Sunday, 28 October 2007


Only three months after its publication, Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes has been reviewed in the Morning Star ("Britain's Only Socialist Daily", as it now calls itself, backtracking from its old self-proclaimed credentials as the communist daily).

Karl Dallas' review, 'Quiet Bluesman', published last Friday, is a very odd mix of testiness and enthusiasm. Odder, perhaps, is the way that while complaining about the large amount of genealogical fact in the book, Dallas manages to get wrong McTell's years of birth and death. This, surely, isn't an excessive amount of fact to want to grasp while reviewing a book.

Dallas used to review hi-fi gear in the 1970s and 80s, and the hallway of his flat just off Tottenham Court Road was often almost impassably full of the stuff piled up in cardboard boxes. He was a contributor to Let It Rock in its early 1970s days, and an editor of Folk News. He also co-authored that fine little book The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock with Dave Laing, Robin Denselow and Robert Shelton (a motley crew if ever there were), published in London by Methuen in 1975.

Last time I saw Karl was when I gave a talk about Bob Dylan's work at Bradford Central Library a good seven years ago. I hadn't known he'd moved up north and so it was a surprise to see him sitting in the audience. He was still wearing his Pete Seeger-style cap and workshirt, and got me to drive him home.

Since then he's been busy as a musician, political playwright and peace activist, including in Iraq, where he became a "human shield" in 2003.

Anyway, as regards "the Quiet Bluesman", despite Dallas' declared temptation "to throw down the 432-page tome in irritation and cry: 'Tell us more about the music, for pity's sake' " [it is a biography, Karl], he ends up in a better mood, declaring that "this is a wonderful book, fascinating in its detail, wide-ranging in its vision, not only of an artist...but also of an era..."

Just like the Morning Star.

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