Monday, April 30, 2007

Reversing into the limelight

Nice Saki quote from tonight's BBC documentary. "If you're going to hide your light under a bushel, make sure people know exactly which bushel it's under."

Quibbling while Rome burns

It falls to me to put together the CDs that come with each issue of Word. The way this works is I get lots of suggestions from people at the magazine, put in requests to the record companies and then try to make a satisfactory 15 track compilation from the ones we get approval on.
There's always a certain amount of arm wrestling involved.
The big labels, if they'll give you anything at all, try to fob you off with something which is so ordinary they can't imagine ever wanting to use it for anything else. (If somebody says 'It's track seven' I often say 'we'll pass' without even listening.)
They also say 'no, you can't have that. It's the single'.
Whereas the independents say 'That's the single. Please take it.'
They know it's all about getting exposure on the track that best represents the act. Whereas by some twisted, outdated logic the product managers at the big companies seem to think 'if we give them that track then Word readers won't go out and buy the single'. This seems to ignore the fact that hardly anyone buys singles and Word readers never do it.
I've been observing the record business at close quarters for 35 years now and it seems to me that all the promotional activity on a record takes place before it comes out. The pre-release window provides them with a kind of alternative reality in which they can do their thing. That's the only time the record companies feel as if they have the whip hand, offering or withdrawing press cooperation, parcelling out exclusives to TV shows, sending out thousands of unsolicited advance CDs ringed with copy protection and accompanied by lawyers letters about the dire consequences of illegal copying.
Once the record's out they seem to lose interest.
This is what killed the singles chart. When I used to plug records to Radio One in the 70s they wouldn't play something unless it was out. Then they got into this cosy little cartel where they were supplied with records over a month before they came out. Radio One loved this because they had a product that you couldn't get anywhere else. The record companies loved it because the BBC were forced to promote the release date every time they played the single. In some spheres this would be called ADVERTISING. Anyway, it was this practice that killed the golden goose.
A couple of months ago I had an exchange with a major record company where I said Word would do a spread on a completely unknown act if they would give us a certain track by them for the CD. They said no because that was the single. I said, call me back when it's in the charts.
I haven't heard from them yet.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Time Actually Tested

John Craig-Sharples has got in touch to say it's 20 years since the publication of Paul Gambaccini's Top 100 Albums book in which I listed my top ten at the time. "Twenty years on I was wondering if your top ten albums have stood the test of time, or what might have come along in the meantime to challenge them." John, you know how to appeal to a man's vanity. Here's the list:
1. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard & Linda Thompson
Frankly I don't believe in these lists at all but this is still a masterpiece. I picked it for what it represents and I might well do the same again tomorrow.
2. Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
It's a great pop record. Still.
3. Squeezing Out Sparks - Graham Parker
Probably haven't played this all the way through in twenty years but at least half of it's great.
4. Beatles For Sale - The Beatles
You've got to root for the one that nobody else does. "Beatles For Sale" was an average Beatles album which just goes to show how good their average was. This includes "No Reply" which has the greatest Beatles middle eight of all.
5. John Wesley Harding - Bob Dylan
Haven't played this in a while but it plays in my head all the time, which is half the battle.
6. Live! - Bob Marley
Because I was there and it was the best gig I ever saw.
7. Aftermath - Rolling Stones
Still the coolest long player ever made. In mono.
8. It's Too Late To Stop Now - Van Morrison
See Bob Marley.
9. Get Happy!! - Elvis Costello
Haven't listened to it for ages.
10. The Last Waltz - The Band
Picked it because it's got lots of other artists on it.
What would I add? Gawd knows - there's just too many records and I've really stopped caring about long players – but Lucinda Williams's "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" for a start. And Randy Newman's "Good Old Boys". And "Hissing Of Summer Lawns".

