Liz Wheatley

Bill Withers 1938-2020

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We’re used to musicians announcing their retirement, quickly followed by their ‘comeback’ tour and album. But when Bill Withers quit in 1985 he was true to his word, performing just one final gig for a prodigious fee. So anyone under 50 is unlikely to have seen him perform and may be familiar only with a few of his hits. It would be a shame not to dig deeper and discover more.

Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them

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Inspired by the Icelandic Phallological Museum (yes, that’s a penis museum), the director realised there was no female equivalent and organised a public fundraising campaign.

Unlike its Icelandic counterpart, it’s not a traditional museum with exhibits of vaginas through the ages. Rather, it’s a series of changing exhibitions. The first one, “Muff Busters”, is really an information source.

Harlem 69

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“In every city you find the same thing going down/ Harlem is the capital of every ghetto town.”

So sang Bobby Womack in Across 110th Street, which refers to the unofficial boundary between Harlem and the rest of New York City. In 1969 Harlem was a city within a city, with more than 90 percent of its population being black. It is the subject of the last book in Stuart Cosgrove’s trilogy about key political events and music of the late 1960s.

Memphis 68

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From resistance to the American war in Vietnam to the instantly recognisable image of Tommy Smith and John Carlos holding high their clenched fists on the Olympic podium, 1968 was a year of uprisings and resistance.

But it was also a year of tragedy, of the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, and the fall out from the death of Stax star Otis Redding at the end of 1967. Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68 is the second in a trilogy looking at soul music in one of the most inspiring decades of US history and a bittersweet tribute to the city.

Political music

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Music often has something to say about the world we live in. Sometimes it simply reflects that world, good and bad, but sometimes it goes further, commenting on it and, on occasions, trying to be part of changing things and actively engaging with movements and society at large.

Love and Friendship

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Love and Friendship is based on an unfinished novella by Jane Austen. Called Lady Susan, it is written as a series of letters and is thought to be one of her earlier works, although only posthumously published.

The film, adapted by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco), is a beautifully shot period piece that you wish was longer than its 90-some minutes.

Lady Susan, played by Kate Beckinsale, is recently widowed, short on funds and increasingly frowned upon for her affair with a married man.

HITNRUN Phase Two

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Unlike September’s poorly-received Phase One this surprise end-of-year release is a step away from digital production and back to the classic funky analogue sounds that Prince does so well.

This is not an entirely new album. Some of the tracks have been released already and can be found for free online, some have been performed in recent live shows and some are from Prince’s archive of thousands of songs he has previously recorded — but it doesn’t suffer for all that.

Black Messiah/The London Sessions

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I’ve been a fan of Mary J Blige, the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, ever since What’s The 411? came out in 1992 and so was eagerly awaiting her latest album, The London Sessions. It promised something a little bit different from the Grammy Award winning singer. Then D’Angelo dropped his new album Black Messiah with virtually no warning. I’ve waited 14 years for this to come out, ever since his acclaimed 2000 album, Voodoo. Sorry, Mary!

I'll Take You There

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Reading this book in the month of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson it’s tempting to ask if anything has really changed in the US in the 100 years since Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was born.

Working in the Mississippi cotton fields as a teenager, by his early 20s he had, like many others, migrated to Chicago and started working in the stock yards and factories. But those migrating found another form of segregation. There may not have been legal segregation, but they mostly lived in the South Side of the city and faced economic discrimination.

Music review

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Free Angela (Larry Saunders); The World Needs Changing (Ace Records); Liberation Music (Flying Dutchman Records)


At the end of 2013, Free Angela was reissued and two other compilations were released, all attempting to reflect the music of Black America in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Angela Davis was one of the best-known Communist Party activists in 1960s and 70s America. The then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan, tried to have her banned from teaching at any California university.

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