MICHELLE GALLEN - FACTORY GIRLS

Factory Girls

Vacation Time is too fast running out but I hope there is time to read a couple more novels BUT I imagine I can declare right now that Michelle Gallen’s Factory Girls is my book of the summer.

What is it with Northern Irish writers. Female ones particularly. Every time two or three impress me I find I have missed another. Somehow I missed Gallen’s debut Big Girl Small Town. Having bought this second novel in my stock-up-for-summer binge day at No Alibis book shop I had it down my summer list. 

Then a Tweet thread between No Alibis’ proprietor and general guru in all thing local novel David Torrens and maybe Jan Carson had me pushing it up the priority list. I am so glad they advised.

Factory Girls? Where do I start? What is it? Comedy? Troubles Literature? Social commentary? Political? The truth is that it is everything and more.

Three girls await their A Levels in the extraordinary summer of 1994 in the least extraordinary of places - small town County Tyrone. Through music, sporting and political events Gallen reminds us all of a time before peace, when peace was supposedly coming but no quite believed that things were gonna get better. 

Maeve, Caroline and middle class Aoife get summer jobs as they await their A Level results and their hopes of escape. They and we find themselves and ourselves caught up in factory politics, paramilitary bullying, a strict apartheid society and omnipresent misogyny. The bigger fear is that if it is all fixed, the town loses the factory, all of their jobs and any kind of hope at all.

Our three buddies, led by the potty mouthed but shrewd Maeve Murray, who could be straight outta Derry Girls, get entangled in, try to untangle out and all the time their dreams of University hang like yet another shadow. 

Their innocence and experience sit cheek by jowl in just two months as they watch factory manager Andy Strawbridge tease and torment them with things that they might want, all the time knowing deep down that they really don’t. The more that they discover the more they need to stand for something but will they?

Michelle Gallen is an extraordinary writer. She weaves hilarious comedy with the darkest of social commentary. She develops characters quickly, not just the main ones but them all. She has one liners that are filled with insightful cultural diagnosis and leads you towards hopefulness in the bleakest of places… and laugh out loud. You laugh a lot.

Depth charges abound too. My favourite is: "Blair looked like the sort of toothy creature you'd see in a. Free Presbyterian Church, a man who believed way too hard on the wrong thing". You don't need to be Free Presbyterian to let that missile search you deep.

All of this with a plot that twists and turns, holding you in its grip, and never quite allowing you to conclude an ending. Factory Girls takes us back to another very particular time to see the horror of how we lived and then asks us how far we’ve moved on. 


RICKY ROSS, MARTYN JOSEPH in FITZROY

Martyn Fitz

Like buses Fitzroy gigs don't happen for a few years and then two of the best ones happen in two glorious nights in November. 

We are so delighted that Fitzroy will be the venue for Martyn Joseph and Ricky Ross, just 24 hours apart.

MARTYN JOSEPH

FITZROY

November 24, 2022

Tickets available soon

 

RICKY ROSS

FITZROY

November 25, 2022

Tickets: rickyross.lnk.to/belfast

 

These are two of my very favourite songwriters, singing of faith and life and home.

I have described Martyn before:

"Martyn Joseph is as gripping a solo live performer as you are ever likely to see. He is passionate, provocative, at times tender and humorous, always humble but never afraid to be honest to God real. I have sat at his gigs and felt soothed at times of hurt, undone at times of self righteousness, provoked in times of comfort and always made passionate to change the world."

Ricky In Fitz

photo:bernie Brown

And then there is Ricky Ross. Deacon Blue have been one of my favourite bands since 1987

I kid you not but this is one of the most exciting opportunities of my life. I have been a Ricky Ross fan since I picked up the 12” of Deacon Blue’s first single Dignity in 1987. Whether with the band, solo or his album with his wife under the name MacIntosh Ross I have always resonated with his everyday lyrics, so skilfully rhymed. Ross has always had that sense of place, making the ordinary transcendent, for him Glasgow, like Van Morrison’s Belfast. Rosshas also had a sense of social justice and hopefulness that we could make this old world better than it is. There is a realism to his lyrics but always a sense of belief.


