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Book Review: Skytrain to Murder

by Lang Reid

Due for imminent release is the new thriller from Dean Barrett called Skytrain to Murder (ISBN 0-9661899-6-5) which is published by Village East Books in Florida. Despite author Dean Barrett being a long established writer in Thailand, this is not such a paradox as you might imagine, as I am sure having an American publisher will get the book on more shelves around the world. His previously reviewed book, Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior, was a most enjoyable read, so I was looking forward to this one.

The plot revolves around an American, Scott Sterling, who is an ex-US Embassy, ex-CIA operative who is living in Bangkok. This character can be easily recognised as one of the many ‘floating’ expats who exist in this country, rather than live or work in this country. In this case he gets beer money teaching SCUBA diving and the odd windfall investigation, but nothing of much substance.

Sterling associates with many of the other flotsam and jetsam that can be seen propping up a beer bar any time night or day. Not all of these people are as lacking direction. Some of them actually own the bar!

The action begins with an American woman in the bar, that in itself being a noteworthy occasion in a scene where the usual inhabitants are only foreign beer swillers and local bar girls.

It heats up when the American manages to meet a sticky end and Sterling decides to get involved too. There is a full cast, with cameo performances by SCUBA students, sonorous bar girls, penny-pinching customers, talking birds and Liberty Valance.

As a thriller, or airport novel, it has everything that you would expect. Sex? Yes. Beautiful women? Yes again. Guns? Yes. Several. A beautiful female Thai kick-boxer. Yes. Assailants in the shadows, maids who take bribes, sorry financial inducements, and sleepy guards. It has the full hand for publications of this genre.

Author Dean Barrett manages to maintain the pace and the environment all the way through the book. The dialogue is as you would expect from the beer bar set, with the usual deep and meaningless exchanges. Dean Barrett has obviously heard enough of them to be able to record them all faithfully, and it is this ability to present ‘real’ characters in ‘real’ surroundings that gives this book an immediacy and credibility that exhorts you to keep on reading. However, I must admit I want to know how he makes it down from Bangkok to Pattaya in one hour. That was as perplexing as the final twist in the plot.

I must admit that at the back of my mind I was wondering where the Skytrain fitted into all this, and you are let into the secret, but less than ten pages from the end. And Liberty Valance? The man who shot Liberty Valance was the bravest of them all!

The review copy was made available direct from the publisher, but should be available in all good bookstores within the next couple of weeks. A fun read that will fill a wet weekend, of which we have had plenty recently.


Music CD Reviews: Flash

by Mott the Dog
re-mastered by Ella Crew

5 Stars *****

Peter Banks was relieved of his position as lead guitarist with the formative “Yes” after two albums. Not because of his abilities, but because of a penchant for rather overdoing the Rock ‘n’ Roll life style and tending to have a bit too much of a good time, unlike some of his more studious band mates.

When Steve Howe replaced Banks he had to firstly learn how to play Banks’ parts, and like all “Yes” guitarists, had to play in that style to this day. However, Steve Howe throws a terrible wobbly if Banks’ name is even mentioned in his hearing, scotching any chance of any further collaboration between Banks and any of his old colleagues. That is pretty ironic considering that over the years everybody in the band has left and re-joined at some point, an exception being bass player Chris Squire, who seemed to have managed the devious waters of being in a band rather well.

Bill Bruford, acknowledged as the drummer’s drummer, left out of sheer boredom. Rick Wakeman, the keyboard wizard and champion of the draughts table and skittles, was once fired for eating his curry and chips dinner washed down with a few pints of Kilkenny, while still playing the more tedious parts of the extremely overblown epic “Tales from a Topographic Ocean” in front of a packed Wembley Stadium.

When lead vocalist Jon Anderson and Wakeman (again) left in 1980, they simply incorporated pop duo The Buggles (Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, famous for their one hit wonder “Video killed the Radio Star”, which was eventually to lead to Howe and Downes clearing off to form the money spinning “Asia”) into their ranks.

Perhaps at this stage “Yes” should of been known as “Yuggles”, but to be fair the record buying public never seemed to mind buying each new release as long as the name “Yes” was on it and it had a nice Roger Dean designed cover, so the album looked good nonchalantly lying on the coffee table.

