Books, Books, Books. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

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Am currently reading  Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. It’s a great read for any music fan especially one with an interest in the punk scene in London in the seventies. Viv was a guitarist in an all female band called The Slits who were once so reviled by the establishment that hotels refused to let them stay. Her journey from a north London council estate to a guitarist in a trail-blazing all girl band is recounted with blatant honesty. From the shocking opening passage relating to masturbation the reader is left in no doubt that the writer is no Jane Austen. Albertine’s purpose is to grab hold of people and say ” Right, you’re in for one hell of a ride now.” Inspired by Johnny Lydon’s performance in the Sex Pistols for not trying to be anyone else, singing in his own accent, Viv formed a band called Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious and after its demise she joined the Slits.

If like me you are curious about the lives of Vicious, Lydon and Mike Jones of the Clash then you’ll be treated to a sometimes dizzying immersion in their chaotic life styles and regaled with great descriptions of the gear worn on those smoky nights in the Roxy. Punk rock was late to hit an industrial town in North Kerry, in fact years after its inception, a little later than the Kings Road but just as angry and powerful. I remember seeing a local band playing in the town park in Tralee in 1983 and my fourteen year old self fell for the boys with the lips gnarled into a sneer, rangy bodies contorting to the symphony of cacophony, a mass of entropic energy, all ripped jeans and leather jackets.

For excellent anecdotes about Nancy Spungen, McLaren and Westwood, this book is a great read. On a deeper level in the second half of the book Albertine’s story becomes more human as after the demise of the Slits she becomes an aerobics instructor and morphs into a post-punk Jane Fonda teaching at the Pineapple Dance Studios in London, she encounters fertility issues, cancer and divorce. Perhaps there are second acts in life and clearly Viv Albertine is enjoying another time in the sun and a much deserved solo career.

Other books that music lovers will enjoy:

I Play the Drums in a Band Called okay by Toby Litt

Toby Litt is a very fine writer and as a teenager like most of us aspired to be a guitarist in a rock band. His homage to rock and roll is a wry look at the career of a Canadian indie band called okay, who have a meteoric rise from a corrugated-iron shack to join the rock and roll aristocracy with lifetime achievement awards, top 10 singles and the obligatory Japanese stalkers. Narrated by Clap, the drummer, more sensitive than his hedonistic bandmates, this novel is also about growing up and growing older and told in a series of short fragments from the other side of fame.

The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor

The latest novel from Joseph O’Connor is narrated in memoir form by the guitarist Robbie in the fictional band Ships in the Night. As the son of an immigrant Irish family settled in Luton in the Thatcherite 80’s, Robbie bucks tradition by forming a band with the cross-dressing Fran, beautiful Trez and her geezer brother Sean. Much of the humour of the novel arise from the sometimes fraught but always tender exchanges between the staid but loving father, Jim, who works at the local Zoo and is alarmed that education is turning his son into a “Daisy.” The passages where the inebriated Robbie has a late night meeting with Jim are comedy gold for all of us who ever played the role of mouthy teenager in a late night kitchen drama featuring a discombobulated parent.

Robbie is “beckoned to the kitchen” as he tries to creep up the “reversing escalator that drunkenness made of the stairs.” The tirade has a familiar ring to it with mentions by Jim of electricity bills, phone bills, treating the house like a hotel and “ruined tea.” The book is a love story from Joseph to rock and roll bands and is peppered with musical references and song titles so is a most-read for all music nerds. For any fans of Spotify, all the songs referenced in the novel are compiled under The Thrill of it All by Joe O’Connor, compiled by Andrew Basquille. For all lovers of blues, ska, classic showtunes, New Wave and punk the soundtrack is an inspired choice for a Summer’s evening with a chilled glass of wine and a healthy escape into the nostalgia of the soundtrack of O’Connor’s youth.

Click the link below to listen to Andrew Basquille’s playlist The Thrill of it All by Joe O’Connor on Spotify:



Holiday reading

I always love to rediscover an old holiday read on the bookshelf, its pages stained with sun tan lotion, the pages clumped and curling from frequent encounters with my dripping self. I can always remember the holiday where it earned its battered state, the beach or poolside that provided the backdrop to its disfigurement and post- sodden state. Summer reads like destinations should supply just enough entertainment to help the mind unravel. A tome that requires too much concentration as you lie poolside is never a good idea.

I attempted Thomas Piketty’s ” Capital” on day one on the beach and after half an hour was in an advanced state of anxiety about the World, the economy and my own meagre place in all this. I abandoned it for an Autumn night, made immediate peace with the fact that I’ll never have much money, it seems to elude me somehow, like the green light in Gatsby.

I returned to my supply of novels that promised to transport me to other lives and other sensibilites. I can highly recommend the following beach themed books.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub- a deftly observed novel about the secrets,lies and jealousies that bubble to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler- The character Delia Grinstead vanishes without any reason. She sheds her old life for a new and exiting one, which makes it an ideal holiday read as you lie on the deck chair and think of new schemes and reinventions.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- enter into this landmark novel of high modernism and join the Ramsay family in their summer house off the coast of Scotland, as prepare to be transformed by this moving portrait of family life.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh- From the Ramsays at the turn of the century, you can now join the long-married Jenn and Greg on summer vacation in Mallorca. As you sip your vino be prepared for a very steamy read of lust in the lemon groves. Oh, and it doesn’t involve Greg as the object of this lust..

Alison Moore’s first novel ” The Lighthouse ” brings the reader on a holiday that begins on the deck of a ferry, where we meet Futh who is leaving an unravelling marriage for a walking holiday along the Rhine. What follows is a story of repetition and circularity, which is deliciously unsettling. As a Man Booker contender this book lends a bit of literary cachet to your beach look!

Always good when on foreign shores to hark back to the motherland with that peculiar mixture of smug gratitude at having escaped however temporarily and a sort of nostalgic patriotism for the old isle. These books, recently published by Irish authors are superb.
Eimear McBride’s ” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is an experience that needs a little commitment from the reader and this award winning book will teach you more about language and consciousness than a PhD in linguistics. She’s hailed as a Joycean genius, make up your own mind.

Colin Barrett’s ” Young Skins” is probably the best collection of short stories I’ve read in the last few years. These stories are based in a fictional Mayo town, and in both style and scope excavate the gaping holes in lives and loves in post-boom Ireland.