Pole position

The latest book in the Speak the Culture series has been published. Speak the Culture: Poland‘s release is timely, coming only days before Poland plays host to its first major international football tournament, the Euro 2012 Championships.

The Euros will throw the spotlight on Poland and its co-host, Ukraine, for a month. The major cities will find themselves occupied by foreign fans; their central squares suddenly bathed in red (Spain, holders, begin in Gdańsk) or green (Ireland start in Poznań). England, mystifyingly, are camped in Kraków even though their group games are over the border in Ukraine.

Each and every visiting fan will be touched by Polish culture in some way. Some will eat pierogi (ravioli-like dumplings); others might step inside the 11th century crypt of Kraków’s Wawel Castle in search of shade; almost all, surely, will down a shot of Żubrówka vodka (famously flavoured with bison grass).

Hopefully, visitors and TV spectators alike will take the time to explore Polish culture in more depth. Poland’s art, literature, music and so on are woven intimately around the nation’s history. From the late 18th century through to the end of the 20th, Poland (at one time the strongest power in central Europe) was partitioned and occupied almost continually. Its authors, painters and playwrights kept the ‘nation’ alive through their work, bequeathing a rich legacy of culture that runs, linked, all the way from Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz to the punk bands that helped undermine Soviet rule in the 1980s.

Five Polish facts to get the half-time banter moving

  • Poland had its equivalent to Bob Dylan: singer/songwriter Czesław Niemen was the first artist in the Eastern Bloc to really question the ruling Soviet authorities. He remains an iconic figure in Poland.
  • In Russia they had Tolstoy; in Britain, it was Dickens. The Polish author who did most to shape the nation’s 19th century outlook was Henryk Sienkiewicz, best remembered for Potop (1886) (_The Deluge_), recalling the Swedish occupation of Poland in the 17th century.
  • In 1939 Warsaw had a population of 1.3 million. By 1945, at the war’s end, 422,000 remained in the city.
  • With his father in Mauthausen Concentration Camp and his mother in Auschwitz, as a young boy Roman Polanski (now an Oscar-winning filmmaker) lived wild in the Polish countryside.
  • Poland harbours the biggest statue of Christ in the world. At 167ft high, Pomnik Chrystusa Króla (Christ the King) in Świebodzin, western Poland, erected in 2010, is 42ft taller than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.

Buy Speak the Culture: Poland here

Posted on 23rd May 2012 by Andrew • Leave a comment

12-Bar Blues

This does not refer to an unsuccessful pub-crawl taking in twelve different drinking establishments!!

No, 12-bar blues, according to a leading article in The Times (1st March 2012), celebrates 100 years since the first one (Dallas Blues) was published in March 1912 and is a form of song structure that has underpinned blues and popular song even longer than that. And, as Muddy Waters sang, “The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock and roll.”

12-bar blues lies behind all of the music of the last and current centuries. I can remember teaching one gifted musician what is it all about and, immediately, he behaved as if I had shown him the promised land (which in a way, musically, I had).

If you want to know all about playing 12-bar blues, look no further than Thorogood Publishing’s Playing Popular Piano and Keyboards.

It gives you an easy to understand chord system of playing this exciting and fundamental form and presents an easy-to-follow way of playing popular piano and keyboard music.

Posted on 1st March 2012 by Neil Thomas • Leave a comment

All the World’s a Page

I was recently one of a panel of speakers at a publishing event at Anglia Ruskin University on the topic “All the World’s a Page; Spreading the Word in the Digital Media Age”.

The audience was made up of those taking relevant university courses as well as publishers, authors and practitioners in all the other skills involved in the publishing process. All came together to try and make sense of what is happening to publishing in the current climate and speculate on the ‘where next?’ question.

I tried to concentrate on what we at Thorogood Publishing are actually doing and I endeavoured to keep some focus on how we are going to ensure that publishing can be self-sustaining, when finding the right format is actually, these days, easier than hitting the right profit-making formula.

Thorogood has the following product formats in its portfolio: – printed books – pdf downloads – e-books – specialist reports available in print and in a digital ‘library’ – distance learning in print and online – audio product in mp3 – brochures in printed and downloadable form

The incredible diversity of information now available via the internet is incredible. But making sensible shape of it all is still vital. The service that search engines provide is in making selections that help searchers make sense of the mass of material available.

