You Absolutely Cannot Check Out Any Time you Like

Hotel Milano‘ by Tim Parks

You can buy Tim Park’s latest novel Hotel Milano – and support the blog – by purchasing the book from Bookshop.org https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781787303409

You can also read an exclusive Question and Answer session with Tim Parks here: https://wp.me/p4pQjs-pJ

From the bestselling, Booker-shortlisted writer of ‘Italian Ways’ and ‘Europa’, a classic novel about a man’s emotional reckoning in a changed world far from home

Frank’s reclusive existence in a leafy part of London is shattered when he is summoned to Milan for the funeral of an old friend. Preoccupied by this sudden intrusion of his past, he flies, oblivious, into the epicentre of a crisis he has barely registered on the news.

It is spring, his luxury hotel offers every imaginable comfort; perhaps he will be able to weather the situation and return home unscathed? What Frank doesn’t know is that he’s about to make a discovery that will change his heart and his mind.

The arresting new novel from Booker Prize-shortlisted Tim Parks, ‘Hotel Milano’ is a universal story from a unique moment in recent history: a book about the kindness of strangers, and about a complicated man who, faced with the possibility of saving a life, must also take stock of his own. (Synopsis courtesy of https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/447542/hotel-milano-by-parks-tim/9781787303409)  

There are some writers who you just come across at an important time. I stumbled upon an American edition of Tim Parks’ autobiographical book, ‘An Italian Education’ on a holiday in Venice in the early 2000s. The weather was hot, the partner I was travelling with was tetchy and the scenario was doomed.

That relationship did not last: the one with Parks the author endured.

Both in his non-fiction and in his novel, as brilliantly exemplified by his latest offering, ‘Hotel Milano’, Tim Parks is a writer of deceptive simplicity.

In this work, the first person narrative of Frank Marriott, see the words carefully chosen: building sentences, sentences carrying the cadence to paragraphs until you have a rhythm which carries the reader through the narrative. “One cannot meet people and talk and remember without paying the price.”

Overlaid on this are the words of Tennyson, quoted as Marriott begins his gallant folly to the funeral of a sort of friend. “All things are taken from us, and become / Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.”

The almost gothic sensibilities of the Victorian poet mesh beautifully with this novel’s meditations on loneliness, the migrant crisis, the role of the media in the narratives of our own lives, grief and the virtue of caring for others.

Marriott muses at once point. “For years, I thought, you have lived alone without the word loneliness so much as crossing your mind.”

As someone with mixed fortunes in the pandemic – a “happy” (mostly) lockdown in a beautiful location on the plus, the death of a relative on the negative – this is a novel which tugs at a number of heartstrings. Incidentally, I also stayed at an hotel not unlike the one around which the book is centred. I’d never encountered accommodation with a pillow menu before. Quite the eye opener.

A truly underrated quality of Parks’ writing is the humour, a quality as an aside all too often missing from “literary” fiction. Marriott has a wry line in observations which do an excellent job of skewering the idiosyncratic tendencies of the modern world, “One must live in a state of outrage. Not to do so was outrageous,” or, “Between the fifth and fourth floors an oriental woman was using the stairs to stretch. With dumbbells in her hands. The Grand Hotel Milano had become a five-star hamster wheel.

A personal favourite aspect of the carefully constructed narration is the way Marriott’s mind jumps between the serious self-involved introspection of the man stranded on a quest he’s not sure he wants to be on and the trivial realities of the every day needs. “I saw all this again, lying on my bed in the Grand Hotel Milano, with the clarity and serenity of a waking dream. You are washed up like a bone on a beach, I thought. And I thought, Time for lunch!

Finally, more characters in serious fiction need the pomposity pricking of the women which Marriott encounters. Picking up his trusty Tennyson, a character reads, “And I, the last, go forth companionless, / And the days darken round me, and the years, / Among new men, strange faces, other minds. Bit over the top, she smiled.” Well, quite…

There is nothing about ‘Hotel Milano‘ which is over the top. It is a quiet triumph of a novel, reflective, moving and contemporary in its reflection of a world we are all still processing.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1787303403?tag=prhmarketing2552-21

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781787303409?a_aid=prh

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/books/hotel-milano-booker-shortlisted-author-of-europa/9781787303409

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/hotel-milano-booker-shortlisted-author,tim-parks-9781787303409

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/9781787303409?awc=3787_1674129005_63eef2c281426cf980e912f281ae1c8f&utm_source=117976&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=Penguin+Books

Biography:

Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He has written nineteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), DestinyCleaverIn Extremis and, most recently, Hotel Milano.

