Monday, December 05, 2016

Rather the Devil by Ian Rankin (2016)

“Rebus placed his knife and fork on the empty plate, then leaned back in his chair, studying the other diners in the restaurant.

‘Someone was murdered here, you know,’ he announced.

‘And they say romance is dead.’ Deborah Quant paused over her steak. Rebus had been about to comment that she carved it with the same care she took when using her scalpel on a cadaver. But then the murder had popped into his head and he’d considered it the better conversational gambit.

‘Sorry,’ he apologised, taking a sip of red wine. They sold beer here – he had seen waiters delivering it to a few of the tables – but he was trying to cut down.

A new start – it was why they were dining out in the first place, celebrating a week without cigarettes.
Seven whole days.”

“A hundred and sixty-eight hours.

(She didn’t need to know about the one he’d begged from a smoker outside an office block three days back. It had made him feel queasy anyway.)

‘You can taste the food better, can’t you?’ she asked now, not for the first time.

‘Oh aye,’ he acknowledged, stifling a cough.

She seemed to have given up on the steak and was dabbing her mouth with her napkin. They were in the Galvin Brasserie Deluxe, which was attached to the Caledonian Hotel – though these days it was really the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian. But those who’d grown up in Edinburgh knew it as the Caledonian, or ‘the Caley’. In the bar before dinner, Rebus had reeled off a few stories – the railway station next door, dismantled in the sixties; the time Roy Rogers had steered his horse Trigger up the main staircase for a photographer. Quant had listened dutifully, before telling him he could undo the top button of his shirt. He had been running a finger around the inside of the collar, trying to stretch the material a little.

‘You notice things,’ he had commented.

‘Cutting out cigarettes can add a few pounds.”

“Really?’ he’d answered, scooping up more peanuts from the bowl.

Now she had caught a waiter’s eye and their plates were being removed. The offer of dessert menus was dismissed. ‘We’ll just have coffee – decaf if you’ve got it.’

‘Two decafs?’ The waiter was looking at Rebus for guidance.

‘Absolutely,’ Rebus confirmed.

Quant pushed a lock of red hair away from one eye and smiled across the table. ‘You’re doing fine,’ she said.

‘Thanks, Mum.’

Another smile. ‘Go on then, tell me about this murder.’

He reached for his glass but started coughing again. ‘Just need to …’ signalling towards the toilets. 

He pushed the chair back and got up, rubbing at his chest with his hand. Once inside the gents, he made for a sink, leaning over it, hacking some of the gunk up from his lungs. There were the usual flecks of blood. Nothing to panic about, he’d been assured. More coughing, more mucus. COPD, they called it. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. When told, Deborah Quant had formed her lips into a thin line.

‘Not so surprising, is it?’

And the very next day she had brought him a glass specimen jar of ”

“indeterminate age. Its contents: a section of lung, showing the bronchial tubes.

‘Just so you know,’ she’d said, pointing out what he’d already been shown on a computer screen. She had left the jar with him.

‘On loan or to keep?’

‘For as long as you need it, John.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Election by Tom Perrotta (Berkley Books 1998)


 “SO TELL ME,” said Dad. “Who's gonna win this election?”

Lisa shot me a surprised glance, her pretty eyes widening with alarm. Tammy stared blankly at her pancakes. Mom twisted her head, apparently searching for our waitress. Dad pressed on.

“What's the matter? We're all intelligent people. Doesn't anyone have an opinion?”

The whole brunch had gone like that, Dad playing teacher, the rest of us fumbling for answers. Mom was stiff and tongue-tied, Tammy sullen, Lisa polite. I'd done my best to keep the conversation afloat, but I was starting to lose heart.

“I'm a lifelong Republican,” he went on, “but I'm actually thinking about pulling the lever for Jerry Brown.”

The sense of relief around the table was immediate and conspicuous.

“Jerry Brown?” Mom scoffed. “You've got to be kidding.”

“I'm serious,” he insisted. “This country's corrupt from top to bottom, and Brown's the only one with the guts to say so.”

“Perot's saying it too,” Lisa reminded them.

“He's nuttier than Brown,” Mom observed. “The ears on that man.”

“What about Clinton?” I asked. “He's pretty interesting.”

“Ugh.” Dad looked disgusted. “That guy. He could stand out in the rain all day and not get wet.”

