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Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Jim Simpson (w. Ron Simpson): Don't Worry 'Bout the Bear

(Review by Lance)

Black Sabbath, Humph, a host of American bluesmen and the UK's Billie Holiday a.k.a Val Wiseman - what do they all have in common?

Birmingham - and I don't mean Alabama!

Outside of London... Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and (natch), Newcastle, can all lay claims to be jazz UK's second city but it has to be said that Jim Simpson makes out a strong case for Brum. A case that isn't laid out intentionally but one which the readers, no matter how regionally-biased will make for themselves after reading this fascinating memoir by Jim Simpson.

Simpson, of Big Bear Records, has written an enthralling account of his life in music which takes us into the world of jazz, rock, blues and much more.

Born in the same year as Jim, I found it easy to relate to him. Listening to Kenny Baker's Let's Settle For Music on the old BBC Light Programme - I still have some recordings of those legendary broadcasts. National service in the RAF, playing in local, not very good bands, etc.

This was like seeing my life through someone else's eyes except my brief brush with fame was knowing Sting whereas Jim went on to manage Black Sabbath. This period of the author's life documents the wheeling and dealing, the lawsuits, the backstabbing, the backhanders, the friends that were and the friends that weren't that epitomised the rockworld at the time - probably still does.

Jim's love of jazz and blues led to his involvement with the Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival which continues to this day. There's also his record label Big Bear, a label that recorded many of the American blues legends he brought into the UK and, of course, his ex-wife but still friends, Val Wiseman whose Billie Holiday tribute show Lady Sings the Blues continues to pull crowds whenever it reappears.

There's more, much, much more and, despite the cross-genres, must surely be on every jazzer's christmas list - if you can wait that long that is. My suggestion is that you put it on your tomorrow list.
Highly recommended.
Jim Simpson: Don't Worry 'Bout the Bear. Brenwin Books 2019. ISBN 978-1-85858-700-4

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