June 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
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     The back page... this month - the genius superstar of popular rock music: Jeff Lynne


Previous Back Page and other features (Click on the links below):
DECEMBER 2021 - Enid Blyton's Little Noddy
JANUARY 2022 - The Whiteoaks of Jalna
FEBRUARY 2022 - Leslie Charteris's The Saint
MARCH 2022 - The Passion Flower Hotel
April 2022 - The Tiger Comic

The year is 1997 and Kenny Everett, our favourite DJ is playing ELO songs and telling us about their forthcoming double album - Out of the Blue...


...In 1977 I was 31 years old and I was working at the prestigious Water Research Centre, a government establishment in Stevenage New Town that carried out scientific research into anything and everything to do with water and sewage. The staff were 90% eminent and respected scientists and 10% support and admin staff, of which I was one, charged with maintaining files and mail before arranging for these papers to be delivered to the scientists, many of whom had their own laboratories. It was a job I really enjoyed and I was sorry to leave, a couple of years later when the establishment was closed down by the government and the research handed over to the various privatised water authorities. Lunchtimes I was able to make the short walk into the town centre, and I would invariably head to the Stevenage Record Centre, where I had made friends with the manager, who very kindly gave me point of sale material if I wanted it. I ended up with a huge cardboard cut-out of Herbert von Karajan, the world famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; and, when Out of the Blue was released, he gave me a giant cardboard model of the ELO spaceship. We had already decided to save up our meagre pennies to buy the album, having heard Mr Blue Sky played every week by the late, great Kenny Everett on Capital Radio, and we were not disappointed.

We knew ELO, of course, from their modest hits through the first half of the decade, but the full impact of a rock orchestra really came into its own with the release of that double album that beat War of the Worlds to best album of 1978. We didn't buy many records in those days, as we were too poor, but saving up for Out of the Blue was an investment that kept us connected to ELO for many years to come. When our second and third children came along in the 1980s, they soon came to love the band, in fact my daughter spent much of her pocket money on ELO CDs, some of which we still have! ELO was a firm favourite with all five of us, and the release of Zoom in 2001 gave us new hope that there would be a revival of the band. After all, the Rolling Stones were still going strong! We knew about Jeff's involvement with the Travelling Wilburys, of course, and started to collect their albums too. Then, in 2014, we learned that Jeff Lynne's ELO were to headline a day of Radio 2 sponsored concerts in Hyde Park - it was broadcast on the BBC, and it was there for all to see, ELO were definitely the greatest band of all time! And Jeff was worried that most of the people there for the music that day would have gone home by the time he and ELO started to perform!

The release of that magnificent double album Out of the Blue coincided with a love affair with Jeff Lynne's ELO that has lasted to this day, and if I had to name the one group that I would have to take with me to my desert island, it would have to be Jeff Lynne's ELO. There are many things that endeared me and the rest of the family to this stupendous band. In the first place they were thoroughly endorsed by the Beatles, who were undoubtedly the greatest group that ever existed, and who regarded ELO as the "son of the Beatles". Then there was the fact that we were approaching the end of the Golden Age of popular music, when the genre faded into obscurity and simple bad music, with no real tunes and bizarre and awful lyrics. Finally, of course, they were unique. ELO was an orchestra, with violin and cellos as part of the line-up, not just something that was added in the recording studios. An orchestra playing fantastic rock music, all of it written by a one man dynamo - Jeff Lynne. He has rightly been described as a genius, and if you watch the 2017 Wembley or Bust concert and then come to realise that every song with just two exceptions were written by Jeff, all of which have become rock standards, you will appreciate just how special this genial, shy, humble man Jeff is.

The  lack of decent music since the 1980s, with the exception of ELO and Abba, continues to the present day for me. I resent the poaching of the term R&B - what they call R&B nowadays is not R&B, it lacks rhythm, and it certainly isn't blues. R&B is what Eric Clapton plays, and what his mentors and inspirations, such as Alexis Korner and John Mayall were playing before him. I have nothing personally against Ed Sheeran, but I find his music dull, dreary, uninspiring and deeply depressing. What I find extraordinary is the thought that if he's the best, what does that say about the rest? Contrast him with the sheer brilliance of ELO - the soaring harmonies, the "electric" violin playing of Mik Kaminski, the pure genius of Richard Tandy on the keyboards, and the towering colossus of Jeff Lynne, the inspiration behind the band and the writer of hit after hit after hit in the 1970s and 1980s when ELO were in their prime. Except that after a spell of record producing (and he was named the third best record producer in popular music, after.... well, the others were plainly forgettable, as I don't even know their names) for the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Del Shannon (two of whom were his teenage idols, and the third who became a lifelong friend and fellow member of the Travelling Wilburys, the greatest ever supergroup, Jeff came back to reform ELO.

In 2001 we were on a shopping trip to Kings Lynn, our nearest big town at the time, and where we did a big shop every Saturday. We popped into a branch of the brilliant record shop chain, Andy's Records, now sadly defunct, and by chance I saw the CD of ELO's Zoom. Zoom was and is brilliant, and filled a huge gap, which I had filled with Gerry Rafferty, Randy Newman and reissues of old but treasured Bobby Darin albums - I had already replaced all my LPs and cassettes of the Beatles' albums by that time. I subsequently bought the DVD of Zoom, which was equally entrancing. But it was in the second decade of the new century that Jeff Lynne finally had the world waking up to the fact that he is probably the greatest rock musician the world has ever known. Firstly, the Radio 2 concert in Hyde Park, which Jeff Lynne's ELO headlined 14th September, brought him to a far wider and more appreciative audience than he had ever had in ELO's heyday back in the 1970s/1980s. He was hailed as the new superstar of rock and roll and began touring for the first time since the previous and original incarnation of the greatest rock group ever.

Then, in 2017, the Wembley or Bust concert happened. I am now the proud owner of Jeff's commemorative book, pictured above, together with the two-CD and DVD album, which to my mind showcases the greatest live rock concert ever, and confirms Jeff as the greatest creative musical genius of the last fifty years. I love the Beatles and everything they did - I miss John Lennon and George Harrison, and I have all their albums and all of their films on DVD. I have access to their last live performance on the roof of that tower block through my subscription to Disney+, and they were by far the greatest ever group and one that influenced by far the biggest number of bands and individual performers. I love the Rolling Stones and play their seminal album Forty Licks in the car all the time. But I recently put on my Wembley or Bust DVD and started to watch it again - I am a romantic, sentimental person - it doesn't take much to set me off, although I find it hard to cry because of my exceptionally dry eyes. But watching Jeff Lynne and the brilliant new line up that make up Jeff Lynne's ELO in concert at Wembley in 2017 brought tears to my eyes for the simple reason that they sound exactly like the original records from the 1970s/80s - only better, if that's possible. The concert is a dream - a beautiful dream. Jeff Lynne is a humble genius, one who has never forgotten his roots and his original dreams, which are encapsulated in one of his mnore recent compositions: When I was a Boy. No other musician has ever affected me this way, and I thank him for the inspiration, the joy, and the sheer brilliance of his musical creations from the bottom - no, from the whole of my heart!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.

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