Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)
1992 historical detection, fourth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). As Phryne is driving home one night, someone shoots out her windscreen. As the gunfight moves on, she gets out of the car to find an injured young man, who dies in her arms.
2006 psychological thriller. After a highly public series of tragic incidents, Antonia Weston goes to Cheshire to stay in a cottage near a small market town, hoping for anonymity and peace. But she soon experiences a series of events which seem to be echoing the past she's trying to forget.
1991 historical detection, third in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Everyone in one of the carriages on the overnight train to Ballarat is chloroformed; Phryne retains just enough consciousness to shoot out the window and let in some air. When everyone recovers, it's found that an elderly passenger has vanished. But why?
2009 SF, loosely connected with the Company series. The British Arean Corporation sponsored the colonisation of Mars… then it turned out that short-term profits weren't possible, and they lost interest. Mary Griffith runs the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge.
1936 classic English detective fiction; fourth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. At a meeting of the House of the Sacred Flame, a small cult, the Chosen Vessel drinks from the Flaming Cup, gabbles nonsensically, and dies of a dose of sodium cyanide.
1990 historical detection, second in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne takes on the case of a son whose mother is worried he'll murder his father, and then the father is indeed murdered; and she tracks down a kidnapped child.
1962; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Nicola Ferris, on holiday from her job at the British Embassy in Athens, has been looking forward to getting away from it all in an obscure corner of Crete. But a day of random wandering brings her into contact with two men, one of them badly injured.
It is done, sent off, completed. The studio is once again quiet and tidy – I’ve even managed to hoover the rug. Even so, it’s littered with soldered makeshift instruments and lyrics scribbled, printed and sellotaped to random surfaces: they adorn the shelves, the mic stands, even the back of my chair. But my first solo album is finished and out of the door – it’s a wrap!
Ten months ago in a Brighton hospital bed I aurally hallucinated, wrecked out of my face on morphine and grinning like an idiot. With the rhythm of the hospital machinery in my head I wrote “Sailing Alone”, the first song for what would become the debut album of The Bleeding Obvious.
After such a major operation I planned to take a few months off work: teach myself to play guitar properly, read the instructions on the musical kit I’ve collected over the years, learn to circuit-bend noise-making devices. Over those weeks of freedom I saved various vignettes with no plans to use them, yet gradually music gained lyrics – even just phrases – and the seeds were sown.
With a complementary idea to rework songs written with a previous band I went back to the original master discs to play with the concept: the effort turned into “The Obvious Pseudonym”, a largely instrumental song which took musical motifs woven into an orchestral overture. A group of degree students in Leeds formed a small makeshift orchestra to develop it as an idea. Unfortunately, using old songs turned out to be a bit of an emotional dead-end but did lead to new hooks. “Hang on,” thought I. “Maybe this new material could work as an album?”
Ideas came and went. By February there were 13 tracks some of which would change very little over the coming months and it was a slow burn. Much to the amusement of my partner I’d jump naked into the studio in the middle of the night to record a part, adding unusual instruments to the mix simply because I could. I taught myself to play rudimentary saxophone and flute and strange signal paths were wired up involving miniature pianos or circuit-bent childrens’ toys. I felt relieved my poor neighbour Doreen is hard of hearing.
The first three musical friends on-board were vocalists: Anthony Jackson-Stubbs of LGBT disco pop band Paleday, Ruby Macintosh (who I’d worked with previously on the Eurovision wannabe track “Mirrorball”), and my old blues crooner friend Scott Wainwright. Wordsmith Helen Rhodes took a concept for I, Human and blasted it into some really quite terrifying lyrics, Ralph Dartford of A Firm Of Poets agreed to speak them for me. My close friend Marie helped me with lyrics and came back with comments.
On the subject of artwork, the blood-drop was one of those things which seemed to be there from the first day but became a consistent motif throughout the whole project. It stands for tears of sadness and joy, the rain, the sweat, the blood. Or, more simply (as my partner Helen put it), blood sweat and tears – here through sheer graft. The visual element further coalesced when my friend Cathie Heart agreed to do a photoshoot around Kirkstall Abbey and down by the canal at Granary Wharf in Leeds, where I was bitten by a midge and leant against a piece of scrap metal looking like I was touting for business from the local sailors.
Every song has its own piece of artwork around the teardrop, everything tells a story.
