Filler content with extra gig

Here’s a review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #39:-

GIG: JAMES LOVEGROVE

PS Publishing hb, 267pp, £35

This book consists of two linked novellas, Mik and Kim, published back to back as per the old Ace Doubles. The eponymous Mik is Mike Dyer, superstar lead singer of rock band God Dog, hotly tipped as the next big thing, returning to their home town of Rotor City to play the last concert in their current tour. The story is told through the eyes of Mik’s best friend and constant companion, Dave Noon. In the hours leading up to the concert they revisit local spots, scenes of youthful trials and tribulations, the events that shaped who they are today, and the truth of the you can never go home axiom is never more apparent. Something else is going on though. Earlier Mik threatened to break up the band and chance remarks suggest this was more than a fit of rock star petulance. He has an agenda, but what this is only becomes apparent to Dave as the concert reaches it peak. Kim is Rotor City native Kim Reid, who can make claims to be Mik’s No 1 fan; she knows all of his songs by heart, has studied the details of his life and even looks and dresses like his female counterpart. Kim believes that in a drug trip she actually met Mik himself on some other plane and that he gave her a job to do. To complete her assignment Kim must secure an access all areas pass to the concert that night, and she will do practically anything to make that happen. Thus the stage is set for the grand finale, a rock concert that will give birth to a legend.

These two works of fiction complement each other, like the independent parts of some greater whole, giving us an overview of fame, one that embraces both the perspective of the celebrity and that of his admirer. Put together they deftly portray the formative events in the life of somebody who went on to become a superstar and hint at how wearisome the burden of fame, for which most of us long without giving it a second thought, can become. The picture of the music industry is thoroughly convincing, so that you never doubt for a moment that this is the way it is, with everyone scrabbling after their piece of the pie or looking for an angle, and the few who are in it for love of the music serving as lone voices in some wilderness. Lovegrove’s descriptions of the final concert are simply superb, bringing alive the fervour and passion of such an event in a way that eludes most writers, tellingly capturing the synergy that develops between band and audience. The only false note in the entire book is struck when Kim wanders through Yeltley, an area of Rotor City where people take their music so seriously it leads to fights between rival groups of supporters, with fans of the Late and Early Beatles engaged in all out war. Entertaining as it was when taken in isolation, this episode stretched credibility past breaking point and intruded a superficial element.

Lovegrove is fixed firmly in my mind as a writer who enjoys tricks, and his invention is unflagging here, exemplified by the mirror image titles of the two novellas, a love of palindromes that carries over into the body of the text, with corresponding chapters, names of places and characters all given the treatment, an effect that doesn’t alter the basic story in any way. In less skilled hands this could soon become annoying, but here the playfulness of these word games adds an element of pleasure, an appreciation of the writer’s cleverness, while at the same time reinforcing the relationship between the two main characters, the sense that they are twin sides of the same coin. That these novellas are clever is undeniable, but that’s far from being all they are. They come with an underlying depth and sensitivity that make them that little bit special.

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