tho'.

It's a book firmly set in its time, that of the UK post-Brexit. Lack of funds for community services have led to libraries being closed, the way the Brexit referendum was framed has led to thoughtless tribalism, and the idea of protecting the land from invasion by foreigners is rife.