Sunday, 14 July 2019

Smashwords Summer Sale: half price offer for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt and Infernal Coalition

Interested in some half price legal fiction via Smashwords? You're in luck - thanks to their summer sale, there's a chance to get hold of both Hatred Ridicule & Contempt and Infernal Coalition for $0.99 each. For more details, click on the link here.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd: the Bonnie and Clyde of British politics?

What’s the difference between Cabinet Ministers Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd, and American gangsters from the Great Depression era Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow? Hmm. Let’s think. One of those couples started off as a minor irritation before progressing to become a confounded nuisance, rejoicing in their own arrogance as they defied public opinion, and eventually met a gruesome sticky end. The other couple were a pair of American gangsters…

Hang on, that’s not quite right. Hammond and Rudd have not met a gruesome sticky end. Not yet, anyway. But their determined efforts to defy the result of the Brexit referendum might mean that their political careers are hanging by a thread. Hammond has hinted this week at resignation if the UK leaves the EU on WTO terms (he probably said “No Deal” but there is no need to encourage use of this misleading phrase), and Rudd only has a 346 majority in her Hastings & Rye seat.

If it were to be fair to suggest that Hammond and Rudd are fast becoming the Bonnie and Clyde of British politics – and it may indeed be fair – the lyrics of Georgie Fame’s 1967 No 1 single “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” are too tempting to ignore when there is a parody in the air, especially when it looks like a good fit for solo acoustic guitar: -

Hammond and Rudd were shifty looking people
And I can tell you people
They were Remainers’ sweethearts
Hammond and Rudd began their evil scheming
While Theresa May was dreaming
Down Westminster way

They mocked the vote
And spread their gloom around town
Got clean away in the Cabinet
And wouldn’t let the heat die down

Hammond and Rudd enhanced the consternation
And made the graduation
Into the wrecking business
“Brexit's no good”
Sour talking Rudd would holler
As Hammond played the scholar
Of sabotage

The scared PM
So weak, she left them alone
They dragged her crying through a pool of mud
And laughed about her feeble groans

Hammond and Rudd got to be public enemy number one
Rudely defying their own manifesto when Leave had won

They used to laugh about Brexit
But deep inside them they knew
That if they ruined the exit
They’d hit the ground together
Burning in Hades and shamefully supping the devil’s brew

Acting upon a tide of indignation
The forces of the nation laid a deadly ambush
For Hammond and Rudd – ‘twas Hammond’s deselection
And Rudd’s robust rejection at the ballot box

Hammond and Rudd
Remainers close together
And now they’re gone together
For good

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Tom Lehrer, Tom Jones - and a Boris Johnson campaign song

How might the American singer/songwriter and satirist Tom Lehrer bring inspiration to British political leadership campaigns? Probably not by suggesting that enthusiastic support for poisoning pigeons in the park would be a keynote environmental vote winner. But if we were to combine his spoken introductions to “Oedipus Rex” and “It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier”, we might find a clue for our theme: “…and I am convinced that the only reason for the failure of this candidate’s leadership bid last time around….you’re way ahead of me…is that he did not have a rousing campaign song with which to rally his potential followers.”

Let us apply this theory to – you’re way ahead of me – the case of a well known current aspirant to the Conservative leadership, and borrow a song from another famous singer by the name of Tom. “The Young New Mexican Puppeteer” was a hit for Tom Jones in 1972, reaching number 6 in the UK charts. A few lyrical amendments may go down well with Boris supporters, and of course badly with Boris haters…

In the Palace of Westminster
Worked a most concerned MP
He said lately I have noticed
The PM hardly speaks for me
She spreads the gloom from her advisers
“The UK can’t survive alone”
He said “I’ll lift the people’s spirits
With Brexit vision of my own”

The blond Conservative Brexiteer
He saw the people all live in fear
He thought that maybe they’d listen to
Boris telling them what to do
So he got to grips with Remain falsehood
He made some speeches and he was good
And folks came running so they could hear
The blond Conservative Brexiteer

First he quit the Foreign Office
“The Chequers Plan’s a steaming turd”
Then he echoed Winston Churchill
“Take back control, embrace the world”
Determined as the Iron Lady
Convinced the battle would be won
He knew he’d smile with satisfaction
When Theresa May was gone


Now his speaking skills were clever
And he gave the people hope
When he got across the message
To make the most of Brexit’s scope
They voted for him in their millions
And he smashed Corbyn and the Reds
And then they wrote him up in all the papers
And this is what the story said


Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Literary Lawyers - a holiday reading treble

How coincidental to find myself with not just one fellow solicitor’s published writing for a holiday reading session, but three. All of which were well worth it.