Friday, April 27, 2007

They had just seventeen

Once a year I get roped in to be the pop music expert on a friend's team at a big charity quiz. Black tie, super electronic scoring system, room full of wealthy people bidding for boxes at Covent Garden and so forth. It was last night. Of course you always bitch when you don't win but I do take exception to trick questions such as "Elton John's real name is Reginald Keith Dwight - true or false?". (The middle name's actually Kenneth.) Anyway, how many UK number one singles did the Beatles have in the 1960s? I'm not very good at charts but I was amazed to see that they had seventeen! And they're not all the ones you'd think. The same subject came up with Nick Lowe yesterday. His new album is his first for seven years. Brinsley Schwarz used to make two a year. The Beatles used to make two a year and then put out singles as well, none of which were on the albums. You want to know how good the Beatles were? They took "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" off "Sergeant Pepper" and put them out as a double A side single. Underrated. Still.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A former tour de force is forced to tour

Here's Andy Cotterill taking Nick Lowe's picture earlier today for Word. We met in a room at the back of a pub in West London that Nick has used in the past to try out new material. He stopped using it a while back when the landlord changed and the staff starting looking at him with pity. "I think they thought I was a bloke who used to be on the TV who just took the place to recall former glories." His new album's called "At My Age". It's wonderful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Now that's what I call post-modern (I think)

Another Banksy went for a record breaking sum today. Until a few months ago there was a rather clever one satirising the work of the council's anti-graffiti squads on the wall directly across the road from the office. Then the council came to remove it. Andrew went out and took this picture as they were doing it. If he had any enterprise at all he would enter it for the Turner Prize.

Funny old game

Great line from Lawrie McMenemy this morning, talking about Alan Ball : "All football teams are made up of road sweepers and violinists. You've got to know which you are."

"We used to live in a rolled-up newspaper..."

"The Uses Of Literacy" was published in 1957. I first read it some time in the late 60s and recently managed to get a copy through the web. Hoggart, who's Simon Hoggart's father, was interested in working class people and popular culture. The second half of his book, where he analyses pulp magazines, pop music and "a candy floss world", doesn't hold up all that well. The first half, however, is a unique, eye witness account of working class life in the back-to-backs of Leeds written by a man who had grown up in poverty and was unsentimental about it. He talks about the days when you could whistle up a reasonable choir in most streets, when most people never travelled any further than Blackpool and men would devote a whole evening to pushing a sixth hand kitchen table across the city in an old pram. It all seems as distant as the 18th century. The other day I saw a lad from the council flats round the corner from the office in the street with his muzzled attack dog. It was a hot day and so he was pouring the contents of a newly bought bottle of Evian into the dog's mouth. How Hoggart would have fitted that into his scheme I can't imagine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Old dog, new tricks

Went to see James Taylor at Hammersmith last night. I've been waiting for somebody to do a show like this for the last ten years. If I described it as a cross between a solo show and a Powerpoint presentation your heart would probably sink. It shouldn't. By using a screen to show us old pictures of his teenage girlfriend, his parents, the nephew for whom "Sweet Baby James" was written, the actual frozen man who was found in the permafrost, the mass Moonie wedding that inspired "Line 'Em Up" and an advert for the Cortina GT he bought when in London in 1968, he was able to turn his usual between-songs patter into something even more resonant. (On a couple of songs he even ran in some footage of his home town choir providing choruses and his custom-made rhythm machine was trundled on for a few tunes.) It's an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with an oldies show that is essentially marking time while also distracting our attention from the absence of the percussion that underpins his song as surely as it does Paul Simon's. Anyway, here, from a German fan site, is James's recipe for bluefish.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"That's all we've got time for"

The to-do about GMTV's competition winners keeps coming back and the air is thick with high dudgeon. But this doesn't appear to have been motivated by the desire to fleece the public so much as TV's all-consuming need to control everything. They can't have just anyone coming on their air because, well, there might be all kinds of lunatics out there. Nothing in the real world ever quite comes up to TV's expectations, which is why it fiddles everything. It can't simply cover a subject without taking it over and trying to bend it for its own convenience. Most of TV's transgressions are committed in the name of smoothness and polish. I have been trying to find a clip of that ancient Comic Strip film about the Miners Strike. The director and art director stand in the middle of the main street of a genuine mining town. The latter casts a jaundiced eye over the video store and the Chinese takeaway, sighs and says "Well, it doesn't say 'mining town' to me." That's TV.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Quick before m'learned friends reduce the sum of human happiness

Some legal drone (may his crops wither) keeps getting this taken down from YouTube so while it's up you need to see it. This is Otis Redding playing live on Ready Steady Go in either 1965 or 1966. The essence of great music television is simple. Take a great performer and place your faith in his greatness by pointing a camera at him. Everything about this is perfect (although this isn't the best copy): the band, the singing, the dancers, the genuine sense of jubilation that zings from every frame. Gaze on his works, ye mighty, and despair.

