David Bowie – Wembley Empire Pool, London, Fri May7th 1976



The six shows had sold out in an instant. Bowie was in creative maelstrom mode. Six albums released in a four- year period from Ziggy onwards, each one packed with a dizzying array of ideas and musical references. Ziggy Stardust had morphed into the Thin White Duke. After the debacle of his 1973 shows at Earls Court where a poor sound system, poor stewarding, poor organisation and a physical set inadequate for an arena show had damaged his reputation, he had something to prove live. His formidable recorded presence needed to take that leap to live superstar. His arrival in London at Victoria Railway Station in an open topped Mercedes, greeting his fans with a one handed, fascist style salute had not augured well.

Support bands were the norm. The motivation was that they should be the warm- up, and a bit of added value. Not this time. Instead the infamous 1929 short Bunuel / Dali film, Un chien Andalou, featuring an eye slicing, was shown. Its shock value had not diminished almost fifty years later.

bowiw pic
The tour had opened on 2nd Feb in Vancouver, this was the fifth of six shows. The band were tour tight. My only disappointment was that Stacy Heydon had lead guitar duties rather than the unavailable Earl Slick, otherwise the excellent rhythm trio of Alomar (guitar), Davis (drums) and Murray (bass) were to serve Bowie live and on vinyl for many years to come. There was no conventional coloured lighting rig, just banks of fluorescent white light set against black backdrops on a stage stripped of props other than the band and their instruments.


“Station to Station” could have been written as a show opener with its long instrumental, swelling introduction and wailing guitars heralding ‘ the return of the thin white duke throwing darts in lover’s eyes’. Dressed in black shoes, trousers and waistcoat, teamed with a white shirt and slicked back blonde hair, Bowie looked pin sharp, every bit The Thin White Duke. After the extended workout of the opener, the whiplash “ Suffragette City” could not have offered a starker or more compelling counterpoint, sharp, short and crowd frenzy inducingly brilliant.


Thereafter highlights included the vocal gymnastics of “Fame”, the only offering from the Young Americans album, a neat “Life on Mars/ Five Years” segue and a fiery “Stay”. He finished with a rock-out “Diamond Dogs” cementing a decidedly Rock feel to the set, shorn of the glamour of the Diamond Dogs tour, and the soul of Young Americans. Without the keyboards dexterity of Mike Garson or Roy Bittan, keys man Tony Kaye was functional, but uninspired, he filled the sound, rather than creating one.

A killer double encore of “Rebel Rebel” and “Jean Genie” wrapped up a killer show, the sound was fantastic, organisationally it was fine. The sceptre of Earls Court banished. At fourteen songs it barely beat the ninety minutes mark despite an already mountainous back catalogue, but as a set it worked brilliantly. The best selection of songs I saw him play.



The Set List
Station to Station
Suffragette City
Word on a Wing
I’m Waiting for the Man
Queen Bitch
Life on Mars/ Five Years
Panic in Detroit
Diamond Dogs
Rebel Rebel
The Jean Genie

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The National Front – My Part in Their Downfall

Leeds. 1979. Socially things were grim. The city was rough, tough, but unbowed, following the miners strike of ’72. The football team (Super) Leeds United was in decline, their hooligan firm, The Service Crew, were in their ascendancy. Musically, Leeds was a hotbed that had embraced punk, then new wave, with several venues and clubs, and gigs galore

anl poster
Initially, particularly in London with Chelsea , West Ham and others, and nationwide too, Right Wing groups had tried to infiltrate football’s hooligan gangs to recruit some muscle for their political aims. Following the initial punk explosion of 76/77, several punk bands flirted with this right wing interest to find an audience, Madness, Sham 69. The Angelic Upstarts and Skrewdriver amongst them. Most quickly learned the error of their ways. Punk/ New Wave/ Ska was intrinsically multicultural, and being unable to book venues because of violence towards punters and the venue itself was not a wise career move. Madness moved on almost immediately, the others didn’t, with violent results at their gigs. Against this backdrop Rock Against Racism ( RAR) and the Anti Nazi League (ANL) were formed. They quickly captured the youth zeitgeist, RAR festivals and benefits were de rigeur, as were T shirts and lapel badges.

clash at victoria park

The Clash perform at a RAR gig at Victoria Park London

I was an English student, 10 stone, and a regular on the Gelderd End. It was a heady, exhilarating, and exciting experience. The football was decidedly mixed, but off the pitch you were part of an invincible force without having to do anything. You were always on the winning side in an era when attending football matches was dangerous. This was a distinct advantage. The Service Crew speedily determined that their reputation was for their own use, not to be hijacked by political fringe groups. But in some other Northern towns,Burnely, Huddersfield, Barnsley and Bradford to name four, the NF rhetoric did find favour as it had done around London.

Thus the National Front decided that it would be a good idea to hold a march and meeting in Leeds City centre, a geographically central rallying point for the northern disenchanted. At all the gigs leading up to the march, gig goers were leafleted, as were football fans outside the Peacock pub at Elland Road and going into the Gelderd End and Lowfields Road. That level of organisation produced a massive counter-demonstration. Around 10,000 Leeds students, and as many again football fans, turned out to confront them. I decided that it would be an entertaining day out.

The flyers had instructed us to assemble at Leeds Railway station from 10am where the NF were to assemble. The hall and road were on the northern side of the city centre, where the University and Polytechnic were. As I walked down I noticed that the road was cordoned off with barriers and around 300 police. It looked like the Police had it buttoned down.

As I turned into Bishopsgate  St, where the railway station was, I was greeted by a crowd of several thousand. For a stunned second I thought they were NF, but quickly realised they were fellow protestors. Relatively close to the football ground, this is where the football crowd had mobbed up. 10am is far too early for most students, but spot on for fans used to congregating for away games. I would like to say that Leeds was a hotbed of democracy. In reality the expected NF crowd were from football mobs in Barnsley, Huddersfield, Bradford and South London ( Millwall) and Leeds fans took exception to the idea that they wanted to strut their stuff in THEIR city.

It was easy to spot the NF. Black Harrington jackets, blue jeans, doc marten boots, middle aged, overweight, they stood out a mile both from the student type, and the Casual look nw adopted by the Service Crew. A fragile guard of around fifty bobbies looked on with increasing nervousness as thousands of protestors milled around, skirmishing to break through the thin blue line into the station and attack the NF.. Ordinary passengers, pensioners, mothers with children squeezed their way through, in and out, undisturbed. Only in England…

As the time rolled on, it became increasingly apparent that the NF were never going to leave the station. Martin Webster found something to stand on to rally his followers only to be immediately felled by a fusillade of missiles. At which point common sense suggested that the increasingly overwhelmed police detachment should have forced the 150 or so NF on to a train going anywhere out of Leeds. Instead, an unknown commitment to free speech, hubris, or a desire not to be beaten by their matchday opponents resulted in almost the entire 300 officers from the hall charging down the street to force a passage out. It was like the cavalry coming to rescue the waggon train from the Red Indians.

