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Book Review

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Book Review: by Lang Reid

Modern Chinese Scholar’s Rock

I detest Xmas! An abomination of what was once a period with deep Christian religious significance, now debased to become a commercial ploy, complete with nauseating Xmas music. Even my local Bookazine was playing Bing Crosby’s “Jingle Bells” which the staff were singing along with as “Singha Belles”! I grabbed any book and left as soon as possible.
Returning to my reading room, I found I had grabbed a book called Modern Chinese Scholar’s Rocks (ISBN 1891640-34-8, Floating World Editions, 2006) written by a Kemin Hu. A very brief perusal showed that this was not a book about modern musical choices of young Chinese undergraduates, but rather a collector’s guide and catalogue of Chinese scholar’s rock. As in lumps of stone.
In the introduction, author Kemin Hu (whose credentials are not given, by the way, just believe) states that, “Although there are some well known treatises on traditional Chinese stones, such as ‘Du Wan’s Catalogue of Cloudy Forest’ written in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the illustrated ‘Plain Garden Stone Catalogue’ by Lin Yulin of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), great changes have naturally taken place since those ancient times in the appreciation, audience and availability of stone types.” On the face of it, it certainly looks as if a slightly more up to date catalogue might be needed!
Further perusal showed that author Kemin would introduce the reader to 38 types of rocks, and also states that “selection of stone position is of primary importance for stone appearance.” In fact this is so important, several pages are devoted to this and advice that the position in which the stone is presented should be a matter of group discussion!
Each rock is illustrated, complete with mineral composition, stone colors, hardness on the Moh scale and where each is found or quarried. According to the back cover, “This modest and informative volume will engage readers in the exciting world of appreciating and collecting these brilliant natural art objects.”
Some of the rocks in the catalogue are known in the western world, such as ‘stalactites’ formed when calcium carbide in the water drips from the roof of a cave accumulates and hardens (aide memoire: the mites run up when the tites come down). Others that are reasonably well known include malachite, corals, fossils and marble.
For me, the most interesting were the grotesque shaped stones such as the Ying stones and the Xuan stones, but I am afraid I was not moved enough to go looking. Sorry.
However, if you need to get your rocks off, then this slim little book will set you back B. 1,130. That makes me feel that the Chinese rocks would be commensurately even more expensive, though author Kemin Hu does not mention prices in the catalogue anywhere!
Since I have never been a collector of pet rocks, and have rather spent my life throwing them at predatory puppies or barking bulldogs, I finished this book just as much in the dark about Chinese scholar’s stones as I was before. What is worse, I have to endure Singha Belles again to return it! Bah and humbug!

