Posted by: billpurdue | October 13, 2011

Two very different histories

I mentioned a week or so ago that I was reading a new book by local author (and President of the Nottingham Writers’ Club) Roy Bainton. This is Good Time Charleys [ £12.99 9781447737520] which traces the history of Rhythm and Blues right from its beginnings when the first slaves were brought from Africa to America right up to the 21st century. The vast majority of the book concentrates on the mid 20th Century and the “dirty” business of producing R&B records.

This is a subject which is obviously very dear to Roy’s heart and on which he writes eloquently and in a very entertaining fashion. The story of the blues is sometimes shocking, dealing as it does with the segregation of black and white people in America and the way even famous black R&B stars were treated by the theatre and music hall owners and the recording industry in general. Top black recording artists for example were often paid just a subsistence fee for their work, whilst the record companies made a packet of money from the sales of records. By the way, I didn’t realise that Rhythm and Blues was originally called “racist” music until someone came up with the new name.

Roy Bainton’s narrative is comprehensive and wide ranging. He includes such topics as the origin of the word ‘blues’, how the tradition of “blacking up” by white performers (like Al Jolson) arose and how this practice eventually became discredited. He also describes the origin of some of the instruments favoured by R&B artists – but there’s so much more. Appendices at the back list and explain some of the colourful terms used in the blues music business. There’s also a collection of quotations from a variety of R&B artists.

It’s obviously very well researched, but you get the impression that he didn’t need to do lots of research because the subject is already in his blood. Whilst this topic is not one I would normally choose to read about, I found Roy Bainton’s book fascinating as well as eye-opening.

For garden history enthusiasts

In the Autumn 2011 issue of the National Trust Magazine, a short article announces that after 10 years of restoration, the garden at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire has been restored to its former glory.

The garden was created in the last century by Lawrence Johnston and boasts an outdoor swimming pool and an Italianate summer house as well as a special plant house containing citrus plants , fuchsias and oleanders. The National Trust at Hidcote has published a book about the life of Johnston: Lawrence Johnston: Creator of Hidcote [£6.99 pbk  9781956505101] by Graham S Pearson. This is an extremely detailed account  including his early years in the USA, and how he came to move to the UK and acquire Hidcote. It is so detailed in fact that the first chapter of the book is devoted to Johnston’s ancestry.

There are plenty of black and white photographs as well as reproductions of correspondence, reports, plans and so on. It may not be bedtime reading for many, but for aficionados  of garden history and for lovers of Hidcote (which I ought to visit one day) it’s a must.

If you would like something about Hidcote with colour illustrations, there are several to choose from , but the latest is by Fred Whitsey and is called The Garden at Hidcote [Frances Lincoln £16.99 9780711232358]



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