Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Christopher Nosnibor

Books have a slower diffusion than records, although they too can have a far slower diffusion than the industry cycle accommodates. If it’s not a hit in week one it’s sunk and you’re fucked. This story is not a new one, although in his autobiography, initially penned around 1998, circulated as a .PDF around 2001 and finally first seeing the light of day in 2014 before being republished in 2019 – Mike Edwards lays it bare.

I never really got into Jesus Jones. Perhaps I never really ‘got’ Jesus Jones. Back in the early 90s, I was primarily into goth and industrial and the heavier end of the current bands – The Sisters of Mercy, Swans, Ministry, Therapy? were my staples and the bands I’d whack onto the sixth-form stereo, often to complaints from my peers – particularly a mate who was absolutely rabid about Jesus Jones and Faith No More. Jesus Jones always sounded a bit soft to my ears, a bit lightweight, limp, and poppy. Having seen them live for only the second time in 2021 supporting The Sisters of Mercy at The Roundhouse, I can’t say I was converted: they still sounded lightweight, limp, and poppy, but I did find a newfound respect: they played hard, and it’s hard to deny the hooks – and the fact that they’re survivors.

Death Threats from an Eight-Year Old makes for an interesting read, in that it is very much told from the perspective of a band whose survival wasn’t so assured having crashed out of favour and the public eye after their ascendance and commercial peak in the mid-90s.

The other time I saw them was on the way up. I laughed when their guitarist fell off the stage at Wembley Arena when supporting The Cure as part of Radio 1’s ‘Great British Music Weekend’ in ‘91. That doesn’t get mentioned in Mike Edwards’ autobiography. But then, there’s a lot that doesn’t get mentioned.

Having written on Charlie Beddoes’ autobiography being an atypical work, from the perspective of a hard-gigging musical who never attained the status of being a household name, Mike Edwards’ book is also atypical of the genre and while it’s not quite an inversion, following a riches to rags trajectory, it is certainly not your regular celebrity spill brimming with tales of rock ‘n’ roll excess, and is instead a tale of an unceremonious decline, of struggles and slogs, and mountain biking. There’s probably more in this book about cycling than music, which would be incredibly dull to anyone who isn’t into biking if it weren’t for the context.

There are no real anecdotes here, tour-based or otherwise, at least from the ‘fame’ years, but then ultimately, the sketchiness is integral to the overall arc of the narrative of this comparatively slim tome. The fame years – barely three of them – were a blur of touring and promotion, and Edwards captures this nicely.

It’s appropriate, contextually, that as much ink is devoted to detailing the laborious process of recording the fourth album as the entirety of the band’s preceding years – since both spanned around the same amount of time, and Edwards’ recounting of the frustration of both the practicalities of the process and dealing with label shenanigans is illuminating.

And it’s an interesting and worthwhile read for this. Groupies and TV appearances are the glamourous public side of being in a band: long hours slogging to achieve practically nothing for years is the grim reality behind the scenes, and these sections contain some of Edwards’ best writing, too.

It’s sometimes easy to confuse accessible for poorly written. Edwards’ book is accessible, and in the main well-written, although the prose is s shade patchy and sometimes feels rather rushed, leaving narrative gaps where it’s difficult for the reader to join the dots. A few pages in we read that his band played a show where his future wife attended, then just a dozen or so pages later, Jesus Jones’ career has exploded and is on the decline and his life and marriage are crumbling in disarray. Worse than this, there are times when he feels rather too keen to remind us just how fucking famous he was, and how we earned some decent wedge and despite things going down the pan, he managed to maintain his place in the higher tax band. It’s quite the contrast to Beddoes with her squats and cramped flats and sofa-surfing bandmates, and does make it that bit harder to be quite so sympathetic to his plight. That said, he offers insights and reflections which are quite moving, and you realise just how hard it must be to descend from such heights and so quickly.

Edwards certainly doesn’t hold back in his criticism of the British music press: ‘If you call a spade a spade, you call a British music journalist a cunt’ – although given the press’ general dislike of the band, it’s a loathing that’s not unjustified. The NME, in particular appear to ave been unnecessarily vindictive. His discourse on his and the band’s relationship with the music press is interesting, in particular the blackballing in the UK media of the band ahead of the release of Already, an album that completely bypassed me too, and now it seems for obvious reasons.

But if there’s any proof that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the complete absence of any coverage of Already was clearly a major factor in its total failure to shift units.

And, more than anything else, Death Threats from an Eight-Year Old is worth reading for this insight into what happens when the press have no interest and the label can’t be arsed. The takeaway is, ultimately, that the music industry is as fickle as it gets, and just how fucked up it all is. Consequently, being a fan of Jesus Jones is by no means a prerequisite for reading this book, and it’s a quick and mostly enjoyable read which makes it worthwhile.


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.



New Reality Records – 9th January 2023

Edward S. Robinson

Literature was the original rock ‘n’ roll. Throughout history, writers have not only been at the cutting edge of culture, but they also invented the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle centuries before the concept of rock ‘n’ roll came to be.

Latterly, literature has become ‘establishment’, entrenched in a certain model based on agents and publishers and increasingly concerned with margins and the trappings of capitalism at the expense of placing art in the public domain.

Stewart Home has never been establishment, and never will be, which is precisely why his latest novel failed to land a deal with any publisher. Now, the establishment will likely scoff and say that no publisher would take it because it’s not what they were looking for, or it’s too niche, or it’s too risky or too risqué. But back in the 80s and 90s, those were all reasons why publishers would take on a title. Others may say, while looking down their noses, that it’s simply trash and therefore of no interest because it’s crap, but that argument doesn’t wash when major publishing houses put out shit like 50 Shades and continue to squander gallons of ink on populist toss like Dan Brown and Stephen Leather and while amateur ‘erotica’ is all the rage online. After all, the mainstream has a habit of observing emerging trends and then seeking to monetise them. Moreover, in the 80s and 90s, Home published a slew of books through anarchist publisher AK Press and the then-edgy Serpent’s Tail with his trashy politicised pulp rips on Richard Allen. He found a home with Scottish imprint Canongate for his audacious ‘Diana’ novel 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, before Virgin published Tainted Love in 2005. So it certainly isn’t that he hasn’t a well-established publishing record, or that potential controversy has been an obstacle to publication in the past, meaning that what we’re seeing the publishing industry narrowing its horizons while focusing on broadening margins.

For all that, Home has always existed beyond the milieu of the conventional, emerging from the avant-garde art scene and xeroxed zine culture of the 80, and so it stands to reason that he would reject publishing convention and find a record label to publish Art School Orgy. The fact that it’s a fictionalised biography of sorts of a living artist, namely David Hockney, is perhaps one reason most publishers shied away from the book in a culture that’s evermore litigious, although there’s never any question that this, like many of Home’s previous works, is anything other than a huge, audacious exercise in taking the piss.

Home’s style has long been hard to pigeonhole, as it varies from book to book: while his earlier works were perversely trashy and bluntly anti-literary, he’s proven over the course of his now-lengthy career, to be remarkably adaptable: The Assault On Culture was overtly and quite explicitly academic, while Tainted Love, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, and She’s My Witch all showcased a measured narrative form, and while the last of these three employed classic Home methods of repetition, much of the purpose seemed to be to grind the reader down with a text whereby very little happens, over and over again. But then, Home has long been an author who revels in the anti-climax. Equally, though, he is a master of the climax, and there are many of those in Art School Orgy, the pages splashed all over with vintage Home phrases referencing liquid genetics and hand jobs and a lengthy speech on anal sex.

In fact, so many elements common to Home’s oeuvre are present here, demonstrating his knack for recycling and willingness to continue to work a theme long beyond the point of exhaustion.

