‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is a very well written book about people who live in the valleys - and aimed at people who want to escape the valleys.

WARNING: May contain traces of bias and distain.

Rachel Trezise’s ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is set in the remote South Wales valleys village of Aberalaw, centred around the lives of Ellie, Rhiannon and Sian – three WAGS of a wannabe punk band called ‘The Boobs’ – whose lives are about to change forever when a drug-dealing Englishman named Johnny arrives at the village – where nobody ever arrives and nobody ever leaves.

Ellie is the rivulet through which we gain the greatest perspective of valleys life; an aspirant music journalist who dreams of one day leaving the valleys – a desire often trodden-on by Rhiannon. Ellie becomes infatuated with Johnny; he is someone with whom she can at last discuss politics and culture.  She begins to re-discover pieces of her former self – a lost identity that the valleys had sucked the life out of long ago.

You’d have to have survived, or escaped the South Wales valleys to appreciate the startlingly accurate scene that Rachel Trezise paints in ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’; a colourless socio-cultural backcloth that is out of touch with the modern world; a festering pool of bigotry, racism and resentment of anything, or anyone deemed nonconformist.

More evident than Trezise’s apparent odium for the valleys is the recurring feminist spin – the men in this book are all bastards (except Marc who is punished for it by being coupled with a gob-shite). The feminist undercurrent emerges quite early when Trezise remarks that women wear the trousers in relationships because valleys men are, ‘too dozy for domestic altercations’. She’s right, though; there are new-born baboons more Machiavellian than most valleys boys.

Periodically, I found ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ to be a little too close-to-home – and not just the bit where Ellie reveals to Rhiannon that she knows when Andy wants sex because he brushes his teeth with an electric toothbrush. The abrupt familiarity of the characters sometimes made my skin crawl; I felt like an atheist reading the Bible in church to reaffirm his raison d’être.

‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is a very well written book about people who live in the valleys – and aimed at people who want to escape the valleys. This may be a bias opinion on my part, but twenty seven years of living among the same stereotypes and self-parodies found in Trezise’s book does that to a person – just like it did to Ellie.

If you want the tenacious perspective of a writer who has lived in the valleys, buy ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’. If you want to be hoodwinked into believing we all wear Dai Caps, sing a lot and find jobs that match our surnames, buy How Green was my Valley.



Rock music is dead, apparently.  Here are my views on the subject...

Rock is apparently dead according to a recent declaration by the so-called “professor of pop”, Paul Gambaccini, because it no longer features in the mainstream, watered-down Top 40 music chart. According to a recent article in the Guardian: “The problem lay, in part, with short-sighted record labels investing less in the talent of the future and more in instantly profitable acts such as former X Factor stars.”  Fair point, Gamby-boy, but what about album sales? Nobody talks about the next Muse, or Radiohead single, but everybody buys their albums.

Iron Maiden’s ‘The Final Frontier’ album reached #1 in over 30 countries last year. Metallica and AC/DC currently have the highest grossing album sales and Bon Jovi is the highest grossing live act of 2010.  Good music is not about quick-buck singles, it is about well crafted albums and stellar live performances. Anyway, what connoisseur of music would deem the Top 40 charts to be an accurate representation of people’s musical tastes? Let me put it another way: Mr Blobby has had a UK #1 single, Bob Dylan hasn’t. ‘Nuff said.

It may be that rock no longer has a place in the mainstream, but it is not a reason to declare it ‘dead’. If anything that eludes the zeitgeist is considered dead then Jazz is dead, classical music is dead; ambient, punk, indie, folk and country are also dead – I died in 1996! During my teens I made a point of sidestepping chart music that everyone was listening to (even if it meant not listening to the Stereophonics); I was a John Peel listener, and he only played what wasn’t getting played. Rock albums have always been what chart music isn’t: They are arcane, bold, energetic and political; they dare to be different. Most importantly, they are inaccessible to those who don’t possess the desire to unlock them.

Here are a dozen guitar-driven tracks taken from albums released in 2010. Dead, my fracking arse!

Manic Street Preachers – A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun
The Dead Weather – The Difference Between Us
The Black Keys – Black Mud
Blood Red Shoes – Don’t Ask
The Futureheads – Heartbeat Song
Those Dancing Days – Fuckarias
Grinderman – Worm Tamer
The Joy Formidable – I Don’t Want To See You Like This
The Greenhornes – It’s Not Real
Skunk Anansie – My Ugly Boy
The Indelicates – Your Money
Hole – Skinny Little Bitch