Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong - The Life and Music of Randy Newman
A delightful and entertaining dance through the life and works, with tasting notes, fact, figures, diversions, anecdotes, asides and initially baffling but ultimately rewarding irrelevancies. “‘Lucinda’ is a death song sung by the qirl’s bereaved boyfriend. The doomed Lucinda, having celebrated her graduation perhaps a little too much, lies down on the beach and gets, literally, swept away by the beach-cleaning man and his beach-cleaning machine. ‘It actually happened,’ Randy said, ‘A girl got run over by a beach cleaning truck at the beach I used to go to.’ The song is another of Bob Dylan’s favourites. Bob showed up at one of Randy’s early live shows and came backstage afterwards. The two exchanged compliments. Bob mentioned he was thinking of relocating. ‘I’m thinking of moving out to California,’ he said. ‘That song about the beach cleaning ... do you think I could write a song like that?’”
Buy it at Amazon, and all good bookshops.
Big Time - The Life of Adam Faith
Though his vocal talents were limited, he enjoyed an unprecedented run of seven top five hits. His chiselled features were a gift to TV (then a new medium), fans swooned each time he smiled, heavyweight journalists saw him as the 'Spokesman for British Youth' and his sexual adventures were the stuff of legend. When The Beatles rendered his style of pop obsolete, Adam turned TV actor. As Budgie, the hapless Soho chancer, he played the character he might have become in life had it not been for his steely ambition and boundless energy. Then he reinvented himself again as a manager, famously guiding Leo Sayer to international stardom, before becoming a financial guru who made and lost several fortunes - not always his own. Terry Nelhams never quite got used to being Adam and saw his alter ego as having something of an independent existence: “Being Adam is like playing a part in a film,” he said. “On the whole I prefer being Adam.” David and Caroline Stafford’s witty and insightful biography, charts the glorious triumphs and often cataclysmic failures of a 'child man' who spent his life getting away with it.
Buy it at Amazon, and all good bookshops.
Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be - The Life Of Lionel Bart
BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, shortlisted for the Sheridan Morley Award, adapted as the BBC 4 TV documentary, Reviewing the Situation, produced by John Wyver and directed by Mick Conefrey for Illuminations Television.
... charts the extraordinary rise and fall of the man who wrote Rock With The Caveman and for Tommy Steele, Living Doll for Cliff Richard, From Russia With Love for James Bond and, of course, Oliver!. He was mates with every taxi driver in London as well as the Beatles, Judy Garland, Alma Cogan, Noel Coward and Royalty. At one point his earnings were those of a small country, but one devastating flop and several personal crises plunged him into bankruptcy and alcoholism. He survived, just, and, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous and the kindness of friends, enjoyed a modest bounce back in his last few years. Greek tragedy, then, but with tighter trousers.
“... tells it rivetingly ..." The Jewish Chronicle
"... illuminating and deftly composed and well-written ... highly recommended for anyone interested in both theatrical culture of the 1950s and 1960s and also in the birth pains of British Pop.” The London Bluebird
Omnibus, 2011. Buy it at Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Cupid Stunts - The Life and Radio Times Of Kenny Everett
Kenny Everett was a wireless wizard. His genius for making magic happen in the speaker of a transistor has never been equalled. He was in at the birth of no less than four major radio stations, three of which fired him. Then he reinvented television and became one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers and the scourge of the wholesome. Happily and heterosexually married for eleven years, he eventually came out and had the best of times in the best of clubs - heartbreakingly at the exact moment that HIV/AIDS came to stay. David and Caroline Stafford’s hugely entertaining book is an exuberant celebration of radio and passion.
Omnibus, 2013. Buy it at Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Alexei Sayle’s Great Bus Journeys Of The World ...
... by Alexei Sayle and David Stafford is a 1983 classic. At one level it’s a collection of the columns they wrote for Time Out magazine, at another level it’s a kind of eel. It features talking bears, frightening dream-wolves, an eel who is afraid of gas, a man who hides in a lasagne, the misprint library’s edition of the Dairy Of Anne Frank, great tips for wannabe comedy writers and wannabe Mark Knopflers and a nice song about Doris Lessing. There’s also some stuff about buses and some other stuff about eels. Time Out eventually fired Alexei and David for writing too much stuff about eels.
“ ... enough with the stuff about eels all the time ...” Time Out
“Alexei's surreal style meets Dave's utterly out-of-the-box insanity to produce something which will leave you with buckets of tears pooling around your shoes.” Amazon
“... all of it is good and some near genius ...” Miles Kington
Methuen, 1988. Possibly out of print but nevertheless available from Abe Books Amazon, and maybe some other places.
Fantastic Fashion - An Illustrated History of the Most Outlandish Trends
by Caroline Stafford, Barbara Cox and Carolyn Sally is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated book celebrating 6000 years of insanity. Heavyweight snuff-boxing is in here as well as the unspeakable tortures of foot-binding and corsetry. Mink-bikinis come under the microscope, there’s insight into the tragic lives of the Dactylopius Coccus - slain for carmine - and the Californian Parakeet - driven to extinction by millinery - and enough bras, wigs, lurex, spandex, platforms and piercings to stuff a gross of bustles.
Apple Press, 2012. Buy it at Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.
How To Be A Genius
by Chris Garratt, Mick Kidd and David Stafford, first published in 1994, is a lavishly illustrated text containing top tips from dead, white, male writers, painters and composers for aspiring artists who want to be rich, famous, get to the top of smart guest lists, be profiled in colour supplements, die young, and have their works on the National Curriculum.
“It works! Just three months after reading this book, I won the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Satisfied Customer, Sidcup, Kent.
Methuen, 1994. Out of print but available at Abe Books Amazon, and many other quality outlets.