Monthly Archives: February 2017

Goodwood – Holly Throsby

I imagine Goodwood would be something like Bridport. These days, after my home location by the river down south, it is well and truly my favourite place on our island. That, my son, with his lovely partner and my mint new granddaughter, live there is part of the reason – but not all. There’s more to it than that.

Of course there are differences between the two towns. Briddy is a two pub affair, Goodwood has just a single to slake the thirst of the locals. The former comes alive during the summer months, but for the remainder is a sleepy place, like Goodwood year round. My son’s town sits on Anderson Bay, the fictional locale on a lake. But it’s the feel of these places – they’re welcoming and close knit. There’s neighbourliness like you do not get in suburbia or with inner city living. And there’s nothing much that happens that doesn’t reach the ears of the denizens of each. Most would reckon they had a fair handle on each other’s business – mostly a blessing, particularly when times get tough.

But over the course of a couple of weeks, back in ’92, all that changes for Goodwood with two local identities disappearing in quick succession – both seemingly without a trace. It’s up to the town’s copper, Mack, to sort it all out, find them or give some closure on both if the unthinkable has happened. What has become of Rosie, the gorgeous young lass who works at the fish’n’chippery; or of Bart, the local butcher – a jovial fella with a heart of gold?

Jean, our narrator, is looking back from the present to this tumultuous period for the town – events occurred that threw her young adult years out of kilter. She stumbled across a clue that she figured may have been linked to the whole business, but what to do, what to do? And not far away from Goodwood, to increase the tension, some backpackers have disappeared as well in a certain forest. We all know how that turned out.

Goodwood is the fictional creation of Holly Throsby who, up until its release, has been better known as one of our leading singer songwriters, as well as for being the daughter of much loved media personality Margaret. The novel was a project for Throsby while she was off the road expecting her her first child Alvy, now two. And the book really is a stunning debut and I am not alone in ranking it on the same level as Craig Silvey’s classic small town drama ‘Jasper Jones’ (can’t wait for the film of that title coming soon).

As with that book, Throsby’s in no way hurries to put the pieces together. Although the pace is leisurely it is a cracking read – for me a page-turner of the first order. Apart from the town’s mystery, there is much else on young Jean’s mind – her mother’s chest pains, just what exactly is her relationship with the lad who loves to stare at cows and then there is the new girl in town, Evie, whom she’s not quite sure about.

As with my Bridport, one of the main activities in the place is fishing – and this figures huge for a place like Goodwood as well. Both towns are full of eccentric characters and maybe a busy body or two, as with most communities of that size. And no doubt there are secrets to be found behind closed doors – but for the fictional town many of these are exposed by the jittery times after the disappearances as Mack starts to make headway with his investigations. Maybe the two are linked in someway.

I was pleased to read Throsby is now working on her sixth album. But even better news is that she’s making headway with her second novel. Shes really off to a flyer with ‘Goodwood’ and hopefully the longer form of writing will not remain for long the second string to her bow – as good as her music is.

Holly’s website = http://hollythrosby.com/

Mobile Secrets

Such ‘Perfect Strangers’ they all turned out to be, thanks to their mobile phones. This award winning movie was huge in its native territory of Italy – it’s just simply so good as an ensemble piece, even if it rarely strays from one urban apartment. It is from a humanity-savvy director in Paolo Genovese. His putting together of this piece makes him the star of the show.

The premise is a simple and interesting one. I dare you to try it at your next dinner party – on second thoughts, on seeing the results in this, perhaps not. Rocco and Eva have invited Lele and Carlotta, Pepe and Lucilla, as well as Cosimo and Bianca, to an intimate gathering – and what a night it turns out to be. They have a collective brain fade when they (eventually) agree to what the hostess proposes. After all, they are mates, aren’t they? They have no secrets from each other, do they? Therefore what could be the harm in a little game? Everything that is communicated to them in any form on their hand held digital apparatuses must be passed on to the group, preferably by speaker phone. Usually their phones are banned during their gatherings. But nothing to hide? You must be joking.

