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Review

“Grimes has a fascinating story to tell.” London Jazz News

“A great UK talent” John Fordham, The Guardian

“A national treasure” Blues in Britain

“The Edith Piaf of British music” Camden Review

“As a woman and an artist, Carol has experienced much, learned more and conveys what she knows in a manner that genuinely connects.” The Vortex

“Expect darkness and light, ugliness and beauty, comedy and tragedy” Cheryl Moskowitz

BOOK REVIEW: Carol Grimes – The Singer’s Tale

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Carol Grimes – The Singer’s Tale
(Gottahavebooks, 336pp., £16.99.

Book Review by Chris Parker) 

“A musical, political and social history […] a ringside seat in our singer’s imagined, and real, theatrical circus …” This is what we are promised by poet/counsellor Cheryl Moskowitz in her Preface to Carol Grimes’s autobiography, and The Singer’s Tale does indeed deliver all these things, in spades. 

Grimes’s account begins (Verse 1) in 2000, with a photograph sent to her from New Zealand by her sister, Jennifer. It shows Carol (then four) and baby Jennifer at home in Lewisham in 1948, and – like Proust’s madeleine – it triggers the memories that inform the following 300-odd pages. It also establishes the emotional temperature of the account: “‘Well, that’s kind of her,’ I said to myself, trying to remember what she looked like. It had been a long time of not knowing each other. I had experienced more intimate conversations with complete strangers at bus stops.” Such frank, unflinching honesty characterises all that follows: Grimes’s troubled childhood in Lewisham, Weymouth and Lowestoft is vividly evoked, courtesy of her poet’s eye for the telling period detail, and her description of her relationship with her mother – an awkward affair full of suppressed hostility, impatience and mutual incomprehension – ranks alongside (for its sheer power and perceptiveness) Jeanette Winterson’s in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

Her account of her entry into the musical world, via life in 1960s/1970s London (a world of Afghan coats, patchouli oil, acid-dropping and joint-smoking, seedy bedsits and squats, of – in Quintessence’s immortal line – “getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate”), is equally memorable. This is partly because she was a clear-eyed witness to era-defining events (the beginning of the slow and painful transformation of London into the multicultural capital it is today, the rise of rock music via the blues boom, the brief flowering of “alternative” culture epitomised by Oz and IT etc.), but mainly because she is consistently pungent and unsparing in her views of male attitudes and behaviour.

As is the case regarding her account of her somewhat dysfunctional family, however, Grimes’s relating of the many vicissitudes of her musical career is clearly the consequence of a simple desire to tell the unvarnished truth in all its complexity, nuances intact, rather than an exercise in score-settling or self-pity. As such, at its best, her approach is reminiscent of the best blues songs: unsentimental, hard-hitting, truthful, authentic, tinged with poetry.

It is all the more irritating, then, given the power and honesty of her writing, to report that Grimes has been badly let down by her publishers in the production of this memoir: it shows no sign whatever of having passed through even the most rudimentary editorial process. The good news, though, is that she is currently working on a second volume (this one finishes at the end of the 1970s).

Product description

Review

“Grimes has a fascinating story to tell.” London Jazz News

“A great UK talent” John Fordham, The Guardian

“A national treasure” Blues in Britain

“The Edith Piaf of British music” Camden Review

“As a woman and an artist, Carol has experienced much, learned more and conveys what she knows in a manner that genuinely connects.” The Vortex

5.0 out of 5 stars

This is such a beautiful book. It flows through time seamlessly with 3D …

Bytronaon 3 January 2018

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This is such a beautiful book. It flows through time seamlessly with 3D perspective of an internal monologue. It is beautifully written and gripping.

5.0 out of 5 stars

An excellent and compulsive read

ByShakespeareon 9 January 2018

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A remarkable book – excellent and compulsive read – with the odds heavily stacked against her, Carol’s determination to make it as a singer would make a great film if it could capture the underlying theme of changing times from an era that was almost recognisable as Victorian to the transformation that was rock’n’roll driven by the post-war generation and rise of multicultural Britain. Carol is a brilliant singer and having enjoyed her singing back in the early 70s with Uncle Dog, I would never have imagined the back story of her life at time when her performances oozed such confidence and she was rightly referred to as England’s Janice Joplin. When she sings the blues with such feeling it is because her life sprang from personal hardship, rejection and a gritty determination to overcome, which the blues and The Singer’s Tale richly evoke. Here’s hoping that Carol can share with us the rest of her story from the ‘80s to now.

5.0 out of 5 stars

The Singers Tale takes the reader from a time of greyness to a time of great colour, the 1960s’ and beyond

ByGraham Hon 16 February 2018

Carol Grimes transfers the reader into a time capsule of post WW2 England. She is stranded in the reality of broken and shattered London, where to say the least, life is challenging. The Singers Tale takes the reader from a time of greyness to a time of great colour , the 1960s’ and beyond. It was during this period of great hedonistic behaviour she came across and played with many of the iconic musicians and their managers who we know so well. A gripping read about who she met and how she struggled with life as a single mum. Chaucer would have been proud and hopefully there is a part 2 coming ?

