Cold London Blues (CLB) is a blackly comic slice of pulp fiction (or Punk Fiction, if you fancy!) published by indie publisher Caffeine Nights Publishing. CLB is a follow up to my book Guns Of Brixton (GOB) – a violent gangster romp, a sweary Ealing Comedy. With GOB, I used the titles of Clash songs to – loosely!- frame the book.
Whereas GOB was a tad Mockney music hall in its approach, with CLB I wanted something more noir, more torch song, and so I used Vic Godard and Subway Sect songs in the same way. (I’d previously named a couple of characters after Vic. In my story The Last Laugh there’s a hit man known only as Godard and a bent copper called Vic Napper.)
The following scene features the murderous priest Father Tim Cook, who is going through a delayed mid-life crisis. He and his friend Gregor are on a pub crawl which takes them to a smokey, pokey bar full of sinners known as Noola’s Saloon.
Noola’s Saloon was even more crowded than the pub they’d just left but that certainly didn’t deter Father Tim and Gregor, who had decided they were on a drinking mission. As they shuffled through the door, the Wurlitzer jukebox burst to life and Howling Wolf snarled out ‘I Ain’t Superstitious.’
The pub was dimly lit and smoky, despite the fact that no one was smoking. Gregor found a small table near a disused cigarette machine and Tim went to the bar. A dishevelled and unshaven old soak, who seemed to be dressed like a private eye from some old black and white film, nestled on a bar stool, calmly contemplating the glass of whisky that was in front of him. The ice cubes seemed to shimmer, glimmer and glow in the wan light.
He looked up at Tim.
‘Twilight time,’ he said, his hangdog expression never changing.
‘Isn’t it always,’ said Tim.
The old soak nodded and went back to staring at his drink.
Tim briefly turned his gaze outside. The wet pavement reflected Noola’s Saloon’s flickering neon sign. Headlights cut through the heavy rain. He unsteadily shuffled up and leaned on the bar, plonking the sleeve of his jacket in a puddle of spilt lager.
After a while, he caught the eye of the barman , a grumpy-looking bloke with a pock-marked face and inky black quiff. He slowly put down his copy of National Geographic and Tim made the two finger gesture for two pints, making sure his hand was facing the right way.
The antique Wurlitzer Jukebox was playing Mel Torme’s version of ‘Gloomy Sunday’. Tim had always been a big fan of The Velvet Fog but the cacophonous voice of a fat bald bloke in a corduroy jacket boomed over the lush sounds.
‘Well, I’m certainly not a fan of the popcorn trash that the multiplex inflict upon us but at least Christopher Nolan treats Batman with the gravitas he deserves,’ said the bald, fat man.
A tall, twitchy man who was looming over him, almost spat his half pint of Guinness over his Armani shirt.
‘Gravitas!? It’s about a bloke who dresses up in a rubber bat suit to fight a baddy who dresses up like a clown. It’s not exactly Marcel bloody Proust, is it?’
‘Well some critics would argue that it’s a metaphor for …’
‘Critics! Jeez! Film critics! Have you ever been to the BFI?’
‘Of course. The recent Alain Resnais retrospective was …’
‘The British Film Institute is a very creepy place indeed, my friend. Creepy people, too. And the shite they spout. Like that crap about Dawn of The Dead being a satire of consumerism because the zombies go to a shopping centre. I mean, that’s one gag in the whole film! There’s also a scene where one of them gets decapitated by a helicopter blade. Is it a satire of air traffic control? Eh? I ask you?’
The bald man shuffled in his seat and wiped cappuccino froth from his top lip.
Father Tim, picked up two pints of Kronenburg from the bar and resisted the temptation to give both of the blokes a slap.
‘Wankers like that are what put me off going out for a drink in the West End these days,’ he said as he put the drinks on the table.
‘The city is riddled with them these days,’ said Gregor. ‘They’re like the clap. Even worse than northerners.’
‘I was in that poncy over-priced sandwich shop before I came here,’ said Tim, unsteadily sitting down. ‘Away in a Manger or whatever it’s called. Anyway, they were playing Nick Drake. ‘Fruit Tree’ to be precise.’
