Song Noir

June 5, 2019 at 07:30

I really became a character in my own story. I’d go out at night, get drunk, fall asleep underneath a car. Come home with leaves in my hair, grease on the side of my face, stumble into the kitchen, bang my head on the piano and somehow chronicle my own demise and the parade of horribles that lived next door.

Tom Waits

Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles

Song Noir by Alex Harvey will be an in-depth examination of the first, formative decade of Tom Waits’ career, when he lived in Los Angeles and mined an extraordinarily rich seam of the city’s low-life locations, characters and ‘noir’ associations.

Los Angeles fed and nurtured Waits’ dark imagination. In turn he created a body of work that contributed to the sense of the city as a deeply unsettling urban experience – a place of extremes; of dreams and violence, despair and yearning. The book will examine how this period represents the absolute high watermark of Waits’ Los Angeles legend, the time that he very deliberately set about living the life his songs described; it’s the moment when Waits’ creative inter-penetration of city and self-hood becomes complete. The book will also explore how, over time, Los Angeles became as much a trap as a means of escape for this artist. It wasn’t simply that his ‘lush life’ had turned into a kind of prison. His performing persona, one that drew on so many of city’s associations and influences, hardened into a mask that threatened to restrict his musical growth.

The book explores how, within the context of Los Angeles’ noir-like dreamscape, Waits was able to re-work the spoken idioms of Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski and draw upon the legacy of jazz-blues rhythms to such powerful, hallucinatory effect.

But Song Noir will also chart how Waits’ stark portraits of Americana, with its diners and drunks, started to become repetitive and mannered. It was a kind of self-created trap, as the city of Los Angeles also came to embody the deeply personal demons bound up with Waits’ complex relationship with his unsettled, alcoholic father, Frank.

About the Author
Alex Harvey is a Los Angeles-based director and writer, who has made over 20 documentaries and dramas, working in both film and television. His most recent film is the feature documentary Enter the Jungle (2014). He has written essays for publications such as the London Review of Books, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Semi-Detached

December 23, 2016 at 22:55

‘The Kinks: Songs of the Semi-Detached’ by Mark Doyle (expected 2018).

Of all the great British rock bands of the 1960s, none had a stronger sense of place than the Kinks.

The core members of the group grew up in what George Orwell once described as the “inner-outer suburbs” of North London, a safe, unexciting land of launderettes and lace curtains, the kind of place to which working-class families moved once they could afford to escape the East End. They were part of a postwar generation of working-class English kids excited by the raunchy energy of American rhythm and blues, and after a few years of global success with hits like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All Of the Night” the Kinks seemed destined to leave their humble origins far behind. Instead, lead singer and songwriter Ray Davies retreated from the swinging world of rock stardom into an England of semi-detached houses and afternoon teas. It was an unlikely setting for pop music greatness, but from 1967 to 1971, with the London suburbs acting both as muse and base of operations, the Kinks created some of the greatest albums in rock and roll history.

 

 

This book will position the Kinks, and Ray Davies in particular, as poets of twentieth-century English suburbia. Like George Orwell, J. G. Ballard, and Charles Dickens, Davies both satirized and empathized with the plight of the ordinary people of England, depicting them as essentially decent (if occasionally indecent) folk fighting against a host of powerful, inhuman forces. Davies understood their struggles – against bureaucracy, conformity, technology, and so-called progress – because he was struggling right along with them, only his foes took the specific forms of record companies, family obligations, financial turmoil, and his own bandmates (especially his unruly brother Dave).

Uncomfortable with rock stardom, uneasy in his marriage, and unimpressed with the swinging London of Soho and Carnaby Street, Ray always seemed to be a step or two removed from whatever was swirling around him. The songs he wrote from this position of semi-detachment abound with wit, anger, and humanity. They offer up paths of escape (to the English countryside, to Oklahoma, to the jungle), find fleeting comfort in nostalgia, and confer a touch of nobility upon little suburban men who catch trains and pay down their mortgages. In their very precision – in their very Englishness – Davies’ best songs from this period achieve a kind of universality. His characters’ struggles are not just the struggles of men and women in England in the 1960s and 1970s, but of anybody who’s ever tried to live like a human being in the this modern world of ours.