One guest arrives mysteriously without partner, one has taken her panties off before leaving home and during the course of the evening, a phone swap occurs with disastrous results for both parties. A closet gay reveals him/herself – I’m not giving too much away – and one is uncovered as a serial philanderer. Nobody comes out of the whole tawdry business unscathed as relationships are split asunder. Seemingly, all shred of friendship they had for each other goes out the window. But the director has one more surprise in store to gobsmack the audience. Genovese loves surprises, he is full of them. What starts as a light comedy, played for a laugh or two, by the end has turned very dark.

At the start the quick repartee between the participants, when sub-titles are added to the mix, makes what is initially happening difficult to keep up with – but once underway, the audience is left in little doubt that this isn’t going to end well. Our sophisticates are not wholly whom they appear to be to each other, as well as to the viewer. Be warned – do not take them on face value.

Then there’s the precocious (aren’t they always) teenage daughter of the hosts, out and about on the town while the adults play. For this punter it was one of the highlights of this offering when she places a phone call to her dad seeking his worldly wisdom – as well as giving mum a few unintentional serves, not realising six others are in on the conversation. She has contacted her father to inform him that her evening may end in her having the opportunity to dispense with her virginity – what does he think? Forced to give the advice in public, Rocco (Marco Giallini) duly provides what should be a template for all fathers when daughters of age put that to them. Beautiful stuff.

Taking his cue from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Genovese is of the belief that everyone has three lives: a public one; a private one and a secret one. The director understands that these days our mobiles hold the clues to the last of our mentioned lives. He states, ‘Smart phones have become a fundamental object, perhaps the only one we carry with us – our ‘black box.’ Well the black boxes of these guys certainly had tales to tell. I wonder what might be in those we all possess?

Movie trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqX0-xn8j1g

Mickey's Trilogy

‘...I loved his smile…I love the fact he never grinned huge cheesy grins, he had a special Elvis grin, and I borrowed that for Patsy in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ – a little tribute to Elvis

One of the first records that English rose bought when she was growing up was ‘Hound Dog’. The star of ‘The Avengers’ and the anarchic ‘Ab Fab’ has remained a fan till this day. And it was she that had me thinking about Mickey; she who sent me off looking for that CD I knew I had somewhere.

In recent years Joanna Lumley has taken to being a tele-traveller and we have accompanied her on a trip riding the Trans Siberian, partnered her to the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights and journeyed alongside her through the islands of Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa, And due to her love of the guy, last year she invited us to Graceland, too, ‘… on a very personal journey for an intimate insight into Elvis Presley, the man behind the legend.’ This was a one hour documentary screened on Auntie – and very enjoyable watching it was. But this scribbling isn’t about Joanna or Elvis, it’s about Mickey – but the doco, nonetheless, is worth checking out.

As Joanna talked to Priscilla; to the King’s best mate during his school days and to his first girlfriend, the interviews were interspersed with clips of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Abbey Road Studios. They were putting their lush sounds behind the Presley’s vocals for a new release, ‘If I Can Dream’. I suspect the Lumley helmed doco was just a puff piece to publicise yet another rehashing of the great rock ‘n’ roller’s hits. But, whatever the motivation for it, one of the musical inserts in it I knew in an instant because of its bombastic opening orchestration. It was an Elvis classic – a song now forever associated with him. But the tune had its start with someone else, a singer-songwriter by the name of Mickey Newbury.