‘I like Nick Drake,’ said Gregor.
‘Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of Nick myself but there were a couple of media wankers in there talking about his mum’s LP’
‘Nick Drake’s. Some sad bastard has put out a few songs she record in the olden days.’
‘Dunno. Never heard it. Anyway, these twats in the sandwich shop started prattling on about how Drake and his mother’s music was ‘quintessentially English’. I mean what the fuck’s that all about? Quintessentially posh sissy boy with a quintessentially stuck-up mother, I’ll give you that. Quintessentially poncy. It’s all that John Betjeman, cricket on the village green, Downtown Abbey, Latin quoting detective cobblers that they punt to the Septics because, well, Yanks are thick. And it has nothing to do with the life of a hairdresser from Wolverhampton or a bingo caller from Hull or the vast majority of English people. You know what I’m saying?’
‘Poshness. Poshnessabounds,’ slurred Gregor, sinking even lower in his seat. ‘This country is crippled by its class system.’
‘Exactly. Switch on the telly and it’s all Sherlock poncy Holmes or Dr poncy Who. This is the bullshit we have to put up with. Oxbridge twots and Oxbridge wannabees.’
‘We need another class war, that is what we need,’ said Gregor. He spilt a splash of lager on his shirt as he slurped it.
‘I blame America for it … well, I blame America for everything …The United States Of America is a cancer. A poisonous virus that has fatally infected its host,’ said Tim, reclining in the leather chair and waggling his outstretched fingers, trying to get the circulation back in them. He checked his reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t looking so good.
‘It’s like in those horror films, eh?’ he said. ‘They say you shouldn’t make your home on an Indian burial ground but when you think about it, the whole of the United States is a bleedin Indian burial ground. Think about it.’
As much as I liked The Clash and the Pistols, they were never one of MY bands. The Adverts, however, were very much my band. They were a great live band who released some great punk singles and a great debut LP. My Place was a change of pace, though. Moody and stripped down, it was pretty much ignored, unfortunately. The B-side – Back From The Dead– was co-written with The Doctors Of Madness’ Richard ‘Kid’ Strange and is also a lost gem.
The impact of the first couple of Subway Sect singles is well documented. The band’s move into swing also. The transition record is the classic ‘Stop That Girl’. But before that was Split Up the Money, a smart and catchy slice of kitchen sink crime fiction that acted as a taster for the forthcoming What’s The Matter Boy? LP.
Spizzoil were a glorious racket- all screeching, discordant guitar and,er, kazoo- I saw them live twice!- and Spizz’s second musical turn is well known due to the justly celebrated ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ but before that was an electro punk version of Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’. The song is actually the B-side of the infectious punk disco anthem Soldier, Soldier: ‘What’s Your Price?’
After Howard Devoto quit Buzzcocks he returned with a barnstorming single in Shot By Both Sides and Magazine’s debut LP is a classic. But Rhythm Of Cruelty – a sinister, sleazy slice of noir – crept out with little impact. Which is a pity, as it’s a belter.
Buzzcocks released a bunch of singles in 1978 and seemingly lost among them was this short, sharp slice of punk-pop. One minute and fifty seconds long. Until the razor cuts.
The United States elects a flim-flam man as President and America very quickly becomes no place like home for any of Burning Down The House‘s well-drawn cast of characters.
Evangeline Jennings‘ gripping dystopian novel takes place in a near future that seems chilling real.
Burning Down The House is part slice -of-life drama, part violent thriller, part satire.
The rich plot is full of sharp twists and turns and the characters are all realistic and sympathetic. The many music references are smartly used and the ending is both brutal and sad. Highly recommended.
Over at Tess Makovesky‘s blog, she has a regular spot where writers talk about their book’s setting.
