Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Simon Armitage - Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock Fantasist (Penguin 2009)

Gig is the second memoir from indie enthusiast, writer, rock journalist and would-be poet laureate Simon Armitage. Told in a charmingly self-effacing way and full of bright and sparky anecdotes about the life of a jobbing poet who makes more than adequate time in his busy schedule to attend as many gigs as possible, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, breezy and poignant. Running through Armitage’s experiences in interviewing Feltham young offenders and sex workers for films ‘Feltham Sings’ and ‘Pornography: the musical’ respectively (don’t mix those two up), he reveals the behind the scenes process of writing all the lyrics for these films as well as anecdotes on the research process and subsequent careers and lives of the subjects. He writes about his time up North, getting into the New Romantics while his dad, a stoic manly man, took every opportunity to mock his girly hair and foppish demeanour. There’s a hilarious story about his time studying home economics and having to live a flat on school premises for a week and cook his teachers’ lunches. Only in the North, only in the seventies. There’s also the music. Armitage uses every other chapter to visit a gig in the last 3 years and have it spiral off into memories of getting into the artists in his teens (Morrissey, the Fall, Stiff Little Fingers), how they have related to parts of his life, stories about the bands and artists themselves and an overriding sense that he wishes it was him up on stage, rocking socks off. Alas, he’s confined to the role of bard, travelling the world reading his work and enthusing about British rock history. Every chapter is peppered with memory, charm and hilarity and the book ends with Armitage setting up his band The Scaremongers, and their fraught attempt to lay down some tracks in the studio, despite both being in their mid forties. A charming book that makes you want to go and seek out his poetry. Also, be sure to read Armitage’s £33.33 column in the Observer Music Magazine, where he spends said amount in charity shops each month and recounts his experiences of the albums he finds.

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