The Wicker Man (1978 Novel): Folk Horror #4

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The Wicker Man novel

Until this week, novelisations of films are something that I’ve managed to avoid since the 1970s. I might have a copy of John Pidgeon’s Slade in Flame lying around somewhere but I’ve never felt the need to re-read it. That was the only one I know that significantly differed from its source material. It was much darker than the film, which was already considered by many too dark for young Slade fans.

As Allan Brown points out in his 2006 introduction to Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man novel: ‘More often than not these are hack jobs, souvenirs, vestigial remnants of the days before videotape allowed enthusiasts to possess their own personal copies of films.’

We’re all familiar with comments on adaptations from literary sources along the lines of ‘It wasn’t as good as the book’, but I doubt that anybody has ever claimed a novelisation was better than the film it was based on.

Novelisations tended to come out in time to accompany the release of the film that they are based on, or just afterwards. Never before, as that would have given away too much of the plot. The Wicker Man was exceptional in that it wasn’t published until the summer of 1978, over four years after the initial release of the movie.

This was an ideal time for it to come out, though.

Late in 1977, Cinemafantastique magazine had dedicated the bulk of an entire issue to the film. And as it reported, earlier that year Rod Stewart, by then dating Britt Ekland, had offered a six-figure sum to buy what it called the ‘nudie movie’ and destroy it, in an attempt to keep his girlfriend’s nude scenes from being seen by audiences. This publicity was no doubt welcome for the film, even if the story bore little or no relation to the truth. The National Enquirer has never enjoyed a reputation as a bastion of truth-telling. Stewart totally denied the rumour later.

Around this time, Hardy and Christopher Lee both travelled over to America on a promotional tour . The movie began picking up a number of very good reviews as it made its way across the country. At Boston’s Orson Welles Theater – a cinema renowned for helping break non-mainstream movies – it proved a big box office success. The word was spreading. Deservedly so.

Robin Hardy in 2011

The novel starts with Sergeant Neil Howie of the West Highland Constabulary birdwatching with his schoolteacher fiancée Mary Bannock on the fictional Ben Sluie. Despite their shared passion for ornithology, this is no romantic afternoon for the couple outwith their working hours. He’s on the job, having been tipped off that someone wants to steal some rare golden eagle’s eggs. He catches the thief, rather courageously too.

Afterwards, he’s given a letter from a fellow officer sent from a concerned ‘child lover on Summerisle’ reporting the mysterious disappearance of a twelve year old girl Rowan Morrison, together with a photo of her. He agrees to investigate.

That same night, he spends further time with Mary. We learn about his religious beliefs. He is a strict Episcopalian, with a respect for other (established) faiths. He doesn’t hesitate in going out of his way to help a visiting Jewish couple from America find a good hotel serving as an example of this.

Engaged for three years already, Howie has never yet out any pressure on Mary to have sex. She is Presbyterian but less devout. Although far from any kind of feminist firebrand, she has read authors like Germaine Greer (then considered highly anti-establishment). Whether Howie would approve of this remains unsaid but I’m guessing he’d disapprove. Strongly.

She’s secretly assumed for some time that there will be no marriage between them until she converts to his brand of Christianity but that night he asks her to marry him with no question of any switch of denomination. She says yes and they agree to be wed in two week’s time.

As he walks home from Mary’s place, he decides to enter the Bull’s Head pub in his home town of Portlochie. But not for a celebratory drink. As it’s still open after closing time, the dutiful cop feels the need to make sure no more booze is served. This is a very Howie way to behave.

Summerisle is the ‘most distant isle in his precinct’, a place he has never visited before. Warmed by the Gulf Stream and picturesque, he feels as if ‘he had flown off the edge of his known world to some enchanted Arcadia’ as he gets ready to land in his police seaplane.

Not that he approves of privately owned islands, believing they encourage a laxness in their communities with regard to law abiding. On his arrival, this theory is soon reinforced.

They’re an uncooperative lot. He disapproves of their attitudes too, finding them course and far too fond of revelling in the local bar. As a man who strives to observe what he refers to as ‘God’s good teaching’, he’s shocked to come across a group of a dozen or so young couples having some houghmagandie outside the Green Man.

Howie even imagines that God has possibly led him here and ‘shown him these terrible but exciting images to test him.’ He considers arresting them all and charging them with indecent exposure in a public place but as he watches on, he also fantasises about giving Mary an orgasm like the ones some of the girls are experiencing.

Not surprisingly, once in Summerisle the novel closely follows the plot of Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay. Howie visits May Morrison’s shop with its chocolate hares that he thinks are rabbits. He quizzes the local schoolchildren over the disappearance of Rowan and is met with blank faces. And just like the film, he discovers too late in the day that an appointment with the Wicker Man has been made on his behalf.

The Wicker Man novel 1978

Is it worth a read?

If you’re a fan of the movie, yes, although even then it’s far from essential.

Obviously, it’s impossible for anybody like me – who’s seen the film multiple times – to read this without conjuring up visions of Edward Woodward’s portrayal of Neil Howie throughout. Whenever the name Lord Summerisle appears, I think of Christopher Lee. And when Howie hears Willow thumping the wall that divided her room from his and then slapping her own body as she sings, guess who I’m thinking of?

Answer: Britt Ekland and Britt Ekland’s body double.

Just as in the film, it’s easy to find Howie’s puritanism annoying. He’s a virgin and his knowledge of sex has been gained mainly from reading The Young Christian’s Guide to Sanctified Bliss in Marriage. Not a book I’ve
got round to reading yet myself.

He gives off an air of moral superiority but when quizzing Willow about the whereabouts of Rowan, the idea of ‘inflicting pain on her, to gain the information he so desperately needed, crossed his mind.’ The idea excited him.

This isn’t the only time he comes over as a hypocrite but on the page, Howie often comes across more favourably than he does on celluloid, even if he is still a hard man to like.

