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Must read – the pages of Spirit Burns just fly by

This stunning novel, set 120 years ago, is available from and Amazon. It is perhaps the best I’ve read for a long time.

Welcome to the grimy, grim, deprived world of Madge, Bet, Ellen and Stella. Take a deep breath and immerse yourself in what we would now see as terror, violence, poverty and hideous lives spent in an unbalanced world that, over a century ago, was real life.
Spirit Burns is a fascinating novel, where the words flow in a captivating beauty, without hiding one iota of the brutality of what is being set down on the page. Tina Jackson is a literary artist. Imagine taking away the pallet and brush from Toulouse Lautrec and Edgar Degas, handing them a pen instead, and telling them they have to describe their scenes in words with as much insight and depth as their amazing paintings.
We are initially gently coerced into a world of women’s suffrage from the early 20th century. The author teases out the hard, now historical, facts around the Votes for Women suffragette movement, when protesters were violently attacked and sexually molested, even by the police who also shouted loud and obscene, derisive comments. Then, when they were arrested, these protesters were imprisoned and continued their protest by going on hunger strike: resulting in physically damaging force-feeding. Spirit Burns pulls no punches.
There is an ethereal atmosphere to some of the first-person dialogue, a beyond-the-grave style, where the speaker recounts events in ‘live’ time as if they were distant memories. The brutal realism, including sex – rapes, innocence, craved prostitution – joins a world of death and gangsterism where men believe they are superior and women merely chattels. Demands for ‘favours’ are basically sex acts as discipline or a statement of power. Spirit Burns is a hard-hitting expose of man’s inhumanity to women.
Tina Jackson’s first novel, The Beloved Children, was startlingly good; with Spirit Burns she takes a major leap forward.

Just My Cup Of Tea by Don Powell’s Occasional Flames

Just My Cup Of Tea, is a welcome return to the late 60s and 70s, when rock music with a hefty dose of melody ruled the airwaves. It is fourteen tracks of high quality musicianship and song-writing, without extraneous frills and pretention.

The album starts with the drive and power that is a feature of Don Powell’s long history behind a kit. He is in control in a loud, refined, measured way for the first five tracks that are followed by the dips and dives of percussion melody and cadences on To Be Continued.
The album is a masterclass in blending the talents of three people: Don Powell, whose prowess and skill have grown and never dimmed over nearly 60 years, mostly with Slade; Les Glover, who uses his years of guitar experience and talent to make each track zip along like fast-action thriller; and Paul Cookson, renowned poet and wordsmith, whose lyrics bring each track to life as well as telling stories of our times. Les also took a controlling hand in arranging many of the tracks, with producer (designer and visualiser) Martin Chatterton, completing the creation of this surprisingly remarkable album.
How Did We End Up Here is a break from the initial flying rock of guitar and drums. Its finger-picking melody and flowing, soaring strings command before we are brought back to cantering rock with Rhythm Of The Road, followed by Voodoo Shoes and Ordinary Stars, whose catchy, power-driven chorus lines, are orchestrated and controlled by Don’s drumming. Beauty And The Beat continues the driving beat and ends with a stadium-rock finale.
Rock music can tug remorselessly at the strings of emotion, and Dreams Die Hard is a classic example, a theme continued with If (Is The Middle Word In Life), before the final two tracks, We Are The Hearts and Bernie And Elton, take the listener by the hand through swooping and diving, gentle rhythms and harmony.
Just My Cup Of Tea is a revelation. The album has been put together with love and care; it allows freedom of musical expression, feeds the need of each of the musicians, and offers the listener a rounded, fulsome rocking experience. If you want a lift in my car, be prepared for some quality sounds.

Action! Take One. A thriller that captures post-WW2 London


Reg Calloway strides through life carrying bruises, cuts and several other wounds like a jazz-hating colossus. Pills & Soap is wildly accurate depiction of post-WW2 London, a city of spivs and muscle-bound ex-servicemen (I’ve read some history books, and lived through almost all the 50s!).
From the trackside dirt and deaths of Blood & Cinders, Calloway has moved on. He is head of security at a film production company where his imposed day off is torn apart by a bomb – a device that tore apart his boss’s prize Bentley.
The Troubles of Northern Ireland are in their infancy, but Centurion Pictures is filming an IRA-based shoot ‘em up, and a politically motivated Irish actor has gone missing. An easy target for Special Branch, so Reg Calloway is brutalised into finding him.
This follow-up thriller is defined, again, by great, measured and fast-paced writing, but also in terms of capturing 1950s East End of London – complete with Mosley, rabid nationalism and anti-Semitism, and rampant prostitution. Pills & Soap is a big step up. The atmosphere is a fog of menace that switches into physical violence, political rioting, and instant sexual satisfaction. Through it all, Reg Calloway is fighting for justice and right, but with so many wounds and so many battles on different fronts, success is always a long way off.
PS. Lay off the saxophone! While others played air guitar, I was always wielding an air-sax.