Fast forward a few months after the airing of JL’s ‘Elvis and Me’ and I’m at my son’s home in Bridport for a quick visit. Richard was proudly showing me his ‘man’s world’ that he is putting together as a bolt hole downstairs. It has a pool table and a large screen television for those games he loves to play to unwind. He was called away and as I poked around I came across my old LPs. Since our respective departures from Burnie, Richard has been the temporary keeper of the vinyl for me – the remnants of a record collection I’d built up before the digital revolution that was once in its thousands. I had retained what I though to be the gems of what I once possessed. A few, such as my original Sgt Peppers, have been passed on to my music-loving daughter, but there they were – Woodstock, all my Jimmy Buffetts, John Prines and surprisingly, a number by Mickey Newbury. They took me back to quite a while ago now when I considered Newbury to be almost the pick of the crop; when I purchased every release of his available in Oz. I loved the sound of his rich voice and the quality of his songsmithery. And I wasn’t the only one who had him up there on a pedestal. Prine himself once stated that ‘Mickey Newbury is the best song writer ever.‘ Flipping through, I soon came across my favourite of his, 1971’s ‘Frisco Mabel Joy’ – that again taking me back to the opening strains of ‘American Trilogy’.

The song was a staple in Elvis’ concerts throughout the seventies, but we owe the song to Mickey. Now if you are familiar with the tune you would realise that it’s not penned by MN but is an amalgam of three traditional tunes – ‘Dixie’ (a black faced minstrel song and an anthem of the Confederacy); ‘All My Trials’ (originally a lullaby from the Bahamas) and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ (the marching song of the Union Army). So, he had both bases covered then. For ‘Frisco Mabel Joy’ he took the three songs and integrated them – is that what is called a mash-up today? It made a perfect whole.

Obviously Elvis, or one of his acolytes, picked up on it, realising how suitable it would be for his voice, so he recorded it too. But his single only reached 66 on Billboard – Newbury’s had gone all the way up to 26 in ’72.

Of course Elvis, by that stage, had already been a legend for more than a decade – still is today (perhaps even more so). Newbury’s name has faded into obscurity – even doing so in my mind till it came hurtling back recently. It took ‘Elvis and Me’ and a trip to Bridport to make that happen.

It was not only his knack with lyrics that marked the Houston born (1940) troubadour’s contribution to the American music – particularly alt country. Here are a few random facts that help to indicate his sizable legacy;-
1.Very early on in his career he felt stifled by the formulaic recording practices of Nashville, where he had relocated to in the mid-sixties, thinking it was detrimental to his musical output. So he decided to go looking elsewhere – taking the unconventional approach of moving to Madison. It wasn’t so long after he set the precedent that Willie, Waylon and the whole soon to be Outlaw crew did the same – except they headed to Austin. Of course for W and W it was a terrific career move – for Mickey, well he just chugged along on a far lower level.
2. In 1980 he was the youngest artist to be inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
3. He convinced Roger Miller to record Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, thus kick-starting KK’s career – another who reached the heights poor Mickey could only dream of.
4. He also convinced both Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark to move to Nashville to hone their songwriting skills – presumably before it jaded him. What pleasure both those guys have given me down through the decades. Both have now passed, but are fondly remembered – can we say the same for Newbury?

Apart from ‘Trilogy’ – which he obviously didn’t really compose from scratch, his songs, with the exception of the Don Gibson hit ‘Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings’, didn’t chart highly, whether recorded by himself or others. But he was a go to man for competent album filler. It’s been estimated that, over the years, about 1500 versions of his songs have been recorded.

But in many ways Newbury was his own worst enemy. Despite thumbing his nose at Nashville he refused to be aligned with the Outlaws, stating that label was ‘… just categorising again, making a new pigeonhole to stick somebody into.’ He had a penchant for linking the tracks on his albums with sound bites thus rendering them unsuitable for radio airplay. And like his disciple, Van Zandt, he was afflicted by depression and addictions.

Until his death in 2002 he made occasional forays back into music, producing stuff that received critical praise but very little in the way of sales. There was no later-life comeback for him, as there had been for others; nor was his name elevated by death. Truly, though, he was an unsung – sorry – hero.

So, thinking of those albums up in Bridport, one recent morning I took to the shed to make a search for the compilation CD I knew I had somewhere. I also intended to do some serious searching for my birth certificate, needed to apply for a passport. The latter eluded me, but pleasingly not the former. I have now played it again, enjoying his marvellous songs all over again.