Public Service Announcement

My son recommended "Revolutionary Road" to me. He read it for A level. I'd never heard of it but absolutely loved it. So did Keith, so did Jude, so did Alyson. It was written in America in 1961 but has only recently got much attention in the UK. The theme of a young couple trying to Have It All (career, family life, grand new house overseas) could have occured to a novelist only last week. Anyway, read it now because the bad news is that they're about to film it with Leonard Di Caprio and Kate Winslet reprising their "Titanic" pairing in the main roles. They're both perfectly good actors but I resent the fact that my imagination is about to be colonised by celebrity.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Now That's What I Call Music

Richard and Linda Thompson's "Pour Down Like Silver" was probably my favourite record of 1975. Considering the same year also saw the release of "Born To Run" and "Blood On The Tracks", this is something. Whether it's actually The Best or not I can't be bothered to decide. You tend to support the things you think need your support. I've played it once tonight on CD and now I'm playing it on vinyl, enjoying the surface noise as much as I'm enjoying the extraordinary drumming of Dave Mattacks. (I have one of Dave Mattacks's drum sticks somewhere, begged off him after a Georgie Fame gig at Dingwalls in the late 70s.) I've been in awe of Richard Thompson since 1967 and he's never let me down, not even in retrospect. I'm told that "Streets Of Paradise" is a song about drug addiction. "I'd trade my wealth and treasure and the sash my father be walking down the streets of paradise." There really should be more of a puritan streak in rock. He's got a new record coming out soon. There's a track from it on the next Word CD.

I couldn't pick it up

I'm starting to see more people on the tube reading The Interpretation Of Murder by Jed Rubinfeld. I feel like saying "are you really enjoying that or are you only reading it because it was piled high in Waterstones?" I picked up a copy of this in the office a few months back after reading the blurb from Matthew Pearl, the writer of the very excellent Dante Club, and abandoned it after 100 pages because nothing had happened. There was a time when you could always understand how best sellers had become best sellers. Frederick Forsyth's Day Of The Jackal was no masterpiece but it was a page-turner. But these days I recoil from Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code amazed at their sheer tedium. Is there a new market opening up for dull books?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Moving the air around

The first Word Weekly Podcast is available now. Mark and I love doing these but it's just hard to find the time. However, thanks to the prompting of Matt Hall and the very kind comments of a bunch of regular listeners, we're resolved to start putting one out every week starting right now. Click here to subscribe for nothing at iTunes or try here for xml feed. Or you can copy the XML link above (right-click copy on the link) and paste it into the iTunes dialogue box under "Advanced - Subscribe to Podcast..."

So soon?

"To be perfectly frank Popworld Pulp has bombed in a way nobody connected with it could ever have envisaged," said Darren Styles, the chief executive of Brooklands Group, with refreshing frankness. They'll probably be raising glasses at NME and Kerrang with whom it was intended to compete. They shouldn't. Closing a weekly after two weeks (which means they must have made the decision within 24 hours of the first issue going on sale) just after property magazine So London did something similar underlines just how hard it is to get people to even try something nowadays, even with TV promotion and giveaways at gigs. They say the first issue sold 9,000 on a distribution of 140,000. It was probably less. Brooklands spent the best part of a year and a lot of money developing this title. Maybe they should have just put it out and let it do its development in the world. Like they say, if you want to learn how to fight, go and punch someone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My lips are sealed

The last thing they made us do before we left the final judging of the PPA Awards yesterday was sign an agreement that we wouldn't divulge what we knew. I'm amazed that they think it's worth the trouble. When I have a secret like that I'm never tempted to tell anyone because telling them could never be as deeply satisfying as the feeling you get from sitting on the secret. And what if you did tell somebody and then some post-judging argument about eligibility meant that what you told them turned out to be wrong? Doesn't bear thinking about.

When albums don't sell

I've been sent a splendidly repackaged edition of Andy Roberts and the Great Stampede. Andy Roberts was a much celebrated guitar player who was a member of the Liverpool Scene and Plainsong. John Peel was a great patron of Roberts. In 1973 he had a deal with Elektra and made this record. I never bought it but it had one of those covers that you often paused to examine as you browsed the racks in One Stop in South Molton Street or Harum in Crouch End. Andy's still around and the best of luck to him but I can't help smiling at what he writes in the sleeve note about the fact that Great Stampede wasn't a big success. The record company's offices moved, the publicity was mistimed and the oil crisis meant there weren't enough records in the shops because EMI was holding back vinyl in order to produce more Beatles albums for the Christmas market. In such terms have musicians down the years always explained away a project that didn't take off. It's never anything as simple as "we weren't popular enough". Andy may believe that there weren't enough records in the shop but I think there were quite a few because I visited most of them.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back to school

Following the shootings in Virginia, the BBC can't quite conceal its relish of the opportunity to lecture America about gun control – as if anything's going to change. I can't help thinking about the fact that I spent half an hour yesterday in the car park of a university hall of residence watching parents and children unload PCs, suitcases, duvets and enormous cuddly toys at the beginning of term. It must have been much the same in Virginia.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When We Were Very Very Young

Blessed are they who can bring a little happiness via the Internet. I used to work for Beserkley records in the late 70s. We had very few acts: Jonathan Richman, Greg Kihn, the Rubinoos etc. Anyway I spent a lot of time driving Greg and his band round to various TV shows. Nearly thirty years later somebody posts this clip of him doing Springsteen's "For You" on a German TV show and I'm able to send him the link. He replies: "I hadn't seen it! What a kick! It's not bad, isit? Gawd, was I young! Were we ever that young?" How good must that feel? BTW Greg's now a morning DJ in San Jose and doing very nicely thank you.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The pain! The pain!

I actually don't have the strength to follow the full story of the sacking of US radio host Don Imus. I've heard his original remarks and they seem puzzling, tasteless but hardly incendiary. Still, they obviously provided a green light for every bully, fraud and whited sepulchre from sea to shining sea to wade in and build themselves a little parcel of high ground, a spectacle that is far more nauseating than any original offence might have been. He's quoted as saying "I want to know the pain I caused, and I want to know how to fix this and change this." All this ritual abasement before the media – the bloody media! – is really too much.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The God-like genius of Whispering Jack Smith

Pinched this from under Rob's nose in the office today. It's a wonderful new compilation called "Songs The Bonzos Taught Us", featuring the original versions of tunes like "Jollity Farm", "My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies" and "Hunting Tigers Out India (Yah)". Most of them are novelty songs recorded by British dance bands in the 30s and they all rest on that bobbity locomotion that was sadly bred out of British musicians some time in the 70s. But Whispering Jack Smith is a man apart. Unbelievably, an American, he was best known for his English accent and here he elocutes like the BBC newsman nonpareil (just listen to the way he gets his teeth round "sitting beneath the trees") while the band toot and strum as if they're trying to make sure they don't disturb the sleep of the people in the flat (or should that be "flet"?) downstairs. And this was 1928, so it can only have been recorded direct to disc from one mike. Genuinely extraordinary.
Whispering Jack Smith: All By Yourself In The Moonlight

The Land of Hype and Glory

I'm in The Guardian today.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's the way he re-tells 'em

Just been avoiding productive work by flicking John Carey's "Pure Pleasure" in which he commends Clive James's "Unreliable Memoirs" for its redeeming warmth. He recounts the tale of the time when young Clive was a bus conductor on one of Sydney's busiest routes. "In the commuter-crush he unknowingly closes the automatic doors on the neck of an elderly lady about to board. Her head and hat, decorated with wax fruit, are inside the bus. Her body, gamely trotting to keep up and carrying a shopping bag in each hand, remains outside." It's the adverb "gamely" that cracks me up every time.