His love of birds certainly makes him more a more sympathetic character. This is shown from the very beginning with him seeking to protect the eagle and her eggs. And at the climax, while engulfed by flames and knowing he is about to die a painful death, he still manages to free some caged birds imprisoned in the giant wicker structure, ensuring they aren’t sacrificed along with him.

As novelisations go, I’d guess that this is one of the better examples, albeit I should point out that 1973’s The Wicker Man film is arguably a very loose adaptation of David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual. Confusingly, the 2006 American remake of The Wicker Man even credited Ritual as the original basis for the Shaffer screenplay on which it was based.

Not that I’ve ever felt the need to watch that one.

To further add to the confusion, Hardy claimed to have started writing the novel before Shaffer had finished his screenplay, although Shaffer always denied this. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is primarily the work of Robin Hardy and the co-authorship is down to him recycling much of Shaffer’s script’s dialogue verbatim.

Cowboys for Christ by Robin Hardy

Hardy returned to similiar territory in 2006 with his novel Cowboys for Christ.

Published by Luath Press, this is a spiritual sequel of The Wicker Man, dealing again with the clash between a pagan community and Christian outsiders – in this case two young fundamentalist Texans on a mission to Scotland to preach the gospel to the unGodly. The novel provided the basis for the 2011 film, The Wicker Tree which Hardy also directed.

For more on Cowboys For Christ, click here.

Some Favourite New Books of 2018

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Some Favourite Books of 2018

Before I get down to my ten favourite films of the year, a quick mention for three new cinema related books published in 2018.

Firstly, All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow Books), Kat Ellinger’s compact but highly informative introduction to one of the great maestros of Italian genre cinema. I only know Martino from gialli like Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and Torso but after reading this I’ve been delving deeper into his diverse filmography – he also directed westerns, comedies, crime dramas, cannibal, sci-fi, mondo movies and more.

Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique magazine, Ellinger is also an increasingly popular choice for supplying audio commentaries for genre greats – in fact, I’ve just received a review copy of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte where she does just that and I’m looking forward to hearing her views on Robert Aldrich’s ‘hagsploitation’ thriller. She’s also provided a new video essay Sex and Death with a Smile on giallo icon Edwige Fenech for Arrow’s upcoming 2K restoration of Strip Nude for Your Killer. I admit it. I’m excited about this!

A Whole Bag of Crazy: Sordid Tales of Hookers, Weed, and Grindhouse Movies by Pete Chiarella (aka 42nd Street Pete) is a terrifically entertaining read where he recollects his youth, which was mostly spent in sleazy fleapits in New York’s Deuce, watching double or even triple bills of far from high falutin’ exploitation flicks as the spectre of the Vietnam War hung over his head.

Finally, as a Coen brothers fan, I’d recommend Adam Nayman’s The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (Abrams Books). This is a gorgeously designed and comprehensive – I’d say maybe even definitive – look at the remarkably consistent oeuvre of the Minnesota born brothers from Blood Simple through to Hail, Caesar!

The Ladykillers

I purchased this in hardback form and am glad that I did as there’s so much visual imagery to pore over and enjoy, including film stills, photos and illustrations. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come.

Art Sex Music & Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You (Best Books 2017)


Best Books of 2017

A confession. I have made a big dent into Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul but still have around sixty pages to go. Voted Shindig‘s music book of the year, this is a fascinating account of a year in America that was political dynamite and soundtracked by some of the finest soul music ever recorded. Much of it from the Memphis area.

Yes, I realise, you wouldn’t get a ‘best of the year’ article in the Times Literary Review that included books the reviewer hadn’t even finished  but having read Cosgrove’s two previous books on soul, I know I’m in safe hands and feel confident that I can already recommend this second part of his soul trilogy. Next up Harlem ’69.

From Memphis, Tennessee to the rather less romanticized environment of Airdrie, Lanarkshire and David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device.

A multilayered fictional tale that the author subtitled ‘An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978–1986’, the novel reads like a love letter to the town where the author got his teenage kicks.

This Is Memorial Device will surely chime with anybody that picked up a guitar, contributed to a fanzine or was maybe just a fan of their local music scene back in what narrator Ross Raymond calls ‘the glory years’.

Irvine Welsh, who dabbled in a couple of bands himself around this time, is also an admirer, praising it as ‘Brilliant stuff. It captures the terrific, obsessive, ludicrous pomposity of every music fan’s youth in an utterly definitive way.’

Back in May, Keenan hosted a Q&A with Cosey Fanni Tutti in Glasgow’s CCA to coincide with the launch of her book Art Sex Music – and her former group Throbbing Gristle incidentally get a namecheck in his novel.

Cosey’s book is far the most engaging new autobiography I’ve read this year and it’s safe to say it’s also the best book I’ve ever came across by an author equally comfortable in her career as a leading avant-garde provocateur, industrial music pioneer, stripper and porno mag model.

One minute she’s exhibiting with the COUM Transmissions art collective and being dubbed a ‘Wrecker of Civilisation’ by Tory MP Nicolas Fairbairn, the next she’s nipping off to do a photo shoot for Fiesta.

Early on, she’s warned by John Krivine to think seriously about embarking on a relationship with Genesis P. Orridge. ‘He said Gen was the most selfish person he’d met, had the biggest ego that he’d ever come across, and that I would always come second to that.’

Genesis P. Orridge comes out of this very badly. He lets Cosey go out and work in a crappy factory job, clean the house and cook while he swans around, continually craving the chance to be the centre of attention. His violent outbursts quickly become a feature of their relationship and he develops a habit of throwing cats across rooms and down flights of stairs.

Art Sex Music is compulsively readable from page one onwards and here’s Cosey talking about writing it:

Also worth a mention is Live Cinema and Its Techniques by Francis Ford Coppola. Sharp and insightful, Coppola presents us here with a thought-provoking mix of memoir, diary and speculation on a potential future of cinema.

