Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Avian invasion

It's the harsh 'Sqruawck!' that often alerts you to their presence. Then there is the flash of fluorescent green in the sky. If they're perched in a tree, you may even get a glimpse of red beak.

As a resident of Richmond, I'm terribly proud of our parakeet population. A chance sighting during the day feels like a cheery greeting from the gods, a bright hint of good fortune and conviviality.

Now, Paradise Road, the 'extremely small' publisher behind writer Peter Watts's estimable investigation of Battersea Power Station, Up In Smoke, has produced The Parakeeting of London, by 'gonzo ornithologists' Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell. A delightful trawl through the history and mythology of our cocksure neighbours, it's interspersed with many wonderful interviews with random passersby, whose views frequently stray into chance musings on immigration and belonging.

It's a terrific read and you can order a copy from Paradise Road, or ask your local bookshop to get it in.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Not so slight return



Gangway are back, back, back! The Danish pop group, who split up in 1998, release a fantastic new album, Whatever It Is, on 5 April. Fêted with multiple awards in their home country, their biggest moment in the UK probably came with dissolute single My Girl and Me (1986).

Gangway's first album The Twist, with its echoes of The Smiths, came out back in 1984; Whatever It Is feels appropriately like the follow-up to the band's final, seventh, That's Life (1996). In the spirit of experimentation on that album, Whatever It Is is completely contemporary - as if That's Life had been moved forward in time.

The songwriting is as lovely as ever, as evidenced on first single Colourful Combinations, augmented by some fascinating sounds: there's a great mix from track Whatever… to the penultimate Exit, with its sample reference to where they left off 23 years ago - a hiatus worthy of filmmakers Whit Stillman, Terrence Malick or Roy Andersson. Second single Don't Want to Go Home, reworked from songwriter Henrik Balling's The Quiet Boy side project, sits particularly well here (I love, again, the odd noise at the end).

The band intend to back up this tremendous achievement with a series of live dates throughout the year. You can find links to the album and more on the band's Facebook page.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

New from the BFI

Some exciting news: I've contributed a piece about Georges Simenon to the booklet accompanying a new, dual format edition of 1967 film Stranger in the House. This adaptation of the Belgian author's novel Les inconnus dans la maison (1940) by director Pierre Rouve stars James Mason alongside Geraldine Chaplin and Bobby Darin. It's been released as part of the BFI's Flipside strand - you can read more about it and order a copy here. As the image on the booklet cover declares: 'A great Simenon becomes a great film.'

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

After a slightly uninspiring start, Harry Gruyaert's covers for Penguin's continuing Maigret reissues are getting really good. The Flemish House (number 14) is out now, followed by The Madman of Bergerac in January (Liberty Bar is out in March). And there's a hardback edition of the first four books in an edition originally designed by author Georges Simenon.

Happy Christmas and all the very best for 2015!

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Maigret Circle

A rare post to pull together a few developments in the Simenon universe, which seems to be expanding as Penguin floods bookstores with its new Maigret translations: number eight in the series, The Grand Banks Café (previously The Sailor's Rendez-Vous) is due out 5 June. It's a shame no bookshops have had any offers on these new imprints to tempt me to augment my complete, if ramshackle, Maigret collection, but Penguin will get me out for the English-language debut of The Mahé Circle (1944), translated by Siân Reynolds and released simultaneously with The Grand Banks

One of the prolific author's non-Maigret, romans dursThe Mahé Circle (cover image above) is an intriguing addition to Simenon's translated catalogue, in which the good Dr Mahé is trapped in a bleak infatuation on his recurring family holiday in Porquerolles - the island off the Côte d'Azur and the setting for My Friend Maigret (1949), one of the dozen or so books featured in Penguin's previous, apparently ill-fated Simenon revival back in 2003. A little down the coast, the Cannes Film Festival has hosted the premiere of Mathieu Amalric's intriguing adaptation of The Blue Room (1955), starring the actor-director alongside Stéphanie Cléau and Léa Drucker (here's the poster).

No doubt all this and more will be mulled over by biographers Pierre Assouline and Patrick Marnham when they share the stage at the Institut Français on 1 June. Their discussion follows a screening of one of my favourite Simenon adaptations, M Hire, as part of the Institut's all too short Noir is the Colour season.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Sickert at Tate Britain

'Taste is the death of a painter' - Walter Richard Sickert, 1908


This week Tate Britain officially reopened its doors after a two-year renovation; it celebrates this weekend with a 'house-warming party'. The new rehang, sponsored by BP, arranges 500 years of British art chronologically, throwing up a number of juxtapositions and surprises.

If you want to trace the work of one artist through the BP Walk through British Art, you could do worse than follow the career of Walter Sickert. The German-born artist first appears halfway round Tate Britain's west wing in the room dedicated to the 1840s - Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe (c1890) - and continues to the front of the east wing: Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France (1932).

The theatre crops up in early, Impressionistic, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892), though his fascination is given an unsettling, haunting twist in Brighton Pierrots (1915). In between, La Hollandaise (c1906) perhaps represents the peak of his Camden Town nudes.

Unfortunately, there's no room for Ennui (c1914), and I'd love to see his 1935 portraits of the Martin family, but on the way are Sickert's contemporaries: the Camden Town and Bloomsbury groups, Augustus John and his associates, and the Vorticists. Following Dulwich Picture Gallery's recent exhibition, 'A Crisis of Brilliance', the work of a group of Slade artists from a century ago shines especially brightly: David Bomberg (The Mud Bath, 1914), Stanley Spencer (Swan Upping at Cookham, 1915-19), CRW Nevinson (La Mitrailleuse, 1915), Paul Nash (Dead Sea, 1940-1) and Mark Gertler's wonderful Merry-Go-Round (1916).

Monday, 4 November 2013

Tout Maigret

In perhaps a belated tribute to the 110th anniversary of writer Georges Simenon's birth, Penguin is reprinting the full catalogue of his Inspector Maigret novels in new translations. The first of 75 books, Pietr the Latvian, is out this week, translated by David Bellos, and the rest will follow at one a month. The current calendar runs to The Saint-Fiacre Affair (number 13), which is due December 2014.

Penguin has tried remarketing Simenon twice in the past decade, with limited success. In 2003, on his centenary, a series of Maigrets was published in Penguin Classics, with covers by Keenan, alongside a handful of the author's notorious romans durs (as Modern Classics). Problems with Penguin's move to a new warehouse may have been to blame at the time, and three years later some of the Maigrets were repackaged once again, this time as pocketbooks.

This is an audacious move for what may have become an acquired taste for crime connoisseurs, and Pietr the Latvian (Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett in Daphne Woodward's 1963 translation, pictured) is no bad place to start; 10 Maigrets were published in 1931 and Simenon always said this was the first to be completed. The template is established here, alongside the introduction of other favourite characters including Madame Maigret, while Simenon can investigate one of his favourite themes: identity.

The current crop is branded "Inspector Maigret" and returns to the stock cover images of the Modern Classics*; the books are more faithful to the original titles and some of the goodies that await include The Night at the Crossroads (due April 2014) and The Bar on the Seine (October 2014). The problem for many fans is whether to invest once more in these new imprints, but what a happy problem!

*UPDATE I note from the estimable Caustic Cover Critic that the cover images have been specially commissioned from Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert. I'm not convinced by them but fair play to Penguin for their commitment and, darn it, this makes these new editions all the more collectable.