The book covers the period of the Kinks’ early success in 1964 to their creative peak in 1967-71, focusing especially on five albums: Something Else by the Kinks (1967); The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968); Arthur (Or, the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969); Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970); and Muswell Hillbillies (1971). It will also contain an epilogue that compares the Kinks’ development to that of other English rock acts, concluding with a discussion of the Kinks’ sonic and thematic influence on the punk scene of the late 1970s. It draws upon a growing body of academic and non-academic writing about the Kinks, including two memoirs by Ray Davies and one by Dave Davies, as well as press interviews, album and song reviews, concert films, and other materials from the popular media. The discussion of the band’s social and cultural contexts will draw upon Mark Doyle’s expertise in modern British history, historical scholarship on postwar consumer culture and suburbanization, and the writings of other astute observers of suburban England, especially George Orwell, whose influence on the Kinks (and many other British rock acts) was profound.

 

About the Author

Mark Doyle is an Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University who specializes in the study of British Imperial History. He is the author of Communal Violence in the British Empire: Disturbing the Pax (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) and Fighting Like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics, and the Origins of Violence in Victorian Belfast (Manchester University Press, 2009).

Garage Rock

August 27, 2015 at 09:26

 

Seth Bovey’s Garage Rock: From the Fabulous Wailers to the White Stripes (expected 2017-18) will explore the cross-generational phenomenon of garage rock – from the Fabulous Wailers in the late 1950s to the White Stripes in the 2000s, and beyond.

The book aims to tell the story of how generations of young, aspiring musicians have tried to recreate the sounds and excitement of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. In the earliest days, many of the Garage bands were content with playing covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry songs, but others dug further into the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and found that the sounds they wanted came out of postwar rhythm and blues. Thus, like other forms of American popular music, garage rock draws its substance and vigor from African-American music.

But it would be a mistake to see garage musicians as mere revivalists or purists – what they seek, rather, is to capture the primal energies of an earlier form of rock and roll.

The youth culture that would sustain successive waves of garage bands first blossomed in the mid-sixties after the so-called British Invasion, in whose aftermath garage rock went through its greatest period of productivity and popularity (roughly from 1965 through 1967). But, as garage music devolved into other forms of rock, its contemporaneous audience moved on to other musical pastures and the 60s movement faded away.

A new phenomenon then arose in the early 1970s as several influential figures began to look back at ‘60s garage music and develop an after-the-fact audience for it. One of these figures was fanzine publisher Greg Shaw, who began writing about ‘60s garage bands in his Spring 1971 issue of Who Put The Bomp! Joining him was rock critic Lester Bangs, who published several articles that year in Bomp! and Creem magazine on the joys of listening to garage rock. Then music journalist Lenny Kaye compiled an album of ‘60s garage songs called Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. Released by Elektra in 1972 and re-released by Sire in 1976, this compilation album exposed 1970s rock fans to garage music and helped to inspire the punk/New Wave movement of the mid to late ‘70s.

Nuggets also spawned a slew of other compilation albums that were vital to inspiring several more garage movements, including the neo-garage and neo-psychedelic movements of the 1980s, the garage-punk movement of the late 1980s, the grunge movement of the late 1980s to early ‘90s, and several other garage rock revivals that occurred in the 1990s and 2000s, all of which involve bands playing primitive rock and roll with a garage sensibility. Thus, Seth Bovey will show, garage rock acts as a kind of avant-garde impulse – forcing rock music to advance – while remaining in touch with the past for inspiration and guidance.

The book will take a global perspective on a phenomenon that has grown and mutated over the last fifty years or so, touching almost every corner of the world.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SETH BOVEY is Professor of English at Louisiana State University of Alexandria. He has previously written about garage punk for the journal Popular Music and Society, and has published widely on aspects of popular culture. He is also a musician (guitar and bass guitar) who played in several garage bands in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

 

Neil Young

August 2, 2015 at 00:01

Neil Young: American Traveller by Martin Halliwell
September 2015 (UK) & October 2015 (North America)

 

When Neil Young left Canada in 1966 to move to California, it was the beginning of an extraordinary musical journal that would leave song after song resonating across the landscapes of North America. From “Ohio” to “Albuquerque,” Young’s fascination with America’s many places profoundly influenced his eclectic style and helped shape the restless sensibility of his generation. In this book, Martin Halliwell shows how place has loomed large in Young’s prodigious catalog of songs, which are themselves a testament to his storied career as a musician playing with bands such as Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, and, of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Moving from the Canadian prairies to Young’s adopted Pacific home, Halliwell explores how place and travel spurred one of the most prolific creative outputs in music history. Placing Young in the shifting musical milieus of the past decades—comprised of artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, the Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Devo, and Pearl Jam—he traces the ways Young’s personal journeys have intertwined with that of American music and how both capture the power of America’s great landscapes.

