the lyg jay stringer takeover: my england;
The say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, which is why I hope that Brooklyn blogger Largehearted Boy won’t be too pissed that I’ve replicated his Book Notes feature, in which authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently-published book, as my last Stringer-related feature. In my defence, he’d already put together the playlist: music is as huge a part of part-Romani investigator Eoin Miller’s life as it is ours.
After a brief, exciting stint at #2 in the Amazon UK Crime, Thriller and Mystery charts last night, Old Gold is holding comfortably at #4. I was tempted to offer a signed copy to a reader, but at £1.99 a download you can’t really go wrong. Next, we take on 50 Shades of Shite!.
Franz Nicolay: “The Ballad of Hollis Wadsworth Mason, Jr.”
This song provides the novel’s epigram and frames a lot of the questions that the story is asking. What is a hero? Do our actions matter? In fiction heroes always have a choice between right and wrong. But what happens when all the choices are wrong? The song works on two levels: if you don’t know the story of Hollis Mason, Jr, it’s a joyous song about doing the right thing. If you do know the story, it’s a tragedy.
Marah: “It’s Only Money, Tyrone”
The song is a raw and atmospheric crime story with a killer, a woman, and the past coming back to haunt us. This could be the first few chapters of the book, and musically, this is one of the sounds running through my head as I wrote. Marah are from Philly, so the bridge and the river they sing about will look nothing like where I grew up, but from the first time I heard this song I’ve been picturing it as a canal near my house.
The Selecter: “My England”
It would have been easy to just have the soundtrack be about Eoin Miller, but then it would have all been moody male guitar music. I wanted to widen it out, to reflect the diversity in the novel and the Midlands. 2 Tone and Ska were very important scenes in the Midlands, and though the modern version of The Selecter is much changed from the original Coventry line-up the spirit stays the same. This is a song about living on hand-outs and of losing heart at the amount of times you’ve sent off your CV. “Some things are too hard to forget”, the song says, and that’s an idea that haunts Eoin Miller.
Johnny Cash: “I See a Darkness”
I still have to have some moody male guitar music though, right? Acoustic, stark and confessional, this is as much a song for Eoin Miller’s family and friends as for the man himself. Ever looked across at a drinking partner and realised their thoughts are much darker than yours? Or looked over at someone as they sleep and realised that their face shows a darkness that they’re not sharing? This is their song. Lost and alone, wanting love but unable to be loved, needing help but unable to ask.
The Wonder Stuff: “Sleep Alone”
Another Midlands band – this lot from Stourbridge, just down the road from my turf. It’s a song about not really choosing to sleep alone, and waiting for that telephone to ring. It sounds like any number of wasted teenage nights, waiting for something to happen, and for the book it also speaks to a few different characters.
Swami: “Hooked and Addicted”
When I was learning to play guitar as a teenager there was someone a few doors up from me who was learning to play a dhol, and someone a few houses down was learning saxophone. It was fun to open the window and let the sounds blend together, and that was a musical sound that I spent a few years chasing, like a Midlands version of the E Street Band. I grew up very comfortable with bhangra, and any soundtrack album to a Black Country crime story has to have some.
Mother Love Bone: “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”
If I believed in guilty pleasures, this would be one of them. Although I always insist that Bobby Stinson pioneered the sound that became grunge, I think this song is where you can hear it kick in. If you grew up in the Black Country when I did, maybe the last generation to remember coalmines being part of the landscape, you are genetically predisposed to like Led Zeppelin. Their mix of light and heavy, blues and rock sounds like it was forged in our factories and mines. This song starts out like any number of the imitators, but then somewhere in there a new fuzzy guitar kicks in, and the sound changes at just the right moment. I always think of this as the mid-point in the book, as Miller starts to pull himself back into the world after a year of drifting.
Shimm1: “Both Sides”
“Listen to both sides,” the song says. Shimron Dixon (Shimm1) gets labelled as a Birmingham artist, but I can hear the Black Country in his accent. This was another point in the album when I wanted to step outside of Miller’s head and give someone else the floor. The song speaks for Bauser, and for all that he represents. As Mark Thomas said, “people with futures don’t riot”. These kids can have a future, but they need everyone else to stop telling them what it is.
The Replacements: “We Know The Night”
This is the moment when I show a weak spot, and give my protagonist the same favourite band as me. But then I think The Replacements should be everyone’s favourite band, so it works out. “We don’t know what’s wrong or what’s right, we know the night.” I can always picture Miller stopping whatever he’s doing to sing along to this line.
Carina Round: “Let It Fall”
Carina Round grew up on the same streets as my protagonist, so it feels right she should soundtrack the story. I first saw her playing at Ronnie Scotts in Birmingham around the same time I had illusions of being a musician. It seemed like everyone wanted to compare her to PJ Harvey, because people’s vocabulary when it comes to young women with guitars seems limited, but from the first time I heard her voice take off mid-song I was thinking of Patti Smith. The song itself is a howl from a daughter to an estranged father, but it fits Eoin Miller perfectly. A Romani who spends as much time getting angry at the way people decide what to call him as he does trying to decide what to call himself; the song’s call to “say my name the way it’s meant to be said” fits his call to others, and a child singing at the legacy of a distant father is a key part of his motivation. It also feels like it speaks to two of the female characters in the book, who are being told what they can be, and when they can be it.
John Martyn: “Glory Box”
This is one of the songs that get mentioned in the book, and it’s a great soundtrack to that particular scene. A cover of a Portishead song, the meaning is turned around and given a broken and desperate edge by John Martyn’s voice. This is the exact song that my character needs to hear at the moment he does, the vocal howl grabbing him and telling him what to do.
Sugar: “Hoover Dam”
From one of the great albums of the 90’s. This song always gives me the same feeling as “The Ledge” by The Replacements, a feeling of this being your moment because it’s going to be the last. A feeling of having nothing to fear because you have nothing left to hold. It’s a song that carries both sadness and utter joy, a runaway train about to go off the rails in one last, great burst of speed. And of course the lyrics speak to the story: “If you’ve made a deal with the guy in the horns and the cape..”
John Prine: “Souvenirs”
The perfect bittersweet song of love and regret. How do we let our youth slip away? Where does love go? How can we fight so hard to earn memories, then give them up so easily? “Broken hearts and dirty windows make life difficult to see” – brooding and sad, but John Prine stops the song from slipping into maudlin. Some of the thoughts that run around the book, and about one scene in particular that I won’t spoil.
Deacon Blue: “Your Town”
Because none of us are too cool for a Deacon Blue song. If the book was a film, the slow build of this song would be the perfect way to take us from the last shot into the closing credit. An angry song about living on after someone has messed up your life, a song about regret, recrimination and covering up the hurt. The background vocal elevates the track, giving it a feel of something bigger, of something that matters.
Stream the whole playlist on Spotify.