The true sign of a good magazine

Have to do some judging for this year's PPA Magazine Awards. I've done this on and off for twenty-five years and it doesn't get any easier. They deliver a huge box of shortlisted items in your category and you have to turn up to a meeting next week with a few choices to debate with some other judges. The supporting statements are full of the usual clich├ęs – really understands the market, exceptional team leader, until s/he came this magazine was languishing etc – so they're not an awful lot of help. They send three different issues of each. The difficulty is finding an appropriate way to sample them. There's not a lot of point sitting down at a desk with a sharpened pencil and a yellow legal pad because that bears no relation to the way that real people actually consume magazines. And you have to stop yourself looking for reasons to exclude things: pictures too small, no captions here, contents page misleading, this is just wrong. They're not GCSE essays after all. Think I'll just leave them lying around the house and see which ones get pinched. That's usually a sign of a good magazine. Which reminds me, who's walked off with my copy of Word?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

I've finally had it with the sons of Live Aid. I never want to hear of another large-scale charity or consciousness-raising show. I was prepared to give Live8 the benefit of the doubt but the swiftness with which its impact has already faded means that we can all see Al Gore's Live Earth coming and we're composing our features into an expression of profound scepticism already. It's not just the fact that there is simply nothing more planet-polluting than a massive great rock show. It's not just the dispiriting list of the usual suspects making up the bill. It's not just the fact that corporate sponsors and "media partners" are already fighting to make sure they come out of it on top. What's profoundly depressing is what it says about our belief that the best way to meet massive challenges is with massive media events. The idea that if you provide a spectacle that can excite the public for as long as a day you can help bring about some kind of fundamental change in their behaviour says everything you need to know about the relationship between the entertainment industry and the rest of us. Live Aid had an impact because nobody - not even Bob Geldof - really saw it coming. There are months to go before Live Earth and already we feel we've been had.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Good and Faithful Servant

Neil Aspinall is finally leaving Apple Corps. This is an exceptional story. In 1961 at the age of 19 he gave up his two quid a week job as a trainee accountant to become road manager for his mates the Beatles. When they stopped touring a few years later he became their personal assistant. In the 70s he graduated to running Apple. Since then he has turned up every day at their office to tend to their affairs, argue with their record companies, hire lawyers to frighten pirates and oversee reissue projects. That's 46 years with the same employer. Can anybody equal that nowadays, in any field of activity? Man walks out on steady job with prospects and a pension to chance his arm in the pop game. Forty six years later he comes crawling back, having seen the error of his ways. He's also, I note, been married to the same woman for the last forty one years, which is another show business record. Buy that man the biggest carriage clock in the shop.

Mickey Mouse law

Interesting piece by the author John Lanchester in The Guardian about Google book search and copyright. He draws attention to the fact that a law which used to be all about protecting the rights of individuals is now largely used to make it easier for big American media companies to protect their profits. (Just go and look at how often Disney have managed to get their copyrights over properties like Mickey Mouse extended and then draw your own conclusions about campaign donations from the entertainment industry.) He ends by suggesting that a distinction be made between copyright control and entitlement to royalties. This was what the recent Cliff Richard-fronted BPI-inspired campaign to extend copyright was all about. They suggested that allowing recordings to fall out of copyright after 50 years would have a terrible effect on the nest-eggs of the musicians who had made them. In truth the only people who would be effected are the record companies who would have to face the prospect that other people would also be able to sell copies of "Livin' Doll". Lanchester recalls working for Penguin when James Joyce's books came out of copyright. Sales of the Penguin edition increased despite the competition from other publishers. He suggests that 50 years after an author's death the copyright should lapse but the obligation to pay royalties should remain. I wonder about this. How long should the descendants of the man who wrote the theme from "Coronation Street" or the children of Julian Lennon continue to benefit from the steady revenue stream that will probably flow from their forebears' work long after we are all under the sod? The planet is already cluttered with an entire generation of superstar offspring who have simply never worked for a living. How much worse is it going to get in the future when the millions of valuable copyrights that were created in the post-war entertainment explosion – Harry Potter, James Bond, the albums of Led Zeppelin, The Simpsons, Postman Pat – are being exploited via technologies we currently can't conceive of to keep a whole new class of the idle rich in the style to which they've grown accustomed?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Now you don't really mean that

The newspapers are full of examples of people either saying what they don't mean or not thinking about what they're saying. It's difficult to know which is worse.
Below is the statement put out by the Radio Two press office to explain the deeply uncalled-for idea of getting Noel Gallagher and a load of rock's other hod carriers to cover Sergeant Pepper track by track.
Lesley Douglas, the Radio 2 controller, said: “This will be not only a unique radio event but also a very special musical moment."
That "not only but also" formulation is presumably press office talk for "is this long enough yet?"
The range and quality of artists involved ensure that this will be a fitting tribute to one of the great albums of all time.”