My favourite film related book published in 2017, though, was Charles Taylor’s Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You. A title that refers to the former American practice whereby new low-budget movies would be touted on TV and radio ads that ended with the release date information: ‘Opening Wednesday at a theater or drive-in near you!’

This, therefore, isn’t a run down of Coppola and his fellow Movie Brats’ critically acclaimed hits (nor for that matter another retelling of the grindhouse schlockers phenomenon) but instead what Taylor calls ‘The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s’. B Movie gems that in many regards spoke just as deeply about the times in which they were made as the big New Hollywood hitters.

Think Foxy Brown rather than Five Easy Pieces or Two-Lane Blacktop rather than Taxi Driver.

‘Most of the movies in this book did what they set out to do,’ he explains in his introduction. ‘Make money fast. Some are good, solid pieces of moviemaking, and some are shrewdly put-together junk. Outsized claims for their greatness would only falsify their grungy, visceral appeal.’

Taylor can be provocative – comparing the respective star quality of Pam Grier and Meryl Streep, he comes out in favour of Grier – hell, yeah! – and he can be perceptive too – as when he complains that ‘The infantilization of American movies that began in 1977 with the unprecedented success of Star Wars has become total.’ Hell yeah again!

If the movies he discusses that I haven’t yet seen are anywhere near as entertaining as his book then I reckon I’m in for some great viewing once I track down Aloha, Bobby and Rose; Ulzana’s Raid and Hickey & Boggs.

Finally a mention for two small Scottish publishers.

Named the Saltire Society’s Emerging Publisher of the year for 2017 and voted #1 in The List’s Hot 100, Edinburgh based independent 404 Ink are certainly making a name for themselves with their magazine – which is also called 404 Ink, ink zines and paperbacks from a number of new authors including Chris McQueer’s Hings (Short Stories ‘N That).

With bizarre tales about men getting tattoos of Parkhead’s Forge Shopping Centre on their bahookies and a schemie father claiming to be Banksy, Hings might just be the funniest book of the year. Much as I usually hate the cliche of naming an author then adding ‘on drugs’, this did strike me at times like Des Dillon on acid.

Twenty odd miles down the road from Edinburgh lies the coastal town of Dunbar in East Lothian, which is the home to a new venture in micro-publishing, Ronnie Gurr’s Hanging Around Books.

Last month I picked up a copy of Teenage Instamatics: Edinburgh Punk Rock 1977 which features photos taken by Gurr around forty years ago for the punk fanzine Hanging Around. Johnny Thunders, John Lydon and The Stranglers are only some of the faces featured.

2017 saw Hanging Around also publish limited edition photozines on single subjects such as The Skids, The Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers.

Hopefully they’ll be, um, hanging around for years to come and keeping up the good work.

For more information on Hanging Around Books click here and for more on 404 Ink here you go.


Young Soul Rebels & Teenage Kicks – The Best Music Books of 2016


This was a very good year for music books unless you were hoping Johnny Marr’s biography, Set the Boy Free, would replace Mozza’s Autobiography as the ultimate memoir by a former Smith. It compares unfavourably with Mozza’s book in every respect although it might just be better than List of the Lost.


Two books stood out: Stuart Cosgrove’s Young Soul Rebels and Michael (Mickey) Bradley’s Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone.

Young Soul Rebels is an illuminating personal history of Northern Soul that spans the roots of the movement in the 1960s and its 1970s heyday through to the recent past of a resurgent scene that’s embraced YouTube, Spotify and Facebook and now that attracts aficionados of all ages from Blackpool to Barcelona, Todmorden to Tokyo.

This is a vividly told story and Cosgrove’s words crackle with passion as he describes the sometimes quirky world of northern soul all-dayers and all-nighters: the music, clothes, dancing, drugs and record collecting.

Here he is on locating a record and tape store with a stash of very rare secondhand soul singles, while on a visit to Washington DC: ‘What had begun as a grey and overcast day suddenly erupted into burning sunshine.’ As he further explains: ‘For northern soul collectors there is nothing more visceral than a ‘find’. A sudden surge more emotional than meeting an old friend, more powerful than an away goal, and more satisfying than sex itself.’

That day there were many finds.

Young Soul Rebels also acts as an alternative social history, taking in police raids on northern nights, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s.

A must-read for soulies.

Michael Bradley’s Teenage Kicks, like The Undertones’ music is an absolute delight. Bradley is self-deprecating, genuinely modest and he possesses an admirably conversational writing style.

This eminently readable portrait of one of the most fondly remembered bands from the punk era captures brilliantly the camaraderie and raw enthusiasm of a bunch of young working class lads from a troubled part of the world, whose unique brand of pop-tinged punk was truly special.

I should admit that I’m only halfway through Lonely Boy but so far it is really is fascinating stuff but if, like John Lydon’s Anger Is An Energy it goes downhill the longer it goes on, then I would replace it on my list with Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal the guiding light behind San Francisco independent label Tompkins Square and crate digger extraordinaire.

Jonesy is searingly honest about his troubled early life and, unusually, I found this part of his memoir every bit as fascinating as his time as a Sex Pistol. I’m looking forward to devouring the second half ASAP.


Predictably, following his death in January, an avalanche of David Bowie related books have been published, the most high profile being Paul Morley’s The Age of Bowie.

If the old maxim ‘Nobody likes a smart-arse’ happens to be true then Paul Morley in all likelihood did not have to devote much time during December to scrawling festive messages to friends on Christmas cards.

Morley is at times pretentious as hell here. There’s also far too much for my liking on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s David Bowie Is exhibition (where Morley served as an artistic adviser) and there’s plenty that you might disagree with or even disregard completely, for example, here he discusses Bowie taking the lead role in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, to be directed by Alan Clarke: ‘Clarke, at home with the traditional and the avant-garde, had directed British classics such as Kes and Cathy Come Home, and was a committed populiser of Brecht’s work.’