“I'm surprised,” said Mom. “I had you pegged for a Clinton man.”

“Me?” he said. “What gave you that idea?”

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dog Eats Dog by Iain Levison (Bitter Lemon Press 2008)

Elias was so relieved to see a smile that he felt compelled to offer more information as fast as he could make it up, as if to cement a friendship that was forming between them. Between the guy who said bizarre untrue things about his pistol, and this intractable old bastard of a gun-shop owner.

“It was my father’s gun,” he said. “He just passed away. I just found it in the house. My father was a soldier in World War Two.”

“This gun isn’t military issue,” said the shopkeeper, shaking his head, as if bored with Elias’s lies. “This is chrome-plated. And it was manufactured well after that. If the serial number hadn’t been filed off, I could tell you exactly when, but I figure, oh, about 1950s.” He was looking at Elias now, as if he expected either honesty or silence. He slid a piece of black metal across the counter, then opened the box of bullets. “The war was over by then. You should learn about history,” he said.

Elias was so taken aback by this country bumpkin telling him to learn about history that he almost blurted out that he was a history professor who was about to get tenure and was going to be published in the National Historical Review. Then he remembered, from deceiving Denise, the joy and energy that came from playing dumb. “My dad must have bought it recently, I guess,” he said humbly.

The shopkeeper loaded bullets into the magazine. “This is how you load it,” he said, pressing each bullet down into the clip with a slow, deliberate gesture, looking up at Elias to make sure he was being heeded. “It takes seven slugs.” He slid the magazine into the grip. “This lever here drops the magazine back out of the grip when it’s empty.”

Elias nodded.

“Can you shoot, or do you need lessons?”

Monday, September 26, 2016

How To Rob An Armored Car by Iain Levison (Soho Press 2009)

“I can’t believe it was that easy. Dude, we ought to do this full time.”

Doug shrugged. “Do you want to? I mean, do this instead of robbing the armored car?”

Mitch started his car, mulling the idea over. Today had certainly been easy money but he knew that every day wouldn’t be that easy. They had just gotten lucky. And besides, Doug had all the skill, knowledge, and bargaining ability. Mitch really didn’t bring much to the table.

“Nah,” he said. “I mean, it was impressive and all, but you did everything. All I really did was give you a ride.”

“I could do this full time,” Doug said. “Maybe we should do this instead of robbing the armored car.”

“Are you having doubts?”

“I don’t know. I’m getting kind of scared about the whole thing,” Doug said. “I mean, I just need a little bit to live off. I don’t need to be rich and shit. I don’t need millions of dollars. Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

“Sure it does,” said Mitch cheerfully.

“Look at Kurt Cobain.”

Despite the giddiness of the moment, Mitch felt anger welling up. He hated this logic on which so many people operated, the quaint, pat little platitudes they used to comfort themselves, the bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets that supposedly summed up all their struggles. Money doesn’t buy happiness. God has a plan. It will all work out in the end. It was brainwashing, calculated and perfect, the final bitch-slapping to top off a lifetime of stocking shelves or filing papers or answering phones. If he was going to spend his life making money for someone else, Mitch thought, that was fine. It was inevitable. But don’t insult my intelligence by trying to convince me money is worthless, just so you can keep the whole fucking pile to yourself.

He knew that Doug was a man of simple needs and that he really would be happy with very little. So, for that matter, would Mitch. But it wasn’t all about the money. It was about Accu-mart, about the army, about Doug’s car getting impounded. It was about everything that had ever made him feel small, that had given him the message that he owed someone something, that he had to do more, that his behavior wasn’t good enough.

“Kurt Cobain was a drug addict,” Mitch snapped. “All the people who killed themselves when they got rich were drug addicts. Janis Joplin, Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Money doesn’t buy happiness for drug addicts because they can buy so many drugs all of a sudden that they just freak out.

Then rich people look at that and they say, ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness, fuckers. See what happened to Kurt Cobain? So stop asking for more money, ’cause it ain’t gonna help.’ They just use that bullshit as an excuse to not give us raises. Then they take the money and laugh on the beach in Bermuda. Dude, fuck that. If money doesn’t buy happiness, why do guys guard it with guns?”