Spanning Young’s career as a singer-songwriter—from his many bands to his work on films—Neil Young will appeal not just to his many fans worldwide but to anyone interested in the extraordinary ways American music has engaged the places from which it comes.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MARTIN HALLIWELL is Professor of American Studies at the University of Leicester. He has written widely on contemporary American literature, US cultural and intellectual history, and his recent books include Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock since the 1960s (New York: Continuum, 2011, co-authored with Paul Hegarty) and Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945-1970 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013).

 

REVIEW QUOTES

Gary Genosko, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
“All of Neil Young’s changes are expertly accounted for here under the sign of the drifter, with its associated features of mobility, flight, and rootlessness. Halliwell unfolds a detailed map stretching from Thunder Bay to Topanga Canyon of a musical career with plenty of scenic drives and detours. Neil Young: American Traveller beckons us to stick out our thumbs and hitch a ride on the ongoing journey.”

Will Kaufman, author of Woody Guthrie, American Radical
“Halliwell’s study of Neil Young is a superb cultural history and a highly informed piece of music criticism. By situating Young’s songs and films in specific locations, as well as the deterritorialised realms of time and space, Halliwell explores the boundary-smashing nature of a fifty-year career that has transformed the history of North American music.”

Kevin Chong, author of Neil Young Nation
“In a half-century of music, Neil Young has been a sort of ‘mindful drifter,’ offering wistful glimpses of the North American landscape from the tour bus window or behind the wheel of a retired hearse. In one moment, he’ll nostalgically invoke his Canadian past in a piano ballad and, in another, conjure searing guitar rock about racial injustice in the US. If Young creates a musical map of North America in his songs, then Halliwell has done a wonderful job of annotating it. Neil Young: American Traveller is a pithy work that’s perceptive to the biographical undercurrents, cultural clashes, and thematic motifs that run through Young’s long, eventful music journey.”

Popmatters
“Halliwell knows what he’s talking about, and writes with real enthusiasm and know-how. . . . Authors of books in which the star subject hasn’t been in direct contact with the writer in interviews, and trying to get to get to the bottom of things face-to-face, really have to know what they’re on about, lest the books become a Hades of hazy speculation and guesswork. Halliwell avoids this problem by truly, relentlessly knowing his stuff. It also helps that he writes in a way that doesn’t hinge on having the reader’s approval, and also that he doesn’t claim to have some kind of mystical truth of the subject that was overlooked by everyone else.”

Soundscapes

August 1, 2015 at 20:16

Jimi Hendrix, one of the great instrumentalists in rock history, pioneered an amplified sound that extended the scope of the guitar into the urban landscape. Jimi Hendrix: Soundscapes traces Hendrix’s personal and musical trajectory through the places in which he played, following him from the Pacific Northwest to the California coast, through the South and on to New York City, and from his musical beginnings as a youth in Seattle to his debut, touring career and his last weeks in London.


Hendrix was a genuine inner-city dweller, a nighthawk and wanderer who roamed the streets and alleys of everyday neighbourhoods and sought out seedy basement bars and intimate clubs – whether as performer or audience member. The rumble, uproar, babble and discord of urban life inspired Hendrix to incorporate noise into his powerful repertoire. Tracking the variety of places where Hendrix played, from open-air stages to dilapidated ballrooms, Marie-Paule Macdonald shows in this book how landscape and cityscape became for Hendrix a material to be exploited; he would eventually commission an architect and sound engineer to build an urban recording studio that would capture the reverberation, bounce, sustain and echo that he heard and played.

Crackling with the electrifying sound of explosive creativity, Jimi Hendrix: Soundscapes explores place and space to offer fascinating new insights into Hendrix’s resounding talent.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MARIE-PAULE MACDONALD is Professor of Architectural and Urban Design at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Her previous books include Rockspaces (2000) and Wild in the Streets: The Sixties (in collaboration with Dan Graham, 1994).

 

Road Music

July 25, 2015 at 10:22

Easy Riders, Rolling Stones: On the Road in America, from Delta Blues to 70s Rock
John Scanlan
September 2015 (UK) / October 2015 (North America).


Easy Riders, Rolling Stones travels back into the history of American popular music of the twentieth century to explore the emergence of ‘road music’. This music – blues, R’n’B, and rock music – was crystallized at important points of transition, and made by artists and performers who were also, in various ways, seekers after freedom. Whether journeying across the country, breaking free from real or imaginary confines, or in the throes of self-invention, they made their experience not only a subject in countless songs about travel and movement, but the basis for a new kind of culture.

