When I saw Mark Ellen talking about his career and this book at a literary salon as part of the Chiswick book festival, I suspected I would like this book. And boy did I! No, rather, I loved this book.
There are many things I love about this book. Personally, there were a lot of bands and musicians - older as well as more recent - that I like and enjoyed reading ‘behind the scenes’ stories about. He captures the feel, the look and, importantly, the sound of the music industry through the late 20th century perfectly, populated by a colourful cast of characters - as one would generally anticipate with such a story.
“The dressing room, smoke-stained and tiny, contained a steaming Elvis, his Attractions, a couple of Ian Dury’s unsettling Blockheads, Graham Parker and two of the Rumour: The most terrifying collection of individuals I’d ever seen in my life.”
I also feel that Rock Stars is not just for music lovers but a great read for anyone interested in recent cultural and social history. From the tales of squatting in a crumbling, empty Victorian house in Battersea in the 70’s to the incredible spectacle that was Live Aid shows the evolving social backdrop, giving Ellen’s music and story more depth and context.
Finally, one of the main reasons I love this book, is it’s just so thoroughly British.
“...the old world would come tumbling down and everyone would get a bit giddy and probably fall in a ditch.
Terrific, we thought....
Will and I were seventeen and ecstatic just to be away from our home turf of Fleet, Hampshire, a town of such skull-cracking tedium that you spent every waking hour plotting an escape from the place.”
Incredibly funny, Ellen has a real way with words, giving this account an incredibly funny edge. And not just because of the passages where he describes being in a band with Tony Blair.The fluidity of the much of the prose is what pulls you along.
And though in some ways he seems a bit soft around the edges, there is a certain tenacity about Ellen, seemingly always ready to throw himself into what he’s doing no matter how crazy. Even if it does lead to an embarrassing failed interview surrounded by sheep in the middle of nowhere. This was the thing he loved and he was determined to pursue it.
“Who’s wheel-nut was nearest the venue? For one brief and glorious moment, I was starting to think it was mine.”
A great lesson for all of us.
Now I can believe that this book wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea - though I find that hard to understand - partly because of some of the swearing, but overall I think most people, certainly those who love a good slice of British life, will enjoy it. It might not seem on the surface to be a subject everyone is interested in, but that quality of the writing and colour of the story make it incredibly appealing, which is what makes it a great choice for the The Joy Book Club.
So Bookfriends, what did you think?