Friday, March 16, 2018

'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase' by Dirk Maggs

16 March 2018

Long time readers with good memories may recall me writing here in October 2009 about the 30th anniversary of the original radio broadcast of Douglas Adams’ 'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (which was to be marked by the publication of an authorised Hitch Hiker sequel by Eoin Colfer). Now, nearly nine years later, the BBC is marking the 40th anniversary (well time is a funny thing!) with a new series on BBC Radio 4. 'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase' (broadcast on Thursdays at 6.30 pm) is written and directed by Dirk Maggs and based on ‘And Another Thing...’ by Eoin Colfer – the sixth book in the famous Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy – with additional unpublished material by Douglas Adams. It’s a real treat for us HHGG fans, with the remaining members of the original cast reunited for another surreal journey through space and time. But for the uninitiated this is probably not the best place to start. 'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' has become increasingly self-reverential: although a convoluted explanation is provided for why there are now two Trillians, it is no secret that this is merely an excuse for involving both Susan Sheridan and Sandra Dickinson who respectively played Trillian in the original radio series and the 1981 TV adaptation. There are also some poignant tributes to those actors who are no longer available to reprise their roles: in the first episode of the new series we hear The Book explaining the concept of the Babel Fish in the voices of Peter Jones (from the original radio series), Stephen Fry (from the film) and John Lloyd (who co-wrote some of the original series with Douglas Adams). Jim Broadbent does a good job of filling the aching aluminium feet of Stephen Moore’s Marvin the Paranoid Android. And there is an added poignancy now to the appearance of the late Stephen Hawking as The Guide Mark II. See:

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

'Mum' by Stefan Golaszewski

8 March 2018

I am delighted to have belatedly discovered Stefan Golaszewski’s brilliant BBC Two sitcom, ‘Mum’. The second series is currently being broadcast but series one is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer, see: ‘Mum’ is a beautifully written, wonderfully acted, painfully poignant, incredibly funny show. Lesley Manville plays Cathy, recently widowed and surrounded by friends and family ostensibly trying to support her through her grief but clearly more in need of her support themselves. Peter Mullan is Michael – the old family friend who is desperately in love with Cathy but achingly unable to make the first move. Cathy and Michael are surrounded by a cast of ridiculously self-centred and annoying characters who Stefan Golaszewski somehow manages to make sympathetic. Lisa McGrillis is wonderful as Kelly – Cathy’s son’s dim but well-meaning girlfriend. And I loved Cathy’s foul-mouthed aged in-laws, played by Karl Johnson and Marlene Sidaway. ‘Mum’ is quite an old-fashioned sitcom: the action never moves away from Cathy’s house and garden. It has a similar gentle subtlety to Mackenzie Crook’s ‘Detectorists’ as well as the sad smiling feel of a Mike Leigh film. Highly recommended.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

26 February 2018

In the 18 years I have been playing with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra I can’t remember us ever selling out a concert nearly a week in advance, but that’s what happened with last Saturday’s performance. Admittedly it was an appealing programme of film music timed to celebrate 40 years of ‘Star Wars’ and, although it is a grand building, Christchurch in Northampton doesn’t have the largest audience capacity. Nevertheless it was exciting to be playing to a full house. We opened the concert with John Williams’ suite from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ – a substantial piece of music that shows Williams’ growing maturity as a composer, subtly referencing themes from the earlier ‘Star Wars’ films and playing with various musical forms (as in the ‘Scherzo for X-Wings’). This was the latest concert in our season of music inspired by the visual arts and featured Bernard Herrman’s chillingly familiar music for strings from Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Psycho’ which was inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting ‘House by the Railroad’. Apart from another work by John Williams, ‘Adventures on Earth’ from ‘ET’, the rest of the programme celebrated British composers writing for a golden age of British film in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s – including two Northampton-born composers. Malcolm Arnold’s music for ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ blends a typically bold Arnoldian theme with the children’s song ‘This Old Man’ which is sung in the film by 100 Chinese children as they walk through the mountains to escape the Japanese invasion of China. The other Northampton native was William Alwyn whose funeral march accompanies James Mason’s doomed battle through the Belfast snow in Carol Reed’s 1947 film noir ‘Odd Man Out’. It was fascinating to play Richard Rodney Bennett’s ‘Waltz from Murder on the Orient Express’ with NSO leader Stephen Hague – who played on the original soundtrack of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film. We finished the concert with William Walton’s ‘Battle of Britain Suite’ – the inclusion of which in Guy Hamilton’s 1969 film was apparently due to the insistence of Laurence Olivier. It’s a brilliant piece of music which creates a series of effects in which different instruments mimic the engine noises of the planes, before ending with one of those glorious slow Walton marches. Saturday’s programme was a test of stamina for the orchestra which showcased each section of the NSO but felt like a particular triumph for the brass and percussion. It was an exhilarating concert of serious film music chosen by NSO Music Director John Gibbons to remind us of those many accomplished composers who wrote huge amounts of wonderful music for films that are now largely forgotten. It was great to discover some of this music for the first time and to give it a live performance to a packed audience.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

