Book Club – Tim Burgess: One, Two, Another

Tim Burgess: One, Two, Another

’Life’s a bag of Revels, I’m looking for the orange one’ (Polar Bear, 1995)

If you’ve seen Tim Burgess playing live, solo or with The Charlatans, you’ll know that it’s inevitably a happy experience. It looks like he loves what he does, like it’s still fresh, still surprising, and that’s infectious. It’s no secret that things haven’t always been plain sailing but his performing, and now writing, is approached with an honesty that is refreshing and endearing; if this was a tale of fiction you’d be rooting for the lead character to come out on top. As it is, it’s real life and the same applies.

With the release of his third book One, Two, Another this week, we get another opportunity to jump into his world and hear the stories behind the lyrics. Covering over 70 tracks spanning his career, each set of lyrics is followed by a personal annotation of their background, some funny, some sad, some a gift to the trivia collector, all painting pictures that together form a fascinating diary of the last 30 years. Having covered the autobiographical element in his first book Telling Stories, then delved into his love of vinyl and record shops in Vinyl Adventures, Tim takes us behind the scenes of the words that we’ve all come to know and love, citing influences from Bob Dylan to Wu-Tang Clan.

Tim recalls reading the printed song lyrics in Smash Hits (a ritual familiar to all those of us growing up before Google became a default) and the process of writing and hearing people’s reactions to the end product, saying, ‘My songs have recurring themes: love, loss and euphoria, and many are dreamt up as smiley, throwaway oysters. But I never know what the pearl is until the audience sing along with me.’

There are many pearls in the catalogue and it’s great to read about everything from the trips across the States to the northern nightclub bouncers that all played a part in creating some of his best loved songs across the years. As you read the book you’ll want to dig out your records and fall into the safety net they offer, pulling in your personal nostalgia and memories of times past and loved ones lost and found to match his stories. There’s a lot of truth in the lines:
‘Here comes a soul saver
On your record player
Floating about in the dust’
(Here Comes a Soul Saver, 1995)

A past Record Store Day Ambassador, collaborator with his peers (he speaks in the book of achieving his ambition of working with Paul Weller on Spinning Out) and a constant champion of new artists, Tim’s more recent tracks and albums on his own and with The Charlatans play just as important a role in the story – and who knows what the future memories from these will be?

2017’s Plastic Machinery contemplates the feeling of being pulled into the political quicksand of the current climate:
’So, let’s just run
Even if only in our heads
Leave all of this behind
Unless we could stand still’
With his immediately recognisable guitar riffs featuring on the track, Johnny Marr comments, ‘Tim Burgess is a crusader and vinyl’s epic voyager. He knows why pop’s art, a culture and a cure. Learn and listen. He knows good things.’

Johnny’s right – clear your Sunday afternoon, dust down your turntable, grab a copy of the book and enjoy.

One, Two, Another is published by Little, Brown UK on Thursday 14th November 2019

Words by Siobhan

12th November 2019

Book Club – Brett Anderson: Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn

Brett Anderson: Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn 

Taking a second plunge into the publishing world, Brett Anderson returns with his follow up memoir to its precursor Coal Black Mornings. Where his debut focused solely on the days before he was hurtled into the public eye as Suede became an improbable household name, Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn brings the next stage of the story, with a brutally honest look back at the band’s spiral to success and the pinnacles and pitfalls that inevitably came along for the ride.

Although he said this was the book he wouldn’t write, the opportunity for people to hear his own view rather the sensationalist click-bait of the headlines has brought about a change of heart. Brett describes reflecting on the period as akin to watching someone else living your life, noting that ‘it’s remarkable how hindsight can lend a clarity that at the time was beyond you’.

The book avoids the often touted glamorous tales of the music world as he talks of journeys supplemented with Silk Cut, Walkers crisps and Batiste dry shampoo. Something that is demonstrated often however is his love and respect for his bandmates past and present, whilst acknowledging the at times difficult relationships therein. The irony of recording Stay Together whilst the connection with Bernard Butler was starting to crumble is not lost; appearances on Top of the Pops and in puppet form on Spitting Image offer reminders of how Suede managed to break through to the mainstream despite, or perhaps because of, their insistence on doing things on their own terms.

© Phillip Williams 

For the music fan there are deep forays into the writing, production and performance of the songs. It is interesting to note the desire, even early on, for every musical footprint to be noteworthy, resulting in what he describes as ‘exiling classics to the wastelands of the flip side’ – the likes of My Insatiable One, He’s Dead and My Dark Star all allotted to what for most artists would be the lower echelon of the B-side. There is a clear understanding that whilst a flurry of hype will propel you into the public eye, it won’t hold your place if there is no substance to follow the fanfare.

The story can’t be told without addressing the demons of addiction that could so easily have dictated a much more desolate outcome. Again, there is no glamour or glitz attached to this period as Brett recalls ‘the substances becoming slowly harder, the evenings becoming slowly more humourless, the chances of escape from it all slowly less likely’. Thankfully there was an escape and there was enough strength in Suede as a collective to continue and move forward.