Sheepishly, the NF , and their escort batons drawn and wielded , forced their way through the baying mob. Instantaneously a roar went up accompanied by the football chant; “It’s time for you to run.” And astonishingly, that is exactly what they did. 350 policemen and 150 NF, chased by upwards of 10,000 protestors, who were mainly in their teens, twenties and thirties, whose fitness over the one and a half miles proved far superior. It ended in a ragged walk, each attempt by the NF to erect banners and placards bringing an instant response of missiles and jeers, the former of which proved to be excellent targets and range markers with the column under continuous attack from protestors trying to break through the police lines.

As we turned into the street with the hall a significant change of circumstances presented itself. The Police contingent who had rescued the march from the railways station had abandoned their position in its entirety. In their place was around ten thousand students who greeted the exhausted police column with a rousing “Maggie’s Fascist Boot Boys”. There ensued a fearsome push and shove, as the police attempted to physically force the NF into the building while withholding withering charges from the students at the back, and football fans at the front.

A nice piece of social history was that as the front line of the football wedge started the football chant of “The Leeds, United, we’ll never be defeated”, the students responded “The workers, united we’ll never be defeated” – and so the chant that was heard at the Miners’ strike of 82 was born.

It was particularly noticeable that the number of NF who had turned up at the railway station was significantly more than those who scurried into their hall. It seemed that some had decided that the first train out anywhere was advisable to avoid their adversaries, whilst others had melted away during their parade to the hall, leaving probably barely forty left. This provided plod with their chance.

Standing outside a grand Victorian building on a Sunday afternoon with only a guard on the front door is low on entertainment value. When a dozen windowless riot vans arrived, disappearing down the guarded side access, no-one paid much attention. Reinforcements maybe? A shift change? When they left ten minutes later the question remained unanswered. An hour later it was. An inspector stood on the steps of the building to announce that the NF had not only left the building – but the city too.

So, back to my rooms. The NF would not be returning to Leeds again with me to contend with…

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Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Wembley Arena

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Wembley Arena
30th May 1981
I had been just too young to catch Bruce for his debut London appearance at the Hammersmith Odeon at which he had been billed the future of rock n roll. By the time the show rolled into England again he was the hottest ticket in rock . Only Bob Dylan at Earls Court and Led Zeppelin’s Knebworth shows, both in 78, were on a par for excitement, anticipation and demand. That excitement had been heightened by the postponement of the original dates in March to later on in the year.

Punk had blown many of the old rock dinosaurs, and new pretenders, away , but Bruce had been untouched. This was mainly because a contract dispute stymied his efforts to both tour and release records. Fortunately it did not stop him writing songs. So he emerged, post punk, untroubled, but with a burgeoning catalogue of new songs to play. It also gave time for devotees to catch up with his already four strong album back catalogue, and crucially, some bootleg live albums of his US shows.

I had played a tape of his “Live at Winterland 78” show until it stretched and snapped so was familiar with all of his material, and the live arrangements, but nothing prepared me for the great man live. Our seats were on the side, elevated, overlooking the stage, a perfect view of the band. 7.30pm and we were off, no support.

At most gigs, you get a decent show, and the odd moments when it lifts, a song which captures the zeitgeist of the evening. If you are fortunate, you might get a section. Very rarely, that happens for the entire show. This was one such evening. The set list had been meticulously prepared, the opening trio masterful. “Prove it all Night” was the call to arms, his statement of intent, he was going to prove his reputation all night. “Ties that Bind” united us all together, all 12,000 spectators and the band were as one in this Rock n Roll communion. “Out in the Street” signalled that we were going to have a great time together too.

The evening finished at 11.10pm, three hours and forty minutes later, for a sprawling exploration of the wonders of rock n roll broken only by an interval of a quarter of an hour.

There were epics galore, “Independence Day”, a majestic “Promised Land”, “The River”, “Rosalita”, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” the pick. The Woody Guthrie “This Land is Your land” a minimalist tour de force. Yet it was the home straight which astonished. Essentially, a nine song run, from the main set’s “Because the Night” through to a rip roaring “Rosalita”. A majestic first encore duo of “Jungleland” /“Born to Run”, and a rip roaring rock n roll second encore finale of the “Detroit Medley” / “Twist and Shout”.

It was an astonishing, visceral performance, with The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, an essential visual, as well as musical, counterpoint to Springsteen. The final encore was his salute to his youth, the songs which inspired him to perform, and although “Twist and Shout” had its roots as an American composition ( Medley/ Berns) and hit ( The Isley Bros) it was the Beatles who made it famous and it felt as though he was saluting the Fab 4 in his finale.

The greatest rock n roll show I ever saw? It’s up there…

01 Prove it all night
02 The ties that bind
03 Out in the street
04 Darkness on the Edge of town
05 Independence day
06 Johnny bye bye
07 Jackson cage
08 Trapped
09 Two hearts
10 Promised land
11 The River
12 This land is your land
13 Badlands
14 Thunder road
15 Cadillac ranch
16 You can look (but you better not touch)
17 Sherry darling
18 Hungry heart
19 Fire
20 Because the night
21 Point blank
22 Backstreets
23 Ramrod
24 Rosalita (Come out tonight)
25 Jungleland
26 Born to run
27 Detroit Medley
28 Twist and shout

Bruce 99

It was almost twenty years later that I saw him again. Of course he was excellent, and the set list was a treat. But can you forget the first time, or the excitement of your youth? No. Nils Lofgren was now on board. The set long euphoria of Wembley could not be matched, but there were highlights. “Youngstown” showed off Lofrgren at his best, “If I should fall behind” a melancholic delight.

e street
The surprise was Edwin Starr, who lived in nearby Polesworth, coming on to duet on “War”. It was a great choice. Traditionally, Motown stars would often stay at his house when performing at the NEC. One of my friends worked in the village shop, she had both Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in for a pint of milk! Starr did a terrific vocal, looked suitably grateful to Bruce for the slot, and to the crowd for the adulation, then left – just what you want.



