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Book, Cover, Precipitate Judgement?

I, along with with so many people of my age, came across journalist David Hepworth in the early 80s when he, along with McCartney- lookalike Mark Ellen, co-presented The Old Grey Whistle Test, the first BBC ‘serious’ pop/rock omnibus, which was initially, as I remember, hosted by the very great Richard Williams. Hepworth re-entered my musico-cultural awareness when I found time to read his two (relatively recent) books, 1971- Never A Dull Moment (a title that unfortunately failed to resonate with my memories of that particular year), and Uncommon People - The Rise and Fall of the Pop Stars, a cut-and-paste job concerning the usual Mojo and Uncut magazines pantheon of rock stars and superheroes.

Late last year, and out comes yet another Hepworth Bantam Press release, in the now-standard black and orange cover, a triumph, as far as I was concerned, of form over content, although it is always a pleasure to read sturdy, well-made hardback books, products that are visceral in their provision of tactile pleasure for this particular reader. I determined, despite all this, not to buy the last in the notional Hepworth ‘trilogy’ (funnily enough, ‘notional; trilogies’ form the subject of one of the essays contained within this latest book), ostensibly because I found the title irritatingly clever-clever, i..e. Nothing Is Real - The Beatles Were Underrated and Other Sweeping Statements About Pop, being yet another one with a hyphen in it and being yet another one with its head up the bum of the 60s/70s nexus. In the end, however, this was precisely the reason why my wife bought me the thing, as part of my Santa sack - “it’ll give you something to complain about; I know how you like a good moan”, not exactly a thumbs-up reference for my contribution to domestic co-existence. But I will always at least attempt to read a book that someone has gone to the effort of providing for me, however arch and/or sarcastic their intentions might be, and so I read and finished Hepworth’s tome over the past couple of days.

And I was very pleasantly surprised, as it was one more hint that assumptions and judgements-by-cover are so not-clever.

 In this case, the elaborate cover is totally appropriate as clothing for the body of work contained within. It’s basically a ‘best of’ Hepworth’s journalism over the past fifteen years of so for ‘dad mags’, a sort of ‘dad lit’ if you like - fifty pound man’ as I believe that people of my age were typecast as, in the end days of the record shop (I know that the latter still exist, but they are essentially the equivalent of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, wide-eyed and desperate). The book reads like a series of blogs, and it is interesting that the longest (20 pages) is also the oldest (2004) - it’s like the author has developed the quality of brevity, the 2004 essay on the Blues reading like a typical Mojo hagiography, while the later pieces take one idea and run with it for a short while, leaving plenty of questions in their wake. I don’t propose to go through them, but would say that Hepworth’s style is engaging, informal and quietly informed and modestly erudite.

If there is an obvious downside, it is that Hepworth’s glance is a backwards one, not surprising given that he must be nearing seventy years of age by now?. There is a great cover photo of the Fab Four, on what looks like the occasion of their last tour of America in 1966 (wearing very Paperback Writer and Revolver apparel), which initially served, as well as its cutesie title, to rather put me off the book.. Hepworth is not a first-generation rock writer, but his lightly-worn knowledge, and its un-bumptious presentation, makes this it an enjoyable and thought-provoking book. So my wife got a dash of gushing positivity rather than the expected male menopausal bile. This “goes to show you never can tell”, as a great rock miniaturist once said, a line that Hepworth quotes as being from “the best record ever made.. this is not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact”.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby