Last year's books
Sunday, December 11, 2005 8:07:41 PM
On my birthday last year instead of collecting £10 from each player I collected two excellent books from Geoff Challinger. One of the advantages of being a zine editor is that people get to know your tastes very well and it’s rare to receive a duff present. Geoff bought me a sort of musical memoirs book and a slightly surreal British-based comedy private-eye novel.
Cider With Roadies is by Stuart Maconie, who is probably best known as a DJ on Radio 2 or “that bloke no one’s heard of who always appears on those ‘remember the seventies/eighties/nineties’ shows” (the reason that he appears on them so often is that he is usually the writer on these programmes).
I suppose the book could be described as Hornbyesque; I wouldn’t know as I can’t bring myself to read anything by the Gooner author. Essentially it is an excuse for Maconie to comment on youth culture trends – haircuts, clothes, catchphrases but, mostly, music – from the sixties (when he was a mere lad) to the present day.
Maconie is 44 so is pretty much of the same generation as me, and were it not for the fact that he is a semi-professional Northerner, hailing from Wigan, I could pretty much have written this book – well, except for the bits about becoming a NME hack and then a Radio 2 DJ.
The book succeeded in making me laugh out loud several times and really captures the atmosphere of what it was like to be born at the fag-end of the post-war baby boom.
It’s all here. His first gig at about the age of 5 to see some beat combo called The Beatles. The excitement of being based in Wigan at the time when the Casino was the most famous dance-hall in the world. The descent into hideous prog-rock, with Gentle Giant being an especial favourite. The abortive attempt to make it as a musician. The advent of punk. The search throughout the eighties for the “next big thing” – something which caused internecine squabbling at the waning New Musical Express during Maconie’s time there (not helped by appointing a former Melody Maker man as editor; that’s like making George Graham manager of Tottenham!).
Along the way he speaks with great fondness of most of the people he has met in the business and is now mature enough to have abandoned all adherence to factionalism and admit to listening to his Gentle Giant or Chic albums, as well as The Clash.
He reserves his ire for only two people in the music biz: MC Hammer, whom he trashes in a memorable 4-page rant, and Ray Davies, whom he dismisses in two lines as an arrogant man singing drab songs sneering at ordinary people who weren’t lucky enough to become rock stars.
In Aberystwyth Mon Amour, Malcolm Pryce sticks it to the Welsh big time, in the way that only a person secretly fond of a target can do. In a style that can only be described as a cross between Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, The Long Good-bye) and Robert Rankin (East of Ealing, Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls) he uses the hard-boiled dick genre to uncover the seedy side of an Aberystwyth which we can only hope actually does exist outside of his demented imagination.
Though it is a comedy novel relying on transposing glamorous American conventions to a Welsh seaside town, it’s actually not bad as a story in its own right. There are the expected unexpected plot twists but he plays fair and puts the clues there for you to spot; trouble is, you are so busy chuckling over the concept of Patagonia being Wales’s Vietnam, or the replacement of gin joints, night clubs and diners with tea-cosy shops, ice cream parlours and whelk stalls, that you don’t start to take the plot seriously until, suddenly, you find yourself caring a bit more than you expected at the people who are getting bumped off quicker than in any novel outside of Hammett’s Red Harvest.
Bizarrely, this is another book I feel I could have written, and to confirm it I dug out my old Ned Blain, PIe short stories and (call me big headed) but they still made me laugh.
For some reason, the style reminded me of Eric Idle, himself a master at simultaneously exposing the hyperbolic pizzazz of Americana and the proud inadequate mundanity of Britain by applying the standards of one culture in the location of the other. If that style of humour is your thing, then get this book.