Birmingham NEC, May 16th, 1999


01.My Love Will Not Let You Down

02.Prove It All Night
03.Two Hearts
04.Darlington County
06.The River
08.Murder Incorporated
10.Out in the Street
11.Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
12.Darkness on the Edge of Town
13.Working on the Highway
14.The Ghost of Tom Joad
15.Born in the U.S.A.
17.The Promised Land
19.Light of Day
20.Streets of Philadelphia
21.Hungry Heart
Encore 2:
22.Thunder Road
23.If I Should Fall Behind
24.Land of Hope and Dreams

Thanks for the memories.

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My Favourite Musicals

I am fortunate to review theatre professionally. That means that I often see shows that I would not normally have bought a ticket for, and miss shows that I would have liked to have seen because of clashing dates.

Here follows, in alphabetical order, the musicals I have seen professionally produced. I have given each a rating out of ten, and a one line synopsis.  If you want the full review use the search bar and it will come up.

20th Century Boy – 7/10 Above average Juke Box musical featuring Marc Bolan and the story of T Rex
42nd Street – 8/10 About the best dance show around. If you like big production numbers and chorus lines, this one is for you.
All Shook Up – 6/10 Decent Elvis Presley Juke Box Musical
Annie – 7/10 Lovely show, cute kids, who plays Miss Hannigan determines how good the evening is.
Avenue Q – 8/10 Irreverent puppet show that will make you laugh a lot.
Blood Brothers – 8/10 Great show, a bit light on great songs
Book of Mormon – 9/10 Inventive, funny.
Buddy – 8/10 Packed with great songs, this is the jukebox musical others have to beat
Cabaret – 9/10 great story, great songs, enduring themes
Cats – 4/10 “Memory” is the only stand out moment of a show that has not worn well. Best seen with children or an elderly mother who likes cats.
Chicago – 9/10 Brilliant tale of gangster molls. Sassy, great songs.
Club Tropicana – 5/10 Functional, frothy 80’s fun
Crazy For You – 7/10 Underrated. Strong song and dance, average story.
Dirty Dancing – 5/10 Formulaic, routine, but well done. If you like the film you will like the show.
Dreamboats and Petticoats 8/10 Wonderful 60’s Juke Box musical, great music, guaranteed feel good feeling as you leave.
Evita 10/10 Strong story, great lead roles, great songs, great set pieces. Lloyd Webber at his best.
Follies 5/10 A theatre buffs show which is too clever for its own good, but has  some good songs

Full Monty – 7/10 Now a Hen Night out. But good fun, with some enjoyable, if dated,songs.

Grease 8/10 It’s silly and formulaic but great fun with infectious song and dance.
Guys and Dolls 8/10 A classic which has endured, fabulous entertainment
Hair 4/10 A sixties icon which has not travelled well
Hairspray 9/10 Strong story, great song and dance and in “You Can’t Stop The Beat” a stunning signature song.
Half a Sixpence 6/10 Solid, dependable, but dated.
Jersey Boys 6/10 Great songs, perfunctory narrative.
Jesus Christ Superstar 9/10 It’s substance grows as the years go on. Great score and a story everyone knows. The best Rock musical.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat 6/10 “Any dream” and “Close Every Door” lift the show from routine to good.
Jungle Book 4/10 Decent adaptation of the Disney Classic
Last Night a DJ Saved My Life 1/10 By far the worst musical I have ever seen.
Legally Blonde 3/10 Dismal, awful, but young women aged 17-27 like it.
Les Miserables 10/10 Imperious
Mary Poppins 8/10 Fabulous Disney revamp.
Miss Saigon 9/10 Stunning modern tragedy, memorably staged, great songs.
Oklahoma 8/10 Seamless song and dance fun on the prairie.
Oliver 8/10 Excellent song and dance show lifted by a great villain in Bill Sykes.
Our House 4/10 Disappointing Juke Box Musical of Madness songs

Porgy and Bess  6/10  Memorable songs.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert 5/10 Warm, fey show, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Rent 2/10 Horribly dated and self- indulgent nonsense featuring characters for whom it is impossible to care about.
Rocky Horror Show 9/10 Wonderful , glitzy and fun.
Spamalot 6/10 A silly delight- very funny.
Starlight Express 5/10 Great kids show
Sunset Boulevard 5/10 Moody, evocative, well done, gloomy.
Taboo 6/10 The Boy George Musical with little Culture Club music – but it works
The Band 7/10 Great Take That songs, and a decent story make for a strong show.
The Bodyguard 10/10 Stunning show, top draw music, compelling narrative, carried by whoever is Whitney.
The King and I 9/10 A show with music, dance, glamour and a story which combine to produce magic.
The Producers 3/10 Smug, insubstantial pap.
Whistle Down the Wind 9/10 A beautiful, mystical, show.

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Rolling Stones, Don Valley, 6th June 1999



Unquestionably there are optimum times to see musicians live. My gig going started in the mid 1970’s, I was too young to catch the Rolling Stones in their prime. For me, their last decent album was “It’s Only Rock n Roll”, which was released in 1973. But that was around their fourteenth album, from which they had produced almost twenty top ten singles. Their position in rock’s pantheon of greats is undeniable. As such, they came high on my list of acts whom I felt I had to see live , so when they included Sheffield Don Valley on their 1999 tour on June 6th I bagged my ticket to see what all the fuss was about.

In retrospect, the omens were inauspicious. It was twenty six years after “It’s Only Rock N Roll”, eighteen years since their last hit single “Start Me Up”. Support was Sheryl Crow, as bland and anodyne a rock star as it is possible to imagine. Don Valley was an athletics stadium, built in 1990 for the World Student Games, which succeeded spectacularly in losing money until it was demolished in 2013. Athletics stadiums are soulless places at the best of times. Don Valley was no exception. One main half decent stand, partially covered down one side , an open stand opposite on the other, and a temporary open stand at one end, where I was sat. Not exactly a classic rock n roll arena. Fortunately, it did not rain, a rarity for Sheffield.

I also do not particularly like open air gigs. Invariably they mean arriving ridiculously early to secure a decent view, and leaving ridiculously late, as the power crazed stewards who directed you to a car park so far away that there might as well have been “Welcome to Barnsley” signs, absent themselves meaning that thousands of cars have to try to exit from unlit, unknown points to unknown destinations taking interminable hours to escape.

Once inside if you want to have a good view at the front you have to forego refreshments and toilets, endure crushing, for so long that under any other circumstances, Human Rights lawyers would be queuing up. If you decide to accept a lousy view you are rewarded by the opportunity to queue for hours on end for watery, warm beer, and half cooked, onion soaked beef burgers for a price not dissimilar to the monthly mortgage payment on a large house.