He drew a deep breath, then continued his rant while Doug sat in the passenger seat staring at him. “They expect us to eat that shit up. They expect us to say, ‘Wow, money doesn’t buy happiness. Boy, I’m sure glad I don’t have any money. Otherwise, I’d just overdose on all the drugs I could buy. Yessiree, it’s much better if the rich people keep all the money, ’cause if I had any of it I’d just spend all day jamming heroin into my arm.’”

“Wow, dude,” Doug said, taken aback by Mitch’s sudden ferocity.

“Money buys happiness for everyone else. You fucking bet it does. It gives you mental peace, man. You know why? Because if you got money, you stop worrying. And not worrying all the time is happy enough for me.”

“You worry?” Doug asked. He sounded innocent, like a little boy, and Mitch felt a twinge of regret that he had cut short their celebration of the successful drug deal with an outburst of bitterness. But he hated seeing his friend act . . . brainwashed.

“Of course,” Mitch said. “Don’t you?”

“No,” Doug said softly. “I just figure everything will work out in the end.”

Mitch gritted his teeth. “I worry all the fucking time,” he said. “I worry about bills, about the rent, about not being able to ever afford anything. I can’t go anywhere or do anything. Shit, even any of that stuff you see people doing during the commercials in football games: mountain-biking, traveling, going to the beach, concerts, vacations. It’s like there’s this great big fucking world out there full of all this great shit, and man, we’re never gonna be a part of it. We can’t even have a little taste, you know? So, yes, I worry.”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Nazis in the Metro by Didier Daeninckx (Melville International Crime 1997)

Alaric unzipped the front pocket of his overalls and dug out a Gauloise Light from a dented packet.

—Isn’t it obvious? I’m out of here.

He offered Gabriel a cigarette.

—Thanks, but I haven’t quit quitting ... You’re really leaving? Closing up shop? Is business that bad?
Smoke streamed from his nostrils in two jets that merged into one.

—You kidding? I’ve got a list of orders as long as a day without bread ... No, the new owner’s kicking me out. There’s no romance in table legs anymore. He wants to gut the place and turn it into a gallery-cafe ...

—Another cafe! Well, we don’t have to worry about dying of hunger in this neighborhood anymore ... And where will you go? Back to Brittany?

Alaric nearly choked.

—Brittany, me? Never! I don’t even go there for vacation! I need streets, bars, cars, subways! The older generations might’ve had a hard time adapting, but I’m completely at home ...

Gabriel leaned his long frame against the wall.

—Of course, it’s been a long time ... The Alaric name has been on this shack forever ...

—You can say that again! Now we’re out on the street... It was my great-grandfather who came here first, from Finistere-Nord, at the end of the last century ... The recruiters arrived and sent whole villages into exile, giving advances to parents and wives ... Reimbursable from the first year’s pay. It was a little like Citroen and Bouygues with the Moroccans and the Turks ... But with us it was for the first Delaunay-Belleville cars. The plant was in Saint-Denis, not far from Briche. Steel frames, spoked wheels, wood interiors, all-leather upholstery ... They needed the best craftsmen in the country, and they went looking for them in Brittany and Auvergne ... I never had the chance to know my great-grandfather, but my grandfather lived basically the same shitty life as he did ... At first he didn’t speak a word of French, and on Saturday nights, after their shifts, Parisian workers would unwind by chasing down “foreigners” ... Because they spoke Meteque, because they were unmarried, because they didn’t eat the food everyone else ate. He was systematically beat up ... And you know what the bastards called those raids?


With an expert flick, Alaric propelled his cigarette butt into the clear waters of the gutter.

—Bretonnades! Can you imagine? Forty years before the ratonnades* against the Arabs ... It’s only proof that nothing ever changes: we just get used to it...

—And where will you go?

—When they ruin the provinces for you and then kick you out of the city, what’s left?
Gabriel Lecouvreur’s eyebrows rearranged themselves into a circumflex.

—I don’t know ...

—It’s obvious: the outskirts ... They’re sticking me with three thousand square meters in Montreuil, along the highway. It’s called Mosinor ... Twelve stories surrounded by a truck route. Three-quarters of the building is occupied by sweatshops, and the courtyard is used as a parking lot for those green dumpsters from the Department of Household Waste! It’s a dream come true!

—You do make it sound appealing ... You should reinvent yourself as a real-estate agent. Is there anywhere to get a drink, at least?

