All posts by Richard Cox

Derby Telegraph – February 20, 2018 – double-page spread

Anton Rippon catches up with former Derby Telegraph reporter Richard Cox who is about to launch his latest book.

Most book launches take place in bookshops. That makes sense. But when Richard Cox launches the third title in his thriller series set in the town in the 70s, the event will be held in the pub where he enjoyed his first pint in Derby, bought for him by the paper’s then chief crime reporter, Dick Wallis.
The concept behind the Simon Jardine series is that a Derby Telegraph reporter is drawn relentlessly into the plot as he searches for a front page lead. He’s dogged, but naive, and his occasional blundering puts him and his two accomplices, crime reporter Dave Green and DJ-cum-private investigator Tom Freeman in fear of their lives.
The first book in the series, First Dead Body, looked at the corruption surrounding Derby’s new inner ring road. The second title, A Fatal Drug, dug down into the flowering drugs scene. This latest work, Vinyl Junkie, lifts the lid to reveal a money-obsessed record industry, drugs and greed combining, and the involvement of the feared IRA.
Richard, who writes under the name of Tony R Cox, said: “I was born in Greater London and, having a father who worked for British Rail, lived in Scotland, Lancaster, Cheshire and also Lahore, Pakistan, where my father had been seconded to the United Nations to lecture on railway signalling.
“But I spent seven years at the Telegraph as a reporter and then moved on to Nottingham where I became Business Editor, then a career change saw me spend the next 25 years in public relations. So why write about those seven years in Derby? Because the town, now little city, made a lasting impression.”
There is, though, also another more significant local connection: Both my parents came from Derby. Mum was a nurse at the DRI; Dad trained at the signalling school. He went off to war and when he returned a hero he joined British Railways and never again lived in Derby. When my mother died in 2010, surviving Dad by 18 years, I was clearing out her bungalow in Church Broughton when I happened upon Dad’s medals, including those for Dunkirk, North Africa, Italy and Germany, plus the Military Cross, bestowed for his role in the battles of Cassino, Italy.
“I’ve donated the medals along with lots of memorabilia to the museum of the Royal Corps of Signals. I also found a massive Cox family bible started by my great grandfather who died in Ockbrook on Boxing Day 1904. In essence this mighty tome sets out our family history in Derby from the mid 1800s.
“Thomas Cox, my great grandfather, was apprenticed to ironmongers Weatherhead Walters & Co., who later became Bennetts of Irongate. Thomas got out of the ironmongery business, started dealing in wine and beer and married the daughter of the landlord of the Kings Head, Cornmarket. He went on to become a Derby town councillor and founded Cox and Garrard, wine and beer merchants.
“My maternal grandmother was the last private nurse to the last of the Arkwright family that lived at Willersley Castle, Cromford. Her husband was a school teacher at Wilmorton and retired as headmaster of Gerard Street School in 1939. He’d been Conductor and Chairman of Quorndon Musical Society.
“So although I wasn’t born and raised in Derby, but I went to school in Buxton and had seven great years working on the Telegraph. The city and county are deeply ingrained in my blood. I’m now retired and living in Leicestershire, but a frequent visitor to my favourite little city and its real ale pubs.
“The Simon Jardine thriller series is based around newspaper life in the 70s. It was a time when stories emanated from pubs, and Derby then and especially now, had some fantastic pubs. Where coffee shops have now taken over High Streets everywhere, Derby’s pubs were the source of news stories, and the inspiration for my books.
“My very first pint in Derby was at The Exeter Arms and The Dolphin was also a haunt, and The Old Silk Mill became the heart of the town’s rock music scene, thanks to John Pierrepont. We used to venture out to The Greyhound and the Travellers Rest, occasionally the Great Northern. We used to frequent Tiffany’s, Cleopatras, the Hippodrome, Derbyshire Yeoman, College of Art and Technology, Hatton Youth Centre and many more venues.
“Music was, and is, an over-riding influence: just as it is for Simon Jardine.
“The series is set in the 1970s when the pill was available to allow women more control of their bodies; the drugs scene was spilling out of London’s West End and Soho; and rock music ruled the airwaves. The series, in a nutshell, is Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll.”
Richard, 67, is launching his latest book at The Exeter Arms. He says: “Book launches can be staid, introspective affairs. I want something different. I wanted to interest occasional readers, even non-readers as well as fellow authors and friends. The launch of Vinyl Junkie will be a party; a celebration; a time to mix with like-minded people. Boring it certainly won’t be!
“The book is all about the music of the 70s and the garrulousness of a great pub. My solution is to go back in time. The Exeter Arms is near perfect as a venue: it serves fantastic beer, has a lively but mature atmosphere, and it is central to my books. The music will be provided by Pouk Hill Prophetz, who played at the 50th Convention of Slade, with an acoustic and later an amplified set.
“It’s a free event, open to all who want to help me celebrate. I would love to see those whom I knew from those heady early 70s, particularly from Cleopatra’s; those great journalists in Derby and Nottingham; and the exceptionally supportive band of writers and readers who make those long, lonely hours poured over a keyboard bearable and often enjoyable.”
Vinyl Junkie will be launched at The Exeter Arms on March 24 from 2.30pm – the party will go on all evening – and anyone wanting a copy signed by the Author should order it in advance through Amazon (Kindle and paperback) or direct from the publishers, Fahrenheit Press (www.fahrenheit-press.com) and bring it along. From March 1, Vinyl Junkie and the second in the Simon Jardine series, A Fatal Drug, can also be ordered through any bookshop.