During the nineties he wrote two, personal non-fiction accounts of life in northern Italy, Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, books that won acclaim and popularity for their anthropological wryness. These were complemented in 2002 by A Season with Verona, a grand overview of Italian life as seen through the business and passion of football, and Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo. 

A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, in recent years he has been publishing a series of blogs on writing, reading, translation and the like in the New York Review online.

Aside from his own writing, Tim has translated works by Moravia, Pavese, Calvino, Calasso, Machiavelli and Leopardi; his book, Translating Style, which analyses Italian translations of the English modernists, is considered a classic in its field. (Biography adapted from www.timparks.com)

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tim.Parks.Author

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/timparksauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TimParksauthor

The End of Days?

‘The Survivor’ by Simon Conway

You can read an exclusive Q&A with Simon Conway here

You can support the blog and order ‘The Survivor’ from the Bookshop link here https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781529334388

Jude Lyon of MI6 has narrowly foiled the traitor Fowle’s plot to level London, but the public are demanding answers.

Answers the government doesn’t have.

As the country reels, a new populist political figure carves a stratospheric trajectory – but is he all he seems?

In Moscow the President is furious. The world now knows the destructive power of the programme his people had been developing, and as the Russians scramble to understand how it got into Fowle’s hands, they start to worry that perhaps it could be used against them . . .

But Jude Lyon has just one question on his mind: Guy Fowle is missing, with nothing left to lose,

So what is he planning next?

Seething with political machinations, burning with blood-thumping action, and featuring the best returning MI6 operative since James Bond ‘The Survivor’ brings the espionage novel crashing into the modern day.

Shane Whaley, the legendary host of the Spybrary podcast and it’s associated Facebook group (excellent for fans of Spy Writing, appalling for the bank balance), often says he wishes that he had been alive in the time when many of the giants of the spy fiction world were publishing books.

I can’t help being delighted that we are alive in such a time as now. Mick Herron and Simon Conway are two writers destined to be remembered as first level writers of excellence in the genre. With ‘The Survivor’, Conway cements his position at the summit.

Greater experts than I concur. The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman – he of the impeccable contacts book and the planet-sized intellect – ranks Conway at 26 in his list of the 120 all time spy writers. Although this seems low, Shipman suggests that, “if he gets the support he deserves from publishers, the sky is the limit,” and this seems about right.

When I reviewed Conway’s previous outing in the series, ‘The Saboteur’, I said, “There is also more crash, bang, wallop than in the first… Conway’s background allows him to write about the violence with predictably bone-jarring verisimilitude but – and perhaps more importantly from a character development and depth of reading enjoyment point of view – is equally strong on the aftermath of terrible acts on people forced to endure unimaginable suffering.”

This blending of the sickening after effects of violence on individuals with the clock ticking tension is once again here in full force as Lyon travels the globe hunting Fowle and attempting to get ahead of the ying to his yang at the same time as a new Prime Minister tries to stamp his authority on a financially and emotionally ravaged country.

Just as well it is fiction, eh?

With an expanded cast of characters and displaying his usual behind the scenes insights into the personalities, petty jealousies and shifting sands of loyalties and politicking within the espionage community, Conway has rendered a must read adventure.

Packed with excitement, exotic locations and the down-to-earth crunch of bone on bone, Conway truly is the heir apparent to Ian Fleming. Not in the cinematic Bond who is too debonair but in the literary Fleming where lives are seldom taken with a quip and bruises take whole books to heal.

‘The Survivor’ is, apparently, the concluding outing in the trilogy. I can only hope that – as Le Carre did with Smiley – there is at least one further outing for the Lyon of the urban jungle.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?field-isbn=9781529334340&tag=hachetteuk-21

Audible: https://www.audible.co.uk/search/ref=mn_anon-h_tseft?advsearchKeywords=The%20Survivor&author_author=Simon%20Conway&utm_source=awin&source_code=CMJ30DFT1Bk145032919907C&awc=8095_1667380669_c449a3f458d9c93973c432baa259bb8c

Blackwell’s: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781529334340

Bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781529334388

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-survivor,simon-conway-jamie-parker-9781529334340

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/9781529334340?awc=3787_1667380645_f18b79282282c93d418730db8993fd15&utm_source=508909&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hachette.co.uk

Author Bio

Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and international aid worker. He has cleared landmines and the other debris of war across the world.

As Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition he successfully campaigned to achieve an international ban on cluster bombs.

He is currently working as Director of Capability for The HALO Trust.

He lives in Edinburgh with his wife the journalist and broadcaster Sarah Smith. He has two daughters. (Biography courtesy of www.simonconwaybooks.com)

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/simongconway

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simon.conway.author

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/simongconway/?hl=en

Question and Answers with Simon Conway

You can read a review of Simon’s latest novel, ‘The Survivor’ here

You can support the blog and order ‘The Survivor’ from the Bookshop.org link here

Jude Lyon of MI6 has narrowly foiled the traitor Fowle’s plot to level London, but the public are demanding answers.

Answers the government doesn’t have.

As the country reels, a new populist political figure carves a stratospheric trajectory – but is he all he seems?

In Moscow the President is furious. The world now knows the destructive power of the programme his people had been developing, and as the Russians scramble to understand how it got into Fowle’s hands, they start to worry that perhaps it could be used against them . . .

But Jude Lyon has just one question on his mind: Guy Fowle is missing, with nothing left to lose,

So what is he planning next?

Seething with political machinations, burning with blood-thumping action, and featuring the best returning MI6 operative since James Bond ‘The Survivor’ brings the espionage novel crashing into the modern day.

PAJNewman (PN): ‘The Survivor’ follows just over a year from the publication of ‘The Saboteur’. How has your last year been? I think I’m correct in thinking that you have moved to America. Is that altering the way you work and are you still planning on publishing at the rate you’ve been for this trilogy?

Simon Conway (SC): I moved to the USA in March with my wife who is reporting on US politics for the BBC. I’m still travelling but at a slight slower pace. This year I’ve been in East Africa, Ukraine and the South Pacific for work but with long enough between trips to settle in here in Washington, DC. It’s a fascinating and in many ways disturbing time to be here.  If anything, the atmosphere here is more febrile than in the wake of the storming of the capitol. It feels like democracy is under threat and there is a danger of politically motivated violence. It’s rich material for future books. I am enjoying writing and I’m hoping to keep up the pace.

PN: How are you getting on with balancing the demands of the publisher, the public and your other job for the HALO Trust?

SC: I’m finding a balance. For the last year I’ve been working part-time for HALO unless I’m overseas on mission. That gives me more time to time to stare out the window, which I’ve convinced myself is all important for writers. I have a large laurel oak just outside my window in Georgetown and watching it change with the seasons has been ceaselessly diverting.

PN: In ‘The Survivor’ Jude is still recovering from his injuries sustained at the end of his last outing and London remains in ruins. The marketing is saying that this concludes the Jude Lyon series. Is this confirmed or can you imagine bring Jude back in future?

SC: Put this way, we may see more of those who survive…

PN: How do you feel about this outing for Jude? Are you finding your attitude to your work has shifted across the three novels?

SC: Jude is understandably scarred by what has happened in the last two books and I think we see a more reflective side of him and Yulia Ermolaeva in The Survivor. There is a quiet pleasure in writing characters that you are familiar with and I’m going to miss some of them. At the same time, I wanted to keep up the pace. I got a message from Mick Herron a couple of days ago, who read an advance copy. He said that it’s like being “strapped to a rocket” which pleased me no end. It was always going to be a challenge to complete the trilogy given the mayhem caused in The Saboteur and I hope that I’ve achieved it.

PN: How easy or hard was it to avoid the Covid overtures to some of the decisions taken by the Prime Minister in the novel. Do you get satisfaction out of the layers of comic irony this generates?

SC: I think that Covid has highlighted the fragility and inter-connectedness of modern society and that is particularly interesting if you are exploring its vulnerability to acts of sabotage and how ill-prepared our political system is to respond. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the books has been creating the politicians: Frank Booth the self-pitying former Foreign Secretary responsible for an illegal rendition in The Stranger; Gabriel Morley, the hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer in The Saboteur who becomes a Russian pawn; and Lee Chapeaux, the youthful insurgent who sees himself as a latter-day Cromwell and becomes Prime Minister in The Survivor without facing the electorate. He is quite happy to burn everything down to rebuild from the ashes.