Our seats were in the temporary stand, at the pitch end, opposite the main stage. This had the advantage that we did not have to crook our necks to see the band, but the disadvantage that we were positioned nearer to Derby than Mick and the boys.
The idea with support acts is that they should be “alright”. Not so bad that they are booed off, not so good that the main act is “blown off stage “ ( the ultimate humiliation). Prior to seeing Sheryl Crow perform I did not know a single song in her repertoire, afterwards. I could not remember a single song. During her set I found my mind wandering, considering the advantages, and drawbacks, of rotary, as opposed to straight line, washing lines. I also thought what fun it would be if she was on a bill with the Housemartins and the Eagles. That is how anonymous she was.


During the Stones set she was brought on for a guest role. Mick Jagger has done some great duets, most notably with David Bowie, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga. This was not one of them. They sang “Honky Tonk Women” together, far from being a gin -soaked queen, she resembled an embarrassed junior school teacher, forced to sing something at Assembly by the Head.

You would have to be dead not to be roused by the opening chords of “Jumping Jack Flash”, my pulse did quicken, as Keith and Ronnie sprayed guitar licks and chords around the stage, and Mick danced and pranced in the manner of someone just tasered by the Police. Yet once that Pavalovian reaction had subsided, reality sank in. A bleak bowl, 35,000 people configured in such a way that creating an atmosphere was impossible, and sound which made car radios seem hi fidelity.


There were some decent moments despite it all. “Ruby “Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Route 66”,“It’s Only Rock n Roll” and “Satisfaction” raised my spirits. The rest did not. The Stones did their thing professionally, but there was no connection, no spark. And so, I had seen them. And that was that.
Set List

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
Live With Me
Gimme Shelter
Ruby Tuesday
Honky Tonk Women
Saint of Me
Out of Control
Paint It Black
Before They Make Me Run
(Keith Richards on vocals)
You Don’t Have to Mean It
(Keith Richards on vocals)
Route 66
Like a Rolling Stone
Midnight Rambler
Sympathy for the Devil
Tumbling Dice
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

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The Clash, Live at the Lyceum, London,19th Oct, 1981


The Clash have now assumed legendary status from the Punk era. They were a remarkable band. Some of the myths surrounding them are at odds with reality. Many of their achievements are often under- appreciated. I saw them live twice, and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros a further two times.


This review is about their finest hour, the run at the London Lyceum Ballroom supporting the “Sandanista” album in 1981. But I want to put the show in context.
I had seen them first at Leeds University on 27th Oct 1977 on the “Get out of control” tour. They were supported by the Lous, who were terrible, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids ,who were (very) good (by comparison) with a great rabble rouser in “Blank Generation”. The gig was a 2000 sell out with a suspiciously high guest list inflating the figure further. It was dangerously packed.


The Slits came on at 7.45pm and were canned off at around 8.10pm. It was a mercy killing. Richard Hell appeared at 8.30pm and blazed, impressively, through to 9pm leaving everyone wanting more. Then we waited, and waited. The crowd became more impatient, surges became more threatening, fights first broke out amongst the fans, then frustration became focussed on the empty stage. A few tried to clamber onto the stage. Nervous bouncers repelled them, punches were exchanged, the fans came off worst, and a terrace roar arose, combined with an almighty surge. Dozens began to scale the barriers fighting the bouncers back who were unsure whether they should flee, or protect the equipment. At that precise moment, the house lights went down, the stage lights came on, and the Clash appeared to “Leeds is Burning”. Cynical. Stage managed. Magnificent.

clash 77
Their debut album was barely six months old and had been released amongst a deluge of competing compelling debuts. The material was not that well known, and it peaked at a respectable, but not impressive 12th in the Charts. They had released only one single, “White Riot” which made 38 in the singles charts, and “Complete Control” was barely a month old. The set list was not familiar.


It was a visceral, muscular, loud, performance, but it was not musically accomplished. It was like watching an 800m runner sprinting the first 100m. After that there was nowhere to go. Even “Police n Thieves”, which in theory should have provided band and audience with a breather, was played twice as fast as the recorded version.



Contemporaneous performances by The Buzzcocks, Jam, Stranglers and Boomtown Rats were far better musically , and more enjoyable gigs, even if they lacked the outlaw chic of the Clash.


Set List

London’s Burning
Complete Control
Jail Guitar Doors
Clash City Rockers
Capital Radio
Hate & War
Police and Thieves
The Prisoner
I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.
Career Opportunities
Janie Jones
What’s My Name?
White Riot


Almost exactly four years on, Oct 19th 1981, everything had changed. They had released their fourth album, but they comprised no fewer than seven vinyl records. An output that matched the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who in their heyday. Their repertoire was considerable, diverse, critically acclaimed and well digested by the fans. They were playing on their home turf, London, at the all standing Lyceum Ballroom, for a seven sold out nights residency. Their last album, “Sandanista” had delighted, intrigued, outraged and appalled in equal measure. But for every old fan they lost, they gained four.


The Lyceum was a great venue, but artistically was a million miles from the 100 Club. On the Strand, distinguished, not a punk gig, but ideal. They had made it – but on their own terms.

It was a long, sprawling, majestic set. “Broadway” an audacious jazz infused opener in London’s West End, before the thunderous reggae stomp, “One More Time”. Musically they were on another planet from that Leeds Refectory gig. Light and shade, changes of pace, space between the notes, with Joe’s vocals now a plaintiff, soulful roar, rather than a hoarse howl submerged by a wall of sound.


Those bands that had previously been ahead of the Clash were now well and truly in their slipstream. The Jam were namechecking Michael Jackson as Weller edged towards soul, the Boomtown Rats had gone down the commercially successful “I Don’t Like Mondays” blind alley never to return, The Buzzcocks struggled to escape their formula, The Stranglers found their groove as a rock n roll band and the Pistols had imploded. Welcome to the Last Gang in Town.


What set the Clash apart was their ability to adopt, adapt and improve upon the constantly morphing musical landscape around them combined with listening to the astute image guidance of manager Bernie Rhodes till he left in late 78.


Somehow they were still hip, even though the setlist was a distant cousin of 1977. “White Man” and “Clash City Rockers” still blazed, but the lighter touch of “Somebody Got Murdered” and “Spanish Bombs” sounded just as good. There was no room for “White Riot”. “Complete Control” gloriously wrapped things up . It would never be better for the Clash.


