Archive for September 2017


I’ve just made the leap to Twitter, where, amongst other things, I’ll put up links to this blog.

So for those on Twitter look me up (Nick Skates) and follow…


Book review – Real Tigers

Real Tigers (2016) is the third book in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.  Unlike my previous book review (of Malice) I didn’t jump in halfway through the series.  I read the first two in the Jackson Lamb series earlier this year and reviewed them subsequently.  While I ended that review by saying that I prefer the style of Charles Cumming to that of Mick Herron, I nevertheless said I’d plan on reading more Herron, so I’m nothing if not true to my word!

This time round the proverbial race track, one of the ‘slow horses’ is kidnapped and the cost of releasing them means the other horses breaking into MI5 HQ to steal certain politically charged information.  As ever, there’s more than meets the eye here, with plotting going on everywhere and at all levels.  Herron seems to have ramped-up the political conniving as well as the action factor, which in my opinion is a good thing on both fronts.   We also get to spend more time with the ensemble and it seems here that the characters are growing bit by bit.  You’ll have to have read the first two books to have noticed, and I think this is probably the right thing to do here, as the book carries with it sufficient history to make it hard to read as a standalone novel, albeit not impossible.

I enjoyed this as much as, if not more so, than the first two books and I’m sure that I’ll have read the fourth and most recent installment by the end of the year.  I’m still waiting to explore more of Jackson Lamb’s past and hope that we’ll get there soon enough.

Songs from the Vault

Songs from the Vault is one of my favourite things about this blog.  It’s great to be able to share what I think are great tunes with readers, especially when those tunes may not be well known.  Anyway, this time round there’s a combination of both.  I’m reminded of a hair commercial (I can’t remember the one), where it ends with someone saying, ‘just great looking hair’.  Well this is the point of SFTV – just great sounding tunes!  Enjoy.

First up is a tune I first heard on a David Holmes Essential Mix album from 1998.  Percy Faith and his Orchestra are in the easy listening camp and you’ve probably heard his music before but didn’t know it: check out Theme from a Summer Place.  Anyway, my first serving is a bit funkier than that.  First Light is the last track on Corazon (1973).  I’m not familiar with the album or Bill Mays, who plays the keyboard on First Light but the solo and arrangement are the epitome of cool.  For some reason this album has only just appeared on Spotify and can only be downloaded off of Amazon (which I’ve already done).  At least it’s out there now.

I’m going to stay in the easy listening vein and bring to your attention a tune which kicked-off the Thievery Corporation’s 1999 DJ Kicks album.  Tropicando is featured on Que Mango, a 1970 album by Les Baxter, who appears to have been quite a controversial character.  Baxter apparently carved out his own space in the easy listening genre – Exotica – which nicely sums up Tropicando.

And now for something completely different but equally cool.  Suicide (named after a Ghost Rider comic) were an influential US duo from the late 70s and 80s.  Dream Baby Dream was released as a single in 1979 and sounds fresh and contemporary almost 40 years later.

I was going to pick another Roxy Music track (but that can wait for a future SFTV) but Dance Away (1979) coincidentally and nicely kicks-off with the same rhythm as Dream Baby Dream.  So without further ado…

This edition of SFTV is going out with a bang.  L7 rode the grunge wave despite their Los Angeles roots. Their 1992 album Bricks are Heavy featured Shitlist, which was included on the soundtrack to the movie Natural Born Killers a couple of years later.  A match made in heaven, I think you’ll agree.

That’s it for this edition.  See you next time round.

Book review – Malice

Keigo Higashino, the author of Malice (1996), is apparently the ‘Japanese Stieg Larsson’.  I can’t attest to that, having read none of the latter’s books but I’ve seen the films.  If this is meant to mean that Higashino writes decent mystery or crime books, then I guess that would be fair.  I read and reviewed one of Higashino’s books previously and enjoyed it enough to try another one.

Malice is the fourth in the Detective Kaga series.  I don’t normally like starting partway through a series but sometimes this can’t be avoided, especially when the work may not be available in English.  Nevertheless, I didn’t find any continuity problems in reading it.  To quote Goodreads, ‘novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he’s planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.’

One thing I appreciated in this book, and is a feature of really good detective novels, is the fact that around half-way through I thought, ‘how is this going to continue when it all seems to be done and dusted?’  Well the book does continue and continues in an entirely unexpected way.  Like all reviews of books, you can’t really say an awful lot for fear of giving things away.  What I can say about Malice is that it’s well written (or well translated!), pacey, got lots of twists and turns, and makes you want to read another one.  The characters aren’t the best defined I’ve read, but I think this is the trade-off you get with a novel that delivers on pace.  I’ll definitely be checking out more Higashino and see if there’s more available in the Detective Kaga series.

Gig review – Mammal Hands, 19 August 2017

It’s been a while since my last gig review, despite going to at least one gig in the interim: the Vijay Iyer trio at London’s Wigmore Hall, which, by the way, was great.  So it’s time to get stuck in again.

For the last few years (I don’t know since when) there’s been a jazz festival in the middle of Canary Wharf, one of London’s financial districts.  I’ve been a couple of times previously and have always had a good time.  The attraction for me this year was Mammal Hands, a Norwich-based trio consisting of piano, drums and saxophone.  I bought their album Floa a year or so ago and liked what I heard, a cross between jazz, electronica and minimalist composers, such as Philip Glass.  Their music isn’t dissimilar to GoGo Penguin, whom I’d seen play last year, but has more of an improvisatory streak running through it.

The band kicked-off with Quiet Fire, the opener off Floa, which remains my favourite track off the album.  They didn’t disappoint.  The rest of the set was filled with other tracks off of Floa.  While I enjoy the album, live each song started to sound rather samey, with most inhabiting a familiar sound world – a combination of repetitive riffs.  In all fairness to the band, they say on their website that they’re influenced, amongst other things, by ‘shamanic African trance music’.  Who isn’t, eh?  The band played some new material off their new album, which is due to be released early next year.  If memory serves, the new material served up sounded more colourful and made the live experience more uplifting.  I’ll be sure to check out the new album but would think twice about seeing them again if the next album is more of the same.