This is also what publishers do best, whether in newspapers, magazines, reports, books, journals, etc and whether in print or digital formats. It is what we at Thorogood try to achieve in our general publishing and in our business and professional publishing: to make sense of a topic; to distil complex issues down to the essentials and to provide practical, useful guidance to help the user’s everyday business and personal life.

The information free-for-all hailed by many as the best part of the internet will not remove the need for having publishing excellence at manipulating content for the benefit of its customers. The trick will be trying to make a self-sustaining profit whilst doing so.

Posted on 23rd February 2012 by Neil Thomas • Leave a comment

Speak the Culture Poland: the power of punk

In the course of compiling the latest book in the Speak the Culture series, on Poland, I’ve been learning about punk music’s role in the fall of the Eastern Bloc.

Punk, as we all know, was anti pretty much anything. Anti-convention. Anti-establishment. Born in the US and UK (each claims sovereignty: Stooges or Pistols?), it was raw and exciting; and had a serious influence on western culture, in particular music and fashion.

But really, once the dust had settled – after all the swearing, spitting and smashing – punk didn’t realign the establishment to any great degree. It didn’t bring down governments. At least it didn’t in the West. In Poland, however, punk rock – and its calmer sibling, new wave – played a role in ending years of Soviet rule.

With marshal law, strikes, shortages and inflation, life in Poland in the late 1970s and early 80s was grim. With little collective or personal freedom, the frustrations of a younger generation were epitomised perfectly by punk. The underground bands that emerged, led by a Warsaw group called Tilt, gave the youth a voice; to be heard – at gigs, festivals and demos – alongside the intelligentsia and the workers who were slowly eroding the control of the Soviet authorities.

Bands had to pass their lyrics in front of the censor; if the words met with approval, the artists could enter the recording studio. Many bands simply altered their lyrics for live shows, aware that the security services in attendance at most gigs would have little understanding of what they were singing. Audience members would record the shows and then circulate illicit audiotapes.

The anarchic lyrics of Polish punk and the way in which it brought Polish youth together were all part of the momentum that led to democratic elections in the country in 1989; elections that helped initiate far wider change in Eastern Europe.

Five important Polish bands from the 1980s
Brygada Kryzys. Punk band formed from the ashes of Kryzys and Tilt by frontman Tomek Lipiński. They were banned after refusing to headline a state-organised concert.
Republika. New wave band that used rich metaphor to get round the censor.
Maanam. Post punk, new wavish band fronted by female singer Kora. One particular song (and album), Nocny Patrol (1983) captured the mid 80s mood.
Kult. An underground rock band whose direct lyrics found censorship but which went on to achieve great success in the post-communist era.
TSA. Hard-to-ignore band that brought together the accoutrements of hard rock (long hair, sweaty torsos, etc) with invective for the regime.

Speak the Culture: Poland will be published in May 2012

Posted on 14th December 2011 by Andrew • Leave a comment

Pity the poor old big Publishers!!

The news that the organisers of the Man Booker prize are examining whether or not to allow Amazon to enter books for the prize has incensed those with most to loose.

Some of the bigger publishers are against such a move. Long-established publishers don’t like the fact that Amazon cuts out literary agents, publishers and bookshops in the traditional route to market. They even question whether books published by Amazon are more like vanity publishing than serious literature. They also raise the issue of an Amazonian monopoly in online book-selling and in downloads.

Please!

First of all, the big, established publishers have been quite content to dominate the existing routes to the market by, for example, meeting and paying the, in my view, discriminatory and excessive charges demanded by booksellers, like Waterstones, to stock titles and display them in prime locations (both within the stores themselves and across the network of branches). Also, the book buyers in the chains and supermarkets favour the large publishers, with juicy deals and discounts cementing their arrangements. Added to that, cosy relationships with reviewers compounds the closed shop aspect. It is difficult for small publishers to break in.

Excuse me, therefore, whilst I show no pity for the big publishers. Their cries of unfairness and monolopy leave me unmoved. So too do their accusations of vanity publishing, when I know for a fact that these days it applies throughout the publishing world.

So, come on big publishers, man up and face competition in the Man Booker.

Neil Thomas

Posted on 20th October 2011 by Neil Thomas • Leave a comment

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