From the Mississippi Delta – land of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and others – and out through the iconic routes and highways that carried the blues into new encounters, American music and the life of movement it so often represented, identified ‘the road’ as the key to an existence that was uncompromising. It was an idea that would echo through the century, driving pioneers such as Sam Phillips (who recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and others) and James Brown into new musical terrain. It became an inspiration for artists like Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, who drew similar encouragement from a Beat movement that was no less obsessed with the possibilities of travel.

But this affinity for the road that is essentially American culminates in the rock culture and exploits of English bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. In America, they may have been foreigners, but they also found their spiritual home – the home of blues and rock’n’roll – and glimpsed the possibility of a new kind of existence, on the road.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JOHN SCANLAN writes on cultural history and aesthetics. He has worked as a lecturer and researcher at the Universities of Bristol, St Andrews, Glasgow and Manchester Metropolitan University. His other books include Memory: Encounters with the Strange and the Familiar (Reaktion, 2013), On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004), and also in the Reverb series, Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’Roll (Reaktion 2012). He is Reverb Series editor.

 

REVIEW QUOTES

“The road has long been one of the most evocative cultural motifs in popular music. In Easy Riders, Rolling Stones John Scanlan provides a fascinating account of the emerging relationship between music and movement, from its origins in the pre-war Mississippi Delta to its deafening denouement in the rock shows of the 1970s.” – Matthew Gandy, Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography, University of Cambridge

‘John Scanlan delivers a beautifully rich and finely researched account of how America’s endless highway has influenced and manifested itself in key artists’ work . . . Scanlan draws from known documentation but displays an innate feel for his subject as he throws up insightful theories about the more direct times before social media, when artists could be covered at close range by chroniclers of the time . . . It’s rare to find a tome which makes you ponder then punch the air in agreement but this highly recommended work is as much an endangered species as its subjects.’ – Kris Needs, Record Collector

‘John Scanlan’s fascinating study explores the theme of being on the road in 20th-century American popular music, from the itinerant blues guitarists of the Mississippi Delta travelling Highway 61 in the 1920s, to the mostly English, blues-inspired rock groups of the 1960s and 70s, such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin . . . A wonderfully evocative musical odyssey.’ – The Guardian

“Beginning with early blues artist Charley Patton, [Easy Riders] explains how a mythology can quickly build up around itinerant musicians who never stay in one place too long . . . a fascinating read for anyone who’s ever wanted to head out on the highway.” – Classic Rock magazine

“The many facets of ‘the road’ are delineated in John Scanlan’s absorbing new book, from the Faustian pacts made by the old bluesmen at the crossroads, to the importance of the road to the aura of excess that grew up around bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. When we talk about the road, of course, we mean the great highways of America – not the M6 – and Scanlan suggests that for both generations, the road provided a space that allowed music ‘to become a vehicle for journeys that would inform the kind of experience that leads to self-discovery.'” – Choice magazine, ‘Paperback Book of the Month’

‘Despite the vast nature of his subject matter, Scanlan manages a concise, well-structured and presented picture of the music’s evolution, placing it within a social and cultural context that owes as much to history as those with a reverence for the past and its preservation. Touching on the heavy hitters and lesser known performers in equal measure, Scanlan paints a holistic picture that serves as a sampler platter of sorts for a variety of artists, offering an inroad to those who may seem somewhat inaccessible. With his clear, sharp prose and decidedly British and openly reverential take on his subject matter, he presents a well-argued thesis and exploration of some seventy-five years of popular music rooted in the American South and eventually filtered through a British lens and back into a relevant form years after its initial appearance. No easy task, but one Scanlan manages with aplomb . . . Easy Riders, Rolling Stones proves a fascinating look at a bygone era from an outside perspective.’  – PopMatters

“In Easy Riders, Rolling Stones, John Scanlan takes readers on a illuminating journey into the heart of the American imagination – to the place where ‘the road’ intersects with some of greatest blues and rock music produced in the twentieth century. It’s a trip well worth taking, especially when your tour guide is as knowledgeable and brilliant as Scanlan.” – Greg Renoff, author of Van Halen Rising 

Heroes

August 1, 2014 at 20:37

Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin by Tobias Rüther
Sept 2014 (UK) / Oct 2014 (North America)


In 1976 David Bowie left Los Angeles and the success of his celebrated albums Young Americans and Station to Station and settled in Berlin, where he would work on his ‘Berlin Triptych’, the albums Low, ‘Heroes’, and Lodger, which are now considered some of the most critically acclaimed and innovative of the late twentieth century. But Bowie’s time in Berlin was about more than producing new music. As explained in this fascinating account of the Berlin years, Bowie moved to that city – the capital of his childhood dreams and the home of Expressionist art – to repair his body and mind from the devastation of drug addiction, delusions and mania. In the course of this rehabilitation he became an artist of extraordinary brilliance and originality.

In Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin, Tobias Rüther describes Bowie’s friendships and collaborations with Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, and paints a vivid picture of his life in the city’s Schöneberg area. Here Bowie started to paint again, and would cycle to the Die Brücke museum as well as explore the nightlife of the city – its wild side and gay scene. He also became close friends with Romy Haag. At Hansa Studios, a stone’s throw from the Berlin Wall, Bowie recorded his groundbreaking song ‘Heroes’. He even landed the part of a Prussian aristocrat in Just a Gigolo, starring alongside Marlene Dietrich.

Berlin was then a divided city at a turning-point: at that time West Berlin began to redefine itself as a cultural metropolis, establishing its new role in Germany and the world. Neutralized politically due to the Cold War, Berlin turned to the arts to start its history anew. This book is the story of an artist and a city – the story of the music of the future arising from the spirit of the past.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Tobias Rüther is a journalist at Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung.

 

REVIEWS


‘an engaging, scholarly study, which puts Bowie in the context of heavyweights like Michel Foucault, Max Frisch and Erich Heckel, who inspired the cover art for “Heroes”.’ – Paul Burston, The Independent

Magnetic North

May 16, 2014 at 00:13

Radio-On-2-612x329

Sting: From Northern Skies to Fields of Gold (forthcoming, 2017) By Paul Carr

In the post-progressive rock era of the late 1970s and early 80s, a three-piece band called The Police emerged to be one of the most commercially successful acts of their generation. Unlike the vast majority of bands to emerge during the Punk/New Wave era of the mid-to-late 1970s, the members of The Police were all seasoned musicians by the time the group was formed in 1977, with guitarist Andy Summers (a decade older than his two bandmates) having performed with the likes of Eric Burden and The Animals and The Soft Machine, and American-born drummer Stewart Copeland working with British progressive rock band Curved Air.

Lead singer and bassist Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, was not only the frontman of the group, but also became their main songwriter, later forging an equally successful solo career and becoming one of the most celebrated songwriters and recognisable voices in popular music. Sting’s initial success however did not occur overnight.

After performing one of his final gigs with his band Last Exit at Newcastle University Theatre, Sting set off for London with his wife Francis Tomelty, baby son Joe, and “a couple of bags of clothes, two guitars, and a wicker rocking chair” – his worldly belongings.

The financial future of the pair and their child was at that point unknown, but Sting’s decision to leave the relative security of life as a provincial school teacher and part-time musician was pivotal, not only in terms of his forthcoming projection into worldwide mega-stardom, but also for guaranteeing that songs such as ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ and ‘I Burn for You’ were not condemned to Northern folklore, but were to become a well known throughout the world.

Born in Wallsend, a mainly working class area of North Tyneside in the early 1950s, the foundations of Sting’s creativity and drive for success were very much established against the background of the North East of England, with vestiges of the spaces and places of his upbringing, the social conditions of the 1950s and 60s, and an idea of ‘Northern Englishness’ continuing to surface in the songs that spanned his career.

Nowhere is this more apparent than his latest solo album The Last Ship (2013) – a recording based on a forthcoming Broadway musical – which is replete with local dialect and real and imagined characters based on his own past, and in which Sting re-engages with themes he has explored earlier in his career (his hometown of Wallsend, his working class background, the proximity of Swan Hunters’ shipyards and the sea), all of which arguably constitute a coming to terms with his ‘Northerness’

Paul Carr’s book will frame Sting’s creative output against the real, imagined and idealised places that have set the context for his musical development, as well as emerging as preoccupations in his songwriting.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PAUL CARR is Professor of Popular Music Analysis at the ATRiuM, Cardiff School of Cultural and Creative Industries. His research interests focus on the areas of musicology, the music industry and pedagogical frameworks for music related education – he has published extensively in all of these areas. He is also an experienced performing musician, having toured and recorded with artists as diverse as The James Taylor Quartet and American saxophonist Bob Berg. His most recent publication the edited volume, Frank Zappa and the And: A Contextual Analysis of his Legacy (2013)

Remixology

February 4, 2014 at 16:36


In Remixology: Tracing the Dub Diaspora, Paul Sullivan explores the evolution of dub – the avant-garde form of reggae. Dub as a set of studio strategies and techniques was among the first forms of popular music to turn the idea of song inside out, and is still far from being fully explored. With a unique grip on dance, electronic and popular music, dub-born notions of remix and re-interpretation set the stage for the music of the twenty-first century.