Set List
1: Air raid sirens intro –
2: Broadway –
3: One more time –
4: Know your rights –
5: The guns of Brixton –
6: Train in vain –
7: White man in Hammersmith palais –
8: The magnificent seven –
9: Wrong em’ boyo –
10: Clash City Rockers –
11: Koka kola –
12: Ivan meets G.I. Joe –
13: Junco partner –
14: The leader –
15: I fought the law –
16: Charlie don’t surf –
17: Somebody got murdered –
18: London calling –
19: Clampdown –
20: This is Radio Clash –
21: Career opportunities –
22: Armagideon time –
23: Julie’s been working for the drug squad –
24: Stay free –
25: Safe European home –
26: Police and thieves –
27: Should I stay or should I go? –
28: Graffiti rap (Futura 2000) –
29: Janie Jones –
30: Brand new Cadillac –
31: London’s burning –
32: Complete control –


Oct 26th 1999, eighteen years later, I saw Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It was an odd gig. Less than half full, maybe 400 there, Wolverhampton Wanderers were home that night, that Joe reflected may have hit the gate, yet Joe seemed happy, relaxed and determined to put on a good show. There was plenty of Mescalero’s material in the evening, and the Clash material was revamped, most gloriously on “Rock the Casbah”, which was stretched out, filled out, and beefed out in the highlight of the evening. After the demise of the Clash, it seemed as though Joe had found peace, and a purpose, it was a shame more people were not there to witness it.

Set List
Diggin’ the New
Nothin’ About Nothin’
Rock the Casbah
Quarter Pound of Ishen
Brand New Cadillac
Tony Adams
Trash City
The Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
Safe European Home
Yalla Yalla
Rudie Can’t Fail
Pressure Drop
London Calling
Tommy Gun
Junco Partner

The last time I saw Joe was as support to The Who at the NEC Birmingham, Nov 8th, 2000. It is a paradox that although The Who were definitely part of the Old Order that the Clash usurped, The Who were very supportive of Strummer and the Clash. Giving a resurgent Strummer a helping hand was typical of Daltrey and Townsend.

Joe was superb. A tight ten song set, three Mescalero compositions, then onto the Clash stuff. It was a gem of a performance. “London’s Burning” took us all back twenty -three years to the beginning. “The Harder They Come” was a joyous reggae workout, but the killer double was. “Casbah / White Man”. Live, “Rock the Casbah” was transformed, the Mescalero’s imbuing it with a sophistication, rhythm and joie de vivre that the “Combat Rock” cut never quite reached. “White Man” was belted out as though Joe had just written it. The wild Arena applause gave the man, and his music, the recognition that the song deserved. “I Fought the Law” was the song that non Clash fans knew, “White Riot” was played not as a punk blast, but at skiffle speed, stripped down, an old favourite with a new time signature – and he was gone.


Set List
Minstrel Boy
Bhindi Bhagee
London’s Burning
The Harder They Come
Brand New Cadillac
Rock the Casbah
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
I Fought the Law
White Riot



I was driving to our office Christmas party on 22nd Decemeber, 2002 when the radio  broke the news that Strummer had died of a heart attack, aged 50. You never know how you are going to react when you learn of the demise of your heroes. I pulled to the side of the road, stunned. A small part of me had died too. I reflected how cruel life was, just when his talent was re-emerging for a new audience, he was gone.



“I’m the White Man in Hammersmith Palais, only looking for fun”


strummer solo

Posted in Classic Gigs | Tagged | 5 Comments

My Town

My town, is like your town
A few bewildered denizens of the past
Hover outside the concrete carcasses of the old ways

New Gods are worshipped,
Kelloggs, Andrex and Dettol

Gucci, Prada and Burberry,
Now corpses in fading thoroughfares
Toppled icons

Overlooked by sterile skyscrapers
Whose night lights
Flash SOS into the emptiness
Without reply

The sick gasp for medicine,
The shelves of the healthy groan
Just in case

Mosques, churches and synagogues
Offer no prayers
While the aisles of Morrisons, Tesco and Aldi sing.

My town is like your town
There’s no-one around

Posted in Poems | Leave a comment

Poems 2020

In the Beach Hut

Me on the inside
Everything on the outside
Time lies neatly folded
Like an old cloak
In the corner

White pebbles the size of
Loaves of bread
Rest beyond freshly rinsed
Twice daily

Peeled paint flutters
Subject to capricious breeze

Jaded, weather blasted
It holds fast

Against the onslaught
For now.

I saw a wren today
Brown, small, fragile

For the first time
Since I was a

It was only a

Maybe I have not
Been looking hard

Maybe they have
Always been

Maybe I will never
See one

Hatton Bridge

They spoke of Waterloo
As the first stones were laid
One asked who Jenkinson was
No-one knew

Elgin sold his marbles
Which surprised the Greeks
They would have looked good
On Hatton bridge

Trout twisted and teased
Descending from the Peaks
Just one might make
Lunch compleat

Tutbury could be reached
Without wet feet

At each end a seat

It took three years, not fast

Built to last.

From a Window
Without others, who are we?
Each moment as unnoticed
As early morning dew

Cold or chilly?
Who knows or cares
As night falls

Solitary confinement?
Watching without
Being seen

Thursday or Friday?
Rolling dusks, blur
Into one

Pasta or salad?
Each mouthful keeping
You alive

Right or wrong?
Planning, scheming, weighing
No one knows

I think, therefore I am
Until I don’t

The Glove
It lay there
On the pavement
By Tutbury Park

It used to
Be a flour mill
It isn’t now

Quite rigid
And armless

Pointing west
Its fist puffed up
Brown leather

Severed carelessly
But useful

Dress to Impress

And so comes the time
The time when she goes on- line
To zoom, in her room
To follow her poetic pursuit
Once she finds the button “unmute”
That moment of brief hesitation
When she questions the extent of
Her preparation
Has her perfume been applied to the optimum?
Poison, Angel, maybe a dab of Opium?
Then the matter obsessing her mind
What does she have, what will she find
To assuage her fears, to clear her frown?
What will be the right dressing gown?
They are packed in drawers, they are hanging on rails
They billow as the doors open, seductive nightwear sails
Winceyette, flannelette, viyella too
Silky, satiny, velour, lacy, but not see through
For although she might sport a string of pearls
She is keen to show she is not that kind of girl
Then she sees it, next to her mink
A fluffy warm number in pretty bright pink
She feels like a peacock, a flamingo a parrot
A poem in one hand, in the other a carrot

Harry Lauder’s walking stick
Gnarled, contorted, bark
Snarling, bent, thin and thick
Lurking in the park

Fisherman’s friend, with sturdy strut
For bream, and tench and trout
Ancient keelless coracle cup
Waterproof and stout

Nine grew around the placid pool
Feeding salmon nuts
In lazy pace
Burgeoning in belly size
Fattened, satisfied and wise.