Is the traditional book launch event over?

Business is competitive and can be cutthroat. That’s how some get rich and others go bust; and book publishing is no different. Authors are having to do the hard graft to sell their wares, just as much as well-established publishers, and the ‘big book launch’ has always played a major role.
But is this often sparsely attended event nearing the end of its effective life? Does it need to strengthen its spine and turn over a new leaf?
Authors are an odd breed. Some are raconteurs and entertainers – Mark Billingham springs readily to mind – others are introspective vampires. Their personalities only emerge through their fingertips as they tap out villainous, gory, mysterious and complex plots through invented, angst-ridden characters. I heard crime fiction writer David Mark sum it up: “Writers are people who sit alone in a room listening to voices in their head – and then answer them.” Are these strange people the right ones to put in front of an audience?
Personally, I’d rather have a party and make the book just one of the guests. It would be like those people who dance on the table after a few sherbets. They are stars because everybody else has had a few drinks and eggs them on. It’s simple psychology: turn the music up and the books will dance off the shelves.
Entertainment is the key. Why would people who could simply nip into a bookshop and buy it tomorrow or even borrow it from the library, turn out on a cold, wet early evening to stand around (never enough seats) and drink cheap wine? Recently I went to the London launch of MP Wright’s Restless Coffins. Despite it requiring a train journey to London, it stood out. The usual tribe of agent, publisher, bloggers, and readers turned up, but what made it special was that the book had also been published in audio, and the famous actor who loaned his voice read to the assembled gathering. It was spell-binding and enthralling, and the hubbub of conversation when he’d finished smashed the literary world’s barriers of pretention. Nobody was dancing on tables, and it was very sober, but the atmosphere was great.
Author interviews work if the interviewer has: 1. Read the book; and 2. Is able to eke out something interesting about the writer. We, the readers, are not there to hear what we already know. We want to be entertained.
Then there’s the venue. Almost invariably it’s a book shop, and some are better than others. Scarthin Books’ Art Room in Derbyshire is a fabulously friendly, intimate venue, but generally chain bookshops’ skill is in displaying books, and their staffs’ knowledge is not event management. Bookshops are necessarily confined by book displays: they aren’t geared to fun and celebration. I also question if looking after the collection and retention of sodden coats and dripping umbrellas, and serving lukewarm wine (before the talking starts, not during or afterwards) is their forte and duty.
My next book launch (Vinyl Junkie) will be in a pub; a venue mentioned frequently in the actual book, and which serves good beer, wine and whiskies as well as proper pub grub. Maybe we could take this a stage further. If the murder is in a hotel, let’s meet in the hotel; if it’s on a train platform, launch the book at a heritage railway station. There are hundreds of venues ripe for a successful, emotional, relevant and exciting book launch event, and any self-respecting bookshop will set up a desk there.
What I do feel is vital is publicity. Manufacturers used to think that if they made the right products they would sell themselves: not unless you tell people, chum. Talks on radio, appearances on TV (unlikely, I know), reviews and interviews in the newspapers, quirkiness through social media, and making sure that influential bloggers get their ‘fix’ of a new book, can never be underrated. It is here where publishers and agents can earn their corn, and where authors can band together in support to help each other.
Are traditional book launches over? I believe that the answer is yes, but it will take time. They’re not dead and gone; they just need to evolve into a more modern world. If some people are obviously going to buy our books they don’t need to be told ‘buy our books’, they need a reason.
I believe we should be entertaining readers of all books, even readers of very few books, encourage those who don’t normally read. Crime fiction is escapism; so let the buyer of the book know that they can escape and be entertained.

