5th December 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s perhaps fitting that after penning around seven hundred words of a review of this book, that I suffered a crash and the file corrupted irretrievably. Unlike most autobiographies, this isn’t really a ‘rise-to-fame’ or ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, and nor is it a tale of rise-and-fall. Overdriven is more an endless succession of trips, stumbles, misses, and near hits, failures and not-quite-off-the-drawing board ideas. And so, as is the theme of the book’s narrative, in the face of adversity, you need to get up, and just plough the fuck on. Because if you don’t… no, not doing isn’t an option. You just do it, however hard it may be.

Everett True makes an unusual but valid point in his foreword, in that the ‘wrong’ people write rock history. Usually, it’s the successful ones for a start. If, indeed, they even write it themselves and don’t use a ghostwriter. Rock biographies and autobiographies invariably have an arc, but the starting point is that the subject is well-known, having achieved chart success at some point, and more often than not they have – at least at some point – been a household name. This, of course, is simply not representative of the lives of, well, pretty much every gigging musician, really, and this makes Charlie Beddoes’ book unique: Overdriven is the story of what it’s really like to be a musician slogging – and slogging, and slogging – in their quest to make it.

What even is ‘making it?’ Again, success tends to be measured conventionally in terms of units shifted and celebrity status, but that simply is not the reality for the vast majority of musicians. Success is simply being able to exist as a musician, and Overdriven really does show just how hard it is simply to achieve this, often relying on second jobs – interior design work, lecturing – during much of her career, having hauled herself up from living in squats to cruddy flats and shared accommodation.

Overdriven conveys all the crazy pace of things, and how life and relationships continue all around the ‘exciting’ ‘career’ stuff, and just how much of a maelstrom it can be. And relationships and being in bands, it seems, is often a conflict of interests, especially when the two cross over. Fucking hell, shit is messy at times in this book. But if – as I did – you often find yourself howling ‘nooooo!’ at the page, which what feels like constant acts of (albeit unintentional) self-sabotage, as the same time, what’s so striking is just how real, and how human is all is.

It’s clear, and not just from the ordered chronology of the book that Beddoes is someone who not only likes, but needs, order and organisation, yet has spent a lifetime struggling to find it amongst musicians. It’s a story packed with flaky, inconsistent and unreliable characters, not to mention the full spectrum of addicts, oddballs, and out and out psychos. But it’s also a milieu of people lost, lonely, confused, messed up, and some plain massive twats.

It’s also written in a remarkably even, matter-of-fact tone, and some of the dialogue reads rather like Kathy Acker. It’s unframed, direct, and it suits the style, because the narrative is straightforward and uncluttered. One may likely read it in one of two ways – the voice of someone level-headed and well-adjusted, or the voice of someone numbed by trauma, not least of all by her childhood years, where her mother’s mental health issues which normalised all that is not normal. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but her recounting her childhood feels as important to the overall picture as anything in the book. Again, context counts, and joining the dots it’s clear that Charlie’s determination to make something of herself, despite spending years in squats and enduring endless shit is rooted in her childhood.

While much has been made of cult alternative band Rub Ultra, which Beddoes co-founded, Overdriven places it in context – a relatively brief period of her life, one that was defined more by struggle than any sense of accomplishment, with her having been ousted from the band prior to the release of their debut – and sole – album. What really comes to the fore is the precarity and volatility of life in a band. Charlie’s book is unstinting in its honesty in approaching the constant flashpoints which make simply getting to, and through, the next gig an heroic achievement. This isn’t just Beddoes’ take, or the story of how things were in Rub Ultra. This is representative of the expectations of so many musicians and bands. You realise that achieving any degree of success is beyond miraculous, when most bands don’t even make it as far as a gig or two, let alone recording anything. It always seems like a good idea in the moment to get together for a jam…

So many of the rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes are often brilliantly bathetic, and instead of trashing hotel rooms, we get a tale of accidentally setting off smoke alarms at a Travelodge while smoking a spliff, and Charlie turning down groupie action. The numerous potted reviews are amusing, too with her brief assessment of Idles on seeing them as an emerging band in 2012 is exemplary: ‘I don’t really get it, they are kind of post hardcore and very grumpy and they don’t look like they are having a good time’. There are some pithy observations, too: she sums up social media reactions perfectly in one sentence, observing how she could release an album to thirty likes, but post a pic of her cat hours later and receive a hundred. Yep. Books and reviews are the same. And if only likes had any correspondence to sales.

Overdriven also conveys the eternally tangled web of people on ‘the scene’ from musicians to roadies to A&R and label types, promoters and engineers. The same people crop up again and again, and occasionally they’re in bands who broke through – at least for a time.

And so the ‘peak years’ of relative comfort and security and ‘making it’ as a touring musician arrive later, not even playing her own music, and Charlie Says proves to be another near-miss failure, before her most recent vehicle, the mighty Nasty Little Lonely – which was essentially a continuation of Rock in Your Pocket, rebranded to increase the band’s appeal on the Bristol scene, and – and which ultimately sees her making the music she always wanted to, if only with a cult following and no major labels offering hods of cash – occupy only the last few chapters and the band is secondary to the turmoil of life.

It’s the last few chapters which hit the hardest. Unexpectedly, it’s Charlie’s account of her experiencing the onset of menopause that’s perhaps the most affecting part of the book, packed in near the end. For all the disappointments and deaths – a lot of people die, especially in the post-millennium years – all the years of soaring highs and crushing lows and endless rejections and dead-end auditions and all the rest, not to mention the endless conflict over not being considered ‘fit’ and wanting to be recognised for her musical abilities – and during all this time she rolled with the punches, this brings home just how life-changing it is. And it’s still not talked about nearly enough, not seen as a serious issue, even, as she writes, by younger women in the medical profession.

As much as this is an autobiography – and one well—told and well-written at that – this is a story of being a musician, with Charlie being a WOMAN in rock secondary to what really doing this is like. There are no two ways about it: Overdriven is essential for anyone with an interest in the music industry – but also for anyone who cares about life struggles and what it is to simply get through.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s