'How to Stop Time' by Matt Haig

23 February 2018

Matt Haig’s novel ‘How to Stop Time’ (which I have just finished reading as an  unabridged audio book, narrated by Mark Meadows) has a great premise. Its narrator is old: if you saw him you would probably think he was about forty but you would be very wrong. Tom Hazard was born well over 400 years ago on 3 March 1581 in a small French chateau. He seemed to be a normal boy, but from the age of 13 he started to age much more slowly than everyone around him. Tom is not alone: there are other people with his ‘condition’, living out a series of lives across centuries, constantly having to move to new places and reinvent themselves every few years to avoid being taken for witches. This sense of the same person living multiple lives reminded me of David Mitchell’s excellent 'The Bone Clocks' (reviewed here in October 2014). It’s an interesting narrative device: this a novel about time travel in which the traveller only moves through time in one direction, very slowly. Tom’s tale is told in flashback, gradually filling in his time in Shakespearean London, on Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific Islands and in Paris in the Roaring Twenties. But this time traveller never brings the hindsight of the future to these historical settings, just the accumulated experience of his long long past. Unfortunately Matt Haig lays out the whole premise in the first few pages of the novel rather than allowing the reader to piece it together. And, while he very effectively evokes the melancholy of being someone who outlives everyone he ever loves, ‘How to Stop Time’ feels like a short story expanded into a novel.


Friday, February 16, 2018

'The Alternatives' by Aditya Chakrabortty

16 February 2018

‘The Alternatives’ is a new series of articles and podcasts from The Guardian which looks at communities who are working out their own answers. Two weeks ago Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty interviewed Preston councillor Matthew Brown about how the city has successfully adopted ‘guerrilla localism’ (see: and: And this week he spoke to Hazel Tilley, a long-time resident of the Liverpool neighbourhood of Granby, about the remarkable regeneration of the area sparked by a few individual citizens taking it upon themselves to clean up the street where they live. This led to the securing of substantial public and private investment, the development of a community land trust to take houses into collective community ownership and the involvement of architects Assemble – who went on to win the Turner Prize for their work on Granby Four Streets. (See: and It’s a fascinating story – all the more powerful for hearing it (on the podcast) through the voice of one of the local people who made it happen. And there are clearly many parallels with Voluntary Arts’ ‘Our Cultural Commons’ series of articles (see:

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Friday, February 09, 2018

'Novilunio' by Redi Hasa and Maria Mazzotta

9 February 2018

‘Novilunio’ is an intriguingly uncategorisable album by Albanian cellist Redi Hasa and southern Italian vocalist Maria Mazzotta. The ten songs suggest folk, jazz, classical, French chanson, pop and some Latin American rhythms. It’s a delightful mix – gentle, tuneful music with a melancholic air made distinctive by the ever-present ‘cello. You can get a flavour of the album at:

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Friday, February 02, 2018

'Before the Fall' by Noah Hawley

2 February 2018

I’m a big fan of ‘Fargo’ – the TV series inspired by the 1996 Coen Brothers film (reviewed here in October 2017). So I was interested to see glowing reviews for ‘Before the Fall’, the latest novel by Noah Hawley who created and writes the TV series. ‘Before the Fall’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book narrated by Jeff Harding) is an intriguing thriller. In August 2015 nine people board a private jet for the short flight from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. What happens next makes all of them potential suspects in a horrific crime. Hawley unspins his carefully constructed plot piece by piece, mixing the aftermath of a shocking event with the backstories of each of the protagonists in turn. Like the investigators in the story, the reader is quick to leap to a series of possible explanations before the truth gradually emerges. The characters are all very well drawn (and Jeff Harding’s narration brings each of them to life in the audio version). The fall from grace of the mega-rich and the resulting media frenzy reminded me of Tom Wolfe’s novels ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ and ‘A Man in Full’. ‘Before the Fall’ is a gripping page turner.