Please Don’t Describe The Drums

A rather ace little pop biog to recommend: ‘Mr Cool’s Dream: The Complete History Of The Style Council’ by Iain Munn. (Wholepoint Publications, 2006).

Mr Munn is a shameless trainspotter-style fan, and the book is his own scrapbook-style history of Paul Weller’s eccentric (and very arch) soul-tinged pop group, which existed from The Jam’s break up in 1982 to the start of his solo career circa 1990. It originally emerged as a ring-bound limited edition pamphlet in the mid 90s, and has now been revised, rewritten and upgraded to a paperback version for 2006.

With the recent demise of Smash Hits, I can also recommend the Munn book to anyone who wants to read about the unique tone of 1980s UK pop media, given the vast array of chronologically-ordered clippings and quotes that comprise the bulk of the text. An unpretentious, instantly readable guide to an often deliciously pretentious (yet self-aware with it) pop group.

I’m always slightly annoyed when I see my old group Orlando described in passing, as it is in the recent Belle and Sebastian biography by a Mr Paul Whitelaw, as a Duran Duran-inspired band. Nothing against Mr Le Bon’s merry boat-bothering troupe, but if briefly describing Orlando must be done, I’d say we were more musically influenced by The Style Council and Dexys Midnight Runners, while lyrically tipping our hats to The Smiths, The Manic Street Preachers and Stephen Sondheim. There you go, cut and paste that, O Google-aided deadline whelks.

Fair enough that such writers haven’t the time to check for themselves. But in that case they really shouldn’t refer to what we sounded like at all. Better that than go with a lazy myth that rather says more about the hack than it does Orlando.

I mention this while thinking of Mr Munn’s book and pop books in general, because too many of them do the fan-pleasing stuff of collating third-party research with holding new interviews, but then make the mistake of attempting some sort of ‘literary’ feel, because the hack feels he has to Be a Writer.

In the case of the B & S book, the tome is full of italicised passages written in an attempt to emulate the precious style of the band’s own sleeve notes. When the band do this sort of thing themselves, it’s endearingly idiosyncratic. When a third party biographer does it, it’s somewhat less endearing, even annoying or embarrassing. On top of which, the book is also full of frustrating holes in the author’s research, along the euphemistic lines of ‘so-and-so’s response is not recorded’. Which often means either his emails or phone calls weren’t replied to, or the writer just didn’t bother to find out for himself. So Orlando sound like Duran Duran, that’ll do. If only he’d put as much effort into his research as he did into his italicised passages akin to ‘The Boy felt a bit gentle that day, and wondered if a passing fox would help him buy a new duffle coat…’

I actually emailed the B & S author about the Orlando reference some weeks ago, offering to send him a CD. He has yet to reply. His response is… not recorded. Serves me right for caring.

An example of a really thorough researcher is Mr Simon Goddard, whose recent book on The Smiths (“The Songs That Saved Your Life”), contains the result of his impressive investigations into every tiny aspect of each Smiths song’s adventure from creation to recording to performance, referring to lost out-takes and demos in a degree that must surprise even the people who made them. The problem comes when he tries to Be A Writer rather than just print the research in a readable manner (which is all the book’s target market really want). He feels the need to describe the music. Particularly what the drums sound like.

Rock book writers, heed my words. If you’re writing the story of one particular band, just concentrate on getting the research right, with the gossip, the quotes, the interviews, the anecdotes, and the trivia. That’s what we came for. Mr Munn’s Style Council book is a good, sugar-rush example of a fan simply making the book he and other fans (and those with an interest in the 80s pop scene) actually want to read.