Tuesday 20 April 2021

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton | Book Review

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The Final Revival of Opal and Nev - 5/5
"Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, a Black punk artist before her time. Despite her unconventional looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her one night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.

In early seventies New York City, just as she's finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal's bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo's most politicized chapter, but as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens everything."

This book is something special.

Told in oral history format, you would be forgiven for thinking that it is a true story. It is told in interview style with editor's notes added in.

Opal Jewel and Nev Charles are an unlikely duo. She is a Black American woman and he is a redheaded Englishman.

S. Sunny Shelton is editor at Aural magazine and is writing a book on Opal and Nev, following a potential opportunity for the two of them to play together for the first time in decades.

We discover how Opal and Nev came to be, their childhood backgrounds and it follows the rise and fall of their musical careers. There is a personal aspect to this too. Sunny is the daughter of Jimmy Curtis, a backing drummer for the duo. Opal had an affair with Jimmy whilst Sunny's mother was pregnant with her.

The crux of this story is the Rivington Showcase. Opal and Nev are signed to Rivington records in the early 70s and the label decide to host a showcase gig of all of the bands they have signed. One of the bands, the Bond Brothers, carry a Confederate flag and this then causes a riot. Jimmy is tragically beaten to death by the bands racist supporters.

Racial divides, Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement are prominent features throughout the book and the Showcase lights even more of a fire under Opal when it comes to activism and helping minorities. It touches on real life events like the Watergate scandal and I loved the fictitious transcripts from real people like Quentin Tarantino, Henry Rollins and Tom Morello.

It is so beautifully written and I was totally immersed in this world. It is full of depth, following a lot more than just their time together. The characters are fleshed out and I genuinely felt like I was watching a documentary on an old 70s band while reading.

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