PN: I know one of your novels is in development for TV (https://www.simonconwaybooks.com/rock-creek-park) Would you be willing to let this trilogy be adapted? If so, do you have an actor in mind for either Jude or Guy?

SC: I’m open minded. They’d have to do a lot of damage to London! I don’t have a specific actor in mind. That’s for others to decide. Who do you have in mind?

PN: In terms of the HALO Trust, is there any way for readers to help support the work that you are doing?

SC: Absolutely, I encourage people to follow The HALO Trust on social media and spread the message. Take a look at www.halotrust.org. We have been quite successful at public fund raising for our work in Ukraine.

PN: What is the question you wished interviewers and readers would ask but never do?

SC: I think that interviewers and readers find their way to the right questions.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?field-isbn=9781529334340&tag=hachetteuk-21

Audible: https://www.audible.co.uk/search/ref=mn_anon-h_tseft?advsearchKeywords=The%20Survivor&author_author=Simon%20Conway&utm_source=awin&source_code=CMJ30DFT1Bk145032919907C&awc=8095_1667380669_c449a3f458d9c93973c432baa259bb8c

Blackwell’s: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781529334340

Bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781529334388

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-survivor,simon-conway-jamie-parker-9781529334340

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/9781529334340?awc=3787_1667380645_f18b79282282c93d418730db8993fd15&utm_source=508909&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hachette.co.uk

Author Bio:

Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and international aid worker. He has cleared landmines and the other debris of war across the world.

As Co-Chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition he successfully campaigned to achieve an international ban on cluster bombs.

He is currently working as Director of Capability for The HALO Trust.

He lives in Edinburgh with his wife the journalist and broadcaster Sarah Smith. He has two daughters. (Biography courtesy of www.simonconwaybooks.com)

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/simongconway

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simon.conway.author

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/simongconway/?hl=en

Red Lights and Weary Travellers

‘Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for a Life’ by Brendan James

Also on the tour today is Tami and Bookish Dreamer

‘Could there be a world of interest and adventure beyond the Midlands? A world of confidence, sex and excitement? A better life – a better me?’ These are the questions Gerard Philey grapples with over New Year, 1995. Sitting in his rented Black Country room, reflecting on his thankless teaching job and miserable love life, he courageously decides to abandon his humdrum existence and embark on a quest for Euro-fulfilment, fun and fitness on the Continent.

After a shaky start in Brussels, events manoeuvre him to Amsterdam where chance encounters shift his world well and truly into fifth gear. He samples the trials and tribulations of new relationships, alongside managing a sex shop in the city’s Red Light Area – on top of the challenges of fat-free living and international travel!

Through his bittersweet diary, we see how Gerard steers a laugh-out-loud course through farcical episodes and fanciful characters…and how entanglements from past and present draw him unwittingly into a criminal underworld where events ultimately take their toll.

Purchase Link –  https://amzn.to/3spEKZ9

It has been a while since I was able to get away on a proper foreign holiday. Rather like the eponymous Gerard Philey of Brendan James’ charming debut novel, I spend my days helping to educate the next generation of souls. Although they do not – as yet – choose to decorate me with chewed up pieces of ‘Paris Match’ as his do, I certainly recognise the ennui of the listless educational professional he describes!

One of my fondest ever memory is of a holiday I took alone to France as a newly qualified teacher. I was able to nap and write and drink wine in the sun and utilise my less-than-adequate language skills to procure decent food at a bargain price. It was pure Peter Mayle (a hero of mine I’ve written about before)

This novel is a bit like a hybrid of a ‘A Year in Provence’ meets ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole’ and is very much enjoyable accordingly. James is a writer of assured quality and the wryly amusing encounters his put upon hero endures brings to mind the work of Tom Sharpe and the tortures he regularly put poor Wilt through.

A read that zips by like a galloping Eurostar, this is one for the traveller in your life. Happy holidays!