This book explores the origins of dub in 1970s Kingston, Jamaica, and traces its evolution as a genre, approach and attitude to music to the present day. Stopping off in the cities where it has made most impact – London, Berlin, Toronto, Bristol and New York — Remixology spans a range of genres, from post-punk to dub-techno, jungle to the now ubiquitous dubstep. Along the way Sullivan speaks with a host of international musicians, DJs and luminaries of the dub world including Scientist, Adrian Sherwood, Channel, U-Roy, Clive Chin, Dennis Bovell, Shut Up And Dance, DJ Spooky, Francois Kevorkian, Mala and Roots Manuva.

This wide-ranging and lucid book follows several parallel threads, including the evolution of the MC, the birth of sound-system culture and the broader story of the post-war Jamaican diaspora itself. One of the few books to be written specifically on dub and its global influence, Remixology is also one of the first to look at the specific relationship between dub and the concept that cuts across all postmodern creative disciplines today: the remix.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PAUL SULLIVAN is a writer and photographer whose work has been published in the Guardian, the Telegraph, and National Geographic. He is the author of many books, including Waking Up in Iceland and Sullivan’s Music Trivia. He lives in Berlin.

Nick Drake

August 4, 2013 at 16:22

Nick Drake: Dreaming England by Nathan Wiseman-Trowse
Sept 2013 (UK) / Oct 2013 (North America)
Since his untimely death in 1974 at the age of 26, singer-songwriter Nick Drake has not only gained a huge international audience, which eluded him during his lifetime, but has come to represent the epitome of English romanticism. Drake’s small but much-loved body of work has evoked comparisons with Blake, Keats, Vaughan Williams and Delius, placing him within a long line of English mystical Romantics. Yet upon closer inspection Drake’s work betrays a myriad of international, cosmopolitan influences and approaches that seem to confound his status as archetypal English troubadour.

Nick Drake’s music itself hints at a specific English landscape of the kind that he would have wandered through during his lifetime. Yet his interest in blues, jazz and Eastern mysticism imply a broader conception of English national identity in the late 1960s, one far removed from mere parochial nostalgia. Similarly, the framing of Drake’s music after his death has done much to situate him as a particular kind of English artist, integrating American counterculture, the English class system and a nostalgic re-imagining of the hippy era for contemporary audiences.

Nick Drake: Dreaming England explores how ideas of Englishness have come to be so intimately associated with the cult singer songwriter. Essential reading for any fan of Nick Drake, the book will also appeal to those interested in folk music or English national identity.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Wiseman-Trowse is a senior lecturer in popular culture at the University of Northampton, UK. He is the author of Performing Class in British Popular Music. Listen to an interview with Nathan Wiseman-Trowse on Iain Griffin’s Culture Club podcast about the legacy of Nick Drake here.

 

REVIEWS

‘Nathan Wiseman-Trowse analyses what [Nick Drake’s] Englishness consists of: the sense of wistfulness and melancholy, the strain of romanticism, and the pastoral landscapes evoked by his melodies and lyrics, as well as the solitary, contemplative images of Drake used for album covers and publicity shots . . . it’s an astute analysis, and an evocative reminder of the handful (fewer than 40) of beautiful, delicate songs Drake left us.’ – The Independent on Sunday

‘Contemporary music history stretches back far enough now for received wisdom to assume too great an importance. Information is much more easily accessed than before, but then irresponsibly sourced quotes on Wikipedia and other websites can, through repetition, become adopted as the truth. In complete contrast, in Nick Drake: Dreaming England, Nathan-Wiseman-Trowse starts from first principles in his thorough investigation of Drake’s creative life and legacy . . . his approach to the story becomes a compelling mix of rigorous arguments and imaginative explorations.’ – The Wire

‘There have been so many biographies of the influential singer-songwriter Nick Drake that it’s refreshing to see a book on this beloved musician that attempts to explore his work from a different angle. Drake is often referred to as quintessentially English, and Nathan Wiseman-Trowse looks at place, national identity, and Drake’s deeply melancholic writing, which often references the pastoral, to give a greater picture of why this is . . . a thought-provoking work which would be a welcome addition to any music lover or academic’s collection.’ – Songlines