Songs have bypassed my brain and gone straight to my body, triggering bouts of dancing that I’m glad is nowhere on YouTube – though dear God, it was good for me.
I wanted to write a book about songs for years. Finally, in 2015 or so, my ‘music novel’ was at the front of the queue. I soon hit a speed-bump: as the famous quote goes, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ How can you catch the elusive, mysterious thrill of a song in a net of words? It made sense to focus on musicians, and to set the book in 1967 and 1968, when evergreen songs were released almost weekly; when the LP emerged as an art form in its own right (see Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band); and when the counter-culture felt like a real thing, not just a slogan, a lazy cliche or a feverish dream of Utopia caused by a lack of real-world experience. My band begin in Soho, London, because it was briefly the centre of things. Utopia Avenue are formed from a folk-singing woman, a psychedelic blue-blooded guitarist, a working-class bassist and a northern jazz drummer, to be as broad a microcosm as possible. The story of their unglamorous beginnings, meteoric middle and unexpected ending took me five years, on and off, to plot, to write, to edit and to polish.
If you get the chance to join Utopia Avenue on their journey, I hope you enjoy the trip.
West Cork, 2020.