Author Bio

Brendan James is the author of the new comedy novel, “Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for a Life”. Though this is his first novel, he has a large number of non-fiction publications (under the name Brendan Bartram) as a former university lecturer and researcher. A passionate linguist and Europhile, he spent a number of years working in the Netherlands, France and Germany. He lives in the West Midlands with his husband.

Social Media Links –

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/450811.Brendan_James

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brendan-james-4343a8237/

Twitter @Brendan23015569

Theatrical Frames, Plenty of Twists

You can support the blog by purchasing ‘The Twist of a Knife’ from Bookshop.org here

‘Our deal is over.’

That’s what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind.

His new play, ‘Mindgame’, is about to open in London’s Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.

On opening night, ‘Sunday Times’ critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.

Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby’s murder, thrown into prison and interrogated.

Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.

But will Hawthorne take his call?
(Synopsis courtesy of Penguin)

Everyone is always so grouchy about targeted advertising. Big companies like Amazon and Apple mining your online behaviour to sell you products people like you have already bought, their algorithms churning away in the background to manipulate you into parting with your hard earned cash.

I get it. It’s never nice to feel like a sheep, manipulated and herded. Netflix’s documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma‘ does an excellent job of exploring the dystopian overtones of how we live now.

But, here’s the thing – sometimes, it’s quite nice to be offered products people like you would like. Those algorithms are really just the video rental clerks of the 80s, but with about the same level of interaction skills and better personal hygiene.

So, I suspect I was the proverbial fish in a barrel when Audible told me the daily deal was Anthony Horowitz’s ‘A Line to Kill’.

Firstly, it’s written by Anthony Horowitz. I’ve written elsewhere of my affection for the latest adaptation of his Baby Bond series, ‘Alex Ryder, and I have taught the first in that series, Stormbreaker, https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781406360196 for a good number of years now.

Secondly, I had just finished reading his second James bond continuation novel, ‘Forever and a Day’, the single best continuation of that franchise in literary form since Kingsley Amis’ ‘Colonel Sun written under the pseudonym Robert Markham .

Finally, there was the setting. Alderney is the only Channel Island I have been to – as a child no less – but even as a teen I could see its potential as a locked room murder mystery setting. Throw in a literary festival – very much my “thang” and I was in.

Well, hooked does not do justice. I’ve now read – or more accurately had read to me by the superb Rory Kinnear – all of the novels in the series. Kinnear is – somewhat confusingly – the voice of Anthony Horowitz. Because what this series needed was more meta-overtones.

The latest novel in the series, Book 4, ‘The Twist of a Knife’, continues the conceit of having Horowitz as his own Watson, trailing along behind enigmatic private detective Hawthorne as he strides out in front.

Horowitz clearly has some fun depicting himself as vain and whiny in a way which must have been delightful to write but is also quite cruel and he continues to let Hawthorne get away with all the best lines.

At the opening of the novel, narrator Anthony has to grapple with the reluctance to write any more books in this series and the indisputable fact that the reader is holding/listening to the book he is refusing to write. A deliciously meta conundrum if you like that sort of thing: I do.

The US cover of ‘A Twist of the Knife

As well as being one of the most successful and clearly the hardest working writers in the UK today, Horowitz is a master craftsman. And in these novels, he deploys all of his well-honed talents to best effect.

Suspects are introduced, dismissed and re-interviewed. The theatre is also a motif in another excellent novel of this year, ‘Bad Actors’ by Mick Herron. However, Horowitz does not succumb to the temptation of making theatre related pun after pun. But, Hawthorne can’t resist an Agatha Christie dénouement and it arrives with a welcome theatrical flourish.

Narrator Anthony is worried that the books have run out of steam – after all, he’s even run out of writing allusions after ‘A Line to Kill’ (probably best he didn’t go with ‘The Pun-ishment is Death’ for this one in fairness). He’s damned if he’s going have them named Hawthorne Investigates as well: but, as a reader, I don’t think he need worry.