50 years on – and still proud to be precisely raw

To be that raw and spontaneous takes great, seasoned musicians and years of practice. How about 50 years?
Slade at Nottingham’s Albert Hall last night was one 70s and 80s rock anthem after another delivered in a constant, well-rehearsed stream of awesome musical ability and professional showmanship.
I’ve been in the Albert Hall several times. Before Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall was built it was the city’s prime venue. The acoustics are fantastic: I’ve heard massed choirs lift the curved roof in joyous harmony. Last night Slade, with the help of some smart sound engineers, made the hall rock. Theatre-style seating was abandoned as the crowd shot to their feet to the opening bars of Goodbye T’ Jane and stayed there – or in mid air leaps – until the dying embers of the obligatory Christmas song.
The set list was, on paper, a rewind to those heady days when the band had more number ones than anyone else, ever, anywhere. Take Me Bak Home; Look Wot You Dun; Coz I Luv You; Run Run, Runaway; My Friend Stan; Mama Weer All Crazee Now; Get Down and Get With It; My Oh My; Cum On Feel The Noize; and Merry Christmas Everybody – even writing those words I can feel my feet tapping, boots stamping, arms waving and hands clapping.
Among the rockers were those that had a slightly wistful, soulful, emotional feel; the anthems that set Slade apart 40-plus years ago and, as a result of practised, heartfelt and trained musicianship still tug at the memories of those of us heading towards, and some over, three score years and ten. Everyday; How Does It Feel; Far, Far Away – all with lyrics that catch in the throat – had the crowd swaying, even those unable to stand and exalt.
Don Powell is a gentle powerhouse who drives and cajoles, strokes and pounds his drum kit; Mal McNulty sings his heart out and partners the lead guitar; John Berry, a man much ‘admired’ by the ladies for some reason, has grown fully into his role as bassman, occasional violinist, and tremendous vocalist; and then there’s Dave Hill. Not the biggest man physically, but with a stature as a lead guitarist that makes him an on-stage giant and leader.
The support act was Mud, another name from the 70s. They were fine. They dressed the part in matching blue and glittery suits, smiled, played and entertained. Where they need help is probably in sound desk support. Syd Twynham on lead guitar and vocals could mostly be heard, and Phil Wilson’s drumming was powerful, but so much was lost – and the lighting was blinding for the audience. For me, you can only have so much of Tiger Feet and Lonely This Christmas.
Slade are on tour for much of December. Catch them, imbibe them, absorb the music and realise that their music is a catalogue of some of the best loved and musically challenging anthems of a great era.

