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  • Writer's pictureBlair Morgan

No Music, Just Words...Recent Reads Aug 2023

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Avoiding the Winter blues , here with some recent reads..

The Islander - Chris Blackwell

What a life , and what a record label , the founder of Island Records delivers a memorable account of his life and times seamlessly ghost written by Paul Morley. The detail provided is extraordinary from the 1950's growing up in his native Jamaica to gentrified, rich ex pat British parents through the swinging 60's London with his breakthrough "My Lollipop" by 17 year old Millie Small through to iconic British figures Steve Winwood, John Martyn, Roxy Music, Paul Rogers and Free, Nick Drake , Robert Palmer and of course the legendary Bob Marley. Blackwell's love of music and Jamaica is irrepressible and the book doubles as a history of the nation and it's music.

Blackwell freely admits to being a salesman with a gift of the talk (selling juke boxes in Jamaica in the 50's) but with a sympathetic ear and deep love of the power of music. It is unwavering through the 80's where ironically the global success of U2 threatened his label due to royalty payments timings against how Blackwell was running his own record company. Still he has Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club, his beloved Compass Point studios and the legacy of Bob Marley all happening sometimes it seems at the same time. One of the best music books I've ever read.

There is a great interview with Chris Blackwell on the Bob Lefsetz podcast here

My Life in Dire Straits - John Illsley

From the sublime to the not ridiculous but rather boring and superfluous account from the bassist in one of the most successful bands of the late 70's through early 90's . Much like his playing in Dire Straits, John Illsley does a paint by numbers, join the dots job here that a lazy editor decided to run with. Let's face it the interest and ultimate musicality in this band resides fairly & squarely with Mark Knopfler yet you have a sense he will never write a book so an easy option was to endorse this himself via an equally bland foreword.

Those looking for any insight into the creative mind of Knopfler or how he came to have the unique JJ Cale meets Richard Thompson guitar playing and songwriting prowess won't find it here. Take the the 14 min epic , unforgettable Telegraph Road from Love Over Gold. Illsey merely says it was two songs joined together due to the consistency of Pick Withers snare drum sound . As for younger Knopfler David's departure from the band on the eve of recording their best album Making Movies in New York with Jimmy Iovine (Springsteen , Tom Petty, Patti Smith) Illsey kicks nicely for touch in a chapter named "Grim Fairy Tale of New York". The chapter starts "I have to be careful about it. Two brothers falling out is no one else's business but theirs". Um..ok moving on. The other musician of note in the band, drummer Pick Withers (who with Mark Knopfler was asked to play on Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" but not Illsley) does get a more substantial account of his leaving post "Love Over Gold" but too often this book is just "we did this then we did that" which anyone can read on Wikipedia. My advice is just listen to the albums instead.

If anyone is remotely interested or perhaps wants something to fall asleep, there is a light non challenging interview with John Illsley here :

The Tastemaker - Tony King

It is a hard act to follow reading this after Chris Blackwell's book and invariably the overall quality and detail is lacking in comparison but there is no denying King had close involvement to many of the notable British music icons from the 60's . Like Bramwell this was via record company involvement which eventually lead to the Beatles own Apple records. Chronologically we have involvement with the Beatles , Elton John and the Stones (I recall King being part of the 25 x 5 documentary about the Rolling Stones in the late 80's). Apple Records lead to a shift to the US in the early 70's which meant closer association with John Lennon and this is where the narrative will be of most interest to musicologists. He introduced Elton John to Lennon and was there in both the rehearsal studio and backstage in Madison Square Garden for what turned out to be his last live performance (with Elton John) on the back of "Whatever Get's You Through the Night" reaching No 1 in the US. There was also running publicity for Lennon's 1973 Mind Games album and forming a close friendship with Lennon's partner at the time May Pang.

Despite attempts to the contrary, King lost contact with Lennon coinciding with his reuniting with Yoko Ono and retreating from the music business . King continued working in the record business and then for a great part of the last 30 years plus with firstly Mick Jagger solo then the Rolling Stones after the mid 80's falling out of Jagger and Richards and more recently with Elton John with his Las Vegas and seemingly never ending final tours.

This sort of first hand account will become increasingly rare as time marches on. Like Blackwell , King is in his 80's now , certainly a life well lived.

Hear an indepth conversation with Tony King here and below:

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