All posts by Richard Cox

What lies behind the plot, places and people in Tony R Cox’s latest crime thriller

I have been asked by Writing Magazine to spray a few words about my new book, Deathbeds to be published by Fahrenheit Press/Fahrenheit 13). I’ve tackled three specific areas – Plot, Places and People.
As a former journalist, I was taught to write as much information as possible in the fewest possible words. Being an author demands different skills: pictures in near three dimensions have to be painted using words alone, and that calls for many more disciplines.
My first news editor, possibly on my first day in 1970, told me: “Imagine you’ve gone home to your mother. She’s busy. In one short, punchy sentence you’ve got to tell her that story. That, young man, is your newspaper story’s first paragraph.” To a great extent, those strictures are also true of writing crime fiction: tightly composed, with no wasted words, but fully descriptive and lot more rounded.
Deathbeds is the fourth in my Simon Jardine crime thriller series. First Dead Body was self-published several years ago, followed by A Fatal Drug and Vinyl Junkie, which have been published by Fahrenheit Press, who are also the publishers of the new book. Simon Jardine, is still a regional newspaper reporter with a deep interest in the rock music of the 1970s, as I was, but that’s where the similarities end.
The 1970s were an era that included crimes such as police corruption, prostitution, and mind-altering, illegal drugs. The news media, meanwhile, tracked stories of insurrection that threatened the very existence of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland had been an unstable tinderbox of sectarian hatred. The fuse was lit and the 1970s became a decade of murder, executions and bombs.
The plot of Deathbeds is inextricably linked to The Troubles, not just the IRA’s war to win some form of independence from the rest of the UK, and especially removal of the army, nor the retaliatory actions of the Ulster Defence Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force, but the criminal funding through extortion, corruption, prostitution, gun-running and drug-dealing.
I travelled to Northern Ireland several times in the mid-70s for personal reasons and heard many horror stories, the veracity of which was apparent with every visit to any graveyard.
I also blagged a lift from a Derby transport firm so that I could write a feature on how trade continued despite the tension. Such a trip is central to the fictional plot of Deathbeds. Why did I go on that trip? For the same reason that scores of regional journalists asked to go to The Falklands to report on a ‘real’ war in the early ‘80s. Not for fame and glory; it was for the adrenaline rush of writing exciting news. It was natural to base part of the fictional storyline on something I could reach back and resurrect from my memory.
The plot of Deathbeds is from my imagination; some of the locations exist, although the action is also from the inner recesses of my head.
Characterisation has been more difficult this time than previous books. The aim has been to create three-dimensional sentient beings out of the ether. Readers of the previous books will already have met Simon Jardine, Dave Green, Tom Freeman, ex-DCI Adam Ludden and, possibly, Janie Caton. All these characters have a basis in some sort of reality, but they are amalgamations of physical appearance and personalities. In Deathbeds, the readers meet new characters. My aim has been to develop all of them in the hope that readers will relate to them. A fictional world is still populated by people whom the reader must believe in.
Over the years I have encountered drug addicts, drug dealers, and several prostitutes. There have been corrupt councillors and public servants, and the rare senior policeman, as well as several shady people running even shadier businesses. I was once sold cheap car insurance by a chap called Con O’Sullivan. I suppose I should have questioned it based on his first name, but the policeman who told me was sympathetic! Perhaps I’ll write about him in a future novel?
Music plays a key role in all my books. The 1970s was an era of great rock and some delicious jazz and blues. I want Simon Jardine to flourish in this environment: not only does music provide a chronological setting, the clubs and seedy dives offer locations where crime can flourish at the same time as characters seek refuge.
Most authors I know have had some academic training. I haven’t. I was editor of the school magazine in Buxton, I wrote every day, almost without a break from joining the Derby Evening Telegraph in September 1970, through several years at the Nottingham Evening Post, followed by a 25-year career in public relations. I haven’t stopped. I hope readers enjoy this latest crime thriller.
Fahrenheit Press is an independent publisher that has given me the opportunity to reach a wide audience and they continue to support my writing.

We’re back rockin’ with the Don Powell Band

If rock music were horse racing, my wagers would be on the back of the Don Powell Band. The pedigree of these musicians is ‘rock world’ impeccable and their debut single, Back On The Road, is not just an anthem for the soon-to-be end of Lockdowns, but a thunderously strong, foot-banging launch.
Don Powell went through a dreadful hiatus when both his knees decided they’d had enough of the music scene. Many thought the renowned drummer would never again sit behind a full kit. Back On The Road, from the very first bars, is Don’s tumultuous answer. The drive, the power and the intricacy is all there, much more so than the latter days of Slade. The Don Powell Band may eventually play some Slade tracks, but if Back On The Road is the benchmark for the future, we can expect solidity and originality. Rock on.
The Don Powell Band is a collection of proven rock musicians who play as if they have been mates for eons. The closeness and joy resounds in guitars, vocals and, of course, drums. Back On The Road is simple and straightforward; it is rock music, it leave pretentiousness in the garage while the band hits the accelerator and powers down the motorway.
Oh how grateful we will be to see Don, Craig Fenney, bass, Jon Briscoe, guitar, Curly Davies, lead vocals, and Bob Wilson, guitar and vocals in reality back on the road together, and back in some rockin’ venues.