Mott's CD Reviews:  Mott the Dog and Meow the Cat

Christmas Songs

Various Artists

5 Stars *****
First of all, Merry Christmas from Mott the Dog and Meow the Cat. Christmas is always such a good time of the year. Happiness to all humans and animals.
Associated with Christmas is always Christmas music, giving everybody a bit of cheer as they wander round buying presents for family and near ones, eating way too much food, and imbibing on the odd ale. (Old Speckled Hen seeming to be the drink of choice this year.)
Christmas music does come in two distinct categories. The traditional Christmas music, as in Carols ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘Silent Night’, and of course the obligatory ‘Jingle Bells’. All excluding bonhomie, and making you feel goodwill to all.
Then of course there are the newer Christmas tunes that have roared up the charts over the last half decade or so. Some of these can become extremely tiresome if heard over and over again, especially if by some cheap covers band on dubious compilations albums, played from late October to early February in supermarkets, hotel lobbies, or even worse, elevators where there really is no escape. But there are plenty of classics that have sprung up over the years, and here is Mott’s top ten Christmas crackers to liven up your Christmas shindig.
At Number Ten we have ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ which was written by Bob Geldof (of course now Sir Bob) and Midge Ure. It was number one all over the world at Christmas in 1984, raising money for children in need, and featuring just about every top pop artist from the United Kingdom from ‘Status Quo’ to ‘Bananarama’. It may not have been the greatest song ever written, but it was certainly the one with the biggest heart and the best intentions. Over the years it has raised over fifty million pounds for worthy children’s causes. A song that warms your heart when you hear it.
On the last ever Bing Crosby Christmas show there was a wonderful duet between the man himself and David Bowie singing ‘Little Drummer Boy’, which comes in at number nine. The two stars’ voices compliment each other superbly, and the spectacle of them standing at the fireplace together is heartwarming, although it is quite apparent that Bing Crosby is not actually sure who the young skinny chap with the bad teeth is that is singing with him.
To give the Christmas chart a bit of street cred is the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen, who with the E Street Band gives us a raucous live version of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’. The band have a very festive time blowing the cobwebs off this old chestnut, with solos from all the musicians blasting out all over, whilst Springsteen himself roars out the vocals. Worthy of a Christmas number eight placing.
At number seven is the Father Christmas of Pop Elton John with ‘Step Into Christmas’ from 1995. A typical Elton John rocker, it is the perfect vehicle for Elton to make his mark on Christmas, and of course give him one more chance to dress up. For all the charity work that he has done over the years who could possibly begrudge Reginald Dwight a place in the Christmas top ten?
Number six, probably the most unusual entry, is the Christmas smash hit from 1975 with Greg Lake and ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’. Who would have thought that the voice and bass guitar from heavy progressive rock giants King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would have come up with a Yuletide hit? This is not some novelty song, but a great song, with a wonderful tune, brilliantly executed musically, particularly showing off Greg Lake’s rock throat.
As we move into the top five, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ may not exactly be very rock ‘n’ roll, but you cannot deny that it is very Christmassy, and a real toe tapper to boot. What exactly Andrew Ridgley did on this song I am not sure, but these days I am sure he is glad of the royalties. George Michael turns in one of his vocal performances, which showed why he remains to this day one of the pop world’s leading superstars.
Glam Rock in the early Seventies produced many a fine Christmas tune, and at number four I have put Mud’s ‘Lonely This Christmas’ from 1974. Not, I will admit, the most cheerful of ditties, as Christmas is certainly not the time of year to be on your own. But Les Grey’s wonderful Elvis Presley impersonation on vocals is simply irresistible, and perhaps this song adds a bit of balance to the gaiety of all the others of its time.
After being a member of both The Move and The Electric Light Orchestra, Roy Wood blew into Glam Rock with a vengeance when he formed his own band Wizzard. Like a multi-colored Santa Claus, Roy Wood led the band through many hits, the best of which was probably ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ with its fantastic chorus and Phil Spectrish wall of sound. Even though it was a massive hit the single was still supposed to have lost money and split up the band, such was Roy Wood’s insistence on perfection and multi-layering the sound time and time again. But in the end it was certainly worth it, and would definitely have been a number one had it not been released in 1973 along with another record.
A Christmas song that was released from the heart, and certainly plucks a few strings, is John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’. At any time of year this song would have been a huge hit, and delivered a very strong message. You cannot help feeling that John Lennon threw all his musical ability and strong personality into this song; the fact that it is regarded as one of the all time classic songs is a great testament to its writer. The message of ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ is as relevant now as it was when it was written.
That certain other song that kept Wizzard off the top spot in 1973 was of course Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’. It has since been released almost every year, and always makes it towards the top of the charts. In 1973 Slade were probably the biggest pop band in the British Isles, and the fact that they wrote the all time Christmas party record only enhanced their status. With Noddy Holder’s infectious loud hailer vocals, the screaming guitar of Dave Hill, and the thundering rhythm section of Jimmy Lea on bass and Don Powell on drums, it is guaranteed to bring any party up on its feet and dancing. Whenever Slade play these days, even on a mid Summer day in July, they have to bring along their own snow machine so they can have a quick run through their most famous song.
There are of course plenty of other jolly good Christmas songs; this is merely a selection of Mott’s favorites. One song that should be in there, at the top of the tree is Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ but I just could not make up my mind which category to put it in.
Once again, as Noddy Holder finishes off, “Merry Christmas Everybody”.
Christmas Top Ten
1. Merry Christmas Everybody / Slade
2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) / John Lennon
3. I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day / Wizzard
4. Lonely This Christmas / Mud
5. Last Christmas / Wham
6. I Believe In Father Christmas / Greg Lake
7. Step Into Christmas / Elton John
8. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town / Bruce Springsteen
9. Little Drummer Boy / Bing Crosby and David Bowie
10. Do They Know It’s Christmas / Various

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