Coronavirus Press Conference Bingo
Part One – Questions to the Foreign Secretary
Foot on the pedal,
Social distancing,
Too early to say,
Furlough (pay)
Ramp up
Special measures
R value
Guided by the science,
Pressure point,
Flattening the curve,
Global challenge
Flattening out,
Enormous debt ( gratitude),
Enormous debt ( treasury)
Some signs,
Early signs
Colleagues abroad,
The surge,
Learning from other countries,
Light at end of the tunnel
Absolutely clear
Not out of the woods,
On the front line
Right measures at the right time,
Tests that work,
PPE (not Oxford),
Overwhelming majority,
Thank the British People.
Stay at Home
Save lives
Save the NHS
Part Two -Questions About the Prime Minister
Intensive Care
Almost dead
Spirits high,
30year old girlfriend
Recovering slowly.
He will need time

Ingestre Haiku Sequence

Changes the landscape with great

Another morning
Leaves resting still on pathways
Pristine, Unruffled
Grand Arcadia
Manicured cornucopia
In view of a Wren
Archway guiding sight
Disappearing far away
It is a long walk
Athenian mocks
In grand Doric colonnades
It’s all Greek to me
 Viv Albertine
It seems we have parted
There were chapters to play out
Words unread
We did not go as far
As I had hoped
Our relationship had promise
You were hot, funny,
But I lost you
I don’t know how
It was not expected
Maybe I will find you again
And we can pick up
Where we left off.

At Dawn
I limp, hovering about the tree line
Barren boulders scattered carelessly above
Mists shroud the ground, teasing in wild puffs
Morning dew glistens on my weather worn coat
Steel grey eyes, stare, searching
Scanning the muscle sapping upslopes
Bark bristles in the chill
Underneath an awakening canopy
The pack beyond the horizon now
But their fading scent still cradled in the mountain air
Saliva drips anticipating a kill which may never come

Dying Like A Dog
He limped, haltingly, from the clearing
Each step burdened by the beast within
His cracked feet screaming
A whimper to the pack
Their nuzzles already forgotten
Who stepped away
Far enough beyond
Out of earshot of his final
Not quite silent sibilance
A sparse bush beckoned
A world closing in tight
Tight as his chest
Tumbling onto his side
Alone, tired
Crying for his mother
His children
For everything
Until darkness fell

For Jacob

I warned
Eyes fixed
On the ditch

It’s a hat
Of a witch
And she is dead
Or at least

I hope she is

Pointed and rimmed
It sits silent
In the brook

Or was it just resting?

If we tiptoe past
We will be safe?

Come quickly!

Under no circumstances
Say hubble bubble
Boil and trouble

“I know you are lying Gary.
But what happens
If she is only drying
And you are


The Dream
Tatika’s callused palm pressed into mine
Helping me onto the grey bare rock
Smoothed by millennia of rasping winds
My tired feet warmed by the sun baked stone
Below a kaleidoscope of green
Nourished by snaking blue veins
We followed one trickle, which begat a stream
Which begat a torrent
Flowing relentlessly
Until it eased into a giant lake, placid and deep
Our eyes met- and I knew
I surrendered to the medicine man
As the golden bridge became alive beneath our feet

Birmingham Temporary Mortuary
It was the ultimate fast track
Premium Class, frequent flier, Business Class, Aspiring Trier
All rolled into one, with no turning back

No need to worry about
High Parking Fees
It’s an open ended ticket
Although the long stay car park seems wise
Following your mortal demise
Advance booking is welcomed

The departures board offers one destination
Check in checks them in without hesitation
Security scanning ensures everyone is dead
But there is no need to spread your arms
Spread eagled to show that you mean no harm
Each soul is waved through

Spirits in duty free does predictably well
The ghosts of flights to Oslo and Tokyo
From Berlin and Talin
Are called unheard

In the departure lounge
No-one makes a sound
The hearses are clear to land
With no resistance
All keeping a safe social distance.

Lager Lager

Lager, lager foaming bright
From the beer taps of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy awful chemistry

In what distant vat or vault
Steeped the essence of thy malt?
What unnatural process led
To the whiteness of thy head?

What the sugars? What the yeast?
And when fermentation ceased
From what market research came
The inauthentic German name?

What dread flavour, what aroma
How much will induce a coma?
How does calling lager ice
Begin to justify the price?

When the bars rolled down their shutters
And the drunks spewed in the gutters
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made Chablis make thee?

Lager, lager foaming bright
From the beer taps of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy awful chemistry

My Journey here
Stepping outside into fresh air,
The dampness of dewdrops, a glistening glare
The muskiness of rain topping the leaves on the floor
I take in the forest breathing better than before
Sounds of nature, engine roars away
wheels spin on wet stone
Cracks, leaves crumble
Anxiety ramps for what?
The unknown casts a shadow on the moment
a hand of comfort, trust and safety
Returns the peace and forests beauty
Washed leaves whispered in the drying breeze
Minty fresh in autumnal frieze
Squirrel tongue drying drops
Busy paws, tail that flops

The Akashic Records
Suspended in a place,
Beyond earthly reach,
In a store of infinite space.

Where everything is known,
From east, south, north and west.
Where everything is shown

To those who wish to look,
Before now and after,
Recorded in a book.

Past Life Fragment
It was as if I had always been there
That I had known them all my life
My untaught hands knew what to do
I did not need to learn these things anew
We journey to experience,
To discover.

To learn, to taste new foods,
To hear new sounds, to see new sights,
To touch for the first time.

Yet however far we travel,
The past is never far behind

Goose Fair Nottingham

Amidst the tumult, I grasped her slight hand, tightly,
Cheers, laughter, song and wild gasps
Filled my soul, filled her soul, I knew
A dizzy euphoria, an intoxication, I sensed
Such rapture transcended our temporal happiness
It gathered all the joy that surrounded us,
And had ever surrounded us, and had ever been,
And was yet to come.
It gathered it all in a celebration of what was now,
What had been, and what was to come
In a moment
Past lives Poem
You wake wanting the dream
you left behind in sleep,
water washing through everything,
clearing away sediment
of years, uncovering the lost
and forgotten. You hear the sun
breaking on cold grass,
on eaves, on stone steps
outside. You see light
igniting sparks of dust
in the air. You feel for the first
time in years the world
electrified with morning.
You know something has changed
in the night, something you thought
gone from the world has come back:
shooting stars in the pasture,
sleeping beneath a field
of daisies, wisteria climbing
over fences, houses, trees.
This is a place that smells
like childhood and old age.
It is a limb you swung from,
a field you go back to.
It is a part of whatever you do.