Lay it on the line – Derbyshire is brilliant and beautiful

The box car with benches slithered quietly along the railway, gently rocking and rolling, bumping and swaying, through majestic verdant countryside passed heavily-uddered cows, one or two of whom gave a dismissive ‘Oh, it’s you again’ turn of the head, and desultory sheep who couldn’t have cared less.
This is what heritage railways is all about. Ecclesbourne Valley Railway in the Derbyshire Dales is loved, cared for largely frills-free. It doesn’t have the majesty of those historic lines with thundering express steam locos and big diesels, it doesn’t need them and it’s all the better without them.
The way the railway is run is just one of the big factors of this relatively newly, rescued line. It is one of the very few that is directly linked, platform-to-platform with a mainline station. Alight at Duffield, cross the bridge and be welcomed by smartly attired, smiling volunteers on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway platform, where awaits your train.
I, and my bit-of-a-railway-fanatic mate Tim, met at Leicester railway station, travelled to Derby on an Inter City, and stood on the platform watching the dirtiest big diesel (a Class 37, but I’m no expert) spewing out foul-smelling smoke as it hauled a line of pristine new locos – presumably built by Bombardier in Derby – to begin life with South-West Rail. We boarded the immaculately clean, comfortable train to Matlock and alighted at Duffield.
What makes E-V-R so special is its simplicity and lack of pretentiousness. They have steam locos and powerful diesel haulers, but for me, at my age and with my youthful history (dad worked for British Rail, and he and I have sat on a park bench over the buffers of a steam loco going up the Khyber Pass!), there is little better than sitting at the front looking out almost directly on to the track. We sedately rolled along to small stations at Shottle and then Idrigehay before arriving in Wirksworth where there is an obligatory gift shop, but also a carriage serving as a buffet and bar.
Our trip north was on a 1957-built Metropolitan-Cammell Class 101 that last saw passenger service around Darlington and Middlesboro. Not actually built for comfort, but fun in the Dales.
Tim and I trudged up the hill and entered The Red Lion. There were a group of four walkers, young men, probably in their 60s. They had a dog, cunningly disguised as a sheep, which, in Derbyshire, takes courage! The Red Lion is a well-stocked real ale pub – a proper pub – with a friendly welcome.
“Do you do any food?”
“No, but there’s a pantry across the yard and you can bring food back in.”
The ‘pantry’ was a little shack with a short and fascinating menu. We ordered an Indonesian curry and it was delivered to our table in the pub a few minutes later. Delicious doesn’t even get close: it was fabulous, and easily washed down with exceptional beers.
Our return to Duffield was aboard a Derby Lightweight, again built in the 50s, which served Bletchley and Buckingham before ending its ‘paid’ days as a test car.
This was my first ‘out-out’ day for 18 months. The day had begun nervously, but gradually dissipated into confidence. On the mainline trains everyone wore a mask and was spaced out, on the heritage railway, most were masked, but with windows open and acres of space, I felt safe and secure.
Heritage railways come in all shapes and sizes, and each has a uniqueness that usually means a great day out. Ecclesbourne Valley Railway has two big pluses: firstly, it’s accessibility by mainline rail; secondly, the line takes the traveller through some of the most beautiful Derbyshire countryside and terminates in a small town with a long and fascinating history, an arms-round welcome, and at least one top class pub. Then there’s the railway itself and the feeling of being drawn into a family, without the hassle of actual relations.
There are bigger, longer, heritage railways, but Ecclesbourne Heritage Railway offers a handful of peace and relaxation. It is a little bite of countryside, not a plateful of a stupendous past.

Gabba Gabba Hey – an emotional rollercoaster anthology from Fahrenheit Press

Twenty-four short stories on a theme that invites every emotion imaginable. Gabba Gabba Hey, the Fahrenheit Press anthology centred on the massive influence of the Ramones, hits a plethora of peaks.
Every tale has a different angle, be it violence and death through to poignancy and the pain of lost love. This book squares up the reality of a musical era that signifies major changes in the lives of the acolytes who listened and were captivated. They might have been adolescents, rebellious youths, struggling professionals, infant computer wizards, or just lost in a whirlwind world and looking for somewhere to hide.
Few, if any, of the stories have as much as a review of the band, though some of the authors saw them perform live in the 80s, but each and every one has an unbreakable link to the music and its effect on their lives at a pivotal time. As a whole, Gabba Gabba Hey opens the window on the emotions triggered by the brash, thundering inclusive rock of the band; individually, each author has a mastery of the English language and weaves a tale to captivate the reader..
Confession: these authors are the ‘children of the 80s’, while I was a teenager of the 60s and a rock lover into the 70s, but the carefully-fashioned rawness of the Ramones emerges in three dimensions. Their sound had none of the pretentiousness of strutting punk and anti-prog rock. The Ramones captured hearts and minds – as is blatantly evident in this anthology.