evseymour

Word on the Wire

Month: January, 2016

‘BOY, INTERRUPTED’ by Dale Hibbert

A few weeks ago, I received a review copy of ‘Boy, Interrupted’ by Dale Hibbert, a former member of The Smiths.

Manchester born and bred, Hibbert paints a fascinating picture of the music scene back in the late 1970’s, faithfully describing the way in which musicians connected, created bands and, as easily, how those bands fractured. He charts the rise of Joy Division and the Buzzcocks as well as many others in a Who’s Who of rising musicians at the time. Of interest to fans, I’m certain, but does the memoir hold wider appeal for curious readers?

Hibbert’s mother died when he was only eight days old. This tragic fact is revealed in the first pack-a-punch line.   As one might expect, his sense of abandonment and strong feelings of being an outsider dogged his life.  Compounded by his father’s less than hands-on approach to his only son – Hibbert spent much of his formative years living with his grandmother – those feelings were exacerbated and turned him into a loner with few friends. It’s exactly from these experiences that the seeds of his undoubted creativity were sown. All fair and good, yet Hibbert’s attitude to the main players in his life, especially his wives, makes for less than comfortable reading. He appears to hold a conviction that he has been done down and the tone is dangerously close to straying into self-pity. Don’t get me wrong, Hibbert, also diagnosed later with Asperger’s syndrome and diabetes, has had his fair share of serious problems with which to grapple. It’s fair to say that he was handed a duff hand of cards from the outset, but one might be fooled into believing that the memoir is more ‘misery’ than ‘music scene.’   And that’s a pity because, as soon as Hibbert talks about his bent for music, his passion for bass and melody, and the essential dynamics necessary to create a successful band, the narrative takes off. This is what kept me flicking those pages.

Everyone of Hibbert’s generation, it seems, was either in a band or on the cusp of joining one. He reveals how the Manchester Musicians Collective came into being and how even the most unrehearsed groups were warmly received – a far cry from today’s gladiatorial approach.

The core of his story is devoted to his time with The Smiths, and his introduction via Johnny Marr to one Steven Patrick Morrissey, the enigmatic front man of The Smiths, later known solely by his surname.   Hibbert paints a genuinely interesting picture of himself and Morrissey as two young men deeply suspicious of each other. Hibbert’s scything opinion and keen nose for sniffing out pretentiousness doesn’t spare the man who later became so successful, yet Hibbert is also incredibly fair-minded. He observes the perfect alchemy that existed between Marr and Morrissey.   He praises their talent as songwriters and it comes across as absolutely genuine and without a shred of envy.

Hibbert’s own expertise lay in his very singular skill as a studio engineer. In this regard, the confines of the studio were a perfect match for his ‘loner’ nature. Other writers might be tempted to become overly technical when describing how sound is laid down, but Hibbert avoids this, illustrating the process with verve. Quick to spot that the Smiths didn’t fit into a particular genre, he was keen to capitalise on and turn their uniqueness to advantage.

Unsurprisingly, given the speed with which band members split up and moved around, Hibbert’s inclusion in the group was always going to have a ‘sell by’ date. He alludes to the fact that, with the stratospheric success of The Smiths, all kinds of third parties popped out of the woodwork.   After a key gig at The Ritz where they played support group to Blue Rondo a la Turk. Marr, Hibbert’s friend, delivered the bad news in little over ninety seconds. In contrast to how Hibbert reacted to more personal partings, Hibbert’s response was stoic and dignified. Worse was to follow when, during a holiday shortly afterwards, he was replaced in his role as studio engineer. This opened up a whole new chapter for him personally and professionally and which, sadly, didn’t involve music for a considerable time. It’s an honest account, for sure, yet it would have benefited further if the emotional volume could have been turned down just a little.

Dale Hibbert

 

 

‘Boy, Interrupted’ is published by Pomona.

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YOU SAY ‘TOMATO’…

Remember that song flagging up the differences between US pronunciation and British?   (Clearly, not taking into account regional accents).   Well, I’ve been off-air because I’m busy editing not one, but two novels due for release in September and March next year with my US publisher, Midnight Ink. Added to edits I carried out last year for ‘Beautiful Losers’ (March 2016 release), it’s provided me with a fascinating insight into the differences between two nations, not just in terms of language but culture. According to my sharp-eyed copy editor, there were not too many unwieldy Britishisms with which she had to tangle and unpick but, even so, for smooth communication, there have been some.

