Local Book reviews
At last, as planned for quite some time, here is the local books review page. Being a local writer (much prefer the term, writer as opposed to the stuffy description of author), I naturally have a vested (and passionate) interest in local history and themes. On this page, I aim to add reviews of some of the local-themed books I read, from time to time. As with all my review pages, I welcome any other titles anyone wants to write about being sent in and will try and add them to the page. Ok, here goes... the first reviews.
(All of these titles are available from all good book stores and online sites)
Wednesdays, Rucks and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Tales From the Eastbank) –
Review by Tony Beesley
Amidst the more than required array of footie books out there, sits a sub-genre of ‘fan’s first hand’ account biographies’, led predominately by the so-called hooligan brigade of retired and partially-mellowed out ex scrappers and gang team leaders and foot soldiers. I can’t profess to have read all that many of these, though some have caught my eye and I have sampled a few pages of their grass-roots confessions and been amused by their tone and tales of chasing their footie enemies all over kop and town shared with a constant love of their individual team and the game. Tony Cronshaw (who I happen to know personally and can honestly proclaim is a guy with a big heart with a fist of comparable size that has seen plenty of action… but most importantly is a fella who knows a sense of fair play) has managed to donate his own account of the genre and during which task has unleashed a great talent for writing- a gift that helps his story climb firmly up the ladder and above some of his peers and contemporaries offerings. And why is this… you may ask?
‘Wednesday, Rucks & Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is not just ‘yet another football hoolie’ book: it is a journey through the past with a love of Tony’s beloved Sheffield Wednesdays (The Owls)being the overt and obvious theme – with all of his away-days, scraps, chases and colourful adventures covered evenly… but more than anything... this ‘Northern, grits and smog, grass-roots passage’ with one eye on the ball (and the weapon in the adversary’s hand) and the other on the ever-changing times, is a story of friendship, loyalty and surviving. Because if it’s one thing that Mr Cronshaw does even better than his more than formidable talent for impressing his love of the team upon his enemy, it is his unrepentant sense of survival. This lad of steel, a loveable rogue…. a bear of football passion with a smile the size of a decade’s cheek and ducking and diving, is a character of colour and northern concrete and if hell froze over, Tony would be there shouting his team on and dodging life’s challenges with a sly grin.
Told from a semi-fictional character’s perspective called Tommy (possibly an attempt to retain at least a little anominity, while enjoying a quiet pint in the local?)’the story encompasses a diaryesque series of events, mainly the 1975 to mid-80’s seasons, interspersed with plenty of humour, beer and steel city honesty. Greatly adding to its appeal is the coverage of the early punk era and Tony’s zest and involvement in the local scene - from buying his very first punk record, The Ramones’ ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ through to principal punk gig gatherings in the city to journeys further afield at Doncaster’s Outlook club and roadying with Sham 69 further north. As the 80’s dawn and Tony and his mates move from punk to 2-tone, the mood in and around the terraces changes too and a sense of the days of the hooligan coming to a close is also on the horizon. Before that inevitable coming, ‘Wednesdays, Rucks & Rock ‘n’ Roll’ takes the reader through years of matches, mayhem and a ‘good all-out fight with football rivals’ with music and proper old-fashioned friendship added for good measure. It is clear, from reading this account, that there was/is more than one type of football hooligan… one that will fight anyone with anything, unfairly or not, regardless of the consequences and often with little respect or love of the game… and the team-loving fan who is only too keen to fight it out with the opposite side as long as they are willing and able. I reckon the reader will agree that this particular account sits almost completely with the latter breed of football hooligan.
The work is also a great source of reference for many of the football seasons and matches, and while delivering plenty of hoolie punches along the way, is always keen to get its facts right, a result of the writer’s persistent and fruitful research. Now in a new nationwide print edition and selling faster than a steel city derby’s tickets, ‘Ruck’s is a no-holds barred, rough and ready account of life on the terraces in a bygone age… in fact it may well be the book that tells the tale of the football hooligan’s coming of age.
‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960’s, 1970's and 1980's Sheffield’
By Neil Anderson
ACM Retro books
Reviews by Tony Beesley
Recently hitting the book shelves, the 60’s telling is in fact the first part of a (so far) triple volume of books chronicling the dirty stop out people and places of Sheffield from the swinging sixties to the Post-Punk 1980’s, covering the glam, disco and punk years in-between within the middle volume.