Social Media is Wrecking Our Kids

the neuro-scientists are alarmed
our children’s brains are being harmed

they’re being re-wired, infantilised
they’re not learning to empathise

with endemic obesity
it’s all too easy now to see

we will inevitably find –
enormous kids with tiny minds

a bloated, brainless generation
with no concept of concentration

hang on – I use facebook, I’m quite clever –
I don’t suffer from attention defic- whatever

The Frozen Few

say no to biodegrading and to corporeal corruption
say death is not an absolute it’s just an interruption

while some await the last trumpet to sound to be saved
others wait for the ping! of a kind microwave…

then they’ll quench their curiosity – get futuristic tlc
get their body fine-tuned by a Dr McCoy
get their psyche seen-to by a Counsellor Troy

and while I wouldn’t criticise
those few who would revitalise –
reconstitute – reanimate –
drop off without a wake-by date…

…to lie in liquid nitrogen
in a vacuum flask in Michigan
at minus 196 degrees
– indefinitely –
doesn’t do it for me
while there are those few, to whom, I know,
the notion of being deep-frozen gives a nice warm glow

rather than be a birdseye sleeping beauty woken with a techno-kiss
I prefer to achieve immortality through poetry… …like this

Magical Memories

I remember the dress that you wore when we met
The dress with the dots – how could I forget
Two hundred and four – none exactly the same
I counted them all as you came through the door
…I gave each one a name

We walked out together, beneath a lumpy grey sky
I see it so clearly now in my mind’s eye,
The pavement, the drizzle, the cars grumbling by…

You kissed me. I missed one. But I didn’t mind.
We were young. We had time.

The Thai restaurant. We held hands. Once more we kissed.
And whispered sweet nothings – well, you did,
I whispered the whole set menu and wine list…
[And what’s really nice is:
I can still recite it, including the prices]

And then back to your place, your face stuck to my face
While my eyes memorised your cd’s
I noticed a book there beside the computer
The abridged Kama Sutra (for the hurried lover)
And took a quick look – in two minutes, I’d red it – from cover to cover
You said, Hey do you seriously think that kind of thing can impress me?
And I closed the book, and my eyes, and said, Test me
low-born land mollusc
high-impact intruder
free-loader, sprout-spoiler
meandering marauder
of my broad-beans’ border
you’ve a one-track mind
in a one-track body
diligent pillager
soft-horned invisigoth
slow silver scribbler
paradoxically busy sloth
you’re a squishetty spoilsport
a glistening drag
the liquorice all-sort
nobody wants to find in the bag
it’s time that you were brought to book
you’re not as tasty as you look
listen chum, you are disposable
look at my thumb, it is opposable
unwelcome invertebrate
this might just hurt a bit
I pluck you and chuck you
into distant dew-drenched greenery
isn’t that mean of me?
slug, when all is said and done
you can hide but you can’t run

The Gargoyle

A stonemason’s craft is a solitary one
Granite and chisel,eyes specked with dust
Amidst rain snow and sun
From morning to dusk
Fashioning cherubims and saints
Angels and archangels his usual tasks
Fashioned without complaint
Saints and disciples, sometimes death masks

But high out of view
He fashioned himself, in lieu
Normally the prorogue of the wealthy
He fashioned the first selfie

My Town Part One
My town is like your town
C & A has gone away, John Collier’s window
Once the one to watch, now a thousand yard stare
From front and behind
There is nothing there
My town is where
Woollies pick n mix lured a generation of young fingers, fresh faces
Ratners was crap, its demise was heralded
After it had been unceremoniously Geralded
Not available now from BHS
Bed linen lamps, little brothers socks and vests
Not available at Comet, mums tumble drier
Not available from Rumblows a deep fat frier
Staples is stationary, Toys R us crushed by the folly
Of not foreseeing the supermarket trolley
The New Look in my High Street
Is a shuttered shop front
Don’t just book it Thomas Cook it
If you fancy going nowhere
Mothercare doesn’t, anymore
Soap wiped windows, empty store
Amazon knows no Borders
While betting shops throw loaded dice
Temples to empty avarice
My town is like your town
Its closing down.

My Town Part Two

My town, is like your town
A few bewildered denizens of the past
Hover outside the concrete carcasses of the old ways
New Gods are worshipped,
Kelloggs, Andrex and Dettol
Gucci, Prada and Burberry,
Now corpses in fading thoroughfares
Toppled icons
Overlooked by sterile skyscrapers
Whose night lights
Flash SOS into the emptiness
Without reply
The sick gasp for medicine,
The shelves of the healthy groan
Just in case
Mosques, churches and synagogues
Offer no prayers
While the aisles of Morrisons, Tesco and Aldi sing.
My town is like your town
There’s no-one around

My Town Part Three
My town is like your town
Citizens are flushed out of
Their hiding places

Like laboratory rats
A mad professor’s

Masked, bewildered by
The glare of the new normal
Two metres apart

Foot soldiers beckoned
Over the top, towards work
By the daily briefing whistle

Towards a camouflaged foe
Waiting for the
Not so alert

Children return to school
While bodies flow
Over cold slabs

Behind which a swirling
Torrent of new infection
Gushes close behind

Porting a deadly raft
Of next week’s victims

Furlough money buys beer
Millionaire footballers prepare
To play

In stadia whose empty seats
Could be filled
By the dead

Instead of salvation
We are offered circuses
And bread.


Bending to soft breeze
Gently bowing to raindrops
Shadow from the sun

No Flowers Visible
She said write about flowers
Yet there were none
That I could see
From the fixed camera position

Three PM exactly
The screen flickered into life
To remember her death

After ninety- two years
An almost empty chapel
Save for two sons and wives
Two metres apart
United in grief

She was Welsh
There should have been daffodils
But maybe they would have looked

I could hear a choir
Not see them
They were out of time

I could see the son’s sobs
But not hear them
Handkerchiefs stuffed
Into pockets rarely opened.

You asked me to write about flowers
Any flowers
But I have to report
There were none.

I fucking love statues
They just stand there
Doing nothing.

Stone, concrete
Bronze, gold

You cannot beat
A good

People use them for directions
Don’t they have
Google maps?

Birds shit on them
Perhaps they are smarter
Than we think?

No-one really knows
Why they were erected
Or who erected them

Or when.
Maybe it was just
An afterthought?

