Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Morrissey book review
He submitted an episode of Coronation Street which ended with Ena Sharples saying: 'Do I really look like a fan of X Ray Spex?'

My Manchester Evening News column -
matinee gigs for the over-40s

Triumph amid the tears Badly Drawn Boy review, Manchester Evening News 

Huddersfield Literature Festival might not be the biggest literature festival but it always feature some excellent authors. It returns after a two-year absence with a new director, Michelle Hodgson. Highlights include Kate Atkinson (March 15, 7.30pm, Hudds Uni), Joanne Harris (March 16, 10.30am, Waterstones and 7pm Hudds Uni), Yorkshire roots of Ted Hughes (March 17, 2pm, Hudds Arts Gallery), Michael Stewart/Gaia Holmes (March 17, 4pm, Art Gallery), Jeremy Dyson (March 17, 5pm, Art Gallery) Festival website


Stan Barstow

It's About:
Weeks after Stan Barstow died, I struggled to find any of his novels - apart from A Kind Of Loving - even in towns near his Wakefield birthplace. I eventually came across A Raging Calm, which is set in 1965 but at first feels like 1865 - women are described as overwrought or firm-bodied and men wouldn't dream of making their own tea.

The novel initially revolves around Tom Simpkins who is having an affair with a tenant, Norma Moffatt. But A Raging Calm comes alive with the introduction of Simpkins’s secretary, Andrea Warner - a far more sympathetic character - who is torn apart by her love for married teacher Philip Hart and her guilt for what she is doing.

Barstow is excellent at describing the characters’ agonising dilemmas and recording a time when familiar places and attitudes are changing. After a moribund start, the novel hits its stride as the consequences of Simpkins and Andrea’s affairs reverberate.

Length of read:

Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Billy Liar, Taste of Honey, lovers of social history and Yorkshire

One thing you've learned:
It's the mid-60s but there are some familiar 21st century themes - pubs are shutting because there’s not enough custom, identikit housing estates are going up, working class people on the way up are voting Tory, and 15-year-olds are getting drunk and going to discotheques in Leeds. A stroppy girl explains to her baffled mother what a discotheque is: 'It's a kind of club where they play the latest records and you can dance.' Only soft drinks and coffee are sold (she claims).


17 July 2011

Pavilion Theatre, Manchester

Johnny Vegas and Kevin Eldon starring in a new play should've been one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival. But while this piece had funny moments, it didn't quite work.

Vegas and Emma Fryer play hosts on a TV shopping channel, Eldon is the floor manager. All three wrote the play and Eldon directed. Vegas, with his hoarse St Helens accent, gets laughs merely from saying 'scrounger fish' or 'Paco Rabanne' but he seems a bit restrained. Fryer is a revelation - she's a brilliant comic actress.

The key scene is a live broadcast on a real TV channel where a revelation is expected, but the plot device to get us there is unconvincing as the characters don't ring true. The play, developed in only a few months, needed more work.

The Audience:
Mainly 40-50

Food & Drink:
No real ale but homemade brownies

It Made Me Think...:
Three great performers crying out for better material


Mar 11: I was one of nine winners in the One Voice 500-word monologue competition, organised by the Lawrence Batley Theatre, in Huddersfield, and part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival. 'Meat Sweats' was performed by Andy Puszkiewicz at the theatre.