—Oh sure, these are civilized people, after all: they just opened a Burger King on the ground floor ... I’m going to have to get used to soft drinks ...

* The term ratonnade, deriving from “raton” (rat), a racial slur, referred originally to acts of violence in France against people of North African descent during the years of the French-Algerian war (1954-1962). By extension, the term has been used since then to refer to other racially motivated acts of violence.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Between Talking About the Football by Gordon Legge (Polygon 1991)

There he is again. It's raining, I better stop. He's not even got his hood up. Toot! Toot! Oh, come on, Tony. Stop pretending you don't see me. Coo-ee. Yes - it is me. Yes - I am offering you a lift. Does the gentleman require written confirmation? Twenty-four hours notice? Passed by the House of Lords? Tony, get a move on, will you. Do you think I would leave you dyyyy-ingggg . . . You're not going to get run down. At last, Watch out! Jesus! Finally.

'Come on. Get in.'


'You're soaked, Tony.'

'It's okay. I'm spongy, I'll absorb it.'


'What's up with the bus the day?'

'Well, I missed the 42 so I just got a 26 to the complex and walked. Didn't think it was going to rain, like.'

'That's a two-mile walk, Tony.'

'Done it often enough. Just half an hour into the wind. Save 30p as well. That's three quid a week if I do it all the time. Now that's something that appeals to my nature, cause I'm dead mean, so I am.'

And you're weird, Tony. Well weird. That skinny face. A cagoule that's too wee for you. A brown cagoule. Those trousers. I don't know. You don't have any shoulders, Tony.

'Is that a new jacket?'


'Eh, yes. Yes, it is. I got it on Saturday.'

'Pretty smart. It looks new.'

What does that mean? Everything I wear is new.

'I'm hopeless with clothes. My mum still buys mine.'

From 'I Don't Have Any Friends But I've Got a Cat Called Napalm Death'

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Rocky Road by Eamon Dunphy (Penguin Books 2013)

John F. Kennedy’s bid to become the first Catholic president of the United States was the big international story of 1960. His family links to Ireland ensured the passionate support of the Irish. He had won the Democratic nomination in July, just before I arrived in Manchester. Being firmly in the camp, I was surprised at English scepticism about Kennedy.

British reservations about Kennedy were not rooted in his religion: rather, they had to do with his father, Joe, who’d been US ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. Kennedy Sr was associated with appeasement, had sought meetings with Hitler, and forcefully resisted United States involvement in the war. He had been, like many Irish, on the wrong side of history, and that caused many in England to regard his son with suspicion, in some cases contempt.

For me and tens of millions of others around the world, Kennedy represented youth, vigour and hope for a better future, in which peace and justice would prevail over the darker forces his shifty opponent, Nixon, seemed to represent. Immersed in all of this, I was struck not only by the scepticism of the English chattering class but by the indifference of the people I was mixing with. They were watching a different movie.

Barry Fry was the person I spent most time with as I settled into my new life. Together we found new digs with Mrs Scott, a widow who shared a house with her sister in Sale, one of Manchester’s more salubrious suburbs. Mrs Scott’s spacious semi-detached house, on a tree-lined road, was a world away from the narrow, terraced streets in the shadow of Old Trafford where most digs were located. Nice though she was, Mrs Cropper had spent more money on bingo than on food. I’d felt my digs money was subsidizing her bingo habit. At Mrs Scott’s, the money stayed in the project: the food was first class, the television was state-of-the-art, and Barry and I had our own rooms.

Our accommodation sorted, we could concentrate on our football and our social lives. The latter mattered more to Barry than to me. Although no movie star, Barry was a ladies’ man. With his extrovert personality, his sharp sense of humour and his Cockney accent, he cut quite a swagger on the Manchester scene. He was actually a country bumpkin from Bedford, but when quizzed about his accent he would claim to be ‘from London, dahlin”. The fact that we were Manchester United players, regardless of how low-ranked, did no harm to our chances with the girls. On this issue Barry believed in full and early disclosure.

