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: