This Land’s Cheerless Marshes

Up the stairs without telling anyone I was back. Into my bedroom, the door shut tight. The front cover showed Alain Delon, arms folded as if he were dead, touched up by an undertaker. Or perhaps resting and thoughtful. Or then again; maybe injured and helpless. Ambiguous, like a whole heap of the lyrics and all of the sexuality. I put the record to one side and poured over the words:

Farewell to this land’s cheerless marshes

Hemmed in like a boar between arches

Her very Lowness with a head in a sling

I’m truly sorry – but it sounds like a wonderful thing

The Queen is Dead by The Smiths had come out that very day and I was as excited as anybody, though in truth I was a late convert. Just the previous week a girl in school called Sian insisted I listen to Meat is Murder on her walkman. I’d told her The Smiths were crap. They wore cardigans, acted all queer, threw flowers onto the stage. I was plastic punk ten years too late. The aggression of Angelic Upstarts and The Clash was my arena, the anthems and frustrations of Stiff Little Fingers. But Sian had a look on her face that demanded I obey. And she was one of the only girls that lads wouldn’t dare take the piss out of, because although she was vulnerable she had fists she was willing to use and previous for knocking lads out. And so I checked the earphones weren’t coated in wax, placed them carefully into my ears and looked up to the heavens.

By the time the next album came out I’d bought every one of their albums and singles and knew all the words by heart. This wasn’t dumb lyrics sung along to accompany some annoyingly catchy tune. This wasn’t new romantics more concerned with how they looked than what they wrote, nor the stoned metaphor of Pink Floyd and their ilk. What I’d found was the perfect balance to the raging dissatisfaction and energy of punk. This was poetry; poetry that should have been on my English Literature O’ Level but wasn’t; poetry that spoke directly to my heart, to my fears of humiliation, my anger and sense of loneliness. This meant more than Arthur Miller or Wilfred Owen; more than Thomas Hardy; much, much more than the oh so cherished bard of Avon. I don’t care if you think that’s sacrilege. For a time it meant more than anything else could ever mean.

And so it began: thanks to a girl I was afraid of upsetting; my first vital link to written word that penetrated far deeper than any before, than any that had ever been spoken either. And with it came the understanding that music and writing were the perfect complement to each other.

These days, I do much more reading of books than I do listening of music. I’ve always got a book on the go. Music faded. It became a friendly companion for travelling and cooking and that was pretty much all, apart from the odd gig here and there.

Until I started writing … properly writing. And then that link came back from somewhere in the unconscious.

I don’t listen to music when I write. Certainly not; I’m one of those writers who needs complete silence. The shutting of cupboard doors, the wiping of shoes on a doormat; these things rake my spine. The crunching of crisps is possibly the worst offence ever to commit in front of me and my computer and can drive me to apoplexy. And yet music could be the worst distraction for I find it impossible to concentrate on anything else when I hear its call. But it puts me into the mood for writing, into that zone far easier and more practically than alcohol or drugs could ever do. And somehow, whilst planning and writing books I find music adopts certain sections of the plot, speaks on behalf of the characters, their situations and dilemmas. Songs, some of which I’ve known for years, come to symbolise passages of my writing. And before I know it I’m forming soundtracks in my mind.

My plan was to release a free soundtrack CD with my first book Kicked Out. I had permission from all the musicians. But time and expense put paid to that, much to my disappointment. Instead I performed live with the rapper and lyricist Rick Fury, whose band Dialect has lyrics throughout the book.

We also made a video thanks to talented friend Gary Lintern

With Andalucía, I planned to perform sections live with a band. Unfortunately the band I’d targeted had decided to take a break from playing live. It’s something I’d still love to do. As for my next book, provisionally titled Swallows and Black Streams; well the plot, the characters and the soundtrack are already playing away in my head …

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