I’ve a got a bad case of the meat sweats. Can you blame me?
The buffet was immense. They always lay on a good spread for a big meeting. Sausage rolls as big as your arm and top-notch Parkinson’s pies – all thighs, no eyes.
Usually it’s a couple of tired egg sarnies, their edges turned up like an Elvis sneer.
(ELVIS IMPRESSION) Thank you very much.
I’m a buffet connoisseur. Free food? I can sniff it out a mile. Pub reviews – hello, restaurant openings – come to daddy, and council meetings like this – yabba-dabba-doo!
(WAFTS FACE WITH PAPERS) It’s hot in the council chamber. It’s always hot in here.
So after the king of buffets I’m sweating like a horse that’s won the Grand National – then gone on to dance at an all-night horsetheque.
I’m drowsy and I don’t want to be drowsy. Tonight’s the biggie – the meeting about the development.
Julian’s here, of course, with his permanently sarcastic face. (NODS TO OTHER SIDE OF BENCH)
(SITS UPRIGHT, SNOOTY EXPRESSION) He’s sitting so far away from me, he’s probably only got one cheek on the bench.
He’s particularly haughty tonight and no wonder. In exclusive after exclusive about the development, his newspaper, The Bugle, has led the way. The last exclusive I got for the Chronicle was the mysterious spate of underpant thefts from washing lines.
Ah yes – the Underpant Snatcher of Skipton Drive. Forty-five pairs stolen, no-one caught –although a man was seen running from the scene with pants on his head.
I got that story from the boozer where I work part-time. One of the pillocks I serve, Dennis, was the perpetrator. He’d had a bet with the other swillers that he could get in the papers.
Dennis lost the bet because his name never actually appeared in the paper. He bought bags of pants in, but his pals weren’t convinced by his briefs encounters.
I need a part-time job like I need the buffets. Working on a weekly paper doesn’t pay – not unless you don’t eat, don’t drink and have no friends – or, in other words, if you’re Julian. One of the people he smarms over is the council leader, Brian Taggart, who’s all teeth and hair and glad-handing – Mr Politics-Lite, Mr U-Turn When It Suits Me.
But where’s my contact, Frank? I don’t need to schmooze him. He took a shine to me instantly, said he reminded me of his son. Frank’s the council rock, a former leader sidelined by the weasel Taggart.
Frank’s got a code if he’s found something interesting – a wink or a nod or an eyebrow arched. Taggart wants the development – a shopping mall in the town centre. I’ve found evidence that Taggart’s relatives could benefit, but my paper won’t print it. Our paper’s so careful, we worry we’ll be sued over the flower show results.
Frank has been looking into Taggart for me, but where is he? The chairman calls for order, the room goes quiet.
Then Frank rushes in. He looks at me and winks. The game’s afoot!

2010: Last month I took part in Huddersfield Literature Festival's Album In A Day project and I provided lyrics to the first song on the project's CD.

The idea was that anyone could come along with their lyrics, or have two hours to create their own lyrics, and musicians had three hours to come up with a tune. The musicians then performed the songs live and their performances were recorded.

It was a great day (and evening) and I can honestly say there wasn't a duff song on the 10-track Texts and Love and Mortal Soul CD, so all credit to the musicians, organisers (and lyricists!).

Most people opted to write their own lyrics in an afternoon, using a Leonard Cohen song, where he writes a letter to a lover, as a springboard for ideas and structure.

I tried this but I wasn't satisfied with what I'd written and used lyrics I'd brought along, Keep Your Chin Up. Here are the lyrics:

Put your feet up
Let your hair down
Keep your chin up
Keep your nose clean

Go bananas
In your ‘jamas
Let’s be flighty
In our nighties

Don’t be headstrong
Lovely Goolagong
You’re the kingpin
Billie-Jean King

Watch your ice creams
Or they’ll Meltham
Sexy undies
Here in Thongsbridge

You’re the bees-knees
With your Red Stripe
Love you truly
Ossett Brewery

Feeling swanky
Aga saga
If you’d rather

Do watusi
It’s a doozy
Mashed ‘potater
See ya later

I originally had about three other verses and repeated the first verse at the end, but I was advised to choose the strongest verses and make the first verse into a chorus with an extra couple of lines.

All 10 lyricists were asked what type of music they wanted to accompany their lyrics before the 10 musicians beavered away at a tune.

I had The Fall's Container Drivers in mind, but I had no idea how the song would turn out until musician (and event organiser) Dave Gill struck up the first chords in Sleepers Bar, Huddersfield. I think his arrangement works really well. To listen to the song, click on the link.