Starting then with the Peter Stringfellow endorsed 1960’s title, here we have an amazing photo-friendly, anecdote packed reawakening of what it was like to live, dance, drink and stop out to the early hours in and around the steel city during the so-called swinging sixties. In, not quite, but near as damn it, chronological order, we read of pre-Beatles rock n’ rollers, Chubby Checker visits, beatnik coffee bars and the early days of 60’s Sheffield and its stop out cast. Moving onto Mods and Rockers at the Esquire, the legendary Black Cat and Mojo clubs – where just about every known act of the era performed (The Who, Small Faces, Ike and Tina Turner, Yardbirds, Kinks, Jimi Hendrix being just the tip of the iceberg) and into the heart of the decade, the book truly comes to life.
For the photo fans, there is John Lennon in a city taxi, early glimpses of a pre-fame Joe Cocker and shots of a cool-looking Mod face of Sheffield Peter Stringfellow in action. While we are on the subject of said club land celeb, let’s not forget (and this book does ample to remind us) that the bloke was responsible for kick-starting the whole 1960’s live music and club scene in the city. Even to this day, Mod figureheads such as Pete Townsend lend respectful nods his way for daring to go places no other club promoter dare tread during the grey-smog infested steel city of Sheffield’s yesteryear.
The swinging Mod and post 1966 glory days are well covered here (though the definitive tome on Sheffield’s full in-depth Mod story has yet to be wrote, and maybe never will be) as are many other aspects of late night revelry and youthful celebration. Featuring such knowledgeable Sheffield scenesters such as rock ‘n roll expert, John Firminger, Mod/artist Paul Norton and Stringfellow himself, the story reaches its climax, and inevitable sixties dream demise with the arrival of the first discos in the heart of the city. Following coverage of Sheffield’s catastrophic hurricane, we are left at the end of an era as a post-sixties come-down was about to gobble up a whole generation of ravers. “I feel a real age of innocence had come to an end by the late sixties,” remarks Paula Burgin, prophetically. Yet, as one generation hung up their club cards, suits and dancing shoes... another breed of kids, born a few years later, were about to begin their journey of lessons into how to have a dry stop out experience in Sheffield!
The 1970’s in Sheffield! Elvis should have played there at the new Fiesta cabaret performance club... but he didn’t! Plenty others did though, including the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Four Tops, Sheffield’s own- Tony Christie, T-Rex, Michael Jackson (with the Jackson Five) and many more name pop acts of the day, alongside TV land acts such as Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper and Bruce Forsythe. The Fiesta opened during the summer of 1970 and for a great period of the 1970’s was the epitome of Sheffield entertainment and a beacon for club goers from far afield.
But that was the acceptable side of the 1970’s stop outs itinerary. Beneath the safe and orderly appeal of the Fiesta, and other similar club land premises, there lay the appeal of clubs and venues such as the Wappentake (long-hair and rock paradise), the Bowies and Roxy crowd packed Crazy Daizy, Turn Ups discotheque, the famous Bier keller amongst many others including the Top Rank suite (for live shows such as David Bowie and youth discos), the Black Swan (alias the Mucky Duck) and arriving in the aftermath of Sheffield’s Punk initiation, the legendary Limit Club on West Street.
All of these clubs are explored, reminisced favourably and documented. Disco and Punk are covered as are the early explosion of bands such as The Extras and the Human League. Record shops, bars, clothes shops and even dog racing nights are covered. And not forgetting go-go dancers, strippers, drinking marathons and getting ship-wrecked at the Buccaneers. When Punk arrives, with an era-defining first gig Clash supporting a pre-Bill Grundy filth and fury Sex Pistols, it is clear as a pair of out of date loon pants that, yet again, a new period of dirty stop outs are looming over the grey clouds of the steel city horizon. Let the rockin’ begin!
The third, and possible most accomplished, certainly most photo-packed and artistically creative volume of the trio, ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to the 1980’s’ comes to life with a new decade of revellers. Against the back-drop of Thatcher’s map of anti-miners political campaigns, unemployment and a disenfranchised and frustrated youth, we read of a time when all the worries and anxieties of the day after the night before were cast aside the moment you set off out for a good night out in Sheffield.
From early 80’s anarcho Punk nights at the Marples and the opening of the Leadmill to Limit club goers and late decade house ravers at the Leadmill; and every club, venue, cult and associated fashion and spin off sandwiched in the middle, the years peel away as the 1980’s in Sheffield are brought back to life.
