Bookface Blog

Archive by tag: Alexis PetridisReturn
May 05, 2022

Prewar stars and genres come to life in a joyous account that draws uncanny parallels with the present

Bob Stanley’s first book, 2013’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, looked like a completely insane undertaking: the entire history of pop music – from the first British chart in 1952 to the rise of Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love – in one book. Astonishingly, it worked. It was wide-ranging and learned, opinionated and funny, and justly critically acclaimed. Clearly that success emboldened its author: the prequel, Let’s Do It: The Birth of Pop, feels even more ambitious. It attempts to tell the story of pop from the turn of the 20th century, when the term was first used – a 1901 advert in the Stage for a sheet music lending library promised “all the latest Pop. Music” – to the rise of rock’n’roll. It feels vastly broader in scope, by necessity encompassing everything from music hall to Muddy Waters. Because Stanley continues the stories of pre-rock’n’roll stars long after the rise of rock’n’roll – one later chapter is titled Adventures in Beatleland – a book that begins in Victorian London ends, more or less, in the present day: a huge timespan to cover, even in 600 pages.

As with its predecessor, it shouldn’t work, but it does. Yeah Yeah Yeah seemed like the product of a lifetime spent devouring and considering pop, but Let’s Do It is clearly more of a voyage of discovery for its author. An inveterate record collector, Stanley’s writing crackles with the exhilaration of a man who’s encountered a whole new world of vinyl to obsess about. It adds a fresh excitement to some well-worn stories: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra. Never happier than when rescuing a figure from obscurity – whether it’s Jeri Southern, a contemporary of Peggy Lee whose career was undone by stage fright, or Sam Mayo, who billed himself as “The Immobile One” and seems to have been Edwardian England’s equivalent of Morrissey, lugubriously intoning songs called I Feel Very Bad I Do and Things Are Worse in Russia – Stanley can also muster enthusiasm even when he doesn’t particularly like what he hears. He hasn’t got much time for Al Jolson, a “bellowing ham” in blackface, but he can work out what people must have seen in him.

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Apr 20, 2022

Destruction and depravity is normalised in the transgressive world of rock’n’roll. Is it too late to reassess the human cost?

In 2000, Ian Winwood, a longstanding writer for hard rock magazine Kerrang! – was sent to interview an up-and-coming rock band. He liked them immediately, recognised their potential and struck up a friendship with them. He watched, delighted, from various degrees of proximity, as they rose in popularity – sold-out shows, platinum albums, a very real chance of breaking America – then looked on aghast as things started to go wrong. The lead singer became an egotistical liability, developing a drug problem that made him unreliable, alienated him from his bandmates and caused his teeth to start falling out. The size of the venues they played began to shrink, America turned its attentions elsewhere, relations between the singer and the rest of the band soured into violent altercations backstage. Their time in the sun was drawing to a close: some members began discussing splitting up, then possibly returning to catch a wave of nostalgia, playing their old hits as a “pension plan”.

That should have been that, but it wasn’t. The group were Lostprophets, the lead singer Ian Watkins. Before the band had the chance to split, he was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with minors and possession of indecent images of children and “extreme” animal pornography.

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Sep 22, 2020

From Elizabethans to Hollywood vamps, Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet … how a teenage style cult became a 1980s pop phenomenon that speaks to today

In 1979, Mick Jagger turned up at the Blitz club in London, home to an extravagant new youth cult. You can see why his interest was piqued – stories had just reached the press of a shabby Covent Garden wine bar playing host to a crowd of art students, ex-punks and Bowie obsessives, caked in makeup and dressed as Elizabethans, Hollywood vamps, pirates, priests and all points inbetween. But Jagger never got to see them first-hand.

The exact reason the club’s teenage host Steve Strange turned him away isn’t clear (two different versions of the story appear in Dylan Jones’s mammoth oral history of the Blitz, its patrons and their impact on popular culture; more are available online). But evidently the Rolling Stones’ frontman didn’t meet Strange’s criteria that only “creative-minded pioneers” should be admitted. Off into the night Jagger went, presumably wondering exactly how a 19-year-old, recently relocated to London from his native Caerphilly had suddenly ended up the arbiter of what was and wasn’t cool.

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