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This book has just about everything; Exotic locations, Superstars of stage and screen and an insight into the strange world of song writing and performing. And believe me it does seem very strange indeed. Below is the description on the books cover which I will then describe more fully and in my own way.
Rewind to 1988. Britain is in the grip of a phenomenon. Radios across the land blast out a new sound. The song is “Stutter Rap”. The group – Morris Minor and the Majors. The man behind the fake moustache – Tony Hawks. Fast forward to the 21st century and Tony has left those heady music biz days behind. That cherished appearance on Top of the Pops is but a distant memory. These days music is just a hobby. That is until it is suggested that Tony is a One Hit Wonder. That he will never have a hit again. Ever. Really? Well we’ll see about that… Over the next two years Tony battles against all the odds to have a hit, somewhere – anywhere – in the world. He changes acts and styles with a bewildering lack of integrity. He travels to Nashville, song writing capital of the universe; to Amsterdam for that elusive Euro anthem; to Eastern Europe to duet with a Romanian beauty and even to Africa in search of the ultimate melody. In his quest for pop immortality Tony leaves no stone unturned. But it’s only after a chance encounter with Norman Wisdom that things get really strange. Is it really possible that together they could crash the charts in Albania? Amidst all the uncertainty only one thing is clear – in One Hit Wonderland anything is possible…
I personally believe that Tony Hawks should stay away from Parties and pubs as these are the places he usually ends up being cajoled into taking up challenges put to him in a half drunken state. Indeed he says himself that he is worried that he has become a strange kind of plaything for other people. “Am I the mug who just went off and did whatever was asked of him” seems to be his thought at the start of “One Hit Wonderland”. Luckily for the reader in this case the answer is yes. During a drunken dinner party at a friends house an attractive guest bet him he could not have a hit record, either as writer or singer, anywhere in the world in the next 2 years. Being a sucker for a strange bet and trying to impress the attractive dinner guest he readily agreed. The next day he found out that the attractive dinner guest was going to work in New York for 2 years, so Tony was left with an unusual bet and no chance of getting better acquainted with said attractive dinner guest. Why did he keep getting himself in these situations?
So in the Authors own words the search for a hit was on, a few phone calls to his friends in the recording business and it was arranged that a songwriter called Steve would visit Tony’s flat in the hope that they could get some lyrics and a tune down on paper. A days jamming produced a song called “You broke my heart like a bird’s egg (but now the yokes on you)” which was then taken to another friend, Willie, who owned a recording studio. With the help of Tony’s friends Brad and Nigel on Bass and Drums and after a lot of practicing the song was recorded and declared so good it should be hawked around the record companies in Nashville, Tennessee, home of songs and singers. Tony Hawks seemed to be of the opinion that if you surround yourself with masters in the art then something was sure to rub off, Oh that it would be that easy.
What Tony was convinced was a sure fire hit received only a luke warm reception in Nashville. Although everyone seemed to like “You broke my heart like a bird’s egg” no firm offers of releasing or recording it were received. While in Nashville however Tony immersed himself in the music scene. He was invited to a guitar pull, (everyone sits in a circle and a guitar is passed around so that all can belt out a song or two), and again the birds egg song was greeted with whoops and hollers and the exclamation “I like this English country stuff” by an excited listener. But just liking it was not enough, Tony needed that hit record and it seemed it was not going to happen in Nashville. So without the luxury of time to wait and see Tony would have to look elsewhere to try and win his bet.
An unexpected chance came up when Tony was asked to go to Sudan to write an article for a fundraising project. On a visit to a school in Yambio, in the west equatoria region, Tony was greeted by what he describes as “one of the most beautiful sounds I’d heard for a long time”. About 50 girl pupils, all in neat blue uniform, had begun singing. The Song was called “We are happy, we are happy to receive you” and was being performed with a great power that arrested the senses. Being a resourceful chap Tony produced his mini disc recorder in the hope that the tunes being sung could provide the inspiration for a piece of music which might in turn lead to a successful conclusion to the bet. Four songs later Tony was convinced he had all that he needed to take back to England and transform into the much desired hit. Sadly Tony’s talent spotting stint in Sudan was to be short lived, the following morning he woke with a fever and an aching body, and after being examined by the local doctor it was declared he had Malaria. This was to prove especially galling as the day ahead was the 10th Anniversary of Sudan’s liberation from the Khartoum government and there was to be a day long party with musicians playing a large part in the celebrations. All that untapped talent and Tony could barely open his eyes.