An Intimate Evening with Slade’s Dave Hill

His father told him he had a gift when he was in single figures. At The Robin 2 the outrageous showman and frontman of Slade proved his dad was right, in spades.
The be-hatted Prince of Glam Rock from the 70s talked and smiled. He eschewed the wailingly ear-splitting amplification, so reminiscent of the band’s early 70s achievements when they stood astride the pop rock world. Instead he threw an acoustic guitar round his neck and picked and strummed to the delight of the crowd.
An Intimate Evening with Slade’s Dave Hill was really about one thing, his autobiography, So Here It Is, and this one-off event was a massive book launch party, with added insights into some of the band’s antics as they played round the world.
Dave Hill had a reputation for being the rock world’s answer to high, extravagant fashion – from aluminium foil, Egyptian-style shoulder wings through to platform boots so high and precarious that when he fell off them he couldn’t get up. (Spoiler alert: when that happened in New York, the band Kiss were in the audience as fans and they thought it was all part of the act!)
The venue in Bilston was appropriate and ideal, for it was in that town where Dave, a ‘posh’ Wolverhampton teenager, ventured out to see The Vendors, and especially take a look at a drummer, one Donald Powell. It was the start of Slade, the band who had more No 1s in the 70s than any other group.
But all this is in the big red book with the silver Dave Hill on the front cover. With DJ Mike Read sat beside him on the two barstools, Dave was relaxed and professional. I would suggest, strangely, not fully at ease. Perhaps the sociological comments on growing up in the 50s and 60s was a dig to deep into his psyche; maybe the comments about his own battle with depression and then the stroke were not the best memories; but then he strapped on the guitar. There was no shaft of light from the heavens (well, ceiling), but there was an almost instantaneous change in atmosphere.
With a guitar in his hands, Dave’s face lit up: he was at home in this environment; it was his stage once more. That oval smile broke out and those tombstone-teeth gleamed, casting a joyous light from the stage. Gone was any introspection: this was the cheeky, animated, Dave Hill I’d first met in 1970, and the years dropped away.
The first set with John Berry, his guitar partner in Slade, threw out the memorable chords of Dave’s youth. There was Elvis, then The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night (a seminal track for so many musicians, including Dave), and You Hear Me Calling, Slade’s famous set-starter, before Little Richard’s stomping Get Down And Get With It.
The second half of the show scraped away the years of the ‘America experiment’. Dave summed it up in one sentence: “Perhaps we went too early.” More relaxed chat and insights from the book. The end was approaching and I could feel Dave’s fingers itch, even from 20 rows back. He wanted that guitar, and, with John Berry’s help strapping him in, he got it.
Dave’s fingers picked the strings and the raw emotion of Everyday and Far Far Away caught in our throats. Finally it was, in Dave’s words, ‘one of the best songs we ever wrote’ – How Does It Feel – with Dave’s fingers flying Paco Pena-style along the fret and deliciously picking out individual notes. But it wasn’t quite the end as Dave lightened everything, and John Berry’s voice burst into My Friend Stan.
One delightful aside was Dave’s sister Carol telling us about how she hid in her car in November 1971 to hear Alan Freeman announce Coz I Luv You at No. 1. It was a mayhem she shared with her workmates – a wondrous celebration I shared in my office that day as well.
There was a bombshell the audience had been waiting for. It rolled along the stage. What about the break-up of Slade, the animosity?
“We didn’t really fall out. Yes, there’ve been differences, but everything about Slade is that we always go back to being what we are; four lads who worked hard and made good.” Is it significant that Noddy Holder wrote the introduction to Dave’s book?
So there you have it. So Here It Is – an Autobiography by extraordinary showman and exceptional music talent Dave Hill is in the shops now.

