I'm currently reading Mike Butler's second volume in the Bill Leader (and friends) story. Ten volumes seemed like madness to me, but I am in awe of Mike's lightness of touch, colourful magazine-esque style, wit and research, the illustrations, the quality of the proofreading and design - and, as ever, of Bill's effortless mastery of the pithy one-liner. I feel compelled to review it in an online platform in due course. If only because Mike's 'Yeah, whatever, email me if you want one...' approach to marketing appears to be his one weak spot!
(The Afterword review by Colin Harper is here –
I am, in turns, excited, delighted, informed, entertained and made to laugh out loud as I read your book. I have known Bill [but not well] ever since I met him at around the time that I joined Topic Records [indeed, it was he who showed me how to edit tape - before I got down to doing that myself in earnest] but I now wish that I had got to know him better. At that time, I realised that he was a pretty significant person but, reading your book, I see that I had no idea of just what a man he is. Thanks for opening my eyes. I now have a new respect for Bill and can’t wait to read more.
Further, more respect is due - and that is to the author. I had expected that the book might possibly have been a stiff, wordy, worthy read. Well, wordy it is - but they are always the right words [and in the right places - to paraphrase]. I am a fairly avid reader - mainly thrillers - and this has kept me gripped from the first page.
So - thank you more than I can adequately express and please keep me in touch with progress on publication.
Tony Engle, Topic Records director, 1972- 2017
I don’t think I have ever read a book quite like this before and it’s not easy to categorise it. It is totally fascinating from page one for many reasons. As a rule, biographies, whoever the biographer, tend to reveal more about the biographer then the subject. This was unashamedly about Bill and his Mum and his Dad and his friends, all of whom emerge as solid people, including those Bill (and you) didn’t much like and it says damn all about you. It really is one hell of a tour de force and I look forward to Volume 2. It’s a bit like watching a really brilliant series on TV which we prefer to binge watch when they are finished. With this book, I needed to dive in immediately and now I have to wait for the next episode.
I have no adverse comments. I usually hate footnotes but yours were tidy and not disruptive. I like your potted biographies at the end. I love your careful comments about Ewan McColl.
Most of all I enjoyed this book because it was so familiar. Not just the people but the feel of what it was like being a teenager in the forties and living in amongst the people in the book, all of whom I took entirely for granted. Your history of Topic is a Godsend because I have to write a small bit for a publication and you have filled in some gaps.
It’s a wonderfully eccentric book. I kept reading bits to Brian until he stopped me and said he would read it himself and I know he will enjoy it. I wish there had been room for you to have used Jim’s ‘Means Test’ lithograph which would have been apt. Somewhere I have a Unity Theatre programme that Jim did. He never took me there. I got taken to the opera instead. The first concert I ever went to was Myra Hess playing at a lunchtime concert in the National Gallery in about 1943. Jim and Betty were like that, although he loved blues and was a dab hand at St James Infirmary and The Streets of Laredo. He always thought Bert Lloyd and Ewan McColl were frauds - and he wasn’t alone. When he got involved with Topic, it was Brian who caught the bug, not Jim.
Congratulations. It's a singularly eccentric book and I loved every minute of it.
Some Reactions to StC 1 and Why I Love It So Much
I’ve finished Glimpses of Far Off Things. I have loved reading it so much, and I have so many thoughts about it that I thought I’d try to set them down on paper in pen, and then on a computer screen later, and see if I can make a linear sense of them – or not – and send them to you.
I absolutely loved the way you have chosen to write it. Not just as a simple narrative, but going off in all directions, giving background to so many aspects of Bill’s life and of the world he was living in. Aspects that some might never have thought of exploring.
It’s like joining you on a ride down the many rabbit holes so many of us find ourselves in when initially googling for a simple answer to a question and then getting fascinated in learning more and more about bits and pieces of information that are mentioned.
I love the way you use your voice, Bill’s voice and the voices of so many of his friends and acquaintances. It’s quite remarkable the way you tie all of the separate interviews together in such a seamless manner to create the fuller story. Also the way the footnotes discreetly explain that they were from separate interviews makes it even more interesting, because it is natural that further thoughts happen down the line.
I was going to say that I’ve never read any other book quite like this, but then I stopped myself, and realized that indeed I have although it be fictionalized autobiography.