Back in the UK, Tony’s friend Jacko used a combination of musical skills and computer wizardry to help create the song “We are happy”. With the addition of keyboards, drums and guitars the song improved dramatically. Jacko used to play guitar with Level 42 so he was able to persuade the bands vocalist and bass guitarist – Mark King - to supply bass for the track. Tony then took the finished song to a few A&R men, (the person in a record company who plans and shapes an artists career), who liked the tune. One suggested it would go down well in Ibiza if it was remixed. Unfortunately, it was too late to get this done in time for this summer. He left “We are happy” with the A&R man in the hope that it would become a hit, but having missed this years Ibiza dance frenzy he realised that waiting was a risky strategy and he was no closer to winning his bet.
Next came the song “What does a Pixie do?” which was intended to be released in Holland as a Euro Pop anthem. Unfortunately Tony found Amsterdam a depressing place, his mobile phone refused to work and everywhere he went he got caught in hail storms. On top of that all of the record companies fobbed him off. Sony told him they could not see him for a year, which he took to be a polite way of telling him to go away and stop bothering them. But worst of all, the word “Pixie” was unknown in Holland, so it was more a case of “What is a Pixie?” rather than “What does a Pixie do?” Oh well, no pop hit in Holland then.
Next, to the BMG record company and a meeting with Simon Cowell, Six months before Pop Idol would turn him into a household name. Evidently Simon was practicing his Nasty Judge act early as he told Tony Hawks that he was too ugly to have a hit. Argh, that’s the Simon Cowell we know and love to hate. As it turned out though, being told this was the spur needed to make Tony redouble his efforts. A meeting with a man called David Stark who was involved in various song contests throughout the world was seen as the perfect way to clinch that elusive hit record. Unfortunately, the only song contest on the horizon was an international song contest for children. As the original bet stated Tony could have the hit as either performer or writer this was only a minor hiccup. A hastily arranged audition session at the Ravenscourt Park School for budding young stars unearthed a young star by the name of Linzie Cooper, and with the song “Love on our side”, Tony and Linzie headed for Romania to dominate the European pop charts.
Linzie`s rendition of “Love on our side” was a joy to behold, and came second only to Dino Jelusics enthusiastic “Emily” in the contest. Sadly, although Linzie came 2nd Tony was unable to get the song any radio airtime. At least he received $3000 as a prize by way of compensation.
While appearing on the BBC Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute, Tony got talking to fellow panellist Sir Tim Rice who seemed genuinely interested in the details of Tony’s latest bet. Tim Rice knew Norman Wisdom and also knew that he was seen as a national hero in Albania, and with a bit of persuading Tim agreed to write a song with Tony if Norman Wisdom was up for performing it in Albania. Numerous meetings and auditions later the newly formed Super group “Norman and the Pitkins” were formed. The group consisted of Norman Wisdom on vocals, Tony Hawks on Guitar, Tim Rice pretending to play a rubber saxophone, Tim’s daughter Eva and her friend Lucinda on backing vocals and Tim’s son Donald who was left with a rubber trumpet. Normans assistant Sylvia managed to acquire a set of bongo drums and so was inaugurated as a fully fledged “Pitkin”.
The Pitkins performed on a few Albanian TV programs including the ever popular Telebingo. A stadium concert was hastily arranged where the Pitkins would sing their song “Big in Albania” during the half time interval of a football match. Anyone doubting the aptness of the song title only had to see the reaction of nearly every Albanian upon seeing Norman. Shouts of “Pitkin” and “Mr Norman” resounded from every direction and Norman was mobbed every time he set foot outside his hotel room. Apparently, when Albania was under the control of the dictator Enver Hoxhar, he banned nearly all western films except Norman Wisdoms. He believed that Norman Wisdom films were both morally and politically acceptable and as such were shown at least once a week, as a result the Albanian people had grown up idolising the British comic actor.
So did Tony Hawks get the top 20 hit he craved in Albania? I’m not going to tell you, I think it would render reading the book a pointless exercise if I spilt the beans. What I will do is give you the words to “Big in Albania” and you can make up your own minds. One thing you should definitely do though is read this book, it is funny and heart warming in equal measure and is a real joy to read.
“Big in Albania”
From Scutari to Koritsa From Gjirokastra to Berat From Valona to Tirana I’m really where it’s at From the mountains To the Adriatic shore I give my all And still they cry for more
I’ve made my name In many places A thousand falls A thousand faces But nowhere`s more devoted Than Albania- Cos they’ve got Norman Mania (They’ve got Norman Mania – He’s big in Albania) I may be way off track But I love Albania back