No Paul, Alan Clarke did not direct Kes. No Paul, Alan Clarke did not direct Cathy Come Home. Ken Loach did.

In the Spectator, Johnny Rogan judged that: ‘the book reads like the shambolic product of an almighty first-year cultural studies essay crisis’ while the Irish Times condemned it up as, ‘A labyrinth of confusion and verbosity.’

So why exactly is this book joining the others on my list?

Well, when it’s good, The Age of Bowie can rival just about any book penned about the great man. As a comparison, if this was a Bowie album it would maybe be Heathen. Inconsistent and sometimes self indulgent but with regular flashes of brilliance that makes it pretty much essential all the same.

Shock & Awe looks at ‘Glam Rock and its Legacy’ and that legacy according to Simon Reynolds is still reverberating – so there is far more on Lady Gaga than the kind of acts that often find themselves labelled Junkshop Glam nowadays – there’s even more on Nicki Minaj (3 entries in the index) than Iron Virgin (only 1) which I can’t quite get my head around.

Despite this gripe, Reynold’s rigorous homage to satin ‘n’ tat and cosmic hazy jive is immensely readable, the former Melody Maker journalist impressively evoking the visual dazzle, androgyny, excess, narcissism and giddy pop thrills that constantly accompanied the movement.

A blockbuster of a book – its spine is around the size as a good sized platform sole – Shock & Awe will hopefully help rehabilitate a genre of music that is still sometimes ridiculed and this child of the glam revolution enjoyed it thoroughly – and it’s always good to read something new about Alex Harvey even if he was never any kind of glam rocker.

Here are my five favourites:

Stuart Cosgrove: Young Soul Rebels – Birlinn (my review here)
Mickey Bradley: Teenage Kicks – Omnibus Press (my Louder Than War review here)
Steve Jones: Lonely Boy. Tales From a Sex Pistol – William Heinemann
Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie – Simon & Schuster
Simon Reynolds: Shock & Awe. Glam Rock and its Legacy – Faber & Faber

The Future’s Calling – An Interview with Pete Haynes


As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, The Lurkers GLM have a very fine new album out titled The Future’s Calling and I recently spoke with Pete Haynes, the drummer, about the new songs, his past in the punk heyday of The Lurkers and also his writing – he’s had four books published to date including an autobiography with another, The Offender’s Nemesis, out today.


If you’re reading this then it’s odds on that you know a thing or two about The Lurkers, if you’re new to them though, here’s a brief introduction to one of the most under-rated British punk acts.

Firstly a quick explanation, Pete, when he was the drummer with The Lurkers was often known as Manic Esso, so you might know him by this name. Confusingly, there is currently a version of The Lurkers doing the rounds (with no original members but led by Arturo Bassick who did join an early line-up) while until recently Pete drummed with a band known as God’s Lonely Men – named after the second Lurkers album – who consisted of three of the original Lurkers (Pete, Nigel Moore and Pete Stride). For the new album, this lot have reclaimed their heritage further by becoming Lurkers GLM.

Got that? Okay, I’ll continue.

During the long, hot summer of 1976, Pete started work as a petrol pump attendant at an Esso garage on Uxbridge Road – so that’s one half of his old nickname explained – and he also became aware of a new band from the States called The Ramones. Pete’s newly formed band began rehearsing in the basement of the Beggars Banquet branch in Fulham and before the year was out, they played live for the first time, supporting Screaming Lord Sutch at Uxbridge Technical College, where their set was so short they were asked by Sutch to repeat it.

They were soon playing London’s famous Roxy club, the Nashville and Marquee, a record deal was signed and Shadow released, the first of a great run of 45s: Shadow, Freak Show, Ain’t Got A Clue, I Don’t Need To Tell Her and Just Thirteen.

Despite serving up these three minute slices of raw but catchy punk; playing the Roxy; being signed to an independent label and recording sessions for John Peel’s show, The Lurkers always felt themselves to be outsiders in (and out of) the punk scene. There was no hanging out in SEX with Malcolm, Vivienne and the Bromley Contingent. Many music press journalists dismissed the band as Ramones clones, although Mick Wall in Sounds gave their debut album Fulham Fallout a 5 star review, claiming it was so exciting that he’d had to stand up while penning his thoughts on it: ‘The spirit of 1976, contrary to what you might like to believe, is alive and kicking and coming straight at you – all the way from Fulham.’


Earlier this year, I reviewed Carmine Appice’s biography Stick It! My Life Of Sex, Drums, And Rock ‘N’ Roll for Louder Than War. This was the tale of a drummer and the thousands of groupies he claims to have slept with, the hundreds of hotel rooms he smashed up and the many superstar names that he has either played with or partied with over the years.

Pete’s memoir of 2007, which again uses the title God’s Lonely Men, is about as far from this kind of excessive life on the road with a band exposé as it’s possible to get although during the course of the book he does eat six pies before going onstage one night in Accrington while, another time, he drinks sixteen pints before a show at the Music Machine in Camden. And then five more afterwards.

Oh and he did once meet Stewart Copeland in the early days of The Police, advising him to change the name of their band or they’d never get anywhere.

Pete, I should maybe add, possesses a rather self deprecating sense of humour. He also likes to throw in the occasional controversial statement. Harry Potter fans beware.

You have a new book just about to be published?

Yeah, it’s a novel called The Offender’s Nemesis and it’s out on New Haven Publishing, which is a Norwegian based company.

And how would you describe it?

It’s about the eradication of the liberal state, which I can see happening. It’s about the average person seeing celebrities as being more meaningful than politicians. There is a story to it about a guy whose brother ends up on a highly popular TV show called The Offender’s Nemesis and he gets killed cos they kill people off who they say are paedophiles or terrorists although they don’t necessarily have to be. The story is set within a dystopian climate of fear. It’s about retribution, going back to the days of medieval society.