This is a series with plenty more puff in the tank and for anyone who likes classic murder mystery fiction, crafted by a professional at the top of their game, this is for them.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twist-Knife-bestselling-Hawthorne-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B09MF6Z1CQ

Audible: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Twist-of-a-Knife-Audiobook/B09TCSCZGN

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781529124323?a_aid=prh

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781529124323

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/all?term=9781529124323&aCode=AFW&awc=1414_1661248936_a7999c61868fb301e8f14dce21d3b564

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-twist-of-a-knife/anthony-horowitz/2928377085537

Author Bio:

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz has written two highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, ‘The House of Silk’ and ‘Moriarty’; three James Bond novels, ‘Trigger Mortis’, ‘Forever and a Day’ and ‘With a Mind to Kill‘; the acclaimed bestselling mystery novels ‘Magpie Murders’ and ‘Moonflower Murders’ and the Detective Hawthorne novels, ‘The Word is Murder’, ‘The Sentence is Death‘, ‘A Line To Kill’, and the latest ‘A Twist of Knife’ is out in August 2022.

He is also the author of the teen spy Alex Rider series, and responsible for creating and writing some of the UK’s most loved and successful TV series, including ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Foyle’s War’. In January 2022 he was awarded a CBE for his services to literature. (Biography courtesy of https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/185113/anthony-horowitz?tab=penguin-biography)

Social Media

Twitter: @AnthonyHorowitz

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anthony-horowitz/

All Things Must Pass, Across the Universe, Please Please Me, I Will Be Glad All Over when we Let poor McCartney Be

Or, Why You Need to Stop Encouraging Paul McCartney

Personally, I blame Ian Leslie[1].

OK, I don’t really blame him.

But Leslie was definitely at the vanguard of a movement to rehabilitate the reputation of a performer, about whom I was pretty sure the debate was settled and the world had moved on: Paul McCartney.

Leslie’s piece, ‘64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney‘ – which you should definitely read by the way –  appeared to herald the beginning of some form of rediscovery and rehabilitation for “the kid”.

The second reason Leslie gives as reason to celebrate this multimillionaire is, “it’s the end of 2020, the kid is 78 years old and is widely regarded as having made more great songs than anyone else alive. He is releasing a new album, McCartney III.”

Writer – and McCartney apologist – Ian Leslie

Ok. Well, firstly, he ain’t no kid and – as far as I can tell – the only people who widely regard him as “having made more great songs than anyone else alive,” are Ian Leslie and Alan Partridge. I imagine it would sure as hell come as a surprise to Bob Dylan, for a start.

Suddenly there was a wave of this nonsense. He headlined Glastonbury for the love of all that is right with the world. Everyone was rediscovering “the legend”! That bloke who made interminable movies about some geezers in need of a wax walking and lasted for12 hours, Peter Jackson, made an unwatchable documentary about four men in early middle age sitting in a music studio which lasted eight hours. Cheers for that.

However, what the whole sudden appreciation of McCartney really put me in mind of is the conclusion of Alan Bennett’s play ‘An Englishman Abroad’.

As Coral Browne tells the audience, “If you can eat a boiled egg in England at ninety, they think you deserve a Nobel Prize.”

People aren’t suddenly reappraising McCartney because he’s got relevance or he’s amazing at melodies. People are reappraising him because he’s old and he’s not dead and he’s less of a weapon’s grade tool than Ringo.

Except, he’s not really – and he doesn’t even get the Thomas the Tank Engine bye.

“McCartney’s reputation has never fully recovered from the shredding it took when The Beatles broke up,” writes Leslie. Yeah, again, funny that. It’s like when Paul Weller broke up The Jam to do The Style Council. Can you trace the roots of that subsequent venture in singles like Beat Surrender? Of course.

Should you vilify the artist for branching out and trying new things?

Also of course. Because it was awful, it looked stupid and it pleased no one. It pleased no one because it wasn’t cool.

And that matters. it matters because they’re supposed to be rock stars.

I get that he wasn’t originally. I get that by the time they’d ceased being The Quarrymen and got shot of DAs and rocker jackets and been repackaged, he was in a little group marketed as cynically as any Busted, Boyzone or McFly.

And I agree that The Beatles made some quality pop records and they could play their own instruments – at least before the acid years when they got “interesting” – or unlistenable depending upon how honest you want to be about it.

In the absolutely superlative documentary series – and mercifully shorter than ‘Get Back’, ‘My Life as a Rolling Stone’ – Mick Jagger speaks revealingly about the way the attitude of the group was deliberately cultivated as the anti-thesis of The Beatles’ holier-than-thou goody-two-shoes-ness.

