Friday, May 26, 2023

Remembering Martin Amis


The novelist Martin Amis, who died last week aged 73, “lived to see himself fall out of fashion”, but he was one of the most influential cultural catalysts of my adult lifetime.

I know I usually write about music on here, but it’s all a massive cultural mush, really.

I can’t think of Blur’s Parklife without considering that Martin Amis’s London Fields has some bearing on the life portrayed.

“Who’s that gutlord marching? You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise.”

Of their 2012 London Loves, or anything by the Smiths that had a similar literary texture.

And any picture of him from the 70s has a real feel of Mick Jagger.

In 2015 my debut (and only) novel was published. I thought it was great, and so did plenty of critics, but I couldn’t get the attention of a major publisher.

That said, when two different critics of some standing included Amis references in their reviews I felt a massive pang of pride.

Kevin Sampson, author, Awaydays said:: "Haha, brilliant! As amoral antiheroes go, Cashmore knocks Gordon Gekko, John Self and Steven Stelfox into a tin hat. What a lovable tw*t!"

Martin Vander Weyer, business editor of the Spectator: "You are the Martin Amis of this generation. Really enjoying it, but had to Google 'rusty sheriff's badge'."

It was reading Amis’s novels Money and London Fields in the 1980s, as well as his earlier work, The Rachel Papers, that really gave me that drive to write modern fiction.

His vivid and often unpleasant central characters Nicola Six, John Self and Keith Talent painted with words a real dark side of life, that comes from the most important skill a good writer can possess, indeed what he values as a key virtue of the modern novelist is “a good ear”.

He offered that remarkable piece of advice when I had the opportunity to meet him in person and hear him speak.

Not many of the obituaries for him mention this, but Martin Amis was Professor of Creative Writing at The University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing from 2007-2011.

He opened students up to the work of Nabokov and Bellow, the comic novel, the Russian novella - as well as works by Austen, Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Anthony Burgess and others.

His very presence drew interest from student writers  and applications to study in Manchester on the MA course surged, but his biggest contribution.

John McAuliffe from the University describes him as “great, congenial company” something I witnessed when I met him when he would come up and deliver a lecture, or a conversation with one of his famous friends, including Australian critic Clive James and fellow literary novelist Ian McEwan. 

It was at one of those talks that Amis offered the ‘good ear’ line.

He also talked about ageing in literature. How the voices of the aged were sadly missing - how Dickens and Shakespeare died in their 50s. Where then is there a voice from the elderly?

In a fascinating exchange, Amis opened up by bemoaning the later works of John Updike, who he said had "lost his ear".

And though it seems churlish to mention it, it came to the one time enfant terrible of Britlit too. 

I think his characters suffered for it as he got older. I checked back to something I wrote about when I reviews one of his later novels: “I gave up on Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo: State of England. Disgraceful poverty porn masquerading as irony.”

His father, the novelist Kingsley Amis, also died at 73, which has a symmetry to it. He never won the Booker Prize, which was a shocker, but apparently he was due to get a knighthood.


Labour back musicians

Labour made a pledge to slash the costs of overseas touring for musicians last week at the launch of a new network for creatives in the North.

All of Tameside’s three Labour MPs were on hand to push the importance of music, film, television and the arts and make them important economic policy priorities for a future Labour government.

Ashton MP and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner spoke at the event at ITV Studios in Trafford Park and insisted the group wouldn’t just be a talking shop but a genuine forum for ideas to boost one of the major planks of the UK economy: “A network that won’t just back our creative industries, but boost them,” she said.

Among the 100 plus attendees were: producer Nicola Shindler from ITV Productions, and the founder of multi-award winning Red Productions; Warehouse Project owner Sasha Lord; Danny Brocklehurst writer of Brassic; Co-operative UK chief executive Rose Marley, creator of the Beyond the Music festival this year; Glossop-based entrepreneur Thom Hetherington; and Tom Gray, founding member of the Mercury prize-winning band Gomez.

I enjoyed meeting Gray, who has been a vocal and vociferous music industry campaigner.

As well as success as a musician and songwriter with Gomez, whose first two albums – Bring It On (1998) and Liquid Skin (1999) – both went Platinum in the UK, Gray is a composer for movies, advertisements and TV shows, including British comedy In My Skin.

His core argument is that Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services have stitched up a system to distribute the money they make with the major record labels, leaving crumbs for the majority of artists.

“I love streaming, I just hate the remuneration system sitting inside it. It’s a gorgeous house with lovely furniture, but with dangerously bad wiring and the estate agent seems to have set the price a bit low in search of a quick sale,” he said.

He has the ear of music fan Jonathan Reynolds MP, the Shadow Business Secretary and member for Stalybridge & Hyde, who as well admitting to me that Bring It On is one of his favourite albums.

“Tom is thinking seriously about what the structure of the music industry, and new developments like AI, means for artists and how we can ensure we keep the UK as a world class hub of creative talent,” he said.

The Labour Creatives Network has been designed to bring together artists who share Labour values, aiming to create a community that will help the party develop its policies and manifesto. 

In a message to the arts world, Labour shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell MP said: "A Labour government is coming and we will back Britain’s creative industries to the hilt."

“The creative industries are worth £178 billion worth of growth every year, £50 billion worth of exports, two million jobs, 750,000 businesses."

Powell also promised to tackle the effects of Brexit on artistic touring by negotiating an EU-wide cultural touring agreement as well as a visa waiver for touring artists including allowances for cabotage, carnets and custom rules.

She also touched on the great job Liverpool did hosting Eurovision and promised to examine why cities are often pitted against each other in expensive competitions to host events.

“We want to encourage more collaboration and end the competitive processes which pits places against each other. We’ll work with Metro Mayors and others to break down barriers to growth everywhere with proposals for creative clusters, supporting plans for a cultural corridor across the North,” she said.

Andrew Gwynne MP (Denton and Reddish) was also there mixing with the actors, musicians and leaders in attendance, and pictured pulling pints in the Rovers Return. 

Reynolds said: "It was particularly nice to see my constituents Dave Moutrey from HOME and Liz O’Neill from Z Arts there. We should absolutely relish and cherish the incredible creative talent in the North West.”

Friday, May 12, 2023

A riot of 80s music and fashion

For a couple of 80s fashion and music fans, the new Sky Max series A Town Called Malice went down very well in the Music Therapy studio.

The pre-publicity would have you believe it’s Dallas meets Pulp Fiction soundtracked by Duran Duran. Neil described it as Eldorado with effing and jeffing. 

It ticked a lot of my boxes because it was basically a high camp crime thriller set in the early 1980s in the Costa del Sol.

Obviously the name is a giveaway - named after the Jam classic tune - and there’s a Weller cameo early on, but music plays a massive part of A Town Called Malice.

In a bit of a hat-tip to films like LaLa Land the characters break into song and dance routines and every episode ends with a classic '80s music video.

Talking about the soundtrack, creator Nick Love said: "There’s nothing better to give you memories.

"Part of it, obviously, is just me getting my rocks off by using the music that I love. But it is more than that. It’s really evocative for people. We’ve tried to do more than just turn it into a jukebox soundtrack."

Love added: "The prerequisite for me was always: it’s not about the lyrics, it’s about the feeling, it’s about the mood. The Clash’s 'I Fought the Law' obviously speaks to that moment in the series in particular. But you’ve also got to remember that while people of my generation know The Clash, anyone who’s under 40 won’t.

"You have to emotionally earn the moment to make it resonate. As the show develops, it gets more and more emotional, and we use more ballads. So it’s not just about putting a song out for the song’s sake. It’s always about earning it."

Love also did a great job dripping some reggae into the soundtrack to accentuate one storyline.

Director Jamie Donoughue, who has a background in music videos, added: "From the beginning, Nick and I talked about this being a music show.

"Everything is driven by the beat of the music. So the camera moves on the beat, the cuts move on the beat and everything feels like we’re on a journey."

The series follows the Lords - a family of South London gangsters who've fallen to the bottom of the criminal food chain.

After fleeing to the Costa del Sol, the family believes this is a golden opportunity to re-invent themselves and recapture their former glory. It has a bit of a crossover with The Business, a feature film directed by the writer and producer Nick Love.

"It was a small film that punched above its weight," said Love.

"Once people started migrating from film to television, I thought to myself, 'I can imagine a TV show based on a similar world to The Business'.

"If you could make a show about the same sort of heady world, then I could see that connecting with an audience because that film was made on a shoestring budget and performed really well.

"There was also the fact that the film was made when I was younger and my storytelling prowess wasn’t quite as elegant as it is now. And so there was a sense of wanting to go back and do a better job."

Molly Emma Rowe was the costume designer on the series and she worked with specialists such as Neil Primette from '80s Casual Classics and sportswear collectors to capture the look.

Rowe got the "Holy Trio of Fila, Sergio Tacchini and Ellese", incredible Adidas pieces from our mate

Gary Aspden, a fellow Blackburn Rovers fan and a curator of the street fashion look, and I even spotted a couple of Cerrutti 1881, one of the 80s labels that I wore at the time. 

All told, it’s not going to win many awards for its writing, but for the music and styling A Town Called Malice had me watching all the way through to its dramatic end.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

A season like no other - working for Blackburn Rovers

me with Adam Wharton and Matt Jansen

One of the things I've missed this season has been blogging about Blackburn Rovers.

The journalistic output instead has been channelled into my pre and post match interviews that I do as the host in the Premier Lounge at Ewood this season.

When Richard Slater, publisher of Lancashire Business View, introduced me to the opportunity I thought it would be good fun to do it at least once. I've now hosted every home game (bar one) this season since I started.

In the course of doing it I've got to know a completely different group of Rovers fans, the customers in Jack's Kitchen and the Premier Lounge, as well as the members of staff, the directors, and management of the club. 

I appreciate much more now the attention to detail that goes in to putting on a professional football match and the rules and essentials that have to be organised. I've been particularly impressed with the efforts behind the scenes to build links to different parts of the community and how much effort is invested in that.

They say you should never meet your heroes. And I have had a policy of not talking to the players previously. But I can happily say that every single member of the first team squad that I've interviewed after the match, as they get their Peter Jackson the Jeweller watch, has been a really, really good lad.

The same goes for the former players that I have pre-match chat with on the mic, and the members of the women's team who came to one match, and the off celebrity guest. Some of the former players loom much larger in my affections than others but without exception they have all been really good storytellers and have been held in great affection by the supporters. I can't think of an interview that's gone badly.

Whoever it is, I always let them know what's involved in those few minutes before we take to the 'stage'. Some of them know the present team better than others, some not at all, but each one of them desperately wants Rovers to do well and appreciates the opportunity to reflect fondly on their time at the club.

I enjoy the preparation for each interview and the chance to rekindle memories of goals and games I was at. It was notable that the first interview was with one of the first Rovers players I really took to back in 1977, Kevin Hird. 

For the interviews afterwards it's better when we win, but the players have never shied away from facing the fans when they've come in after a disappointing result. They also never refuse a photo, or an autograph or a conversation. They are all really good young men who make their parents very proud. 

They don't mind what I ask either. Joe Rankin-Costello was happy to explain to the fans the importance of playing out from the back, or what his preferred position is.

If Rovers ask me back next season there's a few things I think we can do for the businesses who sponsor and play a part in the day without it disturbing the flow of the day. For me though it's about enhancing the experience for the fans. I know it's fashionable to be rude about corporate supporters, but they are all genuine fans who really feel it just as much when we win and when we lose.

That all said, I feel a bit flat at the end of a strange season where we lost twice to 'them lot up the road', got battered at home by Preston, hammered at Rotherham, yet went on a cup run and beat Premier League opposition, both of which I saw. And we improved on previous seasons. Progress, right? 

When I look at the squad I ask the simple question, has each player got better? And can they continue to improve with us? In most cases I think they have, and they can. Most notably, obviously, Adam Wharton, but Joe Rankin-Costello, Haydn Carter and Harry Pickering have all become quality Championship level players at a very early age. I think with more striking options we will see better decision making (and luck) for Sammie Szmodics and Ryan Hedges. Dom Hyam is a proper leader.

I was disappointed at how Ben Brereton Diaz dropped off in form. His flourish at Millwall showed us what we have missed and I wish him well, but the failure to make those fine margins work in our favour didn't cost us a play off place last week in the performance in the last home game against Luton, but all season. There were spells in the later games v Coventry, Preston, Huddersfield, Burnley and Luton where I watched in wonderment at the quality on show. The manager has done a good job managing expectations and insisting it's a project, a work in progress. I think I get a sense of who he likes and relies on and what he needs. 

As ever, I can talk myself into the positives, but I still worry about the crowds, the ownership, the direction of the club. Keeping hold of prize assets or at least getting some money for them, which hasn't been the case with Lenihan and Brereton-Diaz.

Enjoy the summer.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Lunch of the month for April - the Lake District

Maybe it was the Bank Holidays, or the different pace of work, or the trip to the Lake District. 

But I went through my food pics for April and we had some magnificent dinners in the Lakes, then a really hearty pub lunch was served in the Britannia Inn in Elterwater. It wasn't even my lunch, but it so conquered one of my fellow Freshwalkers, I was able to sample enough of it to convince me it was a winner.

And it was just enough to give us a lift for the walk into Grasmere.

My Manchester quick and cheerful lunches, not so much.

I went to a new fast food place in the centre that was really poor. I assure you, normal service will be resumed in May.