That sound potentially very depressing. But also equally fascinating and I’m looking forward to reading it. Any other writing on the go?

I’ve written six 90 minute screenplays, which are comedies, and I have another book at a publisher.

I see you’ve tried your hand at theatre too and had a play performed at the Bush.

That was just a short actually. I did have another, longer one, Thank Your Lucky Stars, that ran for three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988 and was given a five star review in the Scotsman.

How does your writing compare with making music?

I feel I need to do it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t ended up in Broadmoor. I need to express myself and get it out there.

Do you see yourself now as a writer rather than as a musician?

Oh God, I was never a musician. I was the drummer in The Lurkers (Laughs). You’ve got to have a sense of anchorage in your life.

So how good were The Lurkers?

Well, it’s not like our music was The Beatles or The Move or anything like that. It was all quite rudimentary stuff, wasn’t it?

Rudimentary can be good.

Well, yeah I do like The New York Dolls. I like trash rock and roll, The Ramones, that kinda thing.

And what do you listen to nowadays?

When I put on a CD it can be anything from Beethoven to The Wombles. The Idle Race, The Kinks, The Equals. I like old rock and roll, rockabilly, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams. I’ve always had a very broad taste in music. I love The Velvet Underground. For me punk comes from them and Iggy Pop and The New York Dolls through to The Ramones.

I do actually have a lot of time for The Lurkers and I’m very protective of them but we didn’t move with the times.

Who did?

I would say nearly everybody. And by moving with the times I mean people during the late ’70s began aligning their music with politics. I think a lot of them did that to sell their music rather than letting their music stand on its own merit.

Oh, I thought you meant musically moving with times.

Well musically most of it’s a load of old shit.


A lot of the bands that came along later were a bunch of old hippies with a fake political stance. They didn’t give a fuck about rioting in the streets, they wanted to be The Rolling Stones.

I liked punk best myself when nobody really knew where it was coming from politically. Okay, The Clash were always a political band but The Damned weren’t political, The Buzzcocks weren’t very political. Johnny Rotten thought that anarchy was mind games for the middle classes and I doubt Steve Jones could have even told you who the Prime Minister was at the time.

Lurkers GLM - The Future's Callingglm-chemical-landslide

How much time do you put into the band nowadays?

Well, just to give you an insight, there isn’t a great deal of input at the moment. We meet for an hour and a half every week. We’re not playing live at the moment and nothing is planned, but who knows, we might one

That’s a pity, especially as I like the new album and I’m sure a lot of folk would like to hear the songs live. Actually a lot of those new tracks could be weaved into your live set along with the old favourites and fit in really well.

D’you think the album sounds contemporary?

I might be the wrong person to ask. I do listen to a lot of new music and a lot of that doesn’t sound very contemporary. Sounding good is more important to me nowadays than sounding contemporary. As a whole it sounds fresh to me.

I do think it sounds pretty fresh myself even though we’re old bastards and it’s 2016.

It’s funny, I remember back in the punk era Johnny Rotten slagging Mick Jagger off for being an old bastard when Jagger must have been mid-thirties. Never thought I’d say it but I do like going to see some old groups nowadays although if anybody is just getting back together for an nostalgia trip and churning out the greatest hits then I’m not really interested.

Problem for us is, not playing  any live dates to promote the album means we’re not really reaching our audience.

I’m sure marketing people would agree.

On the subject of marketing, I found out that a major part of a company’s budget nowadays goes on marketing. People have to be told what to like, they have to be told what to wear or what to watch or read. The biggest thing for me was that whole Harry Potter thing. I’m sitting on the Underground in about 1999 and this 50 year old man in an office suit opposite me is reading a stupid fucking story about a four eyed cunt and some goblins and wizards, I felt like saying, ‘Give up, will you?’ He wouldn’t be reading that unless he felt pressurised into it in some way.’ What I’m trying to say here is that it was the power of advertising that made people like him read something like that.

One of the things I liked about your biography was the genuine down to earthness, like when you played Max’s Kansas City, a venue that all these cool acts like Television and Patti Smith had played and you only give it two sentences whereas you write a good few pages about Jimmy’s, a boxer’s bar in Harlem that you stumble into. That seems more important to you.

I think so. It was great to play Max’s. The bloke gave me a T-shirt which I’ve still got. Hardly ever wore it then put it in a cupboard.

That’ll likely be worth a small fortune on eBay.

You think so? It’s just a little memento. I think a lot of people go to these places to see who’s there. I didn’t give a fuck who was in Max’s that night. I was more interested in the price of beer. I think the group as a whole was the same although Pete the guitarist was maybe a bit more in tune with that kind of thing.

I didn’t realise till I read your book the extent of how much of a group of outsiders that you felt The Lurkers were.

We were never trendy or cool. The Lurker world wasn’t ‘rack n roll’ – more tea rooms and neurosis, while drinking vats of beer and feeling out of place.

Finally, being Scottish, I was amused by the fact that during the height of punk in the summer of ’77, you played the Isle of Arran. That was some booking agent you had by the way.

The bookings had become a joke by the end. We’re a young band, from London at the cutting edge of punk and they book us to play Arran of all places.

Yeah, lovely island but it’s about ten or twenty years behind the times. I think The Rezillos played there round about the same time actually.

The shows were absolutely mad. It was all flared trousers and long hair. Most of the crowd in their late 20s and everybody was really aggressive cos we’re from London and we had to be very cowardly and just smiled when they said we were shit.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I never made it along for that one. A bit complicated to get to from where I was living. Didn’t get to see you at the Silver Thread either.

The Silver Thread in Paisley?

Yeah. Couple of bus journeys away from me at the time. Plus I would only have been fifteen and they probably wouldn’t have let me in anyway.

