Wednesday, 29 February 2012

World Book Day 2012

Reading has always been a part of my life. I cannot remember a time when I couldn't read, or when I didn't read, though some the literature's great works are still waiting for me. I have tried throughout my adult life to pass on this love of books and reading to my children: every Christmas I have bought them a book in the hope that it would encourage them to develop their own love of literature (though I have to admit that some of them have simply gathered dust on the shelves).

This is one reason why I welcome 'World Book Day' - the hope that it will encourage people in this visual, sound-bite age to develop a love for reading, and for reading good, engaging stories.

To mark World Book Day this year I want to recommend my favourite book to you: Jonathan Coe's 'The Rotter's Club'. I first came across the story through a BBC adaptation (whose screenplay was written by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais).

Written in 2001, it's a story set in the 1970s in Birmingham, and revolves round the lives of 3 young lads - Ben Trotter, Philip Chase & Doug Anderton - who attend King William's Grammar School, a direct-grant Grammar School, and how certain aspects of 1970s British life impacts on them - particularly the industrial strife that was endemic at the time, the mainland bombing campaigns of the IRA, the rise of the National Front and the music scene as it transitioned from prog rock to punk.

Why I particularly warm to this book is that it contains so many echoes of my childhood: I attended a direct grant school from 1972-79, not in Birmingham, but in Harrogate, and consequently grew up through the social turmoil that the novel portrays - strikes, power cuts, 3-day weeks - as well as through the musical changes. It was the time I was developing abortive romantic attachments, and marking a time of Jubilee. I find Coe's writing particularly evocative of my formative years in a way that brings the warm glow of nostalgia, but also reminds me of the darker shades those days.

Another feature of the book that always delights me is the final chapter, which consists of one sentence of 13,955 words - a stream of consciousness reflection by Ben Trotter on life, love & Cicely Boyd, the love of his life.

Coe wrote a sequel to 'The Rotter's Club' - 'The Closed Circle' - which picks up the story of the three boys, and other characters from the first book, in the 1990s, and ties up a few loose ends from the original story: it's also well worth a read.

What favourite read would you recommend?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Jon Davison, Glass Hammer & Yes

There was much debate last year among the cognoscenti of prog about Benoit David's role as the singer with Yes, particularly after the release of the much-awaited album, 'Fly From Here'.  David had been a touring member of the band for a few years, but this was his first recording with them, and most people thought that he had done a creditable job, though Jon Anderson will always be regarded by the purists as the only 'true' singer with Yes.

On tour with the rest of the new line-up of the band last year he handled the 'classic' material well, and showed that his years as a 'Yes tribute' vocalist had not been wasted. But then news came that the rigours of touring, and of singing consistently in the ranges that Yes's music calls for, had taken their toll. The last few dates of the European leg of the tour were called off, and subsequently it was announced that Benoit had left the band.

A few days ago his replacement was revealed - another former Yes tribute-band singer, and currently vocalist with the group 'Glass Hammer', Jon Davison. I have to confess that I had been aware of Glass Hammer's existence for a few years but had never got round to listening to their music, but hearing of Davison's recruitment as the 18th official member of Yes in their history (their 4th vocalist) I made a point of listening to their two most recent offerings, on which Jon sings: 'If' and 'Cor Cordium'.

Listening to these recordings, I could immediately see why he had been chosen by Yes. Their influence on Glass Hammer is clear, but they are more than just another tribute band. Their style incorporates for me the best of classic symphonic prog, with hints of 70s Genesis and touches of ELP evident in their keyboard-driven tunes. Davison, clearly under the thrall of Jon Anderson in his singing, also brings elements for me of Rush's Geddy Lee in his prime to his vocals, and bassist Steve Babb shows a clear similarity to Chris Squire.

Someone commented to me recently that 'Cor Cordium' was the best Yes album of 2011, and it certainly bears more comparison in many regards with classic Yes than 'Fly From Here' does (echoes of 'Awaken' for me in the closing minutes of the final song, 'She, a Lonely Tower').

I wait eagerly for Davison to stamp his mark on this great, epic band, and take them into their next phase (assuming his voice holds out). "High vibration, go on!"