I’m over there this week talking about London:
‘In 1959, the great Lionel Bart turned Frank Norman’s London set play ‘Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be’ into a musical comedy about ‘low-life characters in the 1950s, including spivs, prostitutes, teddy-boys and corrupt policemen’. This was a time of great change in post-war London – what with the ‘birth of the teenager’ and the Swinging Sixties looming on the horizon – and not everyone copes well with change, of course.’
The motel room is dark except for the faint light from an old transistor radio that is tuned to a classical music station. Hinkson sits in an old rocking chair, eyes closed. A sawn-off shotgun across his lap. A half-empty bottle of whisky on the table beside him. He opens his eyes, leans over and unsteadily lifts the bottle to his lips. Takes a little sip. Closes his eyes again for a moment. Drifts away.
The slam of a car door drags him back to reality. He peels back the blinds. The motel’s neon sign flickers. Snow falls like confetti and the brothers stand in front of their battered BMW. They’re dressed in black, as always. Overcoats, flat caps. Black leather gloves. They are illuminated by a string of Christmas lights that encircle the car park. They take something out of the car boot, slam it shut then slowly trudge across the snow smothered car park, looking like shadows. Larry leads the way. Lloyd and Lee either side of him, as usual.
Hinkson rummages in his jacket pocket and fishes out an amphetamine tablet. Pops it in his mouth and washes it down with the whisky.
A church bell chimes.
Lloyd span the BMW into the side street, narrowly missing an old woman with a tartan shopping trolley as she dragged herself across the street.
Lee, his massive frame jammed into the passenger seat, giggled.
‘For fuck’s sake, that was close. Nearly got ten points,’ he said.
‘Only five points for a coffin-dodger,’ said Lloyd.
Harsh winter sunlight was pouring through the shattered windscreen and he was sweating like a pig.
‘Focus, lads,’ croaked Larry. ‘Focus.’
He was slouched in the back seat, blood pouring from a shotgun wound in his stomach. Hinkson had covered the wound with a towel but it was already soaked red.
‘This’ll have to do for now,’ said Hinkson. ‘Fucks knows what I’m doing, though.’
‘Thought you were medically qualified,’ said Lee, his speed-freak eyes dancing a tarantella.
‘First Aid certificate from when I worked at the swimming baths,’ said Hinkson.
‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ said Lee.
Sirens screamed in the distance as they pulled up in front of The Royal Oak. The pub was stained with graffiti, its windows boarded up. A rusty metal shutter was pulled down over the front door.
Lee rushed out of the car and pulled up the shutter while Lloyd dragged a black holdall out of the car boot. Hinkson eased the groaning Larry out of the car and into the darkened pub. Lloyd followed, struggling with the holdall.
‘I’ll hide the car round the back while you phone Doc Holloway, then,’ said Lee.
‘Most sensible thing you’ve said all day,’ said Lloyd.
Lee stopped as his hand gripped the car door handle. He glared at Lloyd.
‘Do not blame me for this, bro,’ he said. ‘Understand?’
‘Whatever,’ said Lloyd. ‘Just get a move on’
He pulled down the shutters with a bang.
The radio’s batteries are dying and the music and lights are fading. The brothers are outside the motel room’s door now. Hinkson can hear Lee trying to suppress his giggles. Larry is breathing heavily. Hinkson pats the holdall.
There is a knock at the door.
‘Three strikes and you’re out,’ rasps Larry. ‘I’m growing impatient. I’m not a well man.’
The radio dies and the room is completely dark, silent. Except for the sound of Hinkson’s heartbeat which seems loud enough to make his head explode.
The day had melted into night. Lee and Lloyd were crashed out on the sofa, bottles of vodka drained and littering the floor. Larry was knocked out by the morphine administered by Dr Holloway. A police siren dragged Hinkson from his slumber. Seemed to be getting nearer. Hinkson looked at the black holdall and did what he always knew he would do. He picked it up and left.
The hammering on the door is getting louder. Hinkson opens the holdall. Pours the last of the whisky over its contents. Takes out a lighter and sets fire a toilet roll. Puts it in the bag and puts the bag in front of the door.
He stands and picks up the shotgun as the front door bursts open.
