Friday, 14 November 2008

Vince Eager

Back in the 1950s, at the dawn of British rock and roll, the premier manager in the country was Larry Parnes. He had been involved in the early career of Tommy Steele, the country’s first rock star, and when he began to build a roster of artists, he decided to rename his charges in the same manner: homely first name, dynamic surname. So were born Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Duffy Power and Georgie Fame.

And so too did a young kid from Grantham, previously known as Roy Taylor, find himself rebranded as Vince Eager.

Vince was a popular live act and a big star on television, but – hampered, as were so many at the time, by unsympathetic material and production – his records didn’t really do him justice. Consequently his career hasn’t been defined simply by a hit or two from his teenage years.

And that career has been, and remains, hugely impressive. He’s still working, and his voice is still one of the best in the business.

Vince provided invaluable help when I was working on my book, Halfway to Paradise, and his own memoirs, The Rock ’n’ Roll Files, proved a wonderful source of information (as well as being a romping good read). Since publication, he has also been helping to promote the book.

We shall be appearing together on John Holmes’ afternoon show on BBC Radio Nottingham on Tuesday, 18th November, to which you should be able to listen online, even if you’re unfortunate enough not to live in Brian Clough country.

Meanwhile visit Vince’s own site and buy his book:

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Aftermath of Aberfan

My memories are inevitably vague, but I think the Aberfan disaster of 1966 was the first news story that I noticed. I was then just starting school, and it would have been difficult to miss the coverage of the landslide of coal-waste avalanching down on a small village. For the first buildings to be hit were the schools, and when the final death toll was reckoned up, it turned out that 116 of the 144 victims were children.

What I obviously didn’t register at the time was the full scandal – the fact that the disaster could have been avoided, had the National Coal Board heeded the warnings that the slurry tip was on a stream that made it structurally unsound.

Nor did I know anything about the continuing story, the second tragedy that engulfed the survivors and the bereaved. As money poured in from around the world, a disaster relief fund was set up, with around £1.8 million contributed (nearer £25 million at today’s prices), most of it from individuals wanting to help out.

But the money didn’t make it through to the intended recipients. Instead it sat in the bank, accumulating interest for the local council.

Which is where my late friend, John Summers, entered the story. Writing then for the Sunday Telegraph, he was the one Fleet Street journalist who wouldn’t let go of the story. He returned repeatedly to Aberfan (just five miles from Rhymni where he grew up), wrote about the families in the Telegraph and in Harpers Bazaar and Queen magazines, and even issued himself the High Court writ that released some of the funds.

All of which is much in my mind because I have today been reading through some of those articles by John and putting them on the site dedicated to him (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

For John himself, it was a turning-point in his life. He began his campaigning as a journalist and emerged as a novelist, the whole tragic story having been incorporated into his first novel, Edge of Disaster. For those interested in his work, it’s worth comparing his articles with the published, and slightly fictionalized, account from that book.

Oh, and for anyone intrigued by the mention in the Daily Telegraph’s obituary of a feud between John and his former lecturer, Kingsley ‘Bopa’ Amis, I recently put the relevant material online as well.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

John’s Return Home

John Summers left instructions that he wanted his remains to be interred in the family plot in Rhymni Cemetery, and today a small group of friends and family gathered to see his wishes honoured.

Amongst many other things, John was probably the most travelled man I’ve ever met, bringing back tales from all over the world. But wherever he went, and in whatever he wrote, he kept a part of his heart for the valleys of South Wales where he grew up, and particularly for Rhymni.

That background formed the basis of his finest novel, The Raging Summer, named in honour of Rhymni’s greatest poet Idris Davies, whose long poem The Angry Summer had depicted the town in the days of the Depression.

So, in memory of John, and in commemoration of the return of his mortal remains to his hometown, here are some lines from The Angry Summer:

And one by one the lights shall go out
in all the valleys, leaving isolated lamps, silver pins,
sticking into the inverted velvet of the midnight air.
And you shall listen then to the silence
that is not silence, to the murmur
of the uneasy centuries among the ancient hills and valleys
as here you stand with the mountain breeze on your brow.