Our initial forays onto the city’s social scene took us to the Plaza ballroom on Oxford Road. Jimmy Savile was the manager. He had yet to become a national figure but, with his colourful gear and black Rolls-Royce, Jimmy was the Main Man in Manchester’s emerging scene. He had a club, the Three Coins, on Fountain Street around the corner from the Plaza. Rumours were already swirling around him, decades before his predilections became common knowledge. One day my girlfriend was lured back to his penthouse flat, which appeared to have only a bed as furniture, but she was canny enough to escape.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Goosebumps (2015)

The Speakers by Heathcote Williams (Grove Press 1964)

The Park
The large group under the trees have not noticed that there is no one speaking at the centre, until two pairs of policemen enter the park and start to break up the meetings.

Lomas observes that they travel in pairs because they are neurotic. If they travelled alone, they would start talking to themselves.

Freddie Kilennen walks up to a pair and asks them whether they would like to take part in the premiére trial run of his pneumatometer, which is a machine for measuring how much of the Holy Ghost there's left in a man's soul, and he belches.

One of the policemen says: Shut your mouth and clear out of the park . . . because I say so; and Cafferty observes that if you have a hat shaped like a bomb, egocentricity is rather out of place.

The police close Cumberland Gate and herd the people towards the other. Harry, Norman and the man with feathers in his hair wander about the tarmac unconsciously repeating themselves: the unconscious repetition which leads to neurosis. The neuroses will be sold to the tourists the next day.

The man with the silent message has left his platform, on which he stands saying nothing at all, and sits in the mirrored section of Fortes studying form: . . . to spot a winner, he says, demands a rare constriction in the mind, a constriction in the colours in the street, a constriction in the typography of the Sporting Life, a constriction in the air you breathe . . .  never change your mind once you have, through your training, lapsed into this constriction, and you'll win . . . you'll surely win.

Lomas comes over to him and observes that Saturday night in winter in the park, when only the regulars are there, is like the service of compline in preparation for communion next day.

The man with the silent message says: As Aristotle, the great Italian sculptor said, a man is a man for all that.

Harry goes back to Chiswick, Norman goes back to Shepherd's Bush, Lil goes back to Stepney, Aggie wanders through the streets buttonholing people until she comes to the tea stand at the end of Hungerford Lane, Solly Sachs takes his dog back to Notting Hill; a man helps the woman from the Catholic Evidence Guild to fit her platform into the platform rack behind the New Inn, the man with the silent message goes back alone to the North End Road, and Lomas, Cafferty and Freddie Kilennen walk back to Kilburn.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ruthless by Cath Staincliffe (Corgi 2014)

Closer to the blaze, the stench of the fire filled the air and she could see fire tenders at the scene, three of them, as she walked up the road. Uniformed officers were keeping the crowd away from the site. The Old Chapel, she realized, now belching clouds of acrid smoke into the air, the inferno roaring. Hoses were spraying water but bright flames were still visible through the holes in the roof and the windows where the shutters had burned away.

Fire always drew a crowd, a spectacle and free at that. It hadn’t been a chapel for ages. Probably closed back in the seventies and she remembered it was a carpet place for a while then that went bust. Rachel had no idea what it was  used for now, if anything. The state of the grounds, neglected and overgrown behind the wire fencing, and the holes in the roof suggested it was derelict. Just begging for some fire-starter to come along and set light to it.

She looked at the crowd. Whole families, mum with a pram and a bunch of kids around. Teenagers, some of them filming with their phones. A few older people too; one man had made it with his Zimmer, determined to be at the party. A lad on a BMX bike, stunt pegs on the rear wheel. Dom had wanted one of them, their dad had played along but they all knew the only way it would happen was if it was robbed. So it never happened. Rachel had found an old racing bike at the tip and dragged it home and Sean had begged new tyres off a cousin and they’d done it up for Dominic. Never had working brakes but Dom was made up.

All we need is an ice cream van, she thought, or toffee apples. A loud cracking sound and the crowd responded, oohing and aahing, as part of the roof collapsed and fell inside the building sending fresh flames and sparks heavenwards. Rachel shivered, damp from her run and not near enough to the heat from the fire.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Bleed Like Me by Cath Staincliffe (Bantam Press 2013)

Rachel was running. Running for her life. Air burning like acid in her chest, feet pounding the tarmac. Everything around her, the shops and passers-by, lampposts and railings, smudged, a blur of shape and colour.