There are lighter notes throughout the book and times filled with humour and positivity. As a south coast dweller, it was lovely to hear mention of an early show at The Joiners Arms in Southampton, where Brett felt there was ‘a moment’ and recalls it as a pivotal point where the band and crowd were in the same headspace, feeling the same thing, the role of the audience so important in making everything worthwhile. (Happily, The Joiners hasn’t met the fate of many an independent venue and still exists to offer opportunities for smaller bands to play and build into something much bigger).

The book takes us to the break-up of the band in the highly anti-climactic setting backstage at The Graham Norton Show, a mark of success for some, the end of the road for Suede – in this innings at least.

© Pat Pope

With chapter names like Dogshit and Diamonds, Crouchenders and Anything can Happen in Life, Especially Nothing you know this will be no run of the mill music biography.

The leap from lyricist to author doesn’t always run smoothly but Brett has a natural skill for storytelling; he’s a compelling raconteur, a graphic scene-setter. The book offers a point of detailed reference for fans, and for any reader an insight into the disequilibrium of a band trying to make a dent on a music scene flooded with Britpop and imported rock ballads. If we didn’t know to some degree what happened next it might be a somewhat despondent ending. However, now that we’ve felt the aspirations fired by the Coal Black Mornings and spent disordered Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, perhaps Brett will take us along on the next part of the journey and we can witness the evenings of Suede’s story in book number three…

Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn is published by Little, Brown UK tomorrow – 3rd October 2019

Photos with permission of the publisher and copyright of the photographer named

Words by Siobhan

2nd October 2019

 

Book Club – David Byrne: How Music Works

With so many great books about and by musicians on the shelves, it’s difficult to gauge which ones will make the read as compelling as the music. Here, Ryan Bell reviews one of his favourites…

David Byrne: How Music Works

David Byrne’s How Music Works is much like his music. Whether it’s his solo work, his collaborative recordings with Brian Eno or St Vincent, or as the frontman for influential art-rock group Talking Heads, he is a consistent creator of music that is ambitious and intelligent yet enjoyable, and his foray into the world of music literature is no different.

Similar to the genre fusions found in the music of Talking Heads, Byrne chooses not to craft a by the numbers autobiography, instead he flirts between the role of rock raconteur, music history professor and pop culture sociologist, amalgamating observations, anecdotes, ideas and concepts gathered from his thirty plus years in the music business. Whilst this could result in the book becoming arrogant or rambling, his writing style is informative yet conversational, with a great sense of “believe me, I’ve seen it and done it” authenticity and an enthusiasm that can rarely be doubted, leading How Music Works to be a surprising breath of fresh air to read.

This can also be attributed to the nonlinear structure of the book, with each chapter focusing on a different musical talking point such as technology, collaborations, live performances, etc. Byrne states in the preface that he feels there is still a certain rhythm to the book, though acknowledges the merit of allowing for reader permitted chapter hopping, appealing to those readers with a shorter attention span. David Byrne writes attractively throughout, however I am such a reader, and the option to jump to learning about the recording of Remain in Light over Byrne’s thoughts on music industry finances, without the result of a jumbled narrative, was refreshing. 

Naturally, you would pick up the book because of the name attached, Byrne has made a career out of being one of pop music’s most revered auteurs, and some of the most enjoyable parts of How Music Works come from his success in pairing his music history research with his own personal observations. Reading about the televangelists who inspired the Talking Heads hit Once in a Lifetime, or his time spent watching Japanese theatre for the infamous “big suit” from the legendary Stop Making Sense live shows is enthralling, particularly after witnessing his spectacular American Utopia show, which only wet the appetite to learn where he gathers his inspirations from.

As well as these, Byrne is fascinated by the wider context of how shapes sound, how geography and performance and listening spaces can affect and influence the sonic nature. He describes the uneven wall, scattered furniture pieces and low ceiling that gave legendary punk club CBGB a “remarkably good sound” and how the percussive character of African tribe music would have turned to “sonic mush” in the stone walled gothic cathedrals of the west in the middle ages.

The book is typical of Byrne, as whilst other rock/pop musicians might opt for the sexy warts ‘n’ all page turner, his eyes and ears are tuned, almost academically, towards the physics and working parts behind music’s past, present and future. Knowing that some might scoff at the idea that by doing so he is ridding the art of its enjoyment, he insightfully remarks in the preface that “knowing how the body works doesn’t take away from the pleasure of living”.

There is a wide range of ground covered in How Music Works, which at times can leave it feeling a little uneven and scattered, but it’s rarely pretentious, he never gives the impression he is writing about anything for any reason other than it fascinates him. Its structure is particularly suited for travel reads or coffee table pick-me-ups, with his knack for great pop song writing translating into cushioning the trickier moments with anecdotes and titbits, and the musical wanderlust shown throughout his career making his search for the mechanics of sound eclectic and colourful.

How Music Works is published by McSweeney’s 

Words and photo by Ryan Bell

16th May 2019