James Morrison? The Kaiser Chiefs? Razorlight? Who would have to have been on this album for it not to be a fitting tribute?
And if you want to get the measure of this piece of fluff think who would have been on it if they'd done it on the twentieth anniversary. Swing Out Sister? Curiosity Killed The Cat? Living In A Box? Very probably.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

G'day sunshine

How long has it been since Clive James used to keep the whole nation entertained with his weekly TV criticism in The Observer? How long has it been since he described Arnold Schwarzenegger as looking like "a condom full of walnuts"? In case you need reminding that nobody has come along since who's fit to lace his sandals, he pops up reviewing crime fiction in The New Yorker this week. What he's talking about is the delicate balance involved in trying to write the soulful kind. He describes the performance of Ken Stott, who plays Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus on TV, as "looking like a man who's slept under a horse". It's that abrupt descent into bluntness that makes him such a great writer. Makes you sick.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's not Mrs Miniver

I've finished Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. It was intended to be a novel in five parts. She had barely completed the second part when, in July 1942, the French police came to take her away. She died a month later in Auschwitz. The book wasn't published until recently and has been a best seller in France and beyond. It's not surprising. The first part tells the story of a bunch of wealthy Parisians fleeing the city in June 1940, the second describes a French village under German occupation. The review in the Guardian was mildly annoyed that the word "Nazi" wasn't used anywhere in the book. Nemirovsky didn't have the luxury of knowing how things were going to turn out. It's this that makes the book such a compelling read. The last war has largely come down to us as propaganda or politics. The characters in "Suite Francaise", who just want it to be over so they can all go home, don't fit our contemporary model.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Not big, not clever

Madrid has some of the most beautiful shop fronts you could see anywhere but a shocking proportion of them have been covered in graffiti. Even officially sanctioned examples of Trompe l'oeil like this apartment block in the old town are disfigured by spray can addenda. Nobody can pretend it's anything to do with art or personal expression. It's just ego running out of control. Sadly you get the impression that the city isn't fighting back.

"Put me on, coach"

The boy and I peeled off from the main tour party to spend ten euros on a tour of the Bernabeu, there to gawp at the stainless steel lavatories in the away dressing room and to have our pictures taken in the very place where Beckham, Owen and Woodgate spent most of their time at Real Madrid, the bench. You go through the museum and you can see why they signed these Brits. Most of their truly great players looked like Zidane and Roberto Carlos. Faces only a mother could love, as an old colleague used to say.

Digging the pig

In Madrid we had wonderful roast suckling pig at Botin, the world's oldest restaurant. Hemingway's characters eat the same thing in the same place at the end of The Sun Also Rises. It's the kind of thing you do in foreign capitals that you would never do in your own.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Seems like a nice girl

We´re away in Madrid for a few days. Just come back from the Prado. I agree with Alan Bennett about Art being "all very well but very hard on the feet." The secret is to target a few paintings and get in and out with the minimum of fatigue. Brought up short by Moro´s portrait of Mary Tudor, who was, I suppose, Queen of Spain too. She looks like the kind of person who could happily burn heretics. Then again, so could her sister.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Last of the breed

Last night we watched "Deep Water", the documentary about Donald Crowhurst, the chap who in 1968 joined the Sunday Times round the world yacht race wearing a collar and tie. It's a story about male pride, I guess. The extras tell the stories of his fellow competitors: Chay Blyth, who set off despite having never been in a yacht before, Bernard Moitessier, who was a long way in front when he decided not to go to the finish line but instead to go round the world again, Robin Knox Johnston, who won the £5,000 prize and gave it to Crowhurst's widow and, most amazing, Commander Bill King, a 58 year old former submarine captain who built his own craft, read The Bible, the Koran and Tolstoy on his way round but had to give up and put into Cape Town. Forty years later here he is, all his own hair, smart as a whip, telling his story and apologising whenever the odd detail slips his mind. At the age of ninety-eight.