Thursday, 24 September 2020

Read a Free Sample of The Best Year Of Our Lives

It is now possible to read a free sample of The Best Year Of Our Lives before ordering. Please just click below:

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Your Memories of 1976 Wanted

I am presently researching for a new booklet featuring memories and experiences of the wonderful year that was 1976 from those who were there, and I am hoping that as a visitor to this blog you may wish to help by lending me some of your own?

What were you doing during that long hot summer? What memories does that year have for you in particular? The music? The drought and the ladybirds? A memorable holiday perhaps? Some special event in your life? Recollections from your youth?

If you'd like to contribute a few lines for the booklet, a few keepsakes, please just add them under Comments at the foot of this post or send me a PM. I'll need the name you'd like to be identified by (it can be initials, first name, or whatever you like) and a location - nothing too detailed or which gives too much information please.

Typos and bad grammar will be corrected, profanities will be deleted (as will anything which identifies anyone), but beyond that the floor is yours. Remember, it's about 1976 so please try to focus on that year if you can.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Thin White Duke - Ambassador of a Desolate Future?

The Thin White Duke was a character created, and lived, by David Bowie in the mid-1970s. Following his lead role in the cult sci-fi movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie adapted the look of his part Thomas Jerome Newton and transformed him into the sinister Duke - a pale, emotionless, Teutonic aristocrat sporting swept-back orange hair and a monochromatic cabaret-style outfit. In January 1976 his album Station to Station was released, and the interest of the music and other media was aroused by means of an original if not entirely well-advised series of statements on matters of national and international affairs.

In my novel The Best Year Of Our Lives the two main characters, Paul Adams and Jim Gray, are big Bowie fans and they reflect upon this drastic change in his stage persona, from the days of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane with which they were comfortable and familiar. The thought is not lost on them that the coldness of the Duke may be a baleful harbinger of times ahead.

1976: The Return Of The Thin White Duke is a 32-page booklet in which I have tried to make sense of the Duke, noting Bowie's prolific drug use during the period and considering the role the character played in the artist's transition between a life in Los Angeles that he'd fallen out of love with and what would be perhaps his most creative period, residing in West Berlin and creating his celebrated trilogy with essential input from Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno.

The booklet is available from Amazon in paperback (£2.99) or ebook format (£0.99).

Friday, 28 August 2020

Brotherhood of Man Win 1976 Eurovision Song Contest

Few institutions have aroused fascination and mockery in such equal measure as the Eurovision Song Contest. Staged by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) since 1956, it is easily the longest-running televised competitive annual musical event. Each year most of the nations of Europe, plus one or two others besides, vie for the prize of the best newly-composed song.

Although it is performed before a huge international televised audience, quite often the acts selected to take part are relatively new to the scene and use the contest as a springboard to launching a successful chart career. The most obvious example of this was ABBA, who took the competition by storm in 1974 when representing Sweden and went on to become one of the biggest-selling musical acts of all time. Others have somehow managed to fade into obscurity by the end of the evening.

Sometimes though more established artists are chosen to represent their countries (or other countries).

The UK slot has been filled more than once by Cliff Richard, as well as by such notables as Olivia Newton-John, Lulu and Engelbert Humperdinck, whilst Canadian diva Celine Dion has performed for Switzerland and sultry Spanish duo Baccara have sung for Luxembourg.


In spite of its dominance of the European pop scene, prior to 1976 the United Kingdom did not have a huge record of success in the competition, having been the outright winner only once - in 1967 with Sandie Shaw's Puppet on a String - although Lulu had shared the honours in a four-way tie two years later. But 1976 was a year to remember in terms of British sporting and performing excellence, and we entered the contest with high expectations.

Brotherhood of Man were a mixed, four-piece, middle-of-the-road outfit who had already enjoyed worldwide chart success with their 1973 hit United We Stand. But a relatively barren period ensued and they decided to enter A Song For Europe, the competition through with the UK selected its entrant for Eurovision, and in February 1976 the group was announced the winner with its catchy composition Save Your Kisses for Me.


On the big night in The Hague, Netherlands, Brotherhood of Man were the first act. The costumes worn were an interesting but successful combo - the two male singers wearing black and white suits and the two girls red and white jumpsuits along with matching berets. They all four stood in a row, Osmonds-style, singing whilst moving their arms and legs in a quaintly choreographed style. The song featured a man with conflicted emotions leaving his loved one in the morning as he went off to work. At the end of the song came a cute final twist in which the person he was singing to was in fact his three-year old child, rather than his partner as the listener had hitherto been given to presume.