Where is it you’re from, Glasgow?

Originally, yeah, but just outside back then.

Whereabouts in Glasgow?

Govanhill in the Southside originally, then a few other places across the city and surrounding areas.

I used to stay sometimes at a pal’s place in Barrhead.

Yeah, that’s nearer Paisley.

He took me to see Celtic play St. Mirren one time. St Mirren won 2-1.

Thanks for talking Pete and good luck with the new book.

Pete will be taking part in a reading on Saturday (1. October) at Kentish Town Library.

For more on Pete, click here and for more specifically on his new novel, here’s a link.

For more on Lurkers GLM, click here.

Young Soul Rebels by Stuart Cosgrove


Young Soul Rebels

Readers of this blog from Scotland will likely know Stuart Cosgrove as one half of the team behind BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly football chat programme Off the Ball, which advertises itself as ‘petty and ill-informed’ and sets out to have a laugh rather than to forensically analyse topics like zonal marking that will forever remain unfathomable to me. I occasionally listen in myself even though I couldn’t name a single current St Johnstone or Motherwell player.

His previous book Detroit 67 was one of my favourite reads of last year and he’s just published another, Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History of Northern Soul.

Ever since youthful nights spent dancing at the Perth City Soul Club, Stuart Cosgrove has remained a Northern Soul fanatic – the word fan wouldn’t do his passion justice. He’s a purist too, unlike your reviewer here, who it would have to be admitted is definitely more of a tourist.

Like Detroit 67, there’s a cover that will surely catch the eye of any soulie (and many non soulies) featuring award winning dancer Steve Cootes, a painter and decorator from Penicuik. Unlike Detroit 67, this time round Stuart doesn’t start with a description of the weather (Elmore Leonard would be pleased). Instead he begins: ‘Nothing will ever compare to the amphetamine rush of my young life and the night I was nearly buggered by my girlfriend’s uncle in the Potteries.’

Throughout the book’s 279 pages, Cosgrove traces the history of the movement, exploring the world of tailor made cash-ins and cover-ups; stompers and dobbers and even Do-Dos and blueys but I like his writing best when he describes his own journey from the golden age of Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca (a venue that he dubs ‘the Harvard of Northern Soul), through to the era of Cleethorpes, Stafford and Allanton all-nighters and beyond – yes, cataloguing the country’s top soul clubs across the decades can read like a list of Britain’s least fashionable towns.

Originally issued on the OKeh label, this is a favourite of Stuart’s, Sandi Sheldon with the sublime You’re Gonna Make Me Love You:

Unlike many books focussing on the subject, Cosgrove connects contemporary issues with the sounds, so as well as discussions on labels such as Okeh and Ric-Tic and DJs like Ian Levine and Richard Searling we get his thoughts on subjects such as amphetamine abuse, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the miner’s strike, the villians of the piece being God’s cop James Anderton, Peter Sutcliffe and Margaret Thatcher.

He’s particularly good on Anderton, a Christian zealot in charge of the policing of Greater Manchester (an area that included Wigan) who embarked on a mission to stop the sanctity of the Sabbath being disturbed by young dance-goers attending all-nighters with the intention of having a good time. Interestingly, his teenage daughter was a rare soul fan but one who was obviously banned from going to all-nighters.

Again, unlike much writing on Northern Soul, Cosgrove doesn’t sanitise the scene. Here he is on Mr M’s, a club within a club at Wigan Casino: ‘It was ferociously hot, like a colonial jail, and was accessed by a small corridor about which many had anxieties. Like the men’s toilets downstairs, it was an intimidating place where rip-off merchants and drug gangs operated.’

Cosgrove peppers his tale with snippets of information that I probably should have known already: one of the reasons behind the Casino’s popularity was the fact that the town possessed two railway stations which made it accessible within a couple of hours from Motherwell to the north and from Rugby in the south; he also explains the reason why soul fans usually found a warmer welcome in seaside resorts than in cities. The rise in package holidays and subsequent economic downturn in coastal towns, in case you’re wondering.

There’s some fantastic photos here too. It’s amazing just how ordinary or even dingy these legendary venues looked – the Golden Torch was a former fleapit cinema in Tunstall, its facade lacking any vague hint of glamour or excitement. There’s also dozens of flyers and posters reproduced and plenty of pictures of records, performers and punters.

Here’s a 1973 track ‘of such earthy modernity it forced a change in dancing styles and brought about the shuffling modern northern era’. This is The Carstairs with It Really Hurts Me Girl:

Throughout the book, I was reminded why I would never have lasted long on the scene before falling foul of some soul Ayatollah or other. My musical loves are simply too wide-ranging and there’s as much chance of Stuart’s beloved St Johnstone swooping to sign Christiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale during the Euros as me ever being able to commit exclusively to one genre (or subgenre) of music for life.

‘Eclectic tastes were rarely tolerated on the northern soul scene, which by the mid seventies was hardening into a zealous sect with its own strict rules.’

When he later dared to join the staff of NME, his pal Keb Darge advised him: ‘Make sure you don’t wank yourself to death listening to the Smiths.’ This was apparently said in jest but it’s easy to imagine some degree of disapproval in the quip too. ‘Fuck off and write about Bono,’ he was later told at a 100 Club soul do.

Young Soul Rebels can be very funny, Stuart and others fuming at a Perth soul DJ for including some David Bowie in his set struck me as absurdly comical, yet there’s tragedy too, such as when he gets stuck on the London Underground for an hour on the way to a soul night. The next day he discovered the reason for the irritating delay – an IRA bomb had ripped through Harrods. And among the dead was one of his cousins.

