In her truly remarkable memoir CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES, MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC, BOYS BOYS BOYS, the truly remarkable Viv Albertine drew an expected line to, through and from the London punk scene of the late-1970s, and her influential band The Slits’ place within it. Unexpectedly, it turned out not to be that band’s story which formed the heart of her book, nor which offered the most insight or reward. Beautifully written – with great honesty – CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES, MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC, BOYS BOYS BOYS was not a standard music autobiography, having far less to do with music than with what it is like to be a woman. Miscarriage, abortion, cancer, IVF treatment, motherhood and failed marriage each played their part in this vivid and sometimes painfully three-dimensional account of a roller-coaster life. In a captivating edition of The Mouthcast recorded at the time of publication (listen here), Viv talked in depth about CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES, MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC, BOYS BOYS BOYS.
2014 was a red letter year for Ben Watt. The release of HENDRA – his first solo album since 1983’s NORTH MARINE DRIVE – was eclipsed only by publication of his second book, ROMANY AND TOM. In the same way that Blake Morrison’s parental memoirs AND WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? and THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME asked essential questions about our awareness of – and the nature of our relationships with – those we might presume to know best, the ex-Everything But The Girl man’s book explored undiscovered corners and home truths in the lives of his parents; bandleader dad Tommy and mother Romany who, by the time he was old enough to notice, were drinking too much and fighting too often. Much like PATIENT, Watt’s account of his 1990s battle with (and recovery from) rare disease, ROMANY AND TOM was simultaneously sad, thoughtful, dry, daunting, funny, warm and involving. It existed in a Venn Diagram with the songs on HENDRA, and Watt discussed both book and album in an insightful interview with The Mouth Magazine (read here).
There have been more books written about Nick Drake than he released albums, and almost all of them have been noble efforts – labours of love – striving to locate a deeper context for his music or offer fresh perspectives on many of the long-held half-knowns and presumptions about the man. But each becomes little more than a mere footnote when measured against REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE. It carried a surfeit of opinion, anecdote and detail but little hyperbole, no sensationalism and no rewriting of history to accommodate legend. Sometimes painfully honest, often emotional, occasionally funny, sometimes scholarly – always deeply engaging – REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE was probably the most ambitious, generous and thorough volume about a musician to be published. Put simply, it became the authoritative resource and in its absolute integrity and sheer dignity it was second only to Drake’s music.
Along similar lines to REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE (a large format, handsome, hardback reproducing lyrics and notebook scrawls, and containing previously unseen photographs) SO THIS IS PERMANENCE offered valuable insight into the work of Joy Division and the methods of enigmatic frontman Ian Curtis. The book presented a less sensationalised or mythologised Curtis than had previously been glimpsed; a steady and contextualising introductory essay by punk writer Jon Savage was accompanied by a long foreword from Curtis’s widow Deborah, whose own memoir TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE (originally 1995) was reprinted to accompany publication of this new volume. Despite the turmoils caused by his illness, Deborah described her husband as having been “compassionate, empathetic and kind” – and it is against these words that the horrors explored in his lyrics perhaps ought to be balanced. The alternative seems just too bleak and unforgiving.
Niall Stokes’ beautifully cooked NORTH SIDE STORY (U2 IN DUBLIN 1978 – 1983) arrived during a year in which Bono and co. seemed to over-egg their pudding. New album SONGS OF INNOCENCE was released for free but automatically downloaded into iTunes users’ devices. Regardless of quality (it was solid 21st-century U2 fare and EVERY BREAKING WAVE may be amongst their best songs), from a band long since operating as a global machine the tactic played as corporate arrogance. Feeling the album had been foisted on them, many were left with an unwelcome taste in the mouth. Stokes’ compendium was the perfect palate cleanser. A series of riveting magazine-length articles (both vintage, from Irish music paper HOT PRESS, and new) looked back to the band’s formative years; from early gigs, fistfights, soul-searching and earnest graft to the brink of confidence and success with single NEW YEAR’S DAY.
One of the fascinating things about Miles Hunt’s book THE WONDER STUFF DIARIES 86 – 89 was that despite adding new comment at the foot of many of his entries from way back when, there was no sense of ego in doing so. He didn’t attempt to dismiss or correct bad behaviour, poor choices, silly mistakes or petty indulgences; he was not shy of being self-critical or, occasionally, scathing. The story of his rise from Black Country post-punk obscurity to frontman of one of the most well-loved bands of its day was laid out in parallel threads; contemporary and then with a quarter-century of perspective. The second revealed him to be thoroughly likeable, and made his book all the more engaging; poignant, even.
Wrenched from spitting, snarling, jabbing and kicking performance to be set down on the printed page, there was the potential for Jason Williamson’s Sleaford Mods lyrics to lose their explosive force. Happily – though “happily” seems such an inappropriate word to use anywhere near Sleaford Mods – GRAMMAR WANKER did nothing to dilute their power. Quite the reverse, in fact. Freed from the on-stage character Williamson constructed to deliver his zeitgeist nailbombs, and casebound in urbane cloth, GRAMMAR WANKER had gravitas; handling as if it was some sort of incendiary post-modern hymn book, deviant school text or reactionary manifesto. If the looming UK general election brings a much-needed swing to the left, and with the duo edging towards acceptance as reputation and popularity grow, it may not be possible for Williamson’s visceral spiel to chime with the times with quite the same resonance as it has done in 2014. This year, GRAMMAR WANKER was as potent an expression of the troubled state of this sorry nation as had ever been made. Williamson featured on The Mouthcast in October (listen here).
Buy GRAMMAR WANKER here
Buy THE WONDER STUFF DIARIES 86 – 89 here
Buy NORTH SIDE STORY here
Buy SO THIS IS PERMANENCE here
Buy REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE here
Buy ROMANY AND TOM here
Buy CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES, MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC, BOYS BOYS BOYS here