Review of the reads – November 2023

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
November 2023

Yusef Sayed’s review of the reads.

Scattershot by Bernie Taupin
Published by Monoray, price £25
Growing up in Owmby-by-Spital, Bernie Taupin dreamed of the American west, entranced by cowboy movies and gunfighter ballads. A chance encounter with a US serviceman while visiting a friend at RAF Faldingworth brought him closer to his destiny, opening his ears to a rich world of country songs. He soon went from his father’s farm to a brief stint on the shopfloor of the Lincolnshire Standard Group, to living in London and penning hit after hit with his songwriting partner, Elton John – after responding to a now-legendary ad in the music press.

Scattershot is the lyricist’s new memoir, looking back on the whirlwind of success and storm of drink and drugs that swept him and his circle of celebrity friends through the 1970s and beyond. Taupin gives the reader insights into his bond with Elton and the genesis of indelible songs – such as the original inspirations for ‘Candle in the Wind’, and the fleeting details that made their way into ‘Tiny Dancer’.

Alongside this are dreamlike encounters with Graham Greene, Dalí and meetings with many other famous – and infamous – names. Taupin vividly evokes chaotic, hazy nights on the town and conveys the special qualities he has found in his favourite artists and friends, and the dangers and attractions of New York and LA in the 1970s.

He is quick to correct the surrealist Dalí when asked if he is a “poet”, which makes it all the more difficult to overlook the often slapdash grammar, convoluted sentences and incorrect use of words throughout. The scattershot nature of memory does not detract from the enjoyment here, but these bizarre authorial and editorial blips risk spoiling the whole.

Ever the music fan, Taupin celebrates overlooked talents, both those who had an influence on him, such as bluesman Willie Dixon, and unique songwriters like Dory Previn and David Ackles (whose third album he produced). He also points to a now out of print, earlier memoir – A Cradle of Haloes – sketches of his Lincolnshire childhood, which will be worth seeking for those more fascinated by Taupin’s unlikely beginnings amid the muck of the Lincolnshire farmland than all the celebrity namedropping.

50 Gems of Lincolnshire by Michael Smith
Published by Amberley Publishing, price £15.99

This new guide to the county sets its sights on what the author considers to be the ‘gems’ of history and heritage awaiting visitors and locals. There is certainly a lot of old stone, many choices on Michael Smith’s list being historical houses and monuments. Most of these are familiar from any Lincolnshire tourist trail publication – from Tattershall Castle to Cogglesford Mill – and while their architectural significance and local interest is clear, one immediately feels like the book falls short on highlighting the less obvious, shining examples of history in the area.

Smith’s accompanying notes to each location are succinct, informative and up to date – although it seems a shame to rely on how others have described certain places, as he sometimes does, when there is an opportunity to offer a fresh perspective.

The focus in Lincoln itself is restricted to the Bailgate and the High Street with little sense of searching further across the city. The blurb mentions Tennyson and Peter de Wint, but we are not led by the statue of the former, or a painting by the latter, to reflect upon either’s contributions to the culture.

There are some thoughtful mirrorings and juxtapositions: the reader is first led through the entryway of Newport Arch in Lincoln and ends at Trinity Bridge, Crowland. In Cleethorpes, Smith lists the largest fish and chip shop next to the smallest pub – emphasising that Lincolnshire is a county of striking contrasts.

Elsewhere there is a different creative approach to the inventory, grouping several distinct landmarks in Woodhall Spa together.

Smith too often gives the impression that the county is frozen in times gone by, there is little sense from the photos of the life of the towns and cities and the enterprise that continues today, and even of the vibrant new events that use these heritage locations as their backdrop, such as the Grimsthrope Speed Trials.

The quality of the publication and Smith’s clear writing are to its credit but without a qualifier such as ‘hidden’ gems, this remains one among many tourist guides to the county’s history with few surprises.

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to ... See MoreSee Less