Stuart clearly possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject matter  – he even chose to study at Washington D.C.’s Howard University due to it having recently awarded an honorary doctorate to Stevie Wonder and its previous alumni including several soul stars (together with the superb crate digging opportunities the city offered) – but he does get punk slightly wrong. The Sex Pistols did often venture out of London in their early days, visiting the likes of Northallerton, Scarborough, Leeds, Middlesborough, Sheffield and even Dundee, and Sniffin’ Glue is generally accepted as the first British punk fanzine rather than Anarchy in the UK.

Young Soul Rebels concludes by bringing us up to date with films like Soul Boy and Northern Soul, Paul Mason’s Culture Show documentary, Northern sets on Mixcloud and YouTube sensation Levanna McLean, before Cosgrove meets up again with some old pals at a Perth City Soul Club reunion, where afterwards he is ‘unable to fully rationalise why a scene that should have died years before was in such rude and uncompromising health.’

Hopefully, this state of affairs continues.

To state the obvious, anybody with a love of Northern Soul should buy a copy of Young Soul Rebels (and tourists too). And it’s safe to say it will very likely be making its way on to my Best of the Year book list in around six month’s time.

Stuart is on Twitter as @Detroit67Book. He’ll be signing copies at Love Vinyl in London on Wednesday 22 June between 6-8pm, where he’ll also be spinning some tracks featured in the book. He’s also just announced an appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Friday 26 August.

For more on the book click here.

Punk Rock, Aerobics & Inspector Rebus

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Back in the 1980s I bought a hardback novel during a book sale at what was then called the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow (now the CCA). It was the debut of an almost completely unknown young Scottish author and although only a couple of hundred copies of the hardback had been published, they must have been proving hard to shift hence the bargain price of a fiver.

I’m told that this edition of The Flood by Ian Rankin is worth a lot more these days than five quid. Or even fifty quid. Luckily I kept my copy.

Nowadays Ian Rankin is, of course, one of Britain’s best-selling authors and another claim to fame is that he was once the vocalist of Fife’s second best punk band*, The Dancing Pigs, who back in 1978 played about six gigs in Cowdenbeath before splitting up. All these years later the author is still happy to describe himself as a frustrated musician and anybody who follows him on Twitter will know just how important a part in his life that music still plays. Last week, for instance, he was congratulating C Duncan for his Mercury Prize nomination and he’s also just put me on to a band called Outblinker.

A few months ago Ian Rankin spoke with Viv Albertine at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I have just discovered that their conversation can be downloaded in audio form, so I’ve added the link below. I’d definitely advise you give it a listen as Viv’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys (or Clothes, Music, Boys as it has been rebranded) is the best autobiography by any musician I’ve read in years and also the best book ever to feature aerobics at any point. Oh, and she talks about playing in Edinburgh as part of White Riot tour.

Viv Albertine Clothes Music Boys cover


Click here to listen to Viv with Ian.

Ian Rankin’s latest Inspector Rebus novel, Even Dogs in the Wild, will be published next month and its Glasgow launch is on Tuesday, 03 November, 2015 at Òran Mór.

* The Skids obviously being the best and the Dancing Pigs apparently being the only other punk band in the Kingdom.

For more on Ian: http://www.ianrankin.net/
For more on Viv: https://www.facebook.com/vivalbertine/

Confessions of a Milf & Mad Truth


Viv Albertine Clothes Music Boys

Out today is the paperback edition of Viv Albertine’s Clothes Music Boys, the memoir formerly known as Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys – a title that several outlets apparently frowned upon, some using it as an excuse not to stock the book.

I preferred the original title myself but I thought it was a good idea to call a post of mine A Former Dreamboy & A Former Dancing Pig Discuss Punk, Doctor Who & Independence. Bet I’d have had more hits if I had mentioned Craig Ferguson and Ian Rankin by name.

I digress. Again.

Voted music book of the year by The Sunday Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Mojo (and this blog too) as well as making a lengthy stay in the non-fiction bestseller lists in Britain, Clothes Music Boys is written with a searing honesty, with its author unafraid to admit to a string of contradictions in her personality. Albertine also demonstrates a willingness to reveal the kind of details that most autobiographies are happy to ignore.

One example of this is the unflinching way she writes about close friendships: for instance, in 1976, together with Vivienne Westwood, she visits Sid Vicious, her former flatmate, former bandmate and someone she obviously adores, when he is imprisoned in Ashford Remand Centre, accused of throwing a glass that hit a female punk fan at the 100 Club in London – the girl losing her sight in one eye as a result of the incident. Sid is depressed and scared of his fellow inmates, who he clearly believes are more vicious than him. He assures his visitors that he is innocent and pleads with them to do all they can to help get him out.

Luckily for poor Sid, the charges against him are eventually dropped due to a lack of evidence. No one can really say for sure who threw the glass.

A year later Viv tells us that he admits to her that it was him.

Uniquely for a bio from a central character of the punk era, CCCMMMBBB not only manages to remain fascinating after the part of the subject’s life that I thought would hold the most interest to me – in this case her time as a Flower of Romance and the early days of The Slits – it gets even better in what Viv calls Side Two, where she teaches aerobics, studies film, undertakes IVF treatment, is diagnosed with cervical cancer and eventually, decades after selling her guitar, makes the decision in her 50s to relearn the instrument and relaunch herself as a musician.

The fact that her autobiography has been such a success must be very pleasing for Viv as her solo album from 2012, The Vermilion Border, was ignored by many critics and also underrated by some of the others who did bother to review it. I think it’s one of the finest releases of recent years.

From it, this is Viv with Confessions of a Milf:

In her book, Viv mentions meeting Gareth Sager from The Pop Group at Glastonbury, where they run about in the mud and Gareth laughs a lot and says surreal things.

‘Gareth,’ she later explains, ‘is into free jazz and introduces me to music by Ornette Coleman, Dollar Brand, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Don Cherry. Even though he’s a really exciting and proficient musician, Gareth thinks tuning and timing are really arbitrary restrictions – passion and ideas are much more important.’

