Monday, 19 February 2018

On The Radio

Last Thursday, my good friend Sue Moorcroft and I were guests on Brookes’ Brew, the Harborough FM show of Phil Brookes.
While Sue is something of an old-hand at radio, regularly appearing on Radio’s Northampton and Cambridge, I’m not - my only appearance before this was on the John Griff show, on BBC Radio Northampton, the day I met Sir Roger Moore at the Derngate Theatre.  In this case, Phil got in touch with me as he was starting a new show format, looking to have guests and thought we’d have plenty to chat about (how little he knew).  He also asked us to each provide a five-song playlist, which is a actually a lot harder to do than you imagine it will be (especially as we all love David Bowie, so he had two choices from us).
On the day I was excited and nervous.  Sue & I found the studio (I may have directed us slightly wrong initially), Phil welcomed us in, we met Rod the technical bloke and ran through plans for the show.  Phil went on air at 10pm, called us in while the first song was playing, showed us around the studio and then we took our seats.

I loved it.

The three of us quickly developed an easy rapport, chatted about music and books and writing, filled another shows worth of chatter as the records played and still we ran out of time.  This is perhaps where we should have warned Phil beforehand - Sue & I meet up fairly regularly at The Trading Post and once we start talking we keep going until the bar staff come around to shoo us out.  One of my abiding memories of the show is Phil, listening to us talk and watching the clock count down as an “oh no, how do I shut them up?” expression crossed his face.

Phil, on air, invited us back onto the show and we’ll return on Thursday March 15th.

The evening went brilliantly and I had a cracking time - he's a great host, some fantastic music was played and it’s always a pleasure to chat and spend time with Sue.

Phil has uploaded a recording of the show to his Mixcloud - which you can listen to here.  While Harborough FM broadcasts locally you can also listen to it live online at this link.

And to bring you the spirit of the evening, here are some of our song choices.

The first is from Sue (thankfully I saw her list before submitting mine, so was free to choose another) which we all liked because it's a great song that tells a wonderful bittersweet story.

The second was my choice - not my favourite INXS song of all time but one that, for me, perfectly encapsulates the time it (and the video) were released.

The third is the Bowie track we went with.

And don't forget, if you want to listen to the show, it's available on this link.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Denis, at 40

Denis was the first single (except in Japan) from Blondie’s second album, Plastic Letters and was released on 18th February 1978.  Recorded at Plaza Sound Studio in New York between June and July 1977, it was written by Neil Levenson and produced by Richard Gottehrer.
Denis was a cover of the 1963 hit by Randy & The Rainbows, written by Neil Levenson about his childhood friend, Denise Lefrak.  The Blondie version, changing the name and sex, was the single that effectively broke the band into the international market.  It reached number 2 in the UK Top 10 - held off the top spot over four weeks by Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs by Brian & Michael - staying on the charts for a total of fourteen weeks.  It was number 1 in Belgium and the Netherlands, Top 10 in Germany and Austria and Top 20 in Australia and Sweden.  It was the only single release from the album in the US and never officially charted.

As well as Debbie Harry (vocals), Jimmy Destri (keyboards), Chris Stein (guitar) and Clem Burke (drums), Frank Infante (guitar) and Nigel Harrison (bass) played on the track although they weren’t officially members of the band at the time.

The single was issued in both 7” and 12” formats and they shared the same b-sides - Contact in Red Square (Destri) from Plastic Letters and Kung-Fu Girls (Destri/Harry/Gary Valentine) from Blondie (their debut album).  Plastic Letters was Gottehrer's second and final album with the band and recorded under their original label - Private Stock Records - but picked up by Chrysalis Records for release.  Chrysalis' main office was in England and they understood the international potential for the band, promoting the album and singles extensively throughout Europe and Asia, the plan being to develop overseas markets before the US one.  It was a ploy that ended up working very well.
Blondie at the time (from left) - Jimmy Destri, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke
As well as changing the gender and singing from a different viewpoint, the song also includes a section where Debbie Harry sings in French.  As Richard Gottehrer wrote in the liner notes for the 2001 re-issue, “Her phrasing aside, it felt great and sounded amazing.  When Chrysalis took over, I was asked by Terry Ellis [the boss] to go back and re-record the French section with a proper translation.  We tried, but there was just too much magic in the mix, so Denis was released as-is.”  This second version was released as a bonus track on the 1994 re-issue of the album.

The video, though it’s a performance piece and you do occasionally see the other members of the band, focuses heavily on Debbie Harry and she looks fantastic - perfect make-up, that hair, the look, a tuxedo and a swimsuit.  My crush had begun…

Happy 40th, Denis!

UK chart positions
Jukebox Time Machine
Liner notes from Plastic Letters: EMI 2001 re-issue

Monday, 5 February 2018

Drive rides again...

