Oddball Reviews #4: ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ by the Moody Blues (1971)

Somehow this didn’t figure on The Oblique Top Albums List. So here is a brief encomium. (Ooh, I do like that word. I don’t think I’ve ever used it before.) (Which word? “Encomium”, silly.)

I guess the Moody Blues have fallen out of favour now. They don’t seem to appear on nostalgia programmes and articles. They don’t seem to be quoted as influences. They were, at the time, very trendy, if that’s still a word. Rightly so.

They were a Birmingham band, labelled as psychedelic, prog rock, maybe soft rock. They were gentler than a lot of the sounds of the time. They were one of the first bands to use the Mellotron, a keyboard instrument that made string sounds by playing tape loops. How times have changed. Apart from that and a flute, they were conventional guitar/ bass/ drums.

I saw them at the Rainbow- formerly the Finsbury Park Astoria- now a church, I think. As if you care. They were outstanding. (In the interval, a gentleman called Jesus got up on stage and told us that we hadn’t understood the first time he came to Earth. Nobody seemed to mind. I don’t remember him being ejected. Apparently he used to dance naked at festivals, but we were spared that.)

EGBDF 1

EGBDF is one of the first albums I ever owned. I still love it. It starts with a strange sound piece, ‘Procession’, which seems to be a picture of the evolution of music (they did things like that in 1971), an idea reinforced by the inner sleeve of the original LP (below). Yes, you heard me, LP.

EGBDF 2

This is followed by ‘Story in Your Eyes’, a rock song which I still thrill to remember hearing played live. Don’t worry, I won’t go on to list all the songs, but the quality is in my opinion uniformly high; unlike the following album, ‘Seventh Sojourn’, which at the time seemed to me to be insipid and still seems so now. Opinions will of course vary.

At this point it’s hard to know what else to say. The music is of its time; it certainly would seem dated to modern ears and I don’t suppose I’ll inspire anybody to listen to it. The song structures do vary, with some extended middle sections and instrumental parts, but are often conventional. The musicianship is undeniably good, especially the vocal harmonies. Poor tracks? None in your humble reviewer’s opinion. (Incidentally, I remember them playing at least one track from this live on the ‘Top of the Pops’ LP spot. There really was such a thing, also graced by the Faces and, quite unbelievably, the Groundhogs.)

Sadly, the Moody Blues gradually lost members and seem to have drifted into soft rock and decline, though I haven’t really heard any of what they have done, losing interest after ‘Seventh Sojourn’; but they are still a band whose music I play and greatly admire.

Trvia corner: Denny Laine, a member of the earliest version of the Moody Blues, was later for some time in Wings with Paul McCartney.

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‘Meet Mr Mulliner’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Now this I love.

Meet Mr Mulliner001

This copy was lent to me by the estimable Ms O. the Eldest. It’s in the Tauchnitz Edition, “a collection of British and American authors”, which is marked as “Not to be introduced into the British Empire and U.S.A.” Battered it may be, but I wonder how it ended up in England (not the British Empire any more) and who read it on its journey.

Unlike most Ms O. introductions, this author is not new to me- far from it. P.G. Wodehouse has cheered my life for forty years or more, almost exclusively via the fictional personae of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.

I have briefly encountered Mr Mulliner before, in ‘Mr Mulliner Speaking’, a book that belonged to my grandfather. Mr M. is a saloon bar storyteller. All his stories are about members of his family, who spread far and wide, in every occupation from clergyman to photographer to scientist to businessman. They all triumph in odd and inventive circumstances. Any dramatic tension is in how the inevitable happy ending will be achieved.

The book (not just this edition) is dated. It’s from another world- perhaps one that even at the time of writing was a fantasy- but one with resonances in the present. For all I know, it might be considered sexist and racist, although my general impression is that Wodehouse tends to look benignly on humanity and (especially in the Jeeves books) regards a lot of “chaps” as “chumps”.

The language is at times flowery, the situations and outcomes implausible. All this of course is what makes it such a lovely read. We are detached from this fantasy world, but we recognise it; and in this world we know that all will in the end be well. It is just invincibly happy and positive.

‘Shakespeare’ by Bill Bryson

I was very amused that Ben Elton has been exercising his satirical expertise in the BBC series ‘Upstart Crow’. Essentially his target was Mark Rylance and the “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” theories. As Elton put it in an interview, these are “conspiracy theories…. silly ones….. There is literally zero evidence to suggest Shakespeare did not write his plays”.

Shakespeare 1Well, I’m no literary expert, but I too have never seen the slightest convincing proof to make me doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. However, the furore did inspire me to pick up ‘Shakespeare” by Bill Bryson for a second read.

This is an outstanding biography. He starts by making it very clear that we know very, very little about Shakespeare. There are only about a hundred contemporary documents that mention him or his immediate family. This, amazingly, is far more than most famous figures of his time.

He then points out that research is extraordinarily difficult. Spellings are hugely problematic. We only have six original Shakespeare signatures; each of those is spelled differently, and none of them is spelled the way we write it nowadays. Then there is handwriting. As a very amateur family researcher I know this is often hard to decipher in the last one or two centuries. In 16th century England apparently there were about 19 different ways of writing the letter d.