The Pop Group, as you may already know, are just about to release their first album in 35 years. Citizen Zombie is out on Freaks R Us on Monday, February 23rd.

Judging by the single, Mad Truth, the passion and ideas are still as important as ever to Gareth and the band. According to vocalist Mark Stewart: ‘Even I am shocked by the album. It really flips the script. Expect the unexpected. Let the freak flag fly.’

Bet Viv Albertine loves this. Directed by the wonderful Asia Argento this is Mad Truth:

For my 2012 interview with Viv Albertine, click here:

For Viv Albertine’s Facebook page, click here and for the official Pop Group site, click here.

Teenage Exorcists, Ron Asheton & Pieces of Me (Best of 2014, Part One)

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Same as last year except spread over two posts, in no particular order, thirty of my favourite new tracks released during 2014, at least I think they’re all from 2014, along with ten of the very best compilations, reissues or soundtracks and five books.

My top ten albums in order will follow on before the end of the year but for now, here’s the first batch of single tracks together with my the five music books that have impressed me the most.


The Amazing Snakeheads: Here It Comes Again
Morrissey: World Peace is None of Your Business
Opium Kitchen: We Will Be
TV Smith: I Delete
Mogwai: Teenage Exorcists

Beck: Turn Away
Ming City R*ckers: I Wanna Get Out of Here (But I Can’t Take You Anywhere)
The Rosy Crucifixion: Sinners
The Nightingales: Dumb and Drummer
The Sexual Objects: Ron Asheton

King Creosote: For One Night Only
Cleaners From Venus: Imaginary Seas
Cosines: Out of the Fire
Lola in Slacks: False Lines (demo)
Lucy’s Diary: Pieces of Me

The Written Word

Viv Albertine: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. Faber.
John Lydon: Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. Simon & Schuster.
Peter Doherty: From Albion to Shangri-La (Transcribed and edited by Nina Antonia). Thin Man Press,
David Stubbs: Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. Faber.
Steve Hanley & Olivia Piekarski: The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall. Route.

Shopping in Space & The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

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This week I started re-reading Shopping in Space, a book written jointly by Elizabeth Young and Graham Caveney, that takes a look at a number of writers who found themselves being lumped together during the 1980s and early 90s and tentatively categorised as ‘Downtown’, ‘New Narrative’ or ‘Post-Punk’ but whose writing Young and Caveney opted to term ‘Blank Generation’ fiction, after Richard Hell’s most famous song, to give them ‘the necessary link with punk’ and to convey ‘something of the flat, stunned quality of much of the writing’.

At the point when I first read Shopping In Space shortly after its publication in 1992, I was spending more time reading than I was listening to music. Certainly there was still plenty of great new singles and albums coming out by acts like – off the top of my head – My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, Slowdive and Teenage Fanclub but new literature struck me as much more dynamic at this time when grunge largely ruled the planet. Admittedly when Nirvana were at the top of their game with tracks like Smells Like Teen Spirit and Heart Shaped Box, grunge might have seemed like a truly great idea but Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and co? No thanks.

The writing discussed in the Shopping in Space was typical of the kind of thing I was reading back then: Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill, Joel Rose and Jay McInerney, whose Story Of My Life was a particular favourite. Additionally, I was also very keen on Raymond Carver and the so-called ‘dirty realists’ along with the curiously named Breece D’J Pancake, who like Kurt Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the three Glaswegian authors, whose work had been collected together in the 1985 anthology of short stories, Lean Tales: James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens.

Shopping in Spce (1992)  Rebel Inc. Issue 1

What excited me even more though was my discovery of a whole new wave of younger Scottish writers that included Gordon Legge, Duncan McLean and Irvine Welsh. Finding an extract of what later would become the second chapter of Trainspotting in a yearly anthology called New Writing Scotland was almost like discovering The Damned or The Sex Pistols on John Peel.*

Or maybe I should say that reading the Edinburgh based litzine Rebel Inc. was like listening to the Peel show and its pages would introduce me to Laura Hird, Alan Warner, Sandie Craigie, Paul Reekie and many other new voices ‘from Embra and other bits of Scotland like Falkirk’.

Before long I was dabbling myself, trying my hand at writing very short stories that were sometimes only about a page long. Soon I began sending these off to small press publication; some were accepted though mostly I would receive a bog standard rejection letter.

One time, when I was trying to enter a story for some competition organised by Glasgow Uni, my typewriter ribbon – remember this is 1992ish – began growing ever more faded to the point of illegibility and with a deadline looming and zero money to buy a new ribbon I hit on the only solution I could think of that would make my submission even reasonably presentable: I used Letraset for the last couple of paragraphs before rushing out and delivering the final piece by hand.

It didn’t win the competition but did make the shortlist which was selected by Janice Galloway (I was a big admirer of her debut novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing) and I was invited along to read my piece at an event in a hall somewhere deep in the bowels of the uni.

It was the first time I’d ever set foot inside a university. Well, barring when I got signed in for concerts.

All these years later, I’ve started writing some fiction again after enrolling for a part time course at a local university that isn’t Glasgow and this is taking up more time than I’d imagined. Therefore, for the next six or seven weeks, posts on here might be a wee bit shorter than usual and possibly a bit more spread out too.

Next up on the reading list is Joel Rose’s Kill Kill Faster Faster (my copy is on Canongate’s old Rebel Inc. imprint), a novel that’s discussed in Shopping in Space and which Irvine Welsh proclaimed ‘A Modern Urban Masterpiece’ and ‘The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’, which Irvine Welsh actually wrote and which the Independent has called ‘a return to top form for the Trainspotting author’.

Joel Rose Kill Kill Faster Faster  Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Irvine Welsh)

*If Irvine Welsh was The Damned or The Sex Pistols then, applying the punk analogy to myself, I was probably in a band that once supported Eater.

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