First up, retired solicitor Richard Wrenn and “Trust Betrayed”. As the Law Society Gazette asked, “is it possible to write a highly readable novel in which the central premise is breach of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules in 1982? Surprisingly, the answer is most certainly yes.” Just take an ambitious young law firm partner, his older colleague whose flexible financial practices are about to catch up with him in telling fashion, and the younger partner’s fiancée – coincidentally, the older partner’s daughter – and imagine the dynamics when the attempted cover up only makes the original deceit far worse and its repercussions worse still.  Never a dull moment, and the backwater setting only adds to the intrigue.

A completely different theme, however, for Geoff Steward’s “In Search of Nice Americans” – a US road trip with a musical undercurrent, enabled by a three month sabbatical from the law, and guaranteed to strike many right notes. The Nashville stretch brings back my own fond memories of the Opry, Lower Broadway and the Hermitage, alongside the author’s sadly fruitless trip to the Bluebird Café inspired by the characters of the Nashville TV drama including “that bitch Juliette Barnes” (hint: book online for the evening performances a week ahead – I managed it twice). So how many nice Americans did the search reveal? Read it and find out, and don’t miss out on a trip to Savannah just because the Forrest Gump bench is no longer in Chippewa Square – there’s a replica in the History Museum.

What about the dilemma that every solicitor in private practice may encounter at some stage in their career, namely whether to strive for partnership rather than settle for a lifetime of employee status? Well, Tom Vaughan MacAulay’s “Being Simon Haines” takes the former to extremes – the quest for that ultimate prize at the City boutique firm Fiennes & Plunkett takes the form of “The Campaign”, where the hope of the single glittering prize pitches rival candidates against each other in a remorseless grind of 24/7 client work. Quality of life? Short pause for laughter, please. Or more accurately, short pause for a long awaited break in Cuba for Simon as the partners assess his Campaign performance alongside the efforts of his rivals, despicable Angus Peterson and sensible Emma Morris. (Tom’s presumed happy personal experience of Cuba is in marked contrast to my own from 8 years ago, but that’s another story…)

So what made “Being Simon Haines” a particularly appealing read? In my own debut, “Hatred Ridicule & Contempt”, recently elevated law firm partner Alex Harris found himself with unexpected enemies – his own fellow partners – who were looking for convenient scapegoats when their law firm ran into difficulties. He had arrived at his destination. What would he, and indeed what would Simon Haines, think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous words of wisdom from Virginibus Puerisque in 1881, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”? That is the question.

Before I forget, a resounding five stars for all three.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Marrakesh Express revisited: a song for Stop HS2

Well, fancy that. Having thought for many years that “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills & Nash was a song about indulging in Morocco’s finest (by which I do not mean tagine), I now find that Graham Nash was inspired by an actual train journey he made in 1966, southbound from Casablanca.

Fast forward by fifty years to the present day, and we find HS2 proceeding at full steam ahead in the UK. Or at least it was until Carillion collapsed yesterday. Might this be an opportunity for the political class to admit that HS2 is nothing but an unaffordable vanity project that ought to be derailed with all due alacrity? Time will tell.

Perhaps this is where Stop HS2 and any associated campaigns might find themselves in need of an inspiring song to help get the message through. With grateful acknowledgment to Crosby, Stills & Nash for the original, here’s a lyrical contribution in reverse parody style – from a joyful rail journey to a joyless rail project – that keeps as close as possible to the sound and structure of Marrakesh Express. And it works on solo acoustic guitar, if slowed down a touch and played in Nashville listening room style – at least it did for me.

Looking at England through patronising eyes
Plan to drive the train through unspoilt countryside
Ducks and pigs and chickens flee
Animal carnage plain to see
Equestrian ladies scatter, black and blue

Talking cobblers from the dark depths of our mind
Keen to get away with grand designs unkind
Hope our pack of lies ahead
Keeps you back and well misled
Listen not to what we’ve said to you

Don't you know we're riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Inflicting much unpleasantness
All on board the gravy train
All on board the gravy train

We’ll be squandering all your money just to take you there
We sell you garbage and despair

Plot the train from Manchester going south
Blowing smokescreens from the corners of my, my, my, my, my mouth
Noise pollution hangs in the air
Thundering locos shake the square
Country dwellers, we’ll knock down their homes (don’t want to hear you now)

Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
It’s burning money to excess
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Vanity project of distress
All on board the gravy train
All on board the gravy train

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Hannah Aldridge - a musical talent undiscovered (for how much longer?)

What’s the connection between Muscle Shoals, near Birmingham, Alabama, USA and Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK? A minor clue: go via Nashville. Yes, it’s music, and to be more specific, it’s a show in a small local venue last week. Few UK music fans may have heard of 29 year old Alabama singer songwriter Hannah Aldridge, but if Americana – a fusion of folk, country, blues, rock & roll – ever gains wider attention in the UK, she would surely be in the forefront.

