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Zoe Street Howe - How's Your Dad?: Living in the Shadow of a Rock Star Parent (Omnibus Press pbk 2010, 257 pages £14-95/£10-47Amazon)

It doesn't seem that long since Zoe Street Howe's "Typical Girls?: The story of the Slits" - Mudkiss' book of the year for 2009 - came out, but here we have her new one. This is no rush job, though it's a great piece of editing & research, as she brings together a cast of hugely differing characters, spread over the last 40 years or so, to give their accounts of the many bonuses & downers that go with having rock star parents. The chapters are arranged according to various themes, such as "The N Word" [nepotism], "School", "Absence", "Drugs" & inevitably, "So, How's Your dad?".  It's one of the many nice stylistic touches of the book that as it each chapter finishes, there's a link that leads into the main theme of the next one. Although the subject-matter is very different to "Typical Girls?", the quality of Zoe Street Howe's writing is outstanding: it's really hard to manage & marshall this amount of material.
By its nature, anything that deals with family issues is bound to have its fraught emotional sides, & Zoe copes really well with being able to move deftly between perceptive insight to humourous asides, & sometimes knowing when it's best just to tell the story & move on. There are several times in the book when I'd be laughing out loud one minute & stopped in my tracks the next (some of the Brian Wilson stories are particularly chilling) often on the same page.There's certainly enough material here to keep any analyst in work for years - intense issues of abandonment, identity, sexuality, addiction, & guilt abound through the book.

Some parents don't come out of this book with much credit. In some cases they were passing on their own unhappy childhoods, not knowing any different (John Lennon), not interested in the day to day mundanities of parenthood (Dury, Zappa), good intentions but too out of it to be an effective parent (Paula Yates, Dave Gahan & too many others to mention), & of course, other more individually complex situations. You could certainly make a formidable supergroup from some of the Bad Dads in this book - though I doubt they'd make it past the first practice before egos exploded - Lennon, Brian Wilson, John Phillips, & Ginger Baker anyone?. But in many more cases - just as in "real" life - the issues aren't so black & white. A parent can become a virtual stranger due to the demands of touring, and if there's an added distance imposed by addiction, the best intentions can easily get forgotten. Some of the most touching passages for me in the book came with Jack Bruce's daughter, Natascha Eleanore, describing her childhood waiting for dad to come home, but then finding a well-meaning but spaced-out stranger for most of the time.

Where drugs are concerned, it's clear that rock star kids are just as likely to be like the goody goody child in Ab Fab or just plain bored/blasé after what they've grown up around at home as they are to think its normal to have bowls of coke on the living room table. However, the stories of John Phillips injecting his 14 year old daughter with coke are sickening.

The author has a special insight into the subject, her husband Dylan being son to Steve Howe (Yes, Asia, Tomorrow) & a professional musician himself. Dylan Howe's work with the Blockheads involves some fascinating crossovers with other characters in the book - Baxter Dury, who restores some balance & adds depth to the version of his childhood shown in the recent Ian Dury biopic "Sex & Drugs & Rock'n'roll", Mickey Gallagher & his children, & a generally punk-descended clan around Ladbroke Grove, featuring various Strummer, Cook, Letts offspring. Dylan Howe makes it clear that his father always instilled a serious work ethic in him - no all day dossing at home after leaving school - as reflected in the range of his drumming activities (which include playing with dad Steve). This is unlike the arrogant sense of entitlement shown by some of the other participants (no names here, but there's usually a catwalk or TV chat show involved somewhere).

A lot of the book is taken up with considering the many dilemmas involved for anyone in this situation. In childhood - do people really want to be friends or is it just because of Mum or Dad's fame? Why does everyone assume I'm rich too? A bit later, it becomes clear that if you want to go into music, you've got the advantage of a head-start - but not for long, then it'll be "Oh well it's only because of your dad". And even once you have made it on your own, you'll spend half your time being questioned about your father, like Jeff "Son of Tim" Buckley. Zoe's descriptions of the particularly complicated emotional minefield around Sean & Julian Lennon is really fascinating. Equally, its amusing to read how seamlessly some of the kids move into the "family business" - Calico Cooper's very matter-of-fact account of her role in the Alice Cooper stageshow, for example, or Jason Bonham's "this is what I do" attitude.

In some ways it's surprising that such a fertile subject hasn't been addressed before, apart from passages in individual biographies. The nearest I can think of is Anthony Kiedis' "Scar Tissue", (though his father was a music biz big player rather than star), with its descriptions of being a wise-before-his-time kid at his dad's coke parties.

"How's Your Dad?" is a very different book to "Typical Girls?" in its scope & ambition, but it's just as good a read. It's been really skilfully assembled, from a mixture of original interviews & source material in books & magazines, but this doesn't stop Zoe Street Howe's own style showing through. There's hardly any repetition, which is quite an achievement as its easy to lose control of so much diverse material, & the themed chapters generally work really well. The tone of the book is mainly positive I'm glad to say, but its unlikely to make many people want to swap their childhoods for many of the lives described here, as strange as the many bizarre names foisted on the kids here. This is a really bright, well-told story, full of humour, insight & thought-provoking moments. Check out the latest interview with Den about the book. here

Tony Beesley - Out of Control: Punk Rock at the Doncaster Outlook & Rotherham Windmill 1976-78 (Days Like Tomorrow pbk 2010, 165 pages. £12-99 Amazon)

Another highlight of last