Or even who they were.
That’s why they have plaques
To remind them

In the pub
We argue
About little else

They should make
Them float
That would show the topplers

St Paul, the Corinthians
Nah, that’s ancient history

Work Wanted

Window fitter sought

Haiku writers are preferred

Must understand meter


Where summer arrives late

And winter arrives early

Where rain lashes your face

In pellets

Where axe peaks are blunted

Blurred by mist

And the sandstone buildings

Are permanently soaked

Where six thousand years ago

At Lismore Fields

Before the Pyramids

Our ancestors made their home

My Alter Ego
Is a summer’s day
With gentle clouds
As ladies in heels
And long skirts
Being seen
Then gently moving on

Is a bold green hillside
Fractured into myriad shades
Dipping and sloping
Elegant, content
Refreshed by springs
Warmed by midday sun

Is a sea caressing beaches
But gnawing at rock
Glimmering and shimmering
Nibbling at pristine sand
Ebbing to draw breath
Always returning

Is certainty
Is relentless
Is beautiful
Is delicate
Is defiant
Is in thrall to no man

This is a Fibonacci poem, the syllables need to be 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and then I went backward…

The storm.

It pounds
Against my
Windows curtains drawn
Against the incessant onslaught
But nothing  shuts out natures brutal cacophony
Drumming, beating, hammering pounding upon frail panes
And I cower under the sheets
But nothing stops the
Lashing blast

Seconds out- Round One

Bish, bash, bish bash
Grunt, groan, grunt, groan
Watching the bout
From the safety of home

Probing left, probing right
Roar, yell, roar yell
The blue shorts boxer
is doing well

Thump, thud. Thump thud
Squelch, spurt, squelch spurt
The white shorts boxer
Is grievously hurt

Howl, pow, moan
Howl pow moan
It won’t take long
Ominous song

Wack, thwack, wack thwack
Bang slap bang slap
He lies out cold
On canvas mat.

One, two three four
Gerrin, yeah, phwoar
He’s counted out
Flat on the floor

Wren sees Man

He saw me today

Brown, small, fragile


For the first time

Since he was a


It was only a



He has not

Been looking hard


But I have

Always been


Our worlds

Rarely collide

We are too busy

Maybe he will never

See me



It was equipped with radar

Which never failed.

For the errant child.

There was no escape

Nor jamming device available

Propelled by the flick of a wrist

And a keen eye

Its aerodynamic properties

Were battle proven

Its oak frame was the missile

The softer sponge the warhead

No matter what defensive manoeuvre

Was attempted, it failed

Its target  pre-programmed

Terrible impact assured

A puff of white chalky dust

Exploding against youthful skull

Shrill yelp as the wood gouges skin

Then spins wildly to the floor

Mr Dunkley never missed

With a chalk duster

This Sporting Life

He studied every day, straining to beat the gaff

Talking gibberish, prey to vigorish

In thrall to

Lazy cannon fire of hooves,

Swathed in dragon’s snort mist

A morning dew of sweat in the 3.15

Rippling haunches kissed

By a reminder of the task

Bunched together, poised

To do what is asked

With gaits of silk

Pygmies carried by giants

Only the finish counts, blinkered

Riding the swelling oaths

From willing stands

With galloping heart, from standing start

And it is over in a flash

To a sauntering gambol

Amidst the slips of misfortune

Before weighing room judgement

All is in the balance.

The Mask

Warm water


Towel dry

Moisturised, primed

Block foundation,


Then liquid,


Smoothing, soaking in


Loose powder

Puffed on


Pale blue eye shadow

Eye liner then mascara

Lashes in Peacock tail splay



Lip gloss


Posted in Poems | 1 Comment

Ben Kane – Eagles in the Storm, Novel Review

My first foray into Kane’s writing had been with “Clash of the Titans” it had been disappointing, with Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell easily better writers and storytellers on that evidence. But I decided to give him another chance. I am glad I did.

“Eagles in the Storm” is the third part of a trilogy, not necessarily the best entry point for a new reader. To my surprise, and delight, what had gone before was no obstacle to my understanding of the story, or my enjoyment of it. Instead I discovered a tight, taut, novel which grabbed my attention from start to finish.

Set in AD 15. The German chieftain Arminius has been defeated, one of the lost Roman eagles recovered, and thousands of German tribesmen slain. But senior centurion Lucius Tullus has a score to settle, not only for his lost comrades, but for his legion’s honour, for Rome’s honour and for his own honour, the recovery of the lost eagle.

Arminius is the Germanic warlord opponent, fearless, brave, and an adept politician. Kane seems much more at home, and convincing, in exploring the intricacies and treachery of tribal alliances than he does Rome’s in “Titans”. Arminius , burning for revenge, raises another large tribal army, to confront the Roman invaders.

Tullus is brilliantly envisaged, and is very reminiscent of Scarrow’s centurion Macro. He epitomises what is good and morally right, while at the same time being perfectly happy to skewer and send to Hades as many barbarians as possible. What makes this story so strong, is that Rome and their Germanic opponents are credibly described, Tullus and Arminius are appealing opponents, and Kane underpins the story with a fragile Germanic Tribal alliance which might split at any time.

Kane also resists the temptation which Kane and Scarrow can be guilty of, making the defining confrontation of the book pivotal for Empires. This is primarily about personal confrontation and honour- and is much the better for it.

A great read, I intend to read the first two in this trilogy now, and risk the sequel to “Titans” in the hope that it improves.

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Clash of Empires- Ben Kane. Novel review


clash of emp

This was my first introduction to Kane’s work I was disappointed. It was swamped by too much unnecessary detail, diluted by multiple sub plots which either went nowhere or added little, and was careless with character.

In one strand Felix and his brother Antonius stand in the Roman legions, ready to deliver the decisive blow against Hannibal Barca and establish Rome as the pre-eminent power in the ancient world. But they are no match for Simon Scarrow’s creations of Macro and Cato. I was not that bothered about them.

In another strand, young senator Flamininus is set on becoming one of the Republic’s greatest military commanders with his eyes on the as-yet-unconquered Macedon and Greece. Too much time is spent on politics in Rome. Once again, he is not drawn in such a way that we are particularly interested in whether he personally succeeds or fails. There is no jeopardy in his personal story.

In the north of Greece, Philip V of Macedon is determined to restore his kingdom to its former glory but needs a strong army to help him do it. Young Demetrios dreams of fighting in the phalanx but is just a poor oarsman. But he is given an opportunity, and seizes it, bringing him into the sphere of influence of Philip. It is broadly a rags to (relative) riches story, and by far the most satisfying.

Kane’s historical detail, and love for the period, is beyond reproach. But just because you know something does not mean you have to share it. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and loses focus, and reader empathy, as a result. He has epic ambitions, but falls well short. The ending itself is inconclusive and unsatisfying, the loose ends left being frustrating, rather than enticing, for the next book in the series.

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