Actual rock stars. Should be dead. Aren’t.

It’s the reason your Mum loved the Liverpudlian quartet and your Dad was a Stones man. Because she went to church on Sunday and he was too hungover.

But now, it’s half a century later and the loathsome ditty guffer is getting praise for being a fantastic musician and for his ability to write a melody and…

Yawn.

But, here’s the thing: that’s not his job.

His job is to be a rock star. And that’s not his métier at all.

McCartney is probably a really nice man and, if you’re a music person, I’m sure his melodies are charming and carry you away.

Presumably to the Mull of Kintyre.

But, as the late, great Bill Hicks said, “I want my rock stars dead!”

A proper rock star comedian, Bill Hicks

In Relentless, the comedy equivalent of a proper rock album, he continues, “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who fucking rocked! I don’t care if they died in pools of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!”

You know why Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty, Deep Purple, The Who and The Rolling Stones are cool?

It’s because they played from their hearts.

“But McCartney does play from his heart”, mewl the fans. Yeah, but their hearts were weird, warped, dangerous and black and his heart is a branch of Clinton’s Cards, all faux-Cath Kidson bunting and environmentally damaging glitter balloons.

The UK is not about sincerity. We are allergic to asinine assertions of hearts on sleeves. It why you can respect Phil Collins’ drumming and still know he’s musical criminal.

It’s why when Americans do political shows we get The West Wing, when the Brits do it, we get The Thick of It. If you’re sincere, you’re suspect and, probably, a wrong ‘en. Look how everyone believed the sweet-hearted, tennis-loving, Brexit Elvis-impersonator Cliff Richards’ Yew Tree stuff, even when demonstrably false.

It’s not just about dying – but it is about living on the edge. It’s about sex and drugs and rock and roll, not the Frog Chorus or Ebony and Ivory  – even though they are the musical equivalence of the Iraq invasion – Go to The Hague, do not pass go, do not collect a Middle Eastern Peace Envoy role.

It’s because rock stars are Hendrix and his plastercast junk, not buttersoft balls like ‘Yesterday’.

Oh, all your “troubles seemed so far away,” did they? I bet you took a full 4 seconds to come up with that rhyme, ya whopper.

So, in the final analysis, what does Paul McCartney leave the world?

Some decent pop tunes in the early 1960s, Wings – “the band the Beatles could have been”, as Patridge said and the ability to not be dead.

The sort of men who value McCartney

Well hold the front page.

Vegetarianism, trainers with a suit jacket – which everyone used to rightly chastise him for before the Shoreditch “massif” began copying it ironically and then it became de rigour, like beard oil and unicycles -does not a rock god make.

Everyone knows the only Beatle that mattered was George anyway. For a start, he got to go and play with the big boys of the rock world and be cool.  

And you see who’s not there? That’s right, because he’s not cool. Never has been, never will be.

When he made the trip to a muddy field in Gloucestershire, people were suddenly surprised that he wasn’t very good. “His voice has gone,” they whined. Gone where? Tell you what, who knew?

Oh that’s right, everyone.

Can’t imagine why letting the Werther’s Original Grandad have the main stage of a major festival which used to be good, could in any way go wrong…

I know that Caitlin Moran and Ian Leslie are better writers than me, more successful than me, vastly more talented than me and Moran, for sure, knows far more about music than I ever will.

Caitlin Moran – better writer than me, better knowledge of music – still wrong on this topic.

But they are wrong on this topic. They are backing Clarkson-era Top Gear, jeans at the nipples, middle age, middle of the road “rock” compilations. And that’s never the right horse to back.

So, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, From Me to You, please, I suggest we let Grandad slope off back to his shed and leave the rock music to the mad, the bad and the dangerous rather than the safe, the saccharine and the benign.


[1] Despite his blocking of me on Twitter (I think because of this subject?) I don’t really blame him. I think he’s an exceptional thinker about the world who, even when you disagree with him, is worth listening to and who introduced me to Substack. I have read more, and more widely, because of the money I give him for his newsletter and I rate him as one of the best writers working today. I emailed to apologise for whatever it was I did which upset him but have yet to receive a reply. You should definitely buy his book, ‘How to Disagree: Lessons on Productive Conflict at Work and Home.’ Perhaps the secret is to block people who annoy you online?