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Books: Halfway To Paradise
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Halfway To Paradise

Britpop, 1955-1962

By Spencer Leigh & John Firminger.
With foreward by Mike Brocken, Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool.
144 pages, profusely illustrated.

James F. Cullinan writes:

I'll be frank - when writer and broadcaster Spencer Leigh approached me to publish his proposed book HALFWAY TO PARADISE I was sceptical. Nobody better than me knows how tough it is to sell anything to do with the pre-Beatles' era (unless it's Elvis).
I told Spencer as keen as I was on the subject I had to be realistic. I couldn't justify such an investment in so limited a market (in theory most Britons born in the '40s would represent a market potential of millions, but in practise it's not like that!). Yet I wasn't ready to dismiss it; I advised Spencer to try other publishers and if he had no luck with them then try me again. Inevitably he returned, this time sending me the manuscipt and a pile of news and magazine clippings from John Firminger. I was hooked immediately.

To say that I love Spencer's book is an understatement. However sceptical I may have seemed to him I knew in my heart I was going to publish it; not because I suddenly thought I could sell tens of thousands of copies but because I wanted to be part of something so good. Quite simply this book knocks me out.

Spencer's presentation of the early British pop scene is rivetting. The era is vividly brought to life through the candid reminiscences of its singers and musicians. Spencer avoids going down the self-opinionated road of most writers and lets the era's personalities speak for themselves, and in doing so revealing what actually happened. Inevitably some give conflicting accounts of the same events which Spencer cleverly juxtaposes so that the reader can draw his own conclusions!

Over 600 direct quotations appear, each one numbered and indexed for quick and easy reference. Such a presentation means the reader can dip into the text any time, anywhere, for there isn't the need to read a continuous narrative. This makes the book irresistible!

The book covers the whole spectrum of the pop scene in Britain from the mid-1950s to the coming of The Beatles. It begins with the balladeers who dominated in the beginning, they describing a settled and predictable time, soon to be forever changed. Ronnie Hilton, the Beverly Sisters, Frankie Vaughan, Teddy Johnson, Anne Shelton, and others are quoted. The impact of Haley and Presley is described. The earliest thoughts of the King Brothers, Tommy Steele, Wee Willie Harris, Bert Weedon, and others. Charlie Gracie on his trip to England. What it was like in Britain when American rock 'n' roll was hitting strong.

Rare news clippings, adverts, pictures bring the era vividly to life. The book is worth it alone for these! I used to get NME, Hit Parade, NRM, and sometimes Disc and Melody Maker, so I thought I had seen most of what was to be seen, but there's loads of stuff here either never seen or forgotton! (How many people will recall Terry Dene's picture of him performing in a boxing ring at The Royal Albert Hall!) Pictures, record reviews of Russ Hamilton, the Vipers, Jackie Dennis, and many others appear. O.K. some of these acts were square and unrockin', but this book is not intended as a history of British rock 'n' roll: it's simply a mirror of the era. So much of that scene wasn't hip, but never mind, Messrs. Leigh & Firminger are showing us the way it actually was.

A lot of space is given to Jack Good. To me he's the nearest thing to God, even the name is close!! Without Good there would have been no British rock 'n' roll. It was he who gave us 'Oh Boy!' - the only true R & R TV show that has ever been shown, either then, now, or anytime else, either in Britain or anywhere in the Universe! Those who watched it every week in 1958-59 declare the same! R & R has never been understood by TV producers. Only Jack Good got it right. This book takes you behind the TV scenes with vivid recollections by Emile Ford, Marty Wilde, Lord Rockingham, Gus Goodwin, Jim Sullivan, Cliff Richard, Ronnie Hawkins, and others.

Terry Dene's triumph and agony is portrayed, by himself and those who knew him. Screaming Lord Sutch is quoted alongside Anthony Newley, such is the variety of the text. You get the period the way it was, not the way we think it may have been.

Billy Fury gets a lot of coverage, as you might expect from a book with this title. The book is worth it alone for John Firminger's rare Fury clippings.

There is a whole chapter on the crazy world of the package tour. Dig the poster of a young Georgie Fame, Dickie Pride, and Peter Wynne and Nelson Keene - how many of us remember those names? Paul Raven, Shane Fenton, Lance Fortune, Hal Carter, Peter Jay, and many others appear in this chapter.

The British country scene, such as it was, is recalled by it's performers, accompanied by wonderful rare reviews and pictures from the Firminger archive. The trad jazz phase gets a chapter. The novelty records of the era...Charlie Drake, Mike Sarne, Bernard Bresslaw, and many others, decribe their moments of hit parade fame. The hazards of being a teenage idol, or trying to be one, are recalled by Jess Conrad, Mark Wynter, Eden Kane, Dave Sampson, Ricky Valence, and other Spencer Leigh interviewees.

Life in the studio is recalled by Mickie Most, Russ Conway, Hank Marvin, Harry Moss, Frank Ifield, the Mudlarks, and others. Joe Meek gets his own chapter.

I love this book. In a second it slips you into what seems a more exciting and yet seemingly innocent world. I have learnt more on this subject from Spencer's book than perhaps all other books and magazines.

It's terrific stuff. Once you pick it up you won't be able to put it down.

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