She risked a glance behind, hair whipping in her eyes, almost losing her balance as one ankle buckled, and she saw the car was gaining. He was at the wheel, his face set with intent, eyes gleaming, mouth curved in a half-smile.

Running her down, running her to ground. For a moment, her legs stalled, numb, weak as string, before she took flight again. Arms slicing the air, throat parched, sweat cold across her skin and the thud of her heart ever louder in her ears. Then the roar as he gunned the engine, the screech as the car leapt towards her, close enough for her to smell burning oil and petrol fumes high in her throat. Dizzying.

The thump of impact. Hurling her forward, a bone-cracking crunch and Rachel fell, sprawling along the gutter and into the pavement’s edge, legs twisting the wrong way beneath her, skinning her chin and shoulder and the length of her forearms. Smacking her head against the kerbstone. A jolt that turned the world black and brought vomit scalding her gullet.

The engine cut out and then she heard his footsteps, the smack-smack of best Italian leather on the gritty stone.

She tried to draw away but was pinned, paralysed, and her attempt to shuffle brought scarlet pain licking through her hip. She tried to cry for help but her voice was frozen too and all the people had gone. She was alone with him.

‘Rachel,’ he said sadly, ‘Rachel, Rachel, what will I do with you?’

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dead To Me by Cath Staincliffe (Corgi 2012)

Rachel Bailey stood, freezing her tits off, on a crime-scene cordon in north Manchester. From her vantage point, at the edge of the recreation ground, she had a view across the rows of rooftops that rippled down the hillside, punctuated here and there by the bulk of a mill rising from the streets built in the same red brick as everything else. One she could see had its name picked out in white brick on the square mill tower: Heron. Rachel had been brought up in streets like this; well, dragged herself up, more like. A couple of miles to the west. Sunny Langley. Manchester didn’t really stop, Rachel thought; there were boundaries of course, but you couldn’t see the join. The city bled into the satellite towns that ringed the plain: Oldham, Rochdale, Ashton and on to even higher ground. The houses gradually changing from these brick mill terraces to stone-built weaver’s cottages, getting smaller and sparser as the developments petered out on the foothills of the Pennines. The place looked tired and mucky this time of year, the brick dull, trees bare, the grass on the field yellow and scrubby.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dangerous in Love by Leslie Thomas (Penguin Books 1987)

There were moments when it seemed to Detective Constable Dangerous Davies that mayhem moved into his path, marking him purposefully out, isolating him, and then engulfing him, like those small individual whirlwinds that travelled around in parts of America and which he had seen on television. It was so on this ordinary damp night in early October as he and Mod Lewis, the unemployed Welsh philosopher, were walking to their lodgings at 'Bali Hi', Furtman Gardens, London NW, from an evening at The Babe In Arms public house. They were humming as they walked.

At the Neasden end of Power Station Lane, under the drizzle of the cooling towers, they heard the distant but unmistakable sounds of a fracas. Davies halted like a troubled dog. 'A punch-up,' he said. Mod stood, his face damp and moon-pale in the drizzle. His heavy head rolled to one side as he listened.

'Singing,' he ventured. 'They're only singing. Tuesday's not a fighting night.'

A crash like cannon fire came from the far end of the street. 'Somebody going through a door,' said Davies.

At once, the singing became louder, less enclosed. 'Irish,' he added. 'I suppose we'd better have a look.'

'You're the policeman,' said Mod, standing still.

Davies sighed: 'All right. I'll go. You ring the law. It sounds like a three-dog job to me.'

'Do you happen to have ten pence?' asked Mod.

'You have to ring 999,' Davies said. 'It's free.' Mod went off into the windy drizzle. Tentatively, Davies went along Power Station Lane to where he could see the riot . . .

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Chinese Detective by Michael Hardwick (BBC Books 1981)

It was the main hall of one of the East End of London's Victorian-built breweries. The big ones - Charrington's, Watney's, Truman's - still prospered, almost the only remaining relics left of East End industry. This smaller one, on the corner of Milsom Street and Warner Street, would produce no more sustenance for the workers and solace for the unemployed. It was as deserted as the docks nearby, the brewing towers already partly dismantled, the rest of the building to go soon.

The young man's body was slight, but when he moved again there was a hint of great energy and purpose about him. His short hair was dark and his features boyish. An onlooker from down the length of the hall would have thought he was a local kid, looking for something to nick or smash.