5.0 out of 5 stars

Raw soul, Warm blood, London grime and laughter

ByStevie Brixtonon 27 February 2018

I am a lifelong fan of Carol Grimes’ music so I couldn’t wait to read her story, and what a story it is. It reads like a fast paced novel that could have been written by someone like Kate Atkinson but is all the more poignant for being entirely true. She writes brilliantly, straight from the heart, with a raw, warts and all honesty tinged with irrepressible humour. The book hauntingly evokes past London, especially the Ladbroke Grove area of the 1960s and 70s, a crucial moment in Britain’s social and cultural history. As warm-blooded as her singing. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Super – buy this book !

BySarah Craigon 2 March 2018

A wonderful tale, wrapped in music, revealing sharply observed social history in a life lived through the 40s -70s. Written with honesty, warmth and verve, well worth reading and pertinent today.

5.0 out of 5 stars

A wonderful read, written with vivid detail

ByEJaneon 9 January 2018

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A wonderful read, written with vivid detail, straight from the heart. She has had an extraordinary life being born in London at the end of the 2nd. World War and going on, despite all the odds stacked against her, to become a professional singer working across the globe. Her writing engrosses you and is enlightening about the struggles of a girl growing up in post war Britain going on to become a renowned singer and, just as importantly for her, a mother. You feel almost a part of her personal struggles and joys – the different voices showing her insight, tenacity and humanity. She weaves a wonderful tale, and the book shows her talent as both a writer as well as a singer. An amazing journey!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Looking Back with her Eyes Wide Open

ByM. Kempon 24 January 2018

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Anyone who’s ever witnessed Carol Grimes in concert will testify to the fact she possesses a raw emotional power, tempered with the shading of experience and the passing of time. Those lucky enough to have heard her simple yet devastating renditions of Fran Landesman’s “Scars”, or Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” resonating in packed rooms, or jazz stages, will want to read her back story, to find out more.

And now, not before time, Grimes has finally produced her autobiography. Titled “The Singer’s Tale” (after Chaucer) it is a wild, candid, sometimes unsparing journey. At times wise-after-the-event and other times laugh-out-loud funny (the Kafkaesque trials of reclaiming a pension once you’ve had several surnames) ~ Carol Grimes is a vivid character one instinctively warms to in the intimacy of these pages. A childhood adrift amongst ration books and bomb-damaged London ~ a quest for identity when significant family members are but faint sketches, old sepia photographs ~ eventually finding her voice and her way.

The early albums, musical travels to Memphis and Nashville ~ the firm belief that singing for her supper was the only way forward ~ even with its accompanying pitfalls, safety nets and occasional tragedies. The competing voices in her head, all given free rein here ~ constructing a complex persona ~ sometimes vulnerable, sometimes wayward; always human. I warmly recommend “The Singer’s Tale” if you want to eavesdrop on the REAL story of women making music in the sixties and seventies ~ the deals, the dodgy managers (“We can market you as a British Janis Joplin…”) ~ the highs, the lows, the hangers-on, the true friends ~ above all the music, the vital spark of humanity. Buy this book.

5.0 out of 5 stars

A fabulous, heart-felt moving read

ByPaul Griffithson 8 January 2018

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This is a fabulous book. I bought it as I love Carol’s singing,but you don’t need to know her music to appreciate this book. This is so much more than your average music biog. It paints a vivid tale of growing up in post-World War Two Britain, then moves through an extraordinary life to becoming the acclaimed singer that she is.

5.0 out of 5 stars

It’s a great piece of commentary on life which many of us …

ByMichael Wattamon 3 March 2018

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Carol has written a marvelous book, incomparable to any other musician’s biography, both in style and content. It’s a great piece of commentary in which we will all recognise lots because life is very much a shared experience, but none of us will have experienced it in the unique way in which she has. It’s a hugely enjoyable book which I feel grateful to have read.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Wonderfully & uniquely written- a must read!

Bysachon 14 February 2018

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What an incredible book!

So cleverly and vividly written, not only about Carol Grimes’ life & career, but also the story of London from the war years in the 40’s through to the hippy & punk years to the 80’s. Could not put this book down. Absolutely fascinating.

5.0 out of 5 stars

An extraordinary Singer’s extraordinary Tale.

ByPipon 3 March 2018

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This is a terrific book. The style is poetic and the phrasing sustained like a singer’s breath. I was completely drawn in and unable to put it down! Carol Grimes has had an extraordinary life and has an amazing tale to tell. I thoroughly recommend it.

5.0 out of 5 stars

I love this book

Byanthony whiteon 21 February 2018

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I love this book. So vivid – she brings everything to life so well. Also so exciting- is she going to make it as a singer or has she missed the boat?

Thank goodness, she did make it and she is wonderful.

5.0 out of 5 stars

More than one life! A must read.

Bygunnel larssonon 24 January 2018

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The detail, the grit, the hardship, the survival, the sweet aroma, the living by voice and sound. I couldn’t stand when this experience ended. Read the book for goodness sake!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Fascinating memoirs of a stalwart of the London music scene

ByRobWon 9 February 2018

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This is an excellent read for any music fan. Carol’s a terrific singer and her story so interesting. Well illustrated too.

5.0 out of 5 stars

read it

ByMr. J. Morrison 26 January 2018

Verified Purchase great read