Jim Lea – a day of love and loud Slade rock

I didn’t go to be entertained; I went to re-connect with a guy I’d known well when we were in our heady 20s. I left touched by genius; by bravery; by the emotion that makes men and women weep; by the thunderous crash, squeal, moan and pound of a guitar wielded by a man who has music in every pore of his wearied body. Jim Lea, musical genius, thank you.
The afternoon in Bilston’s Robin 2 – a venue redolent of 70’s sticky carpets, but now, thankfully, without the lingering fag ash and smoke – was one of those events that ended, not in a stunned silence, but in the gabbling incoherency of people struggling to come to terms with the dream-like reality they’d experienced.
Chronologically it was: a tight-pressed queue for at least two hours; a cathartic, loud DVD that lifted the rafters; a few poems; a question and answer session that de-bunked some of the myths of Slade; and then raw, wonderful music. I should stops there; the memories we hundreds savour will live forever – but I won’t.
The DVD was a masterpiece of hand-held 2002 footage from Mark Smith, with input from Dave Kemp and Nomis Baurley (three, very long term Slade fans) from Jim’s only gig since the end of Slade in 1994. It was raw: there was some gristle, a little bit of fat, but mostly red-running meat – yes, that raw.
Paul Cookson, the poet laureate of Slade, read from his anthology, Touched By The Band Of Nod, and a new poem, penned for this one-off, never to be repeated, occasion.
The lights dimmed and the star of the show, looking a lot fitter for his 68-year, rock ‘n roll career, stepped onto the stage and took his wicker armchair seat next to BBC WM’s Paul Franks.
I could get personal – everybody in that packed auditorium has a personal story of Slade and Jim Lea – and it was wonderful to hear of his love for ‘our’ heroes, including The Beatles and Hendrix, but let’s stick to Jim’s words. Most music fans know about Jim Lea and his musical leadership of Slade – Britain’s biggest band of the 70s – but rumours and stories have mushroomed since the band ‘had run its course as the original foursome’ in 1994. Jim deftly laid out the truth.
Manager Chas Chandler was a big man and teenager Jim was in awe. Nobody disagreed with the near seven-foot-tall giant, and when he told the band they had to write their own songs, the four buckled down. We know that the original pairings for this were Nod and Dave, and Jim and Don, and it worked well (Jim and Don co-wrote Dapple Rose and Look Wot You Dun), but gradually Jim, the youngest member of the band, took over and would take his rough work to Nod so they could work together.
But Slade were not the only writers. Everyday – a melancholy almost ballad beginning – was born when Jim and his wife Louise (they married in 1973 at the height of Slade’s early fame and have been together ever since … very rock ‘n roll!) were having a dinner party. Jim announced that everybody had a song in them, but Louise refused to perform her idea in front of the others. She and Jim went into a separate room and Louise sang: “Everyday, when I’m away, I’m thinking of you”. Now you can understand why such a personal lyric should be between just two people. So does Louise deserve a credit along with husband Jim and Noddy? Yeah, of course.
Most of Jim’s writing took place in a confined space; mostly the toilet! Sometimes the shower! Merry Christmas Everybody, perhaps the best known Slade song and heard by billions worldwide, was down to Jim’s ferocious talent, and the late Chas Chandler’s powerful influence. It was September 1973; it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit in New York; Chas has found out that John Lennon is not using the studio; and Chas wanted a Christmas Number One! The result was that Jim Lea went for a shower and the Slade Christmas song was born within minutes – and none of the band liked it! For some people, success comes stumbling through the door like a drunk; for Jim Lea it is a natural talent that he has nurtured ever since he picked up a toy guitar. Jim’s daughter told him he was autistic. If that’s true, then Jim Lea is a classic savant, with musical ability as his speciality, but he just seems too well-rounded and what an incredible communicator!
There was more, much more, and Jim was in his reminiscent stride until he suddenly leapt to his feet and walked off. Something was happening, but what?
In 2014 Jim was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had been undergoing treatment ever since. The treatment is tiring; it affects his physical strength; and he’ll never sing again like he did. We all knew this … so who was this smiling doppelganger with a black six-string hanging round his neck re-emerging from back stage? That sell-out audience rose as one, cheered as one, clapped like the rat-a-tat of a machine gun, and swooned like the teenagers they used to be.
Cum On Feel The Noize bounced out of the stage. Jim’s guitar reverberated and, after saying he’d need help with vocals, hundreds of voices tried, and failed, to drown his voice. Gudbuy T’ Jane followed, with that driving, resounding beat stripping away the years. That was it; two tracks from a man not in the best of health was surely enough? No. I was taken back to the early 70s; those days of screaming, seat-wetting young girls – and lads – crammed into bulging venues all over the world. We’ll Bring The House Down burst out of the stage and it very nearly did as that audience waved and screamed, shouted and adored their star.
Jim was no longer a pensioner claiming his weekly pay from the Post Office. This was a youngster with a grin that would have swallowed Bilston and eyes so much brighter than any firework on the day. November 5, Bonfire Night 2017, will last forever. Nothing was going to stop James Whild Lea from a final offering, and Mama Weer All Crazee Now took away the last struggling vestiges of middle and old-aged decorum. This was no blast from the past; this was the past being resurrected for the chosen few in the Robin 2.
It was an afternoon of love. Love for the man and his music, and love for each other. It was also love between the original members of Slade. Conjecture, downright lies, and rumours have resonated round the ‘feud’ between the guys: so here was Jim Lea praising Noddy Holder for his work on songs and music, declaring the way he worked happily alongside Dave Hill, and his deep affection for Don Powell. They’ll never play together again as a band, ever, so let’s just be thankful for the music they gave us back then.
The ‘Slade family’ of fans is a wonder to behold. Almost all are middle-aged, some a lot later (with the exception of a ferociously dedicated young lady school teacher and a few others); most of us have taken life’s battering; but standing in a cold queue for most of a Sunday morning, became a joyous reunion. We were not disappointed by the legendary bassman, violinist, lead guitarist, vocalist and phenomenal songwriter that is Jim Lea.
It was a day that will be savoured and remembered. When Slade fans get together we reminisce, and that afternoon in Bilston will live on in our memories.