I enlisted instrumentalist friends: a peppering of drums, a pedal-steel guitar, violin, viola, punk wailing, the orchestra of course, and flute from a childhood friend I sang with at Wakefield Cathedral. Although by early August most of the Leeds students had gone their separate ways I had almost enough orchestral stems to complete the work, and those folks I still spoke to with were gracious enough to record more. My former band-mate friend Simon Rowe (now of Berlyn Trilogy) produced Wallflower with me and gave pointers for other tracks; my son Ben assisted on production and the overall story arc (the vocoder on “Splendid!” is his doing for instance). Other vocalists stepped up to the mark: the extraordinary voices of Jacqui Wicks (aka Ossett Observer), Irene Purcell, Colleen Taylor and my daughter Ellie Rowbottom all grace tracks, bringing their own feel to the music, influencing songs and completely changing their character as the weeks passed.
Finally, accompanied by cheese, home-made biscotti and Prosecco, a group of us sat in my lounge in Wrenthorpe last Saturday and listened to it start to finish with nothing more to be done, music complete. Splendid!
On 17th November 2016 exactly one year since that first song was written, it will be unleashed on the world. You’ll be able to get it on red vinyl LP with gatefold sleeve, digital (Amazon, iTunes, Google Music and all that), and of course on CD. Before that, from mid-October it will be available for preorder online, or you can coax your local independent record store into getting it for you – it’s on the Hotfox label, catalogue HFOX001. There’s also a launch gig at Unity Works (Wakefield) on 19th November which is selling fast, so you probably want to get your ticket soon.
A former acquaintance was fond of saying “one day this will all be an anecdote”, the phrase which opens the prologue spoken by my daughter Ellie. It’s an angry album, a pissed-off album – but at the same time a body of work with optimism for the future and an appreciation of those who have stuck around; a collection of songs telling a very personal story. I hope you enjoy it.
Meantime, here’s a preview in the form of track 7, “Put Your Arms Around Me”, featuring my wonderful friend Ruby Macintosh on vocals:
1989 historical detection, first in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Intelligent, beautiful, rich, and bored, the Hon. Phryne Fisher travels to Australia in order to find out whether John Andrews is poisoning his wife, her clients' daughter.
I'm not fond of ClearChannel; I'm already inclined to regard it as a fairly vile mob because (a) it's an advertising firm and (b) it systematically destroyed non-top-40 music radio in the USA so as to maximise advertising revenue. But it's reached a new low.
1930 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Sayers's novels of Lord Peter Wimsey. Philip Boyes, writer on atheism, anarchy and free love, died of quite a lot of arsenic; Harriet Vane, who had lived with him without benefit of clergy for nearly a year until they had quarrelled three months earlier, is accused of having poisoned him. Wimsey, seeing the trial, is convinced of her innocence, not to say smitten by her; when the jury cannot agree on a verdict, he makes it his business to save her from the gallows in the month before the new trial.
1988 mystery; eighth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's sister Patsy has a new boyfriend, and a renovation project in the Sacramento Delta. But someone's playing tricks, sabotaging the project and scaring off the workers; Sharon takes a long weekend away from her job to help Patsy out.
2014 SF, first of the Solarian War Saga. Elfrida Goto works for the Space Corps, persuading asteroid-dwellers to accept resettlement before their asteroids are dropped into Venus as part of the terraforming project. But her telepresence robot is acting up, and then the space station she's living on comes under attack.
2007 mystery; eighth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole always has her hair cut at Connie's Clip Joint, "same shape, but shorter". This time, Kyra, one of the juniors, hasn't turned up, and she turns out to have been left dead in the back room, strangled with the cord of a hair-dryer.
1936 classic English detective fiction; seventh of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Barnabas family publishing house is used to strangeness; the founder's nephew disappeared in broad daylight while walking between his house and the main road. Now Paul Brande, one of the cousins who run the firm, is found dead inside a locked room. US vt Legacy in Blood.
2006 mystery; seventh in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude's been asked to extend her healing practice to a horse; but she doesn't expect to find the co-owner of the stables stabbed to death. Obviously it was the local "Horse Ripper", caught in the act. Or was it a jealous husband?
1935 classic English detective fiction; third of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. In a private hospital, the Home Secretary was operated on for appendicitis: shortly afterwards he was dead, poisoned with hyoscine (scopolamine). And all sorts of people seem to have had motives.
2004 mystery; fifth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude is helping out at the Hopwicke Country House Hotel, but the morning after a boozy meeting of the Pillars of Sussex, an organisation of local businessmen, one of them doesn't come down to breakfast… because he's hanging from a beam of his four-poster bed. Obviously a suicide…
…or obviously not, but proving it will be hard work, especially when the Pillars of Sussex close ranks to disassociate themselves from the victim. Everybody's far too willing to talk to Carole and Jude, as usual, but a key player appears for the first time three-quarters of the way through the book, which doesn't help matters.
