Book review: Brand New Retro

I RECENTLY had an animated excited discussion with my sister-in-law about a recently published book which was a source of interest to us in that some of the content related to her late husband John, my brother, who spent a lifetime in the publishing game.

He was founder of highly successful music magazines variously called Spotlight, New Spotlight and Starlight.

He dared to challenge the national censor in an Ireland where the Catholic Church held big sway by producing a somewhat raunchy production called Man Alive. Later, he diversified into book publishing and was associate publisher of the Cork Examiner’s highly acclaimed (with his father Stephen as editor) Picture That and Picture That Again.

So, when this coffee table sized publication landed on my desk with a suggestion that I produce a 600 word review, I wondered not whether I could fill the space but rather whether I could keep it to order.

In truth, there is a personal interest in this publication but a lot more besides. The author, we are told, has been creating fanzines, Dj-ing and performing with bands since 1978. He is a former member of the Scheme, who supported U2 at the Dandelion Market in 1979 and a DJ with Dublin’s Jazz FM in the 1990s — hence his obvious interest in music and in associated publications.

This is a book mainly about old publications and, as the title says, it’s all vintage and retro. For sure, It’s not aimed at the younger generation but there may be twenty somethings out there with an interest in times past, and older generations will be more than keen to remember the days.

It is broken down into five sections, Fashion, Lifestyle, Music and Showbiz, Sport and Readers Lives.

Exactly how long the author took to source the amazing array of photographs taken from a variety of publications from the sixties onwards is only to be guessed, but he certainly didn’t put together this worthy work of history overnight.

The fashion shots cover a multitude, from daily life, to the music scene and even to aviation, with newly released uniform pics of cabin crew, complete with mini skirts, from Woman’s Way in 1970.

Man Alive wasn’t all about pics of scantily clad bodies; it featured a literary section and fashion pages with men wearing all the latest gear that can only certainly be described as retro.

The older generation of women will remember all the fashion magazines that came and went, and the men might have sneaked a peek at the female models such as Gladys Waller, featured on the front cover of Miss in January 1966, who set male pulses racing.

In another section, Budget Travel bucked the trend for travel company advertising by producing a full page pic in Magill (1978) of a bikini clad girl promoting trips to Greece.

The book moves easily into the sporting world (perhaps through McMahon’s interest as a former League of Ireland player with Monaghan United FC), and there are advertisements of unusual interest from other codes, amongst them a picture ad for Afton cigarettes — with hurlers battling for possession in the background!

With page after page of memories, this book is a real page turner, one that will probably be found in waiting rooms somewhere soon when, barring long delays, there won’t be much time to fully digest its contents.

For those who do get a free sneak preview, or for those who want to remember and be entertained, there will a strong temptation to go out and buy it.

Brand New Retro

Vintage Irish Pop Culture and Lifestyle,

Brian McMahon

Liberties Press, €29.99


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