MY FANTASY LEAGUE ANGST ON PREMIERSHIP EVE...

Fantasy

Premiership-eve. The day we have waited for since mid May. It is a big and stressful evening for millions of us. Teams need picked for the opening day of a new season of Fantasy League.

For weeks I have been working out how to maximise my £100 million budget. 

How many big players can we afford. What are the cheap players that are going to come through? Over the past few years the big scorers have become defenders when at the genesis of Fantasy League you always needed goal scorers. 

So where do I invest? Will new signings fit in quickly? What about players from promoted teams? 

Of course it is a marathon not a sprint and my Fantasy League Team will bear little resemblance even in October to the team I will begin with tomorrow evening. 

However, a good start is better than a bad one though it is amazing how quickly the team at the top of your particular League this Sunday night might drop away within a few weeks.

I am a believer in starting solid. I will choose players who have proved themselves in the past couple of years. I will have to risk with my cheaper purchases but as little as possible. 

Of course, there is some luck in this game. One of the biggest factors is choosing the right captain every week as their points double. It might be luck that my player scores a hat trick and yours doesn’t score at all. That might happen week after week!

BUT let me say that as I have followed this game for some 15 years and been involved in a Fitzroy League for 10 that the final standings will have little to do with luck.

As I look at our league I know that reigning champion Jonny Fitch, Jude Holohan and John McMullen, who blew us away last season, will be the big 3 to beat. Isaac Orr, who I baptised about 12 years ago will be setting his sights on the top 3 too. Like cream the same names always come to the top season after season and David Hall is lurking!

Last season was a good one for me and a good start was vital to that. The biggest questions are how many £11.5 players you want to try to sneak in. My questions are about whether Haaland will hit the Premiership running? Will Salah be as great as ever? Are De Bruyne and Son as good for a million pound less? Oh and there are other questions about Eriksen, Diaz, Grealish, Foden and Maddison?

Then it is what formation? Five defenders? Three Strikers? Who to make captain? 

I took a rush of blood last night and changed 5 or 6 players before thinking better of it. This is the night to double doubt. “Solid Steve". You said “Solid”. 

Cannot wait to see your team tomorrow night! 

Bring it on!


DARDEN SMITH -WESTERN SKIES

Western Skies

Around the very week that I fell in love with my wife Janice I bought an album by one of my favourite writers of the time. It was 1989. It was Deacon Blue, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, Prefab Sprout and The Bible!. The writer was Boo Hewerdine from The Bible! who had an exclamation mark to start.

What was interesting was that this was not a Bible! project but with some guy called Darden Smith. I knew nothing about Smith but soon I was leaving my beloved to her work in Wimbledon before catching the train into Waterloo and on to the second hand record shops, like Steve’s Sounds near Leicester Square and Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho. It was indeed in the latter that I picked up that very Hewerdine and Smith record Evidence.

I’d sit on that train, a small town boy loving his first time exploring the big city, and press play on my walkman. I have vivid memories of the utter joy of new love and big adventure every time that Out Of The World came on - “Out of this world she sends me out of this world”.

Over half of my life later and I am listening to Darden Smith’s new record Western Skies and thinking that that man is soundtracking my life again.

Now he really shouldn’t be. Western Skies is Texas-centric and I have never felt a great affinity with that particular state. Here I am in Belfast, half a planet away. 

Western Skies is more than the songs on a new record. They come with a coffee table sized book of photographs, essays, poems and the lyrics of the songs. All are inspired and researched din the landscapes of that big huge state that rarely votes as I’d like. 

It seems that Smith found a Polaroid Camera in his garage in the midst of the pandemic. He’d venture out in his car and take snap shots of the landscape that formed him. It not being a digital camera he had to decide whether the shot he was about to click was worth the price of a coffee. 

All of this swirled around and suddenly we had a book and a record. It is a veritable bombardment of stimuli for eyes and ears and heads and hearts and souls. 