Keep your chin up

2009: This story appears on the Rainy City Stories website, where the brief is to write a story based in and around a Manchester location.
The Northern Rail rattler to Stalyvegas is late again and I’m early, so I decide to squeeze in a swifty at the Hare and Hounds.
I’m ordering a Holts at the bar when I notice this old fella staring at me. No change there – I’ve got one of those faces. People think I’m someone else, people think they recognise me.
But the funny thing is, I think I recognise him. He’s about six foot, with slicked black hair. His eyebrows and sideburns are grey and out-of-control like shabby Brillo pads. He appears to be smartly dressed, but when I look closer his suit is far too big for him – you could shoplift turkeys in it.
He lurches over from the other side of the pub as if we’re on the Good Ship Venus in a Force 10, his eyes fixed on mine. Is he pal of my dad’s? An old workmate gone to seed?
I try to catch the barmaid’s eye for an early warning nutter alert but she’s giving nothing away.
He stands next to me, reaches inside his jacket pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper.
‘Do you know the actors who played the Magnificent Seven?’ he asks me in an accent that appears to be both Manc and German.
I’m thrilled. I’ve been waiting for this. Ever since I lost a pub quiz tie-breaker on this very question, I’ve been dying to answer it again – in a pub quiz, on a quiz machine, even from an old fella with a piece of paper.
He says, ‘I’ve been going round the pubs asking everyone this question for the past few weeks. Everyone’s got involved.’
Quiz me daddio, quiz me. Yes, he may be drunk, he may be a nutter, but this is just what I need when I’m trying to get the buzz of work out of my head. Quiz me daddio!
The Magnificent Seven. The first three are easy – baldy Brynner the leader, stone-face Bronson and Great Escape McQueen. Next two are pretty easy too – James Coburn, he’s in loads, and Man from Uncle Robert Vaughn.
So I rattle these names off and the old fella’s smiling. And then I tell him the next two, the two that everyone struggles with.
One of them is no problem – Brad Dexter, my surname’s Dexter, and I give the old fella the name. His Muppet eyebrows inch upwards.
And then the last name, the one that did for me at the pub quiz – Horst Bucholz, Horst flaming Bucholz.
I’d never heard of him until that quiz, but when I heard the answer, I wrote it down. The next day I bought the film and concentrated on him. I was determined to remember what he looked like.
So when the old fella said, ‘You know, Horst was my brother,’ I didn’t totally dismiss it as old man pub drivel because there was something familiar about his face.
Otto was the old fella’s name. He’d come over here as a mining engineer in the Seventies, met a Salford girl and settled down. Why couldn’t he be Horst’s brother?
Otto leaned towards me: ‘You know I was on the set, the set of The Magnificent Seven.’
‘Really! What was that like?’ I asked.
‘Hot like you wouldn’t believe,’ he said.
‘Did you meet any of the other actors?’ I asked.
Otto leaned in again and whispered in my ear: ‘He had a special towel boy.’
‘A what?’ I said, almost spitting out my Holts.
‘A towel boy. To keep his head glinting in the sun. Rub-a-dub,’ said Otto, miming the movement of a towel being wiped on a head.
‘And don’t talk to me about Bronson!’ he said, throwing his beer in the air.
I realised I was lapping all this up. Hanging on his words – I was clinging on for dear life. I just couldn’t help myself and asked: ‘What about Bronson?’
‘He shaved off his moustache, stuck the hairs in a roll-up and smoked it. Smoked it up, puff-puff,’ Otto said, raising his glass.
‘No! Surely he could afford a bit of baccy?’
‘That’s Bronson!’
We stared at the bar towels.
‘What happened to your brother?’ I asked.
Otto stared down at the bar.
‘He went to Germany. I don’t know,’ he said.
‘Did you go to his funeral?’
I’d Googled Horst to within an inch of his life (and death) after the quiz.
Otto started: ‘Funeral? I didn’t know, he’d… oh, of course.’
He dropped the piece of paper with the names of the actors onto the bar.
I looked down and notice Horst was spelled Horsed.
I pointed to the paper, looked up at Otto and said: ‘Horsed?’
He winked at me and said: ‘Well, it was a Western.’

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