Success was right at the tips of his fingers

Key Changes is remarkable. Few rock musician biographies mention the litany of ‘might-have-beens’ that make up a full life; Geoff Cook looks back at two careers that eventually collided – leading a talented, successful rock band to forming a band for construction giants Balfour Beatty, and the climb towards financial security in private industry.

Cards on the table. I know Geoff, and he has used stuff I wrote fifty years ago in this book. Back then, he was respected by so many of the big rock and jazz/rock names of the 60s and 70s, and music journalists. Hardware should have been multi-million-selling album makers; Geoff Cook, in my opinion, could have been a sort of Traveling Wilbury – top class musicians who simply loved playing.

This is a book for anyone with a creative bent. It would be so easy to say that Geoff’s success was the result of a natural musical talent and a logical, mathematical mind. That would be wrong. He worked damned hard learning to play the piano and violin at an early age, only to be told by his parents to ‘get a proper job’. Eventually he put the same devotion that made him a great musician into private industry, and this time found financial security, if not creative satisfaction.

In the mid-60s he joined The Imps and played a gig at Dinnington Social Club. “with Little Richard. His band probably included a left-handed guitarist called Jimi Hendrix. Didn’t really pay much attention.”! The list of stars that Geoff, in various bands, played alongside includes Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Strawbs, The Move, Family, Fleetwood Mac, Barclay James Harvest and, in early guises, David Bowie, Keith Emerson, Ian Anderson as well as Del Shannon, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Alan Price … and many more. Respect is hard won in the world of music, and Geoff Cook was respected by so many.

Hardware was the nearest he got to achieving his potential global rockstar status. The four-piece were exceptional and, being a young reporter in Derby covering the rock and jazz clubs, I was lucky to hear them several times. They weren’t just Hardware in those days (the early 70s), they were ‘Derby band Hardware’ in newspaper jargon.

Perhaps what the book does miss out on is the fact that the author, and Hardware, were many levels above so many of the bands they supported musically. Geoff Cook was always the band leader, song writer and keyboards artist, but he relied on the skill and knowledge of Geoff Pearson, bass, Les Shaw, drums and Irvine Penchion, sax. It was pure teamwork.

After Hardware (“the music died”) came Tony Jackson’s Jazz and Blues Band, with Tony (Byron) Jackson adding a surreal touch through his poetry as well as vocals.

Key Changes is a brutally honest account of success, skill, damned hard work, talent, disappointment, redundancy and job loss, and eventual happiness through financial security, a wife and family. Geoff says that he’s written the book so that his grandchildren will know him when he’s gone. You’ve nailed it, Geoff.

The book is interspersed with newspaper cuttings from my friends and mentors. The Saturday Page crew, which included Alan Smith, Roy Hollingworth, Chris Ward, and me, and reporters, like Mark Graham, who wrote vividly, capturing the exceptional music in admiring words.

As a rock music fan, of course I’m disappointed that Geoff and Hardware didn’t go on to sell-out stadium tours of America and Europe. As someone who knows Geoff Cook now, all I can say is: “Well done, and thanks for the fabulous memories.”

Christmas 1960 in the heat of Pakistan

Sixty years ago I was living in Lahore, Pakistan. Christmas 1960 was going to be different.
My father, a railway signalling engineer, had been seconded by the United Nations from British Railways to lecture on railway signalling at an international college outside Lahore. While there, I learned to swim (after dad had cleared the snakes from the pool), and rider a horse (sitting on what felt like bare bones), and received an object lesson in multinational bullying and fraught relationships.
My late mother kept a diary. These are her notes from Christmas 1960 – sixty years ago when I had just entered double figures.

Christmas Eve
So hard to realise. Attended a dinner given by Mr and Mrs Allinson at the High Commission. Lady Baden Powell chief guest. Tony (my dad) and I attended the Boy Scout Jamboree in the afternoon. Opened by President Ayub Khan (President of Pakistan) and Lady Baden Powell opened the exhibition. Over 5,000 Scouts attended. Very good march past. Contingent representing UK included Tony, Leonard Allinson, Jackson MacLeod – all Scouters.