There’s a song on the record that might be a centre of the soul’s mapping in the project. Running Out Of Time puts it well:

 

If these days are really numbered

If there´s and end to the line

Then I´m gonna love you

Like I´m running, like I´m running out of time

 

If I am finding a conclusion in Smith’s deep dive into his Texas roots. It is about living the now to its fullest potential. An essay in the book called The Comet And The Train concludes thus:

“We make such a big deal of the present. Lost in our assumptions and wrong headed constructs that what is occupying our vision is a static, forever thing, when really there is always a grander motion. We’re surrounded by stars, a comet hangs in the sky, and we instead let ourselves be overwhelmed by the train.”

It sounds like a Psalm, more modern in format than Nick Cave’s Seven (Psalms). 

Of the album, it is such a solid body of craft. A fine mature wine of Americana. Loose arrangements with a precision of melody and Smith’s warm voice wrapping itself around that wisdom that this review suggests already. 

Most immediate of all is a meditation on Jesus wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount:

 

‘Cause it don’t make you taller to bring somebody down

Make me think of Jesus with his thorny crown

Talking about loving one another as you love yourself

Just keep reaching down to help the meek

Show a little mercy and forgiveness

In what you and what you say

And turn the other cheek”

 

Western Skies is wonderful stuff.


The Reverend RICHARD COLES - MURDER BEFORE EVENSONG

Champton

As the summer Facebook pages are clogged up with holiday snaps from all around the world there are some of my friends who have spent their well earned weeks off in those little quaint villages, scattered all over England. Those caressing little streets with beautiful houses, maybe a thatch, a pub, a post office and a more modern cafe to catch the tourist! Some even have the big house, like High Clair where Downton was filmed (sorry Janice, maybe next time!).

It is very idyllic and picture perfect particularly on a sunny day. Step out of your classrooms, offices, shop floors and big city schedules, go back in time a little and chill. Rev Richard Coles has created such a beautiful spot for his new Canon Clement Mystery Series. It is a relaxed summer read.

You’ll surely know Rev Richard Coles’. The Number 1 pop star with the Communards in the 80s, become Anglican vicar, become TV celebrity (including Strictly Come Dancing), and now broadcaster and murder mystery novelist! 

Coles is the Ed Sheehan of vicars - loved by all! Although he has in fact resigned from the clergy to pursue writing and other things.

Murder Before Evensong is the first in Coles’ new life. He sprinkles all kinds of things across his idyllic village of Champton, on the edge of a big house run by the de Floures, where Canon Daniel Clement is Rector of St. Mary’s.

The sprinkles? Well parish politics is first up. The idea of putting toilets into the Church has split the parish. Then murder. Is it linked to the possibility of toilets and pews being removed! There is nothing new under the sun and if there is - kill!

This opens up the intrigue of the past, everybody’s broken story needing aired in the search for a killer who soon, in best Midsomer Murders’ tradition, kills again. 

Canon Clement will rightfully be compared with Grantchester vicars Chambers and Davenport in that TV series or Fr Brown in GK Chesterson’s series of novels. Clement seems a perfect blending of them all.

Champton is full of characters, from aristocracy to gypsies superbly developed by Coles. Canon Clement living with his mother and two dogs fit right in. My only fear is that if the series lasts for 4 books there will not be many still alive!

There are other sprinkles. The Bible is used quite beautifully both for issues like death and murder. It is also applied to lessons for everyday living and solving of mysteries. I love how he uses the prophecies of Isaiah about Jesus as an illustration of how much he has a knowledge of who the murderer is but not quite yet.

I thoroughly enjoyed his pastoral nugget sprinkles; in his own study, other people’s homes and from the pulpit.

There is a comedic thread of course too, which brings comparisons with the Vicar of Dibley. It is not as slap stick as Dibley, more gentle English village as we said at the start of this review. 

I don’t think it quite reaches the quality of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series, to which it will be immediately compared. Or, maybe not yet! The investigation is less intense, at times I wondered if there was an investigation at all.

Yet, for a summer read, particularly if you are of a Church going persuasion, you’ll get a lot of gentle enjoyment out of the life and death of Champton. Bring on the next in the series quickly.