Before I got cracking on the actual text, I corrected every single speech mark. We Brits tend to use single while Americans use double. I’d love to be able to say that with one flick of a button on my Mac I could magically make the transition without lifting another digit. Not so. Or, at least, not so as far as I could fathom. However there are distinct advantages to adopting a painstaking, if slightly anal approach, I got to pick up on pesky if minor grammatical bloopers. My excuse for having any bloopers at all – no, I’m not going to reveal which ones – is that I invested too much brio in the writing and not enough in the grammar. Moving swiftly on, the way in which we Brits talk to each other can sometimes pose problems for US readers who might take us a little too literally. There were the rather more obvious branding problems. Halfords is unknown in the US so I had to rely on a broader term. ‘Walking in crocodile’ confuses the hell and, when we talk about calling someone (as on a phone) Americans believe this means visiting in person. ‘Hooking up’ for a chat has a whole different meaning, involving sex – not what I wanted to convey at all.

While on sexual terminology, I received a genuine eye-opener. There is a scene towards the end of ‘Beautiful Losers’ in which my heroine, Kim Slade, confronts ‘the bad guy’. It’s a genuine ‘in extremis’ situation. She’s right up against it and she curses fulsomely and extremely offensively with a very Anglo-Saxon word. Let’s put it this way, it begins with ‘C.’ This is even more offensive in the States than here – completely unacceptable in most circumstances. Fortunately, Americans have their own plethora of profane terms. Would ‘Motherf**r’ do, instead, I enquired.

 

 

REBEL REBEL

Never did I think I’d nick the title from a David Bowie song and apply it to Frederick Forsyth but, after reading ‘The Outsider,’ it seems entirely appropriate.

I’ve long been a fan of Forsyth’s novels and films. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his books, ‘The Day of the Jackal’ is stamped on most people’s psyches. For me, ‘The Fist of God’ remains one of my favourites.

As mentioned in my last post, I was given his semi-autobiography for Christmas. I say ‘semi’ because Forsyth is at pains to state that it isn’t an autobiography, yet he gives a fascinating insight into his background, his time working for Reuters as a journalist, his thorny and short-lived career at the BBC and, eye-openingly, his stint as a foreign correspondent covering the war between Nigeria and Biafra which, according to Forsyth, was fuelled by the then Wilson government. Having deeply personal experience of the terrible price paid by children during the conflict, Forsyth swears never to forgive those in power for creating such a colossal humanitarian crisis. Shortly after this, broke and with no job, he decided to write his way to success. He’s quite open about his naivety and the fact he knew nothing about publishing or the first thing about how to write a novel. He also admits to being clueless with money.   All things considered, he doesn’t appear to have done too badly!

An only child, (left to his own devices, he developed a strong imagination) he spent long holidays posted solo with families in both France and Germany. As a result, he became fluent in French and German at an early age and to the extent that he could pass himself off to native-speakers. Later on, in order to bag a story, he’d often play the part of bumbling Brit abroad and adopt an atrocious accent with a limited vocabulary so that he could listen to those who believed that their conversations were not understood. This served him well, and probably saved his life when, now a published novelist, he carried out a heart-stopping ‘off the books’ job for the ‘Firm’ in East Berlin as a means to return a favour.

But I’ve fast-forwarded.

With a fascination for aircraft, Forsyth was persistent in his attempt to obtain a pilot’s licence and join the RAF where he flew single-seat Vampires. Later, a journalistic posting to Berlin brought him into contact with some fairly unpleasant people and, according to his account, he very nearly started World War III. On more than one occasion, it’s fair to say that he risked his life.

But what did I learn about the man? Like a lot of young men, the younger Frederick Forsyth was clearly addicted to danger and derring-do, but if a guy can have the elusive X-Factor, he had it in spades. Charismatic, a hit with women, he was charming and witty, and I dare say still is. A stickler for intellectual rigour, he doesn’t appear to suffer fools but he’s not one of those sneery individuals who stamps his intelligence on those less mentally agile, rather he employs a robust sense of wry humour. Unimpressed by status, he’s anti-Establishment, hates inaccuracy and cover-up and, I sense, has a long, unforgiving memory for those in power who abuse it. Born from long experience of how the world ticks, he’s a cynic yet also comes across as compassionate and a good reader of people. One of the most attractive aspects is that he puts his success down to sheer luck and does not give the impression that this is false modesty.

Sometimes I play a little game in which I name a famous person – could be a writer, musician or even politician – and ask myself, if invited to dinner, would I accept. You’d be amazed how many folk with whom I wouldn’t care to share a packet of crisps, but dinner with Mr F? I’m in.