Ian Thomson

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July 12, 2018
Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray, Allen Lane, 170pp, £17.99 In his best-known book, Straw Dogs, the political philosopher and career misanthrope John Gray whittled away at our most cherished liberal beliefs as he sought to undermine almost 2,500 years of Western thought. By the book’s end, little was left standing: man is brutal;
June 21, 2018
As every Italian schoolchild knows, The Divine Comedy opens in a supernatural “dark wood” just before sunrise on Good Friday, 1300. Dante Alighieri, a figure in his own work, has lost his way in middle age and is alone and frightened in the darkness. At the request of a woman called Beatrice, the ghost of
March 22, 2018
The rackety, all-girl English punk band The Slits combined angular Captain Beefheart-style guitarwork with reggae-soul-afro rhythms and caustic social commentary. Beneath the politics they were determined to have fun. Without The Slits, it is safe to say, there would be no Lady Gaga; a generation of women were emboldened to pick up the mic and
August 17, 2017
Lovers and Strangers: an Immigrant History of Post-War Britain By Clair Wills, Allen Lane, £20 West Indians were not numerous in 1950s London. On double-decker buses, passengers were often astonished to see non-white “clippies” (conductors), and would even ask to pat their hair for “good luck”. Thus London Transport played its own small role in
July 20, 2017
The Harlem Renaissance, the black American arts movement that coincided with the Jazz Age, celebrated black folk heritage and so-called “primitive” art and music. Wealthy white thrill-seekers – “Negrotonians” – danced to Duke Ellington hothouse stomps and the ragtime of tin-pan pianos. While it lasted, the Harlem Renaissance bolstered black self-assertion in pre-civil rights America.
June 15, 2017
Can – The Singles Mute/Spoon Records, vinyl/cd/download Can, typically for a so-called Krautrock band, rejected Germany’s saccharine post-war music scene known as schlager, with its Euro-kitsch crooning, and evolved a trance-inducing, drum-driven dancefloor groove that borrowed as much from North African music as Karlheinz Stockhausen and the American minimalist composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
January 26, 2017
Danny Says (unrated, 105 mins, ★★★) Danny Fields, the gadfly-entrepreneur of US pop and proto-punk, is attracted to “crazy people”, he says, and the dark side of showbiz. As a music manager and all-round trend-setter he helped to launch Jim Morrison and his California combo the Doors, Andy Warhol’s hip inhouse band the Velvet Underground and such
December 15, 2016
Neil Young’s 40th studio album, Peace Trail, is a hypnotic amalgam of acoustic folk-rock and mellow denim riffs accompanied by blasts of distortion-heavy harmonica and Les Paul electrics. Any good? The Canadian singer/song-writer, 71, has produced a work that recalls his pared-down 1974 masterwork, On the Beach. Of the album’s 10 new songs, only one
July 14, 2016
Catholics have lived in Jamaica since Christopher Columbus weighed anchor off the island’s north coast in 1494. Jamaica was seized from Spain by Oliver Cromwell in 1655, as part of his great “Western Design”, intended to halt the spread of Catholicism in the Hispanic New World. The loss of the Caribbean outpost was a disaster