From these limited resources, Bryson puts together a portrait that is absorbing, adding contemporary detail to put the bare facts of the life in context without undue speculation about Shakespeare himself. But even he sometimes makes statements like: “it is reasonable to suppose that…. Will saw many plays as he grew up”, although he makes these with pretty firm background evidence.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s short- 195 pages- and eminently readable. You would expect nothing less from Bill Bryson.

Finally, to cap it all, it deals mercilessly with the “anti-Stratfordians… who, if they are right, have managed to uncover the greatest literary fraud in history, without the benefit of anything that could reasonably be called evidence, four hundred years after it was perpetrated”.

Oh yes, and it’s cheap.

Hidden treasures

Stained glass window 1

Stained glass window 2

We came across this in Dublin. It seems that some beautiful stained glass has been hidden away in the office of an Irish government agency.

This post will probably do very little to help make the glass accessible. However, in the words of that very individual and idiosyncratic (and now rather forgotten) Times columnist, Bernard Levin, I am “breaking a lance” for this cause. (That’s a Don Quixote reference, children.) (Don Quixote? Oh, go ask Alexa.)

(We saw some interesting stained glass art in galleries in Dublin. This is not a medium I really knew, apart from churches and decoration.)

Oblique Sites of Dublin

This is purely a personal view. See last week’s blogpost for our general impressions. I have not given any details of locations, etc; it’s all easy enough to find.

St Michan’s Church The church itself is rather dour, but pay the money and take the tour of the crypt. It’s informative and entertaining- and there are mummies.

Along the River Liffey Four Courts features attractive architecture but is probably not worth a detour to see; however the Custom House is well worth a look, especially from the river.

Christ Church Cathedral (Entrance fee) This Anglican church is interesting if you like churches (we do). There is a mummified cat chasing a mouse in the crypt. Really. But see comments about St Patrick’s.

Civic Hall Don’t miss this. It’s got a most beautiful dome inside, and it’s free. There is an exhibition which we didn’t see.Dublin City Hall

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Only people like us would go to see this…. It’s quiet and unassuming. A little refuge of peace.

Post Office This is famous, a big centre of modern history. We of course didn’t see the exhibition, but looked inside (free) at the lovely Post Office counters and ceilings.

Remembrance Memorial This is to commemorate all those killed in the 1916 Easter Rising. It’s another little oasis in a busy city.

Dublin Remembrance

Dublin City Gallery- The Hugh Lane It’s free; it’s got nice rooms; it’s not too huge. Best of all, at the moment it’s got the wonderful Renoir ‘Les Parapluies’ among other very pleasant things. The café wasn’t really us; it felt a bit upmarket, or would like to be.

Dublin City Gallery

National Archaeological Museum (Free) This is great: one of our top places to visit. It’s got fascinating finds from Ireland and further afield; shoes, clothes, gold and so on and so on. It’s in a beautiful galleried hall, faintly reminiscent of the Pitt Rivers in Oxford.

Dublin Archaeology

National Gallery (Free) This was also a favourite. It’s large, with high, clean modern galleries and also a lovely older part, with fantastic decorated ceilings. It has a very good collection, with some lovely work by Irish artists unnown to us, and a good representation of female artists. To cap it all is a nice little Monet.

Dublin National Gallery

Trinity College We are reliably informed that the library and the Book of Kells are unmissable. We missed them, because of cost and because we had Miss O. with us. The grounds are undeniably pretty.

Dublin Trinity Dublin Trinity 2

St Patrick’s Cathedral This is another very popular attraction. Attraction? Well, the spiritualism of the place is largely lost during the tourist visiting times. It’s a worthwhile visit for the lovely architecture, Dean Swift’s pulpit…. actually that’s not very lovely, but it’s just that the famously satirical author stood and preached there. For hours, apparently. There’s also a great monument to the family of Robert Boyle, the great scientist. Well, I’ve heard of him.

Dublin St Patrick's

St Stephen’s Green An attractive space, with some lovely Georgian terraces to the South. Even further South is the Grand Canal (and the statue of Patrick Kavanagh if you’re interested). It’s all well worth a wander. St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is also an amazing building.

Powerscourt Townhouse Shopping Centre is amazing: an old Georgian townhouse, with lovely ceilings and spaces, converted into a rather upmarket shopping centre. Nearby the St George’s Arcade is worth a wander through.

Dublin Shopping Centre

We really liked the Gallery of Photography (free) in Meeting House Square.

Briefly we also liked:

St Aodan’s Church, the centre of the Polish Catholic community;

The outside of Richard’s Hospital;

Merrion Square, which is a pleasant green square, with a strange statue of Oscar Wilde.

There is also, amazingly, a statue of Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy which is strangely moving, with odd flowers from the nearby stalls and plectrums tucked under the strings of his bass.

Dublin Lynott

As well as the aforementioned Custom House the docks feature some brutal modern architecture with no regard to the buildings around, old or modern. Whoops. A tram ride to the end of the line shows these well.

Dublin 5

There’s loads more to see, and looking at the guide book we missed things I would have been interested in. For example Kilmainham Gaol This was the one that got away; it was fully booked. We are assured it’s worth a visit by no less than my brother. Book online. Guinness and Jameson’s? If you must.

The open top bus tours, as I said last week, are a great way of orienting yourself.