Following Chris Teague's decision to close Pendragon Press (a fine outfit that published some great works), my  BFS-award nominated novella Drive was out-of-print and homeless.  Thankfully, that situation has now been rectified by those fine folks at Near To The Knuckle (an imprint of Gritfiction Ltd), who have republished it with spanking new cover art.
This all came about because of Paul D. Brazill who not only gave me a great blurb for the original edition but also mentioned me to Craig Douglas at NTTK.  I'm doubly thrilled because this not only means Drive gets another chance to hit the road, it's with a publisher I'm pleased to be associated with.

David Moore has one night left in Gaffney and is at a party he doesn’t want to attend. Natasha Turner, at the same party, is lost for a lift home.

Meanwhile, three young men have stolen a car, and as the night darkens and the roads become deserted, David and Nat enter into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. . .

“Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery.  
A fast paced, high tension thriller that delivers on all fronts....”
- Jim Mcleod, The Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"West makes the material his own, ringing numerous changes on a familiar template, while we root for the good guys and hate the bad guys.  It doesn’t come with any heavy meaning or much in the way of a subtext, but it is a crowd pleaser, a horror story set in the urban landscape and tapping into our fears of what could so easily go wrong in this setting, a finely tuned tale that delivers all the thrills it says on the tin. I loved it, and I also think it would make a splendid little film..."
- Peter Tennant, Black Static

"Drive is a gripping, tense urban noir with prose as tight as a snare drum..."
- Paul D. Brazill, Guns Of Brixton.

Drive is a 25,000 words novella, originally published by Pendragon Press in 2014 and nominated for the British Fantasy Society Best Novella Award 2015.
Peter Tennant, at Black Static, also included "Drive" in his annual 'Best In Class' round-up

Shelley Wilson, The Tuesday Book Blog
The ending was better than I could have imagined and added to the nail-biting suspense.  If you’re looking for a quick read full of suspense, thrills and mystery, then Drive is the book for you.  Highly recommended.
(read the full review here)

M R Crosby at his Stranger Designs site 
I didn't mean to sit up late in order to finish Drive, the new novella from Mark West, published by Pendragon Press. I really didn't. However, once I started to read, I found it difficult to stop. It's not often I get caught up in the moment with a book; usually I get drawn in slowly, soaking up the atmosphere. Yet here I was, quite unable to put the thing down, compelled to find out what happens next.
(read the full review here)

Matthew Fryer, at Welcome To The Hellforge 
I’ve been enjoying Mark West’s fiction for several years now, and his brand of atmospheric, uneasy horror always has me coming back for more. He is one of those authors that brings such investable humanity and resonance to his fiction that genre is rendered almost irrelevant. I was therefore delighted to discover that with this new novella from Pendragon Press, he wanders outside his usual discomfort zone into white-knuckle territory, but still manages to deliver his most terrifying piece to date.
(the full review can be read here)

Jim Mcleod's review at The Ginger Nuts Of Horror 
Many authors are limited by  style and genre, and when they write outside of their comfort zone the resulting book can feel like a letdown.  Regular readers of this website will be  aware of how I feel about Mark West's writing.  He is one of those  rare breed of horror writers that is capable of wrapping up a horror story within a framework full of heart and soul.  His stories have a deep emotional core that elevates them to a whole new level.  So what happens when Mark decides to take his writing in a new direction.....
(the full review can be read here)

James Everington, at Scattershot reviews
Mark West’s latest novella is in some ways a departure from the author’s previous work; there’s none of the supernatural horror of The Mill here. But despite its realism there are scares aplenty in Drive and its small-town English realism adds to the effect.
(the full review can be read here)

Paula Limbaugh, at Horror Novel Reviews
YES!!  A new novella by Mark West!  Okay, just to get it out of the way I’m a big fan of Mark West.  He has a way of plotting the course and leading you down the dark and twisted corridors of his mind.  Drive is another example of a top-notch tale.  Have you ever been out alone in the middle of nowhere driving?  Have you ever thought what if?  What if someone forced you off the road, what if you have a flat and a car full of men pull up, or  what if…..
(the full review can be read here)

Wayne Simmons, at
It's brilliantly executed, too: West's writing draws you into the story, his prose clean, clear and uncluttered. His characters are also great - very believable, none of them suddenly developing kung-fu skills or Hulk-like rage, dealing with the threat at hand in a very realistic way.  In short, one of the best novellas I've read in quite a while. Do yourself a favour and hit that BUY NOW button.
(read the full review here)

Kit Power, at
Fans of non-supernatural horror or jet black thrillers will find a lot to like here. Recommended for a quick, super-tense, one-sitting read.
(read the full review here)

David Price, at Amazon
Mark West really cranks up the tension by making the hero a less-than-heroic figure who is, in effect, as helpless and terrified as 'anyone' would be in this situation. Belting along in real time, it is a hard book to put down and you might just find yourself with sweaty palms when you do. The day of the novella has come and thrillers like Drive can only enhance its popularity. A great read.
(read the full review here)