But there is one way you may have heard of him. One of Waylon Jenning’s best know songs is ‘Lukenbach Texas’. Listen carefully – there’s a line that goes ‘Between Hank Williams pain songs, Newbury’s train songs’. Well, that’s Mickey he’s referring to. He’ll never be completely forgotten while that song lives – but he should have amounted to so much more.

Newbury singing ‘American Trilogy = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiTjElq5Xjs

Newbury’s website = http://www.mickeynewbury.com/

Ebony and Ivory

Inter–racial, or mixed, marriages are commonplace these days and we hardly bat an eyelid, but even during my lifetime it was once frowned on. A black woman with a white man, or vice versa, stuck out in society like a sore thumb. The potential of such a liaison once caused family angst and community consternation. Now imagine if it was a coloured man who was an heir to an African throne immediately after WW2, with his chosen one being a sweet English rose of lowly origins – family angst and community consternation are then magnified to the nth degree. The proposed nuptials of Serentse and Ruth caused great conniptions in the halls of power of the United Kingdom, South Africa and the former Bechuanaland, in a story bought to life on the big screen.

Now I thought I had a fair handle on the great stories of Africa’s freeing itself from colonialism, but this one, based on actual events – even if with a few made up characters – in the British Protectorate now know as Botswana, has passed me by. And it is a quiet engrossing movie that tells the tale. It’s put together by Amma Asante. Her last feature was the very competent ‘Belle’, another based-on-fact story, that time involving a black woman breaking a glass ceiling in 18th Century Britain. The issue of race relations is at each offering’s core.

Whereas the notion of apartheid was abhorrent to most Brits in the post-war period, the government was still keen to suck up to Malan and his racist cronies in Pretoria as Britain was reliant on the gold and diamonds coming out of RSA to keep the UK economy on an even keel. You don’t upset the hand that feeds you. So when the crown prince falls in love with Ruth on UK soil and they decide to marry, despite all the angst and consternation it may cause, the RSA authorities were soon pressuring their British counterparts to make sure such an affront to their pure-white values did not come to fruition. Serentse’s uncle, the caretaker of his nation’s throne and the young prince’s guardian, is similarly nonplussed and none too happy with a turn of events that flies in the face of tribal custom.

What Asante has directed in ‘United Kingdom’ is a writ by numbers affair, as she did with ‘Belle’, both, though, being entertainingly watchable. The contrast between the two locales in ‘A United Kingdom’ is one of the movie’s attractions – Old Blighty being typically rain sodden; the vast plains of Bechuanaland bathed in the golden hues of heat. But the latter land is just emerging from tribalism and Ruth, when the Prince returns to his homeland with her now his wife, finds the conditions stark, to say the least. But she’s a stoic soul, with it being clear she won’t be too long in wooing the local womenfolk into liking her for her caring ways. The wives of British officialdom are another matter. But machinations are afoot in London to bow to South African demands and plots follow to separate the couple and make their lives impossible.

There are some good turns in this from the supporting cast. I enjoyed Jack Davenport’s take as the toffy-nosed and thoroughly obnoxious British High Commissioner for Africa. And it was lovely to see Downton’s Laura Carmichael in the role of Ruth’s ever-supportive sister.

Maybe it was the PG rating, but there did not seem to me to be a great deal of chemistry between the two leads. It’s the type of role, playing Ruth, an actor of Rosamund Pike’s class could do blindfolded, with the best being said of David Oyelowo, as the heir to an African throne, is that he was reasonably okay. The movie, as a Boxing Day release, has underwhelmed in the multiplexes, but is doing quite well across the art houses; being more suited to a demographic less attracted to the whizzbangery of the blockbuster. It’s hardly an earth-shattering release, but in the midst of the usual festive season dross in it we have something quieter, something without flashiness – just a well told story presented with minimum fuss.

The movie’s trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX5vI4osR50