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July 31, 2011

Brit Picks

The best of British books and culture right now, from chap-hop (?!)  to Madonna’s take on Mrs. Wallis Simpson

By Nancy Staab

Every since the royal wedding and the newlywed’s recent visit to L.A., we’ve been besotted with all things British. Here’s the books, film, fashion and music (a tweedy version of hip-hop) to put you in a proper state of Anglomania. London’s calling and we’ve answered with a slew of Brit hits.



Hip-Hop Goes Posh

Two London Performers Deliver Hilarious Send-Ups of Hip-Hop with Decidedly Brit Accents, Bowler Hats instead of Swag, and A Cuppa Tea instead of Cristal. Here's Hip-Hop for the tea and crumpets crowd.

Check out this decidedly British genre of music: Chap-Hop. Two lily white and tweedy professorial types rapping about  a cuppa tea, their parlours, and pipe smoking.

This is hilariously entertaining in the vein of Weird Al Yankovic, but also borrows a bit of its swagger form the vintage Steam Punk movement, and, of course, the world of Hip Hop. Incidentally, there’s some bad (blue) blood running between Professor Elemental and Mr. B. The Gentleman Rhymer after a perceived  snub via song. The result is perhaps the biggest (faux) hip hop rivalry since Biggie Smalls and Tupak, albeit more playful. Click on the links below, listen to "Fighting Trousers" versus "Chap-Hop History" and chose your own side.


Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer on YouTube:

 “Straight Outta Surrey”


“Chap-Hop History”  (on his ukulele)



Professor Elemental on YouTube: 


“Fighting Trousers”


“Cup of Brown Joy (Tea Bag Remix)”



The fascinating circles of Isabella Blow, LInda McCartney and Keith Richards plus charming English hideaways

Life by Keith Richards with James Fox [Little, Brown and Company]

Confession: I haven’t yet gotten through all 546 pages of this rebellious, disarmingly candid, streetwise, gossipy (Richards calls Mick Jagger “His Majesty”) autobiography of the Rolling Stone’s dark pirate, but so far it’s an incredible page-turner. And it seems like the critics agree. Even the hoity-toity The New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani melts like a teenage fan in the face of Richard’s electric literary riffs. Below a few critics’ takes on a book that’s already an instant classic in the pantheon of biographies by rock’s demi-gods. In the spirit of our “London Issue” we couldn’t leave out this licks master from Dartford. Helpful hint: too taxed to read 500-plus pages? Check out the audio version with readings by none other than Johnny Depp, whose own Jack Sparrow character was inspired by Sir Keith and his kohl-lined eye, skull ring-wearing, rock’n’roll swagger.


The Critics Sound Off on Richard’s Literary Licks:

"By turns earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing, Mr. Richards, now 66,.... gives us an indelible, time-capsule feel for the madness that was life on the road with the Stones….It is also a high-def, high-velocity portrait of the era when rock 'n' roll came of age, a raw report from deep inside the counterculture maelstrom of how that music swept like a tsunami over Britain and the United States.

It's an eye-opening all-nighter in the studio with a master craftsman disclosing the alchemical secrets of his art. And it's the intimate and moving story of one man's long strange trip over the decades, told in dead-on, visceral prose ...

without any of the pretense, caution or self-consciousness that usually attend great artists sitting for their self-portraits....Mr. Richards has found a way to channel to the reader his own avidity, his own deep soul hunger for music and to make us feel the connections that bind one generation of musicians to another. " (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times )

"You can't imagine that this book could be any better than it is...Keith holds nothing back. It's funny, gossipy, profane and moving... Outside of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, it’s probably the best rock memoir ever written." (Will Dana, Rolling Stone )

"Life, a firsthand journey from wartime London through the wilder parts of the 1960s and 1970s and beyond, could as easily be filed among the works of Richards' friend William Burroughs as alongside the memoirs of Bob Dylan or Eric Clapton.... It's the rare rock memoir with recipes (for bangers, English sausages), guidelines on street brawling (flash the knife as a decoy, then kick your enemy where it hurts) and staying awake for days.... Life is like the ultimate Keith Richards album." (Hillel Italie, Associated Press )

