The People’s Songs

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The People’s Songs –
The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs
By Stuart Maconie
Ebury Press – £9.99

As is always the case with Stuart Maconie’s books (and I do believe I’ve had the the utmost pleasure in reading all of them), they’re always idiosyncratically informative as well as well as adroitly and entertainingly well written.

To be sure, Maconie recently appeared at The Arts Centre in Swindon, where my colleague Sean Hodgson at Swindon 105.5 got to interview him. Thus suggesting that he is very much a man, a broadcaster, an author as well as a rambler – replete with (individual) pork pie – of the people.

As is his most recent literary offering The People’s Songs – The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs, which goes some way in reiterating as much.

These 428 pages, are, as John Harris wrote in The Guardian: ”Elegant and approachable, definitive but also self-deprecating.” I really couldn’t agree more, as Maconie’s writing is indeed approachable and definitive. Although one of the most attractive aspects of his work, whether as an author, broadcaster or whatever, is his all round, self-deprecating demeanour. A quality which, like that of the Starship Enterprise of the Star Trek persuasion, ensures that no matter how much uncalled for negative criticism or ridicule may be hurled his way, it simply re-bounds off without so much as having made an iota of a difference.

That’s not to say Stuart Maconie is utterly blasé. That’s to say his self-deprecating design has always served him well. Exceedingly well in fact. Regardless of whatever arena he happens to be working in.

Yet it must be said: his quintessential background in popular music via journalism has nigh ensured that his knowledge, along with that of the trajectory of his elongated enthusiasm, really is second to no-one. One need only read the Introduction to this more than insightful and most readable of books, to realise this: ”I’d argue that what we call pop music – that mongrel hybrid of rock, vaudeville, folk ballad, dance music, classroom hymns, street corner soul and classical music, that art form so plastic and pliable that it can embrace the wildest avant-garde experimentation and the most primitive and basic chants and beats – is a uniquely British invention. A music that has no one stylistic constant but a defiant, unsanctioned concept at its heart, the ability to speak to people, to affect people, to occupy people, to transform their lives or divert them for a moment, to console, to enrage, to amuse, to arouse. This then is a music that happens without the approval of critic or teacher or politician or pulpit. It both nods to history and makes history. But it happens without anyone’s permission.”

It is such informed and considered writing that partially explains why I’ve read all his books (Cider with Roadies, Pies and Prejudice, Adventures on the High Teas and Hope and Glory) and will probably continue to do so.

Furthermore, where else would you read such an acute declaration as the following (where Maconie writes of song number fifteen): ”Bowie may look outlandish in his multi-coloured faux snakeskin jumpsuit and his Star Trek boots, but his message is one of reassurance and optimism, whispered like a late night DJ into the ears of teenagers glued to their radios. As well as ‘Over the Rainbow’ there are nods to other great moments in popular song: the staccato Morse Code guitar line hints at both ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the Supremes ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ while the circular la-la’ed outro recalls T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ and The Beatles ‘Hey Jude.”’

Other than containing a veritable wealth of pop induced knowledge, The People’s Songs says more, and has the literary potential to do far more for the country as a whole, than (m)any of Britain’s celebrity obsessed troll-twats, corporate hyenas, or overtly, overpaid football players.

That the England football team have just returned to England following a dismal display of high-octane, piss-poor quality, is absolutely no surprise. That this wonderful book hasn’t (yet) been been embraced the length and breadth the country however – is.

David Marx

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