The lengthy extracts or even complete texts quoted within the text – including an exhaustive catalogue of methods for cock and ball torture, or CBT, which reads like an endless catalogue of kinks like Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom – are quintessential Home, and while none of these (fictitious) tomes conjure quite the awe of works like the seminal ‘Christ, Marx, and Satan United in Struggle’, they still bring a certain gravitas to the riotous spunkfest that is the main body of the text. As for the main body of the text, well: if Home initially traded parodically in sex and violence, Art School Orgy stitches it all together in a tale of sexual violence, and if previous works dropped in dirt every few pages to push the story along, on this outing, it’s fair to say that the dirt is the entire point of the story, and he stuffs page after page with perversion.

The dialogue is magnificently stilted and as corny and unconvincing as the best of his earlier works, too, but then again, E. L. James made her fortune pedalling worse dialogue minus the irony, and even worse sex scenes, too. And in its juxtaposition of more middlebrow fiction with the cheapest, smuttiest pulp, Art School Orgy occupies similar space to Come Before Christ and Murder Love. At times, the awkward stylistic crunches are frustrating, but this is classic Home: a wind-up merchant par excellence, his aim is to create works which are frustrating, and on many levels.

In the (throbbing) vein of Blood Rights of The Bourgeoise, the chapter titles are pithy phrases designed to shock (‘An Explosion of Spunk’; ‘Egyptian Mummy Porn’; ‘Desperate for Cock, Hungry for Fame’… and so on). You’d think after this length (and girth) of time, audiences would be numb to the tactic, and yet… no. ‘The Tip of David Hockney’s Waxed Manhood Lit Up Like Christmas Tree’ and ‘A Bottle of Bell’s Up the Backside is Rough Sex Heaven’ aren’t chapter titles one expects in a novel, literary or otherwise, and even the likes of James, for all the salacity of the Fifty Shades books, presents as infinitely more coy. There are no ‘inner goddesses’ in Art School Orgy, just endless depictions of throbbing gristle and wads of hot spunk. There’s nothing subtle about Home’s writing: there doesn’t have to be, and ultimately, that’s the point. With Art School Orgy, Home highlights just how conservative literature – even supposedly low-brow, populist kink fiction – really is. And when you consider the context, despite the supposed proliferation of perversion since the advent of the internet and the debate over the way shows like Game of Thrones has beamed rape And incest into living rooms across the globe, we live in dangerously conservative times, where ‘free the nipple’ is actually a thing. This was not the case in the 60s, when nipples simply were free, and by 1967, seven years after Hockney’s coming out as gay, homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Britain.

This is, one suspects, a key motive behind Home’s text; not to paint Hockney as an indefatigable BDSM fuckmachine – which it has to be said, seems the primary thrust – but to make the point that consensual Sadomasochism is the choice of those involved, and the fact that it was outlawed at the time the book is set is, well, as perverse as the acts depicted.

Repeatedly referring to Hockney as ‘our rapscallion’ every few pages becomes annoying and predictable within the first thirty pages, but Home has the stamina and the audacity to keep it going for the duration of the book’s two-hundred-and-ninety pages. Of course, he’d sight Bergson and the theory that repetition is the basis of humour, and I can’t deny that I’m chuckling while squirming uncomfortably – but not nearly as uncomfortably as the protagonist, who is subjected to page upon page of the most excruciating tortures imaginable. There is absolutely no let-up during Art School Orgy, and for this, it’s Home’s most outlandish and challenging novel to date. It makes you feel all kinds of discomfort all at once.

This is very much the response reading Home tends to elicit. You can’t help but laugh, but equally feel incredibly uncomfortable, for a range of reasons, not least of all a nerve-jangling sense that everything about this writing goes against what you’re taught literature should be. But first and foremost, it’s a rollocking read, because however hard Home pushes a point or sells an agenda, he never loses sight of the idea that a good book entertains. And Art School Orgy is a proper romp.


Art School Orgy is available to order via New Reality Records’ Bandcamp.