"The most scabrously honest and essential rock memoir in a long time....the voice that emerges is unmistakably the dark lord's: growly and profane and black with comedy." (Lou Bayard, The Washington Post )


 Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs (Taschen)

A tender new collection of photography by the late Linda McCartney, this book documents the domestic sweetness of her married life with Paul and their two young daughters, as well as the more glamorous realms of their public circles:  Jagger, Clapton, Hendrix and more. The musician portraits are arresting but it’s the private shots, mostly candid, that prove most enthralling:  Paul McCartney suspended weightlessly in the air as he dives into a pool or mischeviously hiding behind a red velvet jacket and their daughters, including a little Stella, playing in the countryside. The love in these photos is palpable and a little bit heartbreaking.


Isabella Blow by Martina Rink [Thames & Hudson]

She once wore a jeweled lobster hat a la Salvador Dali (in fact she was known for sporting outlandish hats by talented milliners like Philip Treacy) and another time a coat of many colors fashioned out of plastic garbage bags; she championed Alexander McQueen while he was still an obscure and unknown fashion student; contributed to Vogue and Tatler; befriended Warhol and Basquiat; and discovered and nourished many of today’s great talents. There are several new books out now about the late, creative, romantic and tortured Brit, Isabella Blow: Blow by Blow by Tom Sykes and Blow’s husband Dettmar and Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion by Lauren Goldstein Crowe. However, this tribute book by Blow’s former personal assistant Martina Rink is the most lavish in terms of visuals and, in some ways, also the most poignant. Personal, often handwritten, notes by Blow’s eclectic fashion and art family, including Anna Wintour, Valentino, Dita Von Teese, Philip Treacy, Hilary Knight, Naomi Campbell, Bryan Ferry, Manolo Blahnik, Suzy Menkes  and Boy George, summon up her  visionary and inspirational spirit following her tragic suicide in 2007. (Indeed, it is hard to imagine Lady GaGa’s bold fashion forays if Blow had not preceded her.) The moving missives are accompanied by equally striking photos and illustrations of the irrepressible Blow, her outrageous couture costumes and her madcap milieu. Perhaps Isabella’s former magazine, Vogue, sums up the book best:  "The Blow that emerges is wounded, extravagant, self-mythologizing, and full of magic and madness.” Rumor had it that Treacy had a movie in the works about Blow’s life with a cameo by former Dior creative director John Galliano, but with Galliano’s recent disgrace, who knows about the future of the flick. In the meantime, Blow fanatics can content themselves with this bombastic. book.

Here are some intriguing excerpts and images about this fearless fashion exponent:

“I can hear her throaty laugh as its cadences richocheted around a smoky bistro on the Boulevard Saint Germain. The mottled mirrors reflected those equine teeth, smudged with scarlet lipstick, some fantastical headdress that bobbed and swayed like a Calder mobile and a dress that appeared to have been fashioned from shards of mirror. You couldn’t have invented Issie. Every moment with her was gala, every moment was a Great Adventure. When she was up she was the essence of life itself.”

Hamish Bowles, European editor-at-large at Vogue


“Issy had the most wonderful ability to elevate even the most basic of tasks and turn it into something memorably thrilling. She had no time for anything humdrum, banal, or mundane—to the extent that the task of cleaning up her desk every night had to be done with a bottle of Perrier water and Chanel No. 5.”

Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue


“I recall one time in New York, in David LaChapelle’s studio, when Issy was preparing to get a plane back to London. Never had any airline in the world seen a woman so chic and elegant. She was dressed in a real masterpiece creation by Alexander McQueen, accompanied by the most incredible hat and of course her signature red lipstick. It was a pure vision. I said to her: ‘Issy, are you going to change on the plane to sleep?’ She looked at me and replied: “This is very comfortable, and I shall not remove a thing.”

Naomi Campbell, model


“I was always quite wary of [Isabella] because her reputation was so colossal as some of the hats she wore. I heard endless stories or myths about Isabella and was led to believe that she was a ruthless and humorous fashion addict who would cut you dead for wearing the wrong shoes, but once I got to know her I discovered what a hoot she was. For me Isabella was what fashion was all about...

...and you can’t be humorless when you’ve got a jewel-encrusted lobster perched on your head.”

Boy George, singer


“Issy told me that she believed art and fashion were the most precise barometers of time. She understood (and was fascinated by) the way the surface could conceal (and thereby simultaneously reveal) most of our defects and imperfections. She loved to talk about beauty, sex, love and death. She was irreverent, erotic, funny and as sharp as a pin. Through Issy, I eventually met Philip Treacy and we collaborated to make a hat for her. Large anarchy A’s cut from black neoprene scooped up into a frenzy on top of her head. A friend of mine went to the theatre with Issy and she wore the hat throughout the whole performance, totally obscuring the view…No one said anything to her, in any case. I think no one dared.”

Simon Periton, artist













England’s Hideaways by Meg Nolan van Reesema   [Rizzoli]

From London to the Lake District and the Cotswolds to Cornwall, this lavishly illustrated book goes inside 30 enchanting English inns and boutique hotels with charm-laden interiors (Regency, Country Chintz, Georgian, etc.) to match. Plan your next English jaunt or merely armchair travel to the bucolic country inns and castle estates catalogued in this coffee table book. Practical details like which room to book, what to order and hotel perks (does anyone fancy an embroidered linen laundry bag?) make this book a posh yet practical guide. Our faves: Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, the former home of the famed Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford; The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath resembling an 18th century wedding cake; the exquisite Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford with two-star Michelin chef Raymond Blanc (book the blanc a blanc room with an all-white décor, natch, or the French-inspired L’Orangerie). Meanwhile, the rustic The Peacock at Rowsley in Derbyshire, is a favorite haunt of the angler set; while  storied Gravetye Manor in West Sussex is perfect for those who prefer an elegant Elizabethan manor house with historic gardens. Read this book and find out how you can lay your royal head down on the Duke of Monmouth’s celebrated, carved wooden bed surmounted by an elaborate royal crest.

















Wallis-SImpson As Muse

Madonna Tackles the King-Stealer in Her Major Directorial Debut  W.E. (short for Wallis and Edward)

We’re not sure when Madonna’s film, entitled W.E., will be released stateside. It was shot last summer in France, England and NYC and, rumor has it, that The Weinstein Company will debut it this September at the Venice Film Festival and release it stateside Dec. 9, 2011. But the very idea of Madge tackling the waspish, sartorially-correct, king-stealer, American divorcée, and material girl of her day, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, definitely has us intrigued! We are not sure if the flick will rise to the  Academy Award levels of its sister piece The King’s Speech (where King Edward VII, played by a dapper Guy Pearce, and Wallis Simpson played cameo roles), but who doesn’t want to check out Madge’s work behind the camera lens and what she may have picked up from crackerjack filmmaker/former hubby Guy Ritchie? Edward and Wallace Simpson, or rather the famed 1998 Sotheby’s auction of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s estate and their stunning jewelry cache (Cartier cigarette case or pouncing panther brooch anyone?) serve as a frame narrative for the main story about a young woman’s romantic journey. The young woman is played by Abbie Cornish, while Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy play Wallis and Edward respectively (or W.E. for short). Rumor has it that Vera Farmiga and Ewan McGregor were originally cast in the plummy parts but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. In anticipation of Madge’s stylish film, here’s a brief slideshow of the impeccably stylish Edward and Wallis-Simpson’s milieu right down to their Louis Vuitton traveling cases, plus a glimpse of Dior’s pre-fall 2011 collection inspired by the American divorcée.