I’m Not With the Band

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From the 80’s to the present day, ‘I’m Not With the Band’ is a funny, barmy, utterly gripping chronicle of the last thirty years in music and beyond. It is also the story of one woman’s wayward search for love, peace and a wonderful life. And whether, or not, she found them.

I can’t remember the last time I read an adult non-fiction book (excluding cookery books). The last (only? surely not…though I struggle to think of another…) one I can think of was Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation (which I loved), and that will have been at least 15 years ago, likely closer to 20. Even then, it was probably a rarity on the bookshelf. I’ve just never got into non-fiction. But my friend recommended this to me and it seemed a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I borrowed it.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it!

In part, this documents Sylvia Patterson’s career as a music journalist and the changes in the music industry over the past thirty odd years (and oh, how it has changed). In part, it documents the highs and lows of her personal life. One or the other would have been too much, but there’s a real balance found between the showbiz escapades and the gritty realities of home.

Packed with anecdotes about her time meeting, interviewing (or trying to) everyone from Milli Vanilli to Johnny Cash, from Bros to Page and Plant, from Kylie to Amy Winehouse, from Black Grape to Beyonce, from Westlife to Cypress Hill, from Prince to the Gallagher brothers, from the Housemartins to Britney Spears, from Madonna to the Manics…it’s like a who’s-who of music over the past three decades. And it’s this that could have made it an incredibly self-indulgent, names-clanging-on-the-floor, careful-not-to-offend read.

Fortunately, Sylvia’s style – both at the time and in writing this – save it from that. There’s no hero-worship or pedestal-building, this is a writer who takes these bands as they come, warts and all, and who writes about them with equal honesty, as well as (for the most part) huge warmth, a clear love of what she does and a real sense of seizing the day.

The stories themselves range from the hilarious to the surprising to the wild (as well as to the more contemplative and reflective: it’s especially good to see some of the people she interviews/meets revisited further down the line) and as we move into more recent times, inevitably to the more carefully-constructed, PR-managed non-stories of stars who are brands in themselves. Similarly, we see the music press follow suit: leaving behind its original anarchic, honest and light-hearted approach, unafraid to poke fun both at itself and the celebs being featured, in favour of a polished, branded, corporate makeover in which it’s all about finding an angle, a scoop or a look. It makes for some depressing reading.

As does much of Sylvia’s personal story, which we dip in and out of as we journey through her career in music journalism. I don’t like to give away any spoilers in reviews, so I’ll say little on this front, but from some fairly bleak family events to some unenviable living arrangements to some very questionable choices in partners and parties (which it’s so easy to empathise with; I found myself simultaneously rooting for her to get out of whichever sticky situation she’d ended up in, whilst cheering that it wasn’t just me and breathing a sigh of relief that other people also made stupid life choices in their youth) to dealing with some difficult blows (one chapter of which was heartbreaking, but also had me shouting “YES! Thank you! This!”)

I laughed (A LOT), I *nearly* cried (though I’m blaming hormones for that…), I felt enormously lucky and grateful, I envied, I shook my head, I cheered. I want to read some more non-fiction…and it’s all Sylvia’s fault!

That said – any other good non-fiction recommends?! Thinking along the music lines and nothing too tome-like! I’ve bought Patti Smith’s Kids on another friend’s recommendation, and I’ve heard good things about Mark ‘E’ Everett’s autobiography too. Any others?

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The Storm Keeper’s Island

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Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the islands next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

This was sent to me at work as an advance copy of July’s Children’s Book of the Month. I loved the look of it – exactly the sort of MG book that I’d pick up and want to read – but I’ll also admit to being a little apprehensive – partly because, hand on heart, I haven’t been crazy about the last couple of books chosen for our Books of the Month and partly because while it is exactly the sort of MG book I’d pick up and want to read, this automatically makes me worry it will be another book trying to do what others have done before, but failing to come up with anything special enough to make it stand out.

I needn’t have worried.

I liked the writing style immediately. Like my favourite of the characters (Fionn’s Grandfather), much of the day-to-day events and conversations were witty, full of humour and, importantly, realistic – Fionn and Tara’s love-hate sibling relationship was perfectly depicted through their bickering, one-upmanship and silent seething at each other!  Conversely, the more magical elements of the story and its setting were described with a wonderful sense of wildness, mystery and legend. This juxtaposition gave the story a brilliant balance between the fantastic and the everyday, making it both reassuringly familiar and thrillingly unknown.

The book draws inspiration from Catherine’s own grandparents, their home on Arranmore and sea-faring history, as well as Irish legends and history. Her passion for these things runs through the book as much as any of the magic she creates in the story, giving it a real sense of history and depth and transporting you right into the thick of it. I won’t say any more than just – The Lifeboat Scene.

The magical elements of the story feel fresh and unique – with weather, candles, time and memories being its key players. Again, written with subtlety, understanding and an incredible talent for merging real-life with fantasy, it is by turn joyous, heart-breaking, uplifting, nostalgic, hopeful… I could go on!

A highly original and moving adventure, set in a wonderfully well-built world – I can’t wait for the follow up!