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I put a spell on you – the book

Book cover - Nina Simone

A book for Christmas? A fascinating real life story of a mega star, Nina Simone.

Book cover - Nina Simone

Nina Simone was a remarkable pianist and one of the great singers of the 20th century with a strikingly unique voice and presentation which could be powerful or tender or bitter, but always captivating.

I recently discovered that she had written an autobiography which is not surprisingly, entitled  I put a spell on you.

What lay behind that impression of great inner strength?
Like many people I have always been curious about the real life, behind the scenes, experience, of world famous people.. To the world, to you and me, they may have always looked supremely confident and capable. This biography reveals her complex and troubled character.

Poor beginnings?
It had always been my impression that Nina Simone grew up in poor circumstances, but that is an oversimplification.

She was the sixth of eight children. Her father had been a working man who had become a successful businessman and, at one time owned three businesses  –   a dry cleaning business, a barbers shop, a road hauliers business, For a few years the family had lived in a big house  with a very large garden. They had their own tennis court, but at the time Nina was born the family had hit really bad times. 
The Great Depression caused all three of her father’s businesses to collapse. They moved to a smaller house. The house burned down. Her father became seriously ill and had a major operation which put him out of work for several years. This was the time of great poverty for the family,  the time of Nina’s early childhood.

As a result of this they had to move to a small community living in shacks in the woods. Nina’s family made their shack into a superior one by building on a bathroom. Without toilet facilities their neighbours just had to use the woods.. 

Musical family  –  talent plus incredible hard work
Both of Nina’s parents played the piano as did all her brothers and sisters. When Nina was only a toddler she was impressing everybody with her ability to play the piano. She stood out even in her talented family.

She developed an ambition to become a  classical concert pianist. Added to her natural talent was a real passion for playing the piano which resulted in her practicing five hours a day in her late teenage years.

She studied classical piano in New York and Philadelphia and auditioned for one of the top classical music colleges in the US, The Curtis Institute of Music. She failed the audition and was devastated. Everyone told her, and she was personally convinced, the reason she failed was because she was black. For a time she decided to give up music altogether.

Nina Simone was very angry about racism in the US all her life and was very active in the Civil Rights Movement appearing on platforms speaking and singing alongside Martin Luther King.

Mixing marriage and stage career
She married twice, the first time for two years and the second time for 10 years. Her second marriage was to Andy Stroud who was also her manager. Towards the end of the 10 years Nina was feeling that Andy was very much more her manager than her husband and she needed rest and reassurance rather than a relentless programme of performing around the world. 

Bad with audiences
Nina Simone had a reputation for not always giving her best to her audiences and sometimes being very bad tempered with them. I took our family to see Nina perform at The Dome in Brighton, I think in the year 1990. There was a support act which was a bit lacklustre and it performed for a very long time. 

We were beginning to get the impression we would never see Nina Simone, but eventually she appeared on stage and performed a very short set. Then it became clear that that was it and she walked off the stage followed by her musicians. The audience shouted for more but she never returned.

Her autobiography gives some clue as to what might have been going on in her mind. Talking about the end of her marriage many years before the Dome appearance She wrote  “ We went on as before, touring, arguing and making up, never getting once close to the real issues. We just pushed on blindly until every so often my nervous exhaustion would force a crisis and I’d be late on stage or give a bad performance. Then we’d rest up just long enough for me to recover before starting up again.  I guess I wanted more from Andy than he was prepared to give.” 

Then comes a tragic insight into her personal feelings and experience as a top entertainer. “What I needed most was something that few men I have ever known have been able to give me, a sense of peace. My whole life had been full of doubt and insecurity, and I was never confident about what I was doing. I’d lie awake nights worrying about complicated musical arrangements, whether or not we’d make the plane the next morning, if I was still attractive to men, anything and everything. All I really needed was someone to pull on my hand and say, ‘ You’re ok Nina. Leave yourself alone.’ Andy wasn’t the sort of man to do that, never had been.” 

She went on to have many affairs around the world. Some of them were happy others were deeply frustrating or disappointing. She had an affair with a hotel porter in Barbados and a long affair with the prime minister of Barbados. 

Final years
She spent her final years living in France..

Nina Simone performed in Britain on many occasions, especially at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London,  also the Royal Festival Hall,  the  Barbican Centre and venues in Liverpool, Glasgow and Brighton. Her last performance was in Poland.

For the years 2002 and 2003 she was booked to do several gigs in England, but she was dying of breast cancer and the gigs were cancelled. 

Three days before her death the Curtis  Institute of Music awarded her a doctorate in music all those years after they had rejected her. She died in the south of France on 21 April 2003 at the age of seventy.

I put a spell on you  –  the autobiography of Nina Simone. Published by Da Capo Press in the US. Available in the UK.

Nina Simone Pensive
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Love Poetry Extraordinaire

Book cover, Poems about love


Book cover, Poems about love

I believe that many people may find a lot to relate to, argue about and be moved or amused by in my new book.

 Poems about love, How could you know? has just been published by Amazon. It’s available as an ebook kindle download, or as a 100 page paperback.

How do I know?

I’ve been people-watching all my life, starting with my parents’ own troubled marriage. Looking through folders of poems I had scribbled over a lifetime, I discovered that I’d written rather a lot about love, and maybe at my age I have a few insights into the topic.

A few of the poems were written over fifty years ago but most were written in the last 20 years as I observed many relationships, their difficulties, tragedies, successes and triumphs, so this is largely a book of observations, but also speculation, imagination and a little bit of personal experience.

It’s a very varied and unusual book of love poetry because it goes beyond the normal kind of love poem. Some poems are thoughtful, even complicated and philosophical, others are lighter – suggestive or facetious with one or two that are surreal, or even bizarre.

How could you know? is the title of one of the poems, and if people ask how I might know so much about love to be able to write a book of love poems I have to say that like most other ordinary people I’m just an observer of life, fascinated by what is going on in the world and add this to my awareness of my own experiences.

I may have seen more than many people because I’m 80 years old, but these poems were written over a long period of time so they are not all written with the alleged wisdom of old age.

I have been married for over 50 years and live with my wife, Julie, in Hurstpierpoint, UK.

Poems include, Fifty kinds of love, [and I’m hoping readers will think of many more to add to the list], Love is its own reward, Does love exist? How could you know? Don’t vanish with the dawn, A heart in winter.

A new departure for me

I’ve spent over 25 years as an editor and publisher of war poetry so I am very pleased to have change and take on a topic that is positive and cheering. I hope readers will enjoy these very varied poems and leave comments on the Amazon website. 

Finding on Amazon

You can visit the books entry on the Amazon website by clicking here.

Or search on Amazon for “Love poetry David Roberts”

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Montalbano – the last ever book and film

Montalbano - last ever book and film

Have we seen the last of Montalbano?

One episode has not been shown on British television. This episode is called Beloved Salvo, My Livia. It was shown on Italian television on 8th of March last year, 2020, and viewed by 9 million Italians. It has still to be shown in the UK, I believe.

I’ve got a trailer for this episode in Italian lower down this page.

Montalbano book still to be seen in UK

There may be yet another Montalbano film episode after this “final” episode because the author, Andrea Camilleri, wrote the book he wanted to be his last about Montalbano years before he died. He instructed that it was not to be published until after his death.

In fact Camilleri died in July 2019 and the final book, which was called Riccardino, was published in Italy in July 2020.

The English translation will appear on 14 of October 2021. I hope RAI TV in Sicily will make a film version of this final novel. More details about the book in translation from the Amazon link.

Trailer in Italian of the last film in the series about Montalbano Beloved Salvo, My Livia

David Roberts, 10 August 2021.

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