Electro-Pop with The Human League and the consequent plethora of bands that either followed or came to prominence around the same time, is the city’s’ high tide of fame and national recognition. And from this Post-Punk framework, alongside many other genres and associated scenes, came the real glory days of the dirty stop out! While Rome burnt, and the country struggled in a sea of negativity, Sheffielders drank wine, lager and vodka to a soundtrack of ABC’ s ‘Lexicon of Love’ and The Human League’s ‘Sound of the Crowd’. From the Limit to the Crazy Daisy to the bars of West Street and everywhere around the perimeters and beyond, Sheffield kidded itself into a self-inflicted high and got through the 80’s mostly in one piece.
Of course the decade wasn’t all smiles and late-night clubbing and by the end of the decade life was getting even tougher. Yet, it all goes to show, that no matter what the circumstances and how hard life gets – and no matter which decade - you only have to scrape a few pennies together, create your own look and, along with a few mates, throw caution and life’s trials to the wind and become a dirty stop out just for one night... or two (or more).
Gee’or Ruwerin’ – Growing up in sixties Parson Cross’
By Steve Bush
ACM Retro books
Review by Tony Beesley
An heart-warming homage to growing up in an age gone by, ‘Gee’Or Ruwrein’ (meaning ‘Give up crying) is short, humorous, nostalgic, mischievous and told with an honest unforthcoming style. Amazingly (or not) I knew almost every dialect-depicted string of Yorkshire slang words spelt out during Steve’s journey from little tyke on the estate to school-dodging teenager ready to embark in the adult world. I also related to much of the humour, reasoning, experiences and northern sensibilities evoked here, as I am sure many others out there surely will too. It’s a 'history brought back to life' tale of a time when kids were allowed to be kids, living a life of adventure, thrills and simplicity... years before the rat race of the materialistic PC-embracing modern world where kids aspire to be the first, the best and the coolest of their tribe and (in some cases) need to prove it with a knife or a gun and the influence of street drugs. As Steve observes the demise of youth clubs to keep kids unified and in a relatively safe and organised place, you can’t help but totally agree and also mourn your own days when the local youth club disco was the place to be.
But the book is not a preaching session on the social history of today v yesteryear; it is much more than that. True, the tales told evoke real life pictures of a different time and serve to remind us how much has changed since along the way, but in a care-free style the book also reminds us of how great it is to be young and free and un-shackled by the responsibilities of adulthood. It is a time of chip’ oils (Fish and Chip shops), old picture houses, spud pickin’, excitable trips to the seaside, the obligatory lad’s paper round for extra pennies to spend on spice (sweets). It is a time of friendships, long-hot summers and freezing winters and a life-time of laughs and fun along the way. If you were born in the fifties and lived out your childhood on Parson Cross, you will most likely know some of the people in here and recognise many, if not all, of the places mentioned. If not and you simply want a damn good rewardable read with plenty of laughs and wish to reawaken those days when the sun constantly shone in your life: days when the only thing you really had to worry about was getting a clip off thi dad (or the teacher, or both) and missing that week’s Beano comic... then give this a chance and you too will know Steve Bush and his world of growing up in Parson Cross. You won’t be disappointed!
by Richard Bramall and Joe Collins
History Press books £9.99
Review by Tony Beesley
Spooky goings on, local ghosts, unexplained phenomena and the like; all are covered within this Rotherham-based chronicle of the supernatural world. ‘Haunted Rotherham’ reads well and spooks the parts it is meant to spook, tingling the inquisitive senses and encouraging our inner wish to believe in the fearful unknown world of ghosts, ghouls and general creepiness! With its recited – and investigated – accounts of ‘Lunatic at Ulley Reservoir’, ‘Tales from the Grave' in Dinnington, 'Phantoms of Firbeck Hall’, ghostly patrons in local public houses, Maltby spectres, High School apparitions in Rawmarsh and creepy findings at Hoober Stand, amongst many other recognisable local sign-posts and buildings, ‘Haunted Rotherham’ does most of what it says on the cover. It grabs readers’ attention, fascinates and occasionally raises the pulse and at times manages to make your blood run a little cold.
Told in a reportage style and flavoured with an obvious love and passion for the subject by the two authors, the book succeeds on most counts and objectives. The main criticism I would mention is the annoying scribbled arrows thrown onto a fair number of photos, that aim to show where something is or the way a road leads etc. Although, the flow of the book does come over at times as a little rushed with some minor discrepancies and typical typos at hand, the book is an enjoyable late-night read and one that is worthy of a follow up. Maybe for that one, the authors should pay a visit to Rotherham town centre and take note of some of the resident day-time ghouls, zombies and vampires on show there... before George Romero gets there first!