So what did the bad boy of Progressive Rock do after leaving “Yes”? Form a Punk band? Well, not quite, but certainly as close as Punk Rock ever came to Progressive Rock. “Flash” was the name of the band, a name thought up over cold pie and chips with a couple of warm lagers after their first rehearsals. Flash by name, Flash by nature.

Peter Banks had found himself the perfect lineup to replace his old colleagues, but thereby hangs a tale as by the time they got into the studio, Peter’s old drinking buddy from “Yes”, Tony Kaye, had also been tossed aside as the others coveted the multitalented skills of Mr. Rick Wakeman and his many assorted keyboards. They were whisked from those laid back folks with ‘The Strawbs’ and positioned in all their glory taking up the whole left hand side of the stage at every “Yes” concert. Far more prestigious than Tony Kaye’s simple Hammond organ. More is not necessarily better.

So Tony Kaye was rushed out of one door straight into the door marked Flash. Tony Kaye never actually toured with the band although his playing here is nothing short of stunning. This was always going to be Peter Banks’ band. To be fair to Tony Kaye he had been rather caught on the rebound and decided to take a bit of a break from playing in a band before forming his own. He did so later and formed the keyboard oriented fabulous “Badger”, which suited his playing.

On lead vocals was Colin Carter, who looked like an action man doll with long curly blonde hair, and with a talent for singing Peter’s songs and smashing tambourines at the end of each song. Indeed, he sounded a lot like Peter Banks’ previous singer, but didn’t insist upon singing his own non-functional lyrics.

On bass guitar was Ray Bennett, one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most inventive bassists, running out fluid bass lines that not only underpinned all of Banks’ solos, but laid down their own stories as well. One listen to opening track “Small Beginnings” will leave you gasping as his bass is all over the song, while not taking anything away from the lead guitars or keyboards. He was also the owner of a very clear pair of pipes enabling the band to incorporate soaring harmonies amidst even the heaviest sections of the music, and, as in the second song on this collection, take over on lead vocals to leave Carter to his tambourine smashing.

Next we have the gentleman with the sticks in his hands behind the drum kit, Mr. Mike Hough, an exponent of his skills of rare talent and violence, probably the find of the band. His live drum solos, though thankfully brief, used to leave audiences gasping.

There are five songs on this debut album and they come in two varieties, two relatively short ballads (about five minutes each), and three longer, well-structured pieces with room for each element of the band to show off their skills, the pick of which has to be “Dreams of Heaven”. (Actually the gem of an idea for a song that Peter Banks had in his last days with “Yes”. They changed it into “Perpetual Change”, but here you get it in its full rocked out glory.) “Dreams of Heaven” clocks in at just under thirteen minutes; however, it often used to be stretched out to thirty minutes when they used it as a closure to their live sets. The music is fast and furious, edgy, and seldom relaxed. They often played ten chords when three would of done. What the heck. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. But they could never be accused of being clich้, gauche, or mediocre.

After touring all over the world for two years, three albums by the band, a solo album from Peter Banks, a disinterested management, a confused record label, tempers shortening, and morale dropping, the band imploded in true Spinal Tap fashion after a show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It really is a shame.

Despite all the usual accusations of pomposity and self indulgence leveled at Progressive Rock, “Flash” had a vibrancy and optimism that transcended all the stereotypes of seventies rock music. They really loved their music and it always showed.

Definitely some of the classiest music to come out of the early seventies and a great addition to any CD collection. Even cooler, it has an album cover anybody would like to have draped across their coffee table, but it definitely isn’t by Roger Dean.

They were Flash - their life was short, but burned bright. They came and went in a Flash.

Musicians

Peter Banks - Guitars, Electric, Acoustic, and Spanish, Ole’, Hooter A.R.P. Synthesizer, and even a little backing vocals

Tony Kaye - Organ, A.R.P. Synthesizer, Piano
Colin Carter - Tambourine smashing and lead vocals
Mike Hough - Drums, Hard Knocks and Badinage
Ray Bennett - Bass Guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on ‘Morning Haze’

Songs

Small Beginnings
Morning Haze
Children of the Universe
Dreams of Heaven
The Time it Takes

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]