Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Reach for the Stars

A non-fiction pick today, just to make a change…

I was very much buying pop music through a lot of this era, so it was fascinating to read the story behind the music, as told by (most of) the people who were there. The majority of this book takes the form of quotes from the people involved – with comments and context from the author inserted where necessary. Michael Cragg is a music writer, who works (or has worked) for a lot of major UK publications – so if he hasn’t interviewed the people specifically for this book, he has interviews that he’s done with them in the past that he can draw on. So you have four of the five Spice Girls (you can guess which one isn’t in this) and members from pretty much every band that is mentioned.

As someone who was a young person at the time that a lot of this was happening, I found it really interesting to read about what was going on behind the scenes and the press coverage and see how that affected my perception of the various bands and band members involved. And of course the other thing that’s really fascinating is how the spotlight of fame affected the people in the bands. Many of them were very young when they joined the bands – and you get to see an array of different ways that fame – or being in a band can mess your life up. But in the early stages of this period, a lot of it was going on behind closed doors – as the book hurtles towards the mid 00s, you see the arrival of TV talent shows and people learning how to be in a band whilst on camera and making their mistakes in public.

As you may remember – I went to an event for this book where Michael Cragg interviewed Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud – and it was absolutely fascinating (and sort of horrifying) to hear her talking about her own experiences, now she has the benefit of distance (and I suspect some counselling/therapy) to analyse what was going on and how it affected her. She also talked about how the era of the adverts in the stage, open auditions and TV talent shows provided a gateway for people without connections in the industry to get their big breaks – even if they didn’t have the advice and support that they needed to navigate the world that they found themselves in – and that the pendulum has now swung the other way and that music is the poorer for it.

This is really good – but it’s a big old book – so it took me a while to read just because you can’t heft a 500 page hardback around with you. It is however broken up into nice chapters so you can pick it up and put it down as you need to. But if you have an e-reader, it might be worth considering buying it on that for ease of reading! It is available on Kindle and Kobo although the prices reflect the fact that it’s currently a hardback release – the paperback is due out in October, in time for Christmas.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Prize Racket

Oh I’m breaking rules again today. You know I am and I know I am but I don’t care because today I shall write about the new Stockwell Park Orchestra book because it made me laugh so much last week and I don’t care that it’s the fourth in the series…

We rejoin the lovable scamps from everyone’s favourite community orchestra soon after the viral excitement of their European tour. And more excitement is heading their way: firstly a poet wants to be artist in residence with them, then they’re approached to take part in a TV talent competition for classical music groups. And so we’re off on another adventure. Your favourite side characters are here – think terrible singers and handsome horn players – along with some newcomers. The running jokes are glorious. I love the group dynamic that they have and the sarcastic and slightly sly humour. And as a bonus you get the orchestra sight reading their way through Ruslan and Ludmilla overture (aka the theme from Cabin Pressure) and imagine their horror/come out in a cold sweat if you’ve ever had to play a piece with lots of runs and scales at speed on an instrument. I for one still have nightmares about the wind band arrangements of the Theme from Big Country (the clarinets get all the twiddly bits that the violins get at the start and then none of the delightful tune) and the Candide Overture (clarients get twiddly bits galore and endless shifts in rhythm and tempo to boot) and neither of those are anything like as bad as Ruslan and Ludmilla – although equally delightful when it’s going well!

As you can tell, I am a wind band veteran (photographic evidence here), so it makes it hard for me to predict how it will land for people who didn’t play instruments – and who never had to mime their way through difficult sections so they didn’t get picked on by the conductor but Isabel Rogers has created such an engaging group of characters that I think it will work for non musicians. And if you have a healthy scepticism about talent competitions then so much the better. I ate it up with a spoon and then went off to relisten to some Cabin Pressure because I had the theme stuck in my head (the Ottery St Mary episode if you’re interested) which only increased the joy. I can’t wait for the next one.

I had mine pre-ordered on Kindle and it’s also on Kobo, but it turns out you actually got it quicker if you ordered it directly from Farrago – who have it as both ebook and paperback.

Happy Reading!