Let’s start in Alsager, near Stoke on Trent. We’d found out that Don Gallardo and his band, who happened to be playing at Nashville’s celebrated Bluebird Café when we made it there 8 weeks ago, were on a UK tour. Their opening act, playing a half hour slot with no back up other than her own acoustic guitar, was Hannah Aldridge. There was something captivating about her, reinforced by her CDs Razor Wire and Gold Rush which she gratefully signed for us after her performance. When we found out that she would be at the Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath a week later, this time as a headliner, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

What about Hannah Aldridge’s music? OK, think of any Fleetwood Mac song led by Stevie Nicks. Think of songs from the Nashville TV series performed by Juliette or Scarlett – that’s high praise, by the way, the songs combine perfectly with the musical politics and family tribulations to make prime time TV. Add in her own main influence, Jackson Browne, and a complicated life story. That’s a lot to go on. But after listening to the two CDs in full, both with full conventional band support, how would she get on as a headliner when it would once again be only her and a guitar?

We needn’t have worried. The Kitchen Garden had certain similarities with the Bluebird – definitely a listening room rather than a bar with a stage. It was one of those up close and personal performances. And once again it was captivating. As she said in an interview, “I think people really enjoy that I treat my audience like we are in my living room.”

Best songs? OK, let’s take two from each album. From ‘Gold Rush’, there’s ‘I Know Too Much’, and ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, the latter definitely not a commemoration of the Handsworth riots or anything related to civil rights, but an old flame song enabling the audience to join in and chant the chorus. And from ‘Razor Wire’, let’s go for ‘Parchman’, where Hannah stood in the shoes of a woman on death row who had killed her abusive husband, and ‘Howlin’ Bones’, where she bravely abandoned her microphone and went entirely unplugged to close the show – and it worked.

If she does make it back over to the UK with her band, as she promised she would, she’ll hopefully be winning a whole new audience. And I’ll finish with a message to Simon Cowell. If you’re looking to find what could be the next well received trend for UK live music, you could do a lot worse than try Americana – and give Hannah Aldridge a slot on one of the X Factor’s live shows.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Nashville: Two Nights At The Bluebird – A View From The UK

For anyone in search of live music in Nashville, the possibilities are of course endless. The Grand Ole Opry will need no introduction, nor indeed should the Ryman Auditorium. Honky Tonk Highway on lower Broadway speaks for itself, and many hopeful buskers will be plying their trade.

And thanks to the Nashville TV series, there’s one venue that will by now have gained a far higher profile with the world at large – the Bluebird Café, out on Hillsboro Pike. No, it’s not an imaginary venue once dreamed up by an inspired scriptwriter. As the high profile artists who have performed there in front of an audience of 90 would confirm, it’s most certainly real. One key point from its website’s FAQ: “The Bluebird is a listening room. Too much conversation distracts listeners and is disrespectful to the songwriters who form the backbone of our music community.”

So when our recent USA holiday was all set to finish with four nights in Nashville, at the end of a scenic drive through Virginia and Tennessee, a night at the Bluebird was a must do. The only realistic chance of making it happen was to get in the cyber queue exactly a week ahead of the show, click on Book Tickets, and hope for the best…and it worked. Twice, to be exact, once for an orthodox stage performance, and once for an in the round session three days later (with Veterans’ Night at the Opry in between).

Now for the experience itself. The TV series might give the impression that the Bluebird is relatively spacious. When you arrive at the small and unobtrusive front door amid a row of shops, and take your first look inside, it’s time to think again. It’s almost a Tardis in reverse, especially when the occupant of the next table takes the trouble to introduce himself before his right knee accidentally does so of its own accord. But that’s no bad thing. It adds so much to the atmosphere, all the more so once we realised that our table was right next to the stage, almost within touching distance of the band.

Before the show, a decent burger and fries, good beer and cocktails, and friendly service. Then Don Gallardo and his band took to the stage. Four accomplished musicians with a repertoire of modern country songs. No familiar material to anticipate when hearing the band for the first time ever, but when they’re performing right in front of you, still at a comfortable volume, it’s quite an experience. Exactly like the TV show, in fact. Best song had to be North Dakota Blues – shades of Mark Knopfler. Once the set was over, they signed CDs for the audience, and Don told us that he’d be on a UK tour in the near future. See you at the Alsager Americana, Don…

So three days later, nursing memories of Trace Adkins and Charlie Daniels and others from the Opry show on the night before, we were back for the in the round session. Featured performers, Bruce Arntson, Michael Kelsh, Thom Schuyler and Jack Sundrud. Three guitarists, one keyboard player, seated in a circle in the centre of the Bluebird and alternating two hours’ worth of songs and anecdotes from their lengthy careers in the music business. One particularly memorable song, Thom Schuyler’s “My Least Favourite Things”, taking the Sound of Music classic and reversing its sentiments with a flow of biting satire. I can still recall the outburst of laughter for “most of the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber…”

Four weeks on, and it’s still hard to believe we made it to the Bluebird, not once but twice. It has to be one of the great Nashville experiences.