Christmas Day
Tony and I went to 7am Holy Communion (that would be at Lahore cathedral – traditional English architecture) and after a lazy morning went to Rutters (the eldest, Margaret, lives near me in Leicestershire now! The two boys are also alive) for day. Turkey and plum pudding for lunch. Christmas cake and mince pies for tea. Played games in the evening and home by 8pm. Betsy’s servants arrayed her and Jack and the children with garlands of flowers and a performing monkey did his antics.
After a lovely dinner Jack Rutter was invited to a Muslim wedding. The men guests sat in one room with the bridegroom wore European dress, but his head and face were covered with beads and tinsel so that his face was hardly visible. After the feast the guests returned home and the same ceremony is repeated and the bride is the hostess. And on the third day the actual marriage takes place when the bride and groom meet – probably for the first time. Marriage has no religious connection at all in a Muslim country, and of course the wife has to have a large dowry.
We returned home after having a run into town to see the lights and some Christmas trees. A very happy day, although our thoughts were with those at home.

Boxing Day
Mr Lemain, Operating Lecturer, came for lunch, but had to leave early to meet Father Pierre, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his help with refugees and is spending the money travelling round the world helping refugees.
Richard (that’s me) invited to High Commissioner’s party: we collected him at 5.30pm when he was happily laden with balloons and presents. Whilst he was at the party, Tony and I went into the old city to buy a brass table and brass candlesticks ands brass coffee pot, also a pair of locally made slippers for Tony.
Back home 6pm and Tony went to students’ Christmas dinner. ‘Watch and ward’ pipe band played in the compound.

What strikes me, reading these words, is not so much the terribly middle class Englishness of it all, but the fact that almost any mention of Pakistan is avoided. This was an era when ‘western’ cultures were seen by many as superior. It is also in a very young country; just 13 years since independence from Britain and a religious, factional war that led to the canals and River Ravi literally running red with blood.
In the following 60 years I am thankful that we have learned a lot, especially how to respect different nationalities and cultures.

Slade changed my life 50 years ago

December 4, 1970. I’d turned 20 three and a half months ago and was on my way to a gig to see a band I’d heard about – ex-skinheads playing proper rock. It was Slade, and that gig was going to change my life as a music lover.

The crowd at Derby College of Art and Technology was, as always, packed and joyful. So many have left this earth and even the younger ones are older than me now – I avoided adulthood as a bore – but I have vivid memories of just how the Black Country foursome thrilled every one in the audience. Perhaps, Slade did as well. When it came time to record Slade Alive, still the best live album in my opinion, a party from the college was invited to Piccadilly – and I was among them.

My review of that concert was, in retrospect, immature. I don’t remember many of the tracks, with the exception of Born To Be Wild, which was, and remained, the best rendition of a rock classic. There was Comin’ Home and Tudor Baker, both mentioned in the next day’s Derby Evening Telegraph ‘Saturday Page’, along with Knights In White Satin with Jim Lea on violin.

Slade took rock music in their vibrant, hard-worked hands and offered it up as a tribute, and it was gratefully accepted. They were, and remained, totally professional and, despite the Glam Rock of glitter and Dave Hill outrageous costumes, music was always the ultimate priority. They were No 1 several times during the early 70s, not because Dave wrapped himself in tin foil, but because of the band’s exceptional musical ability.

I’d seen some great bands – Chicken Shack, Family, East of Eden, and the full line-up over two days at the Bath Festival – but meeting Slade was the life-changer. If I was in awe after the gig preparing for the usual interview, that was swept away in a salvo of warmth and welcome in the dressing room, followed quickly by banter and mickey taking. These were not just ordinary guys; they’d become firm friends within minutes. A short while later they dubbed me ‘Big Dick from Derby’ – and I have treasured signed albums with that moniker.

The change in my attitude to music crystallised from purely aural understanding to a deeply personal feeling. These guys, plus the amazing roadie and ‘doorman’ Swin, were going to be special – and within a few months they began their legendary time as the greatest UK rock band.

Almost by association I was drawn into Slade’s success. The late middle-aged news editors agreed with every request to accept an invitation to see them and review gigs. I was ‘sent’ to Bardney in Lincolnshire where I experienced pre-gig self-doubt that dissipated as the first chords were struck; I covered the recording of Slade Alive; the Lanchester University gig where Slade handed over to Billy Preston and where Chuck Berry recorded My Ding A Ling; and many more gigs.

But it all stems from that first gig at the college. So today, 50 years on, I can say thank you to Tim Price, who booked the band; Swin, who sadly is no longer with us; and Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, and especially Don Powell, a powerful friend and one of the world’s most powerful drummers.

If I have any advice for young music lovers today it’s: Avoid adulthood – just keep living the dream of great rock music.