They would have been only partly right. He was local. At twenty-two he was little more than a youth. A closer inspection of his good-looking features would have revealed them to be of Chinese cast. But a look at the identification card he carried would have revealed him to be Detective Sergeant John Ho, Metropolitan Police.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews by Simon Reynolds (Soft Skull Press 2009)

Simon Reynolds: Thinking about the city’s post-punk scene, it struck me that none of the Manchester bands inspired into existence by punk were particularly political. Certainly there was no protest punk, no agitprop.

Tony Wilson: I always thought the Pistols were the greatest band because they weren’t really agitprop. The more overtly agitprop lines were thrown in by Jamie Reid. None of real punk was Red Wedge. That would be too reasonable. Agitprop is socialist, but the whole background to punk is situationist. Punk was more simple and brutal, which is why post-punk had to happen. One of my only regrets is that Bernard in New Order is clever, and that so fucked me off. So, 1990, Radio One, I’m listening to a programme on the Joy Division/New Order story, and Bernie says, ‘Punk was wonderful, it got rid of all the shite. You can’t really remember how bad music was in the early seventies. It was diabolical, a total wasteland. Punk was an explosion that blew it all away, but it was simple and simplistic. All it could say was, “I’m bored.” Sooner or later someone was going to use the simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions.’ I was like, ‘Fucking hell, the bastard’s right again!’ My reworking of Bernie’s comment is, ‘Punk was wonderful, but all it could say was this one simple emotion: “Fuck you.”’ Sooner or later someone was going to have to use that music to say, ‘I’m fucked.’ And that was Joy Division.

I see Joy Division as the first band of post-punk and U2 as the second. Sure, they can be soap boxy and sermonizing.

Simon Reynolds: Oh yeah, you can hear PiL’s ‘Public Image’ in the early U2 sound. Talking about PiL, there’s a story about the Factory people driving around Manchester at night, stoned, listening to the first PiL album.

Tony Wilson: We loved PiL. We loved them so much, I rang them up and said, ‘Will you do a number on Granada Reports?’ This is early PiL. They came to Manchester and did some songs on the show. And then at 3.40 in the afternoon, John turns to me and says, ‘You still do that fucking club of yours?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ John says, ‘While we’re up here might as well do a fucking gig. Organize it.’ I asked Keith Levene, ‘Is he serious?’ and he says, ‘Yeah.’ So I called Alan Erasmus and asked if he could open the club that night. We’re running around like idiots. Got the news on Radio Piccadilly. At 7.30 in the evening I got A Certain Ratio out of bed to support them, and that night was Manchester’s first PiL gig. Fucking great. Another big band in Manchester was Suicide. Manchester loved Suicide. They played the Factory club at the Russell twice. When they supported The Clash, in every other city in Britain they got booed. But in Manchester it was ‘Fuck The Clash, we’re here for Suicide.’

But back to post-punk – I always think of Joy Division and U2. Two months after Ian died, U2 still hadn’t broken. There was this wonderful kid who was a radio DJ and plugger, and he used to bring U2 to every radio station and every TV station in the north of England every three months to break his beloved U2, whom no one cared about then. I remember him bringing Bono into my office, and Bono sat on the desk and said to me how incredibly sorry he was about Ian’s death. How it had really hurt him. How Ian was the number-one performer of his generation and he knew he was always going to be number two. And he made some statement – it didn’t sound as silly as ‘Now he’s gone, I promise you I’ll do it for him,’ it wasn’t as awful as that, but it was something like that. I thought, ‘Yes, thanks a fucking lot, fuck off.’ Until the afternoon of Live Aid. I was watching, so angry because all the dinosaurs at Wembley were playing and going out to the world, and they were all utter shite. And then U2 came on and they were good. And then a girl fainted, and Bono began to move off the stage to help her. I actually leapt out of my seat and said, ‘All right, I give in! You did it, you did it for Ian! God bless you.’ So God bless U2. They were fantastic at the Superbowl. Edge’s guitar was unbelievable.

The great line about U2 is Bernard’s again. It’s Rapido in 1989, and he’s asked whether as a pop star you can take yourself too seriously. And Bernard says, ‘Yeah, you can. You can get a bit above yourself. Like that guy, what’s his name . . . Bongo.’