Most of the investigation is a trudge through local businesses, and Brett's usual cast of horrible people. Everyone has something to hide, of course, and it usually reinforces how ghastly they are.
As in The Torso in the Town, the ultimate villain goes unpunished, which again seems to be a violation of the principles of murder mysteries: the detectives find themselves stymied and essentially give up and go home. But they do that seemingly because there are only a few pages left; if it were half-way through the book they'd go after some alternative source of information, and for their behaviour to be so blatantly affected by a non-diegetic element breaks my suspension of disbelief.
But in this book, the mystery is the bread on which the pâté of human drama is spread: what are these people's secrets, and how do they react as things come out? Also, this marks a significant achievement in the process of Carole's transformation into a human being, as she finds herself become able to talk with her son and his fiancée in a way she certainly wouldn't have been when the series started. (However, I think Brett realised that without having Carole as a pompous prig he loses the contrast she strikes against free-spirited Jude, so her progress from this point on is much slower and sometimes even reversed.)
Followed by The Witness at the Wedding.
2003; fourth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, is to be turned into a museum celebrating the life and work of the local poet Esmond Chadleigh, its most famous resident. Then a skull is dug up in the garden.
2015 mystery novel adaptation, 11 episodes: AniDB, vt "Everything Becomes F" or "The Perfect Insider". Shiki Magata killed her parents when she was fourteen, but her mind was clearly disturbed, and she's a brilliant programmer; for the fifteen years since then, she's been confined to a few rooms within a research lab, with extremely restricted communication with the outside world. And yet, someone has managed to murder her.
2002 mystery; third in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). The couple who've just moved into the Big House in Fedborough, inland up the river from Fethering, throw a dinner party to try to get into the local social scene… which is somewhat spoiled when a limbless body is discovered in the cellar.
Though there are a slew of new banks coming on-line, Tide is aiming for the business market with no fees (they make their money on various services that a banking customer might use and they're not unreasonable).
The first thing to say is it very easy to sign-up. Just present a valid ID to the app and take a photo of it, then clever magic works out who you are (which you confirm) and then it asks what company you're going to use (it looks up your details in Companies House).
You then get an account (a real account number and sort code).
Once set-up you can do all sorts of things through the app, like invoice customers, pay invoices from suppliers etc. When invoicing it can track incoming payments and send out reminders if the customer doesn't pay. If you need to take a credit card payment, it can do that too, just scan the customer card, it will then ask the customers for the CCV (the number on the back of the card) and that's it (there's a fee for handling the payment, that's where Tide take a small percentage), but no card readers to worry about etc.
The service is currently in alpha to a few select customers (the alpha client looks very nice, though the version tested was a sandbox'ed version so not doing live transactions, the real alpha client does the same thing in a live environment) and it will hopefully launch in beta very soon.
Though it's mobile first, all services are also available on-line (web access) and there's a (developing) API on to everything, so if you want to build your own client and offer new services, you'll be able to do so.
If you want to sign-up for access, use this link Tide Preview.
1935 classic English detective fiction; second of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. When Arthur Surbonadier is fatally shot on stage during the last act of The Rat and the Beaver, there's no question about who pulled the trigger: the shooting was part of the play. But there wasn't supposed to be live ammunition in the gun.
2016 science fiction crime drama, 11 episodes. Jimmy Pritchard is a 75-year-old, corrupt, disgraced, but unrepentant former sheriff. When he's murdered, secretive tech billionaire twins restore him to life, youth and extreme vitality (as a side effect of their own plans). Formerly known as Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Code and Lookinglass.
1938 fiction. Henry Warren, a successful banker, works all his waking hours, travelling across Europe to sort out financial deals, particularly share issues. His digestion is bad, and his wife's having an affair with a foreigner. When all the stress catches up with him, he winds up in the hospital of a northern town, one that's been without significant employment since the shipyard closed, and decides to do something about it. (US vt Kindling.)
2000 mystery; first in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole Seddon, conventional, divorced, and retired from the Home Office, moves to the small seaside town of Fethering (inspired by the real Tarring in West Sussex). But her neighbour Jude turns out to be distressingly bohemian, and she finds a dead body while walking her dog on the beach… but by the time the police turn up, it's gone.
My passport was a few months away from expory, so when I got back from the latest foreign trip I renewed it. It only took two weeks, which isn't bad, though I think the Passport Office might take a tip or two from an enthusiastic amateur; their professional advisors don't seem to be doing a terribly good job.