Along with music being the driving muse in my life, especially traditional folk, but also early/bebop/hard bop and free jazz, early music (David Munrow is another hero of mine), 60’s rock and others, I have great passions for specific authors.
One of those is H.G. Wells, a man whose works I’ve been studying, reading and rereading for the past 40 years. And collecting, I am an incurable collecting addict even though space and money should dictate otherwise.
I don’t know how familiar you are with his works, but he wrote and published hundreds of novels, short stories, pamphlets, and a best-selling History of the World called The Outline of History in 1920 which pretty much set him up financially for the rest of his life. (It was updated regularly and remained in print at least into the ‘70’s. The concept was pretty revolutionary at the time, creating a history that was not centered around a specific nation, as most histories were at the time, but treating each country and continent as equally important, and starting with the beginning of the world; great sections on microorganisms, dinosaurs and early man as well.)
Now here I am going off on a tangent, seemingly unrelated to the matter at hand, but to bring it back: While he is undoubtedly remembered by most for his early science fiction work (what he called ‘Scientific Romances’) the majority of his books and writings were more on the theme of his belief that through science and a form of socialism, man and womankind could create a world free of wars, hunger, disease, flags and oppression. He was also a major advocate for women’s rights, and wrote one of the earliest feminist novels, highly controversial and scandalous at the time.
In any number of books he goes into great detail explaining and describing the main character ‘s youth, upbringing, the world around him, the growing political awareness, alliances, disillusionments, etc.
In a not dissimilar fashion as you do.
But yours is even more comprehensive and fascinating and the footnotes, far from being a distraction, as they can be in many other scholarly works (because they can interrupt the flow and make me go searching out other information instead of staying with the narrative), add depth and even more color, without at all being an interruption. They read like a friendly aside from a friend telling a story.
And then the photos and illustrations. I love the way you were able to include so many that are completely relevant and connected with the text. So often I would read something, where a picture is described, and I turn the page, and there it is. That may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s surprising how many books don’t do that. My only wish is that they could have been larger to enhance the detail.
The entire feeling throughout the book is one of such love and respect for Bill, while still keeping a critical and sometimes jocular distance.
It is a journey that is really exciting and an honor upon which to be allowed to accompany you.
I know there is more I’ve wanted to say, but if I don’t send this now, it may end up needing multiple volumes and a too long of a delay in sending.
I eagerly await the upcoming volumes.
I read w fascination. Not just in admiration of the details you’ve unearthed - from One Who Knows - and your engaging style and humour (love Tom's quote, ‘your luck will run out’), but also your methodology of direct quotation and revealing sources and exciting moments of discovery. This is also how I’m doing Jean!
Shelagh Weir, Jean Jenkins’ biographer
Thank you for my beautiful book which arrived just this morning, and I'm already devouring it. I’ve already learned some fascinating facts I never knew before. And thank you and Bill so much for the lovely signing, it is precious to me.
Again, Mike, congratulations on your wonderful biography and publication, and it's only the tip of the iceberg! I can’t wait to read it all. We and Bill are so fortunate that someone so dedicated and capable as yourself should take on this enormously worthwhile work. I wish you and Bill every success with it. You’ve both made the world a better place.
Leo O’Kelly, Tír na nÓg
I’m halfway through and love it. You write beautifully and with so much humour. I feel I’m in granny’s house with the family all chipping in their memories. Everyone has different accounts or brings up things you never knew. And Bill, what a man and a life.
It is a great book, and a most important historical document also. A true ‘Labour of Love’!
Belinda and Annie Hasted
At last I can find out what I’ve been up to over the last 90 years. It’s all there between covers. And there’s pictures too. Author, Mike Butler, has used my story as a ball of yarn, to help to guide readers through some of the lesser known corners of music making over the last century — music making and much more.
From research and writing to realisation, Mike has done a great piece of work, which will be increasingly valued as each year passes. The section that he has called Possibly Significant People, with its copious illustrations, will get so well thumbed as a work of reference that, with any luck, folks will all be having to buy replacement copies (clever trick that).
It looks good and reads well. A lot of interesting info on Bill and his acquaintances and partners in crime! I look forward to vol.2 and the ongoing saga.
I’ve just finished reading the book and really enjoyed it. You’ve done a fantastic job. I can hear Bill’s voice as I read it. There are some errors on the dates on one of the family trees, which I will send you in time for the second printing! I don’t suppose anybody else will notice beside me.