Unbound – 11th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I may not have discovered The Sisters of Mercy until 1987 (being born in ‘75, I was simply too young to have been around in their first phase), like many, I have long been fascinated by those early years and their ascent from vaguely ramshackle indie act to the band who released the album which would essentially define the sound of ‘goth’ for decades to come. By ‘fascinated’, I really mean ‘obsessed’, particularly in my teens, but my love of The Sisters has endured. While the story of those first five years has been told, retold, fetishized and transformed into lore with elements of legend and myth blended in along the way (much of which having been perpetuated by Andrew Eldritch himself), it’s never been given truly detailed coverage, and for this reason, I joined many in pitching in for the crowdfunding of Mark Andrews’ biography. The wait felt like forever, and in the meantime, Trevor Ristow dropped Waiting for Another War (which I’m yet to pick up) on the same period. And so it is that Sisters bios are like proverbial busses, although that’s certainly no complaint: it simply indicates the impact and significance of a band who, despite having been in existence for over forty years and who haven’t released a record in the last thirty.

The book looks and feels like quality (although some have griped about the lack of capitalisation on the definite article both on the cover and throughout the text), but it’s on the contents that Andrews’ work should be judged. There is no two ways about it that Paint My Name in Black and Gold was worth the wait.

Two things immediately stand out: the quality and depth of the research, and the quality of the prose. The latter is particularly appreciated, and important: all the research in the world counts for little if not conveyed in a way that’s appealing. Put simply, Andrews writes nicely, and he writes well, accessibly but not pitched at those with a reading level of The Sun. Nor does he become so involved in trainspotting details of catalogue numbers or numbers of copies pressed or sold or takes in the studio. This is a very human biography, and the input from pretty much everyone involved with the band during the time (with the notable exception of Eldritch) not only brings it to life, but also gives it a real weight of credibility. Mark Pearman (Gary Marx) comes across particularly well, his reflections honest and considered, his position remarkably philosophical and even-handed.

The way in which Andrews places the development of the band in context makes for very interesting reading, with extensive coverage of the Leeds scene of the late 70s and early 80s, as well as the band’s strong links with York at the beginning (the Priestley’s signage remains at the top of Bootham, although it’s now a rather bourgeois homeware retailer). This alone makes for essential reading for anyone with an interest in the emerging post-punk scene, where writing about Leeds has been largely overshadowed by that on Manchester, and of course, London.

He moves things on at a steady but swift pace, but at the same time doesn’t skimp on detail, and pack the book with anecdotes and information about standout nights on particular tours and recording sessions, as well as various wild antics that seem so at odds with the seriousness of the music. Above all, Andrews captures the essence of the experience of existing in and around The Sisters during this time – the camaraderie and sense of community and even family, the buzz, the connection between the band, collectively and individually, with their fans. He also traces how the dynamic would shift and some of that proximity would diminish over time as the band got bigger. It’s also apparent that even in the early stages, the band dynamic and friendships thrived on the differences as much as the similarities of the members, and how much Eldritch was the driving force.

Andrews also presents an impressively balanced and objective perspective: while clearly a fan, there’s no idolisation of the band or any individual here, and his admiration for Eldritch – something that most of the interview subjects also express – is tempered by a realistic appraisal of his shortcomings and at times wilful stubbornness and perversity. That Eldritch is a stickler and prone to obsessive behaviour is widely known among fans, but Andrew really brings things to life when he writes of how Eldritch would literally spend long nights fiddling with EQ levels just to hear how they sound, and it requires no imagination whatsoever to comprehend the frustrations of band members and producers alike working alongside him. But more than even this, in Paint My Name, Andrews goes a long way to excavate the contradictions and complexities of the man who became Andrew Eldritch, how the nerdy, glam-obsessed Andrew Taylor would transmogrify into the beast that is Eldritch, and details the damage done to both himself – mentally and physically – and those around him along the way. The poverty and degradation are at times harrowing, and the long tours of ‘84 and ‘85 may have been among the band’s most memorable and seen them play to the largest numbers of fans of their career, but the way in which Andrews relays just how strung-out, fucked-up and fractured the band were behind the scenes renders their achievements all the more remarkable.

The epilogue provides a condensed overview of the years which would follow, but it’s clear that none of The Sisters’ subsequent history could come close to being quite as gripping as the first five years, whereby the rise of The Sisters would reverberate indefinitely.

The hardback is sold out, but the e-book edition is still available via Unbound.