Voting at the Eurovision Song Contest is by selected judges from competitor countries, and the event is routinely criticised for what would often appear to be both tactical and political voting. Nevertheless, support for the group was solid and Brotherhood of Man ended up the well-deserved winners, some seventeen points ahead of the French entry which took second place. Save Your Kisses for Me held the Number One spot in the UK singles' charts and achieved similar success around Europe, eventually going platinum.


Eurovision has not always had the best press, and has often been embroiled in international and political controversy. Musically it most certainly isn't to everyone's tastes. But in a year which saw skater John Curry take gold at the Winter Olympics and James Hunt win the Formula One World Championship, Brotherhood of Man did the prestige of the UK another huge service at a time when much social hardship and economic turmoil was being endured.

The group went on to enjoy a successful chart career, with a number of big hits including Angelo and Figaro. The same group, with the same line-up, is still performing and touring today.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Art For Art's Sake - Tom Keating Comes Clean

If you are fortunate enough to have a da Vinci or a Rembrandt hanging in your lobby you are unlikely ever to want for much. But what do you think would be the going rate for a Sexton?

Far from being a painter, Sexton Blake of course was a fictional detective. And being a Londoner, talented art restorer Tom Keating knew a little about rhyming slang.

Left-leaning Keating was disgusted by what he saw as a system in which dealers and critics connived to fill their coffers often at the expense of struggling artists, and he undertook to throw the art world into turmoil through the simple expedient of releasing a whole load of fakes, or "Sextons" onto the market. Blessed with an exceptional eye for detail and a steady hand, he faithfully reproduced Renoirs, Gainsboroughs and Degases aplenty.


On every occasion he would cheekily leave what he called a "time bomb" in his works, writing text with lead white onto the canvas before painting on top of it which could be detected by x-ray, or using materials which had only become available in the twentieth century. In this way fellow art restorers would know what they were dealing with, but the pretentious pseuds of the art world usually would not.

In April 1976 Keating revealed to the world that he had flooded the market with over 2,000 fake paintings during a 25-year career as a forger. He was unrepentant, declaring that his deeds had been a protest against the exploitation of artists, living and dead.

Charges were finally brought against him in 1979, but the case was later dropped due to Keating's ill health. He sadly passed away in 1984 at the age of 66.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Being 58 - The Author Looks Back at the 1970s With 2020 Vision

"Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing, although it cannot be used to right historical wrongs and is in that sense quite useless".

All the same, we invariably look back upon our formative years with some degree of affection, if inevitably through a rose-tinted lens.

Being 58 is the first of a series of booklets through which I hope to create some context for my already-published novel, set in 1976, entitled The Best Year Of Our Lives. Through it I have attempted to offer a sneak-peak into the mindset of lead character Paul Adams, as he bathes in the moment of the glorious summer of 1976.

Whether we celebrate the innocence of adolescence or denounce the ignorance of the age matters not, for the future has not yet happened. In the land he inhabits he is king.

Looking back to the 1970s through the grey tired lens of the 21st century can be a painful experience, but therapeutic also. It was when wonderful memories were made.

It is not mine to decide whether the seventies finds its place in history as a statue or a museum piece. That is one for the judges of the future. For me, it's only important that isn't forgotten.

Being 58 is available from Amazon in paperback (£2.99) or ebook format (£0.99).

Sunday, 5 July 2020

My Radio Interview with Cockney Rebel Connections

It was a real pleasure recently to be given a one-hour interview slot on the independent radio show Cockney Rebel Connections.

As the name suggests the channel is dedicated to the work of Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, and I discussed my novel The Best Year Of Our Lives with presenter Stewart Griffin, with particular emphasis on the influence of Harley's music and lyrics on my own formative years and of course on the book itself. The singer-songwriter has appeared on the show in person on more than one occasion.

Some time back I was thrilled to receive some words of praise and encouragement from the man himself, who had read the novel and told me he was "pleased and privileged" to have been an influence.

The music of Cockney Rebel is referenced several times in the story, set in 1976, as the two lead characters are fans.

Click here to listen to the interview, which also includes a selection of songs which I was given the opportunity to select.