‘Bring it on,’ he says, as he presses the trigger.
(Seven Minutes To Midnight first appeared at Pulp Metal Magazine)
EJ: The dumbing down of America leads to the end of days. Something about tiny fingers and a well-regulated militia.
PDB: Which music, books, films, songs or television shows do you wish you had written?
EJ: 4’33”. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The Social Network. Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts. Veronica Mars. And far too many others for a short sharp interview. But if I’d written Lost, it wouldn’t have ended up shite.
PDB: Which of your books do you think would make good films or TV series?
EJ: Much of my crime fiction would make for decent movies. Burning Down the House is so episodic it could only ever work on TV.
PDB: Who are your favourite writers?
EJ: PG Wodehouse. Terry Pratchett. Iain (M) Banks. Martin Millar. Andrew Vachss. Lawrence Block. Donald Westlake. Nick Tosches. Agatha Christie. Me.
PDB: What’s your favourite joke?
EJ: Guns don’t kill people.
PDB: What’s your favourite song?
EJ: “Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers
PDB: What’s on the cards?
EJ: The American electorate will save mankind, or not. Liverpool FC will fail heroically again. I will write some stupid good shit.
PDB: Anything else?
EJ: My partner in crime, Lucy Middlemass and I are launching a new publisher-y thing shortly. It will be called Furious. And we will do such things—what they are yet I know not—but they shall be the terrors of the earth.
Bio: I’ve done nothing. I’ve achieved nothing. I work for a firm but I want to burn it down.
‘This is a playlist I’ve put together to celebrate the publication of Paul D Brazill‘s latest Brit Grit Noir adventure ‘Cold London Blues’. Why for this book you may ask, well you may notice the title and chapter titles are all Vic Godard songs! Except ‘What’s The Matter Boy‘, which is a line from ‘The Devil’s in League With You’.
There has been a long and varied tradition of songwriters taking their song titles from books: Venus In Furs – The Velvet Underground, Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush, Lost Weekend – Lloyd Cole, 1984- David Bowie, Absolute Beginners- David Bowie.
And, of course, it goes the other way too.
My book Guns Of Brixton took its title from a song by The Clash and I used Clash songs to frame it. My follow up, Cold London Blues, does the same thing with the songs of Vic Godard and Subway Sect. And A Rainy Night In Soho will do the same with The Pogues.
And it’s no surprise that many Brit Grit writers have taken the same approach, usually using punk and post- punk songs as inspiration.
Here we go 2,3,4:
Mark Timlin published a book called Guns Of Brixton years before I did.Ian Ayris’ April Skies uses the Jesus and Mary Chain, Tony Black’sLondon based short story collection is invariably called London Calling – The Clash again. Ian Rankin recently chose The Associates’ Even Dogs In The Wild. Nick Quantrill used a Wilco song for the title of The Late Greats, and The Crooked Beat is one of The Clash’s lesser known songs.James Hilton’s debut thriller is Search and Destroy – Iggy and The Stooges, Jim Iron and John Steel’s Glory Boys is taken from a Secret Affair song. Ray Banks used The Stranglers for No More Heroes. Nigel Bird gave us Mr Suit (Wire) and Beat On The Brat (Ramones). Graham Wynd chose The Fall’s Extricate and Steve Suttie gave us the Road To Nowhere (Talking Heads).
And it’s not just punk songs that work as crime fiction titles. Nick Triplow used a Tom Waits song for Frank’s Wild Years and Adrian McKinty has used five of Mr Waits’ ditties, the most recent being Rain Dogs.
Sheila Quigley always uses song titles for her books, starting withLindisfarne’s Run For Home, and more recently The Sound Of Silence. Andy Rivers used The Beatles for Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. Aidan Thorn chose When The Music’s Over (The Doors).
And that’s only this side of the pond. Josh Stallings Young Americans (David Bowie) and K A Laity’s White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane) are just a couple of recent American examples that come to mind.
And there are plenty more, I’m sure.
So, who did I miss? And any suggestions?
(This post first appeared at the All Due Respect blog.)