A Night In Memphis with Stuart Cosgrove

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Perth library has a special place in the heart of broadcaster and author Stuart Cosgrove.  He used the original Sandeman library on Kinnoull Street as a defacto after school club and spent many happy childhood hours there with his nose in a book.  It obviously stood him in good stead because he went on to serve as a journalist at both the N.M.E. (where his championing of urban music led to him being known as "hip-hop Hitler") and The Face magazine.  He is also a co-pundit (with Tam Cowan) on the hilarious Off the Ball "The most petty and ill-informed football show on radio" (their words not mine!).  If that wasn't enough he served 21 years at Channel 4, first as Controller of Arts and Entertainment and then as Head of Programmes.

It only seems fitting then that when Mr Cosgrove revisited his hometown to promote the second instalment in his Soul trilogy that he should choose the Soutar Theatre at A.K. Bell library as the venue for his book reading.  When I arrived just in the nick of time to take my seat (I think it was literally the last one available) Stuart was already on the stage and in the process of being introduced.  Anyone who has heard his radio show will know that he is a funny and engaging personality and he immediately win's the audience over with a story about how he, Will Smith, and Jazzy Jeff, watched England get knocked out of the 1986 World Cup.  

While studying bass guitar last year I got a little bit obsessed with Motown bass player James Jamerson and greedily read a number of biographies and articles on him.  So when I learned the first part of Cosgrove's Soul Trilogy Detroit 67 was basically a non-fiction book that told the story of one year in the life of Motown records starting on the first of January I snapped it up and read it hungrily.  Cosgrove tells us how starting to write this book gave him an interesting dilemma: renowned Detroit crime writer Elmore Leonard said you should never start a book with the weather but on the first of January 1967 Detroit saw the biggest snowstorm in its history.  "I had to break the rules" Cosgrove quipped, "so it was a case of thank's for the advice Elmore but f**k off".

Cosgrove then talks about his current book which is set the following year in another great American city of soul Memphis.  This book centres around Memphis 68the Stax record label and begins just after the tragic death of one of it's biggest stars Otis Redding.  Cosgrove tells the story of the city and the label through the main players like Isaac Hayes and Sam and Dave and major events like the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.  However, he also uses lesser-known characters to great effect.  A case in point is his first reading from Memphis 68 entitled Roosevelt Jamison's Blood Bank.  Roosevelt Jamison was an unsung hero of Memphis who was a songwriter (one of his compositions was even covered by Otis himself), producer and studio owner.  However, Roosevelt's recording studio was a little different than most in that it had a blood bank attached to it.  Cosgrove uses Jamison's blood bank to show us that although the Stax record label was completely racially integrated and harmonious that when the musicians stepped outside the doors of the studio that the rest of the city wasn't run on the same grounds.  The blood that Jamison collected was still segregated by race as were ambulances and people would die waiting for the "right" ambulance to arrive.  Jamison also worked as a haematologist and the research he did at the University of Tennessee would help understand and treat sickle cell anaemia.

In his second reading, Cosgrove uses a peripheral character to tell the assassination of Martin Luther King from a slightly different angle.  In a reading from the intriguingly titled "Agent 500's Busy Afternoon," we learn how the first person to reach the slain body of Rev King was a 24-year-old African American secret agent whose presence on the day has been much discussed.  The two readings had really whet my appetite and after a quick question and answer session I queue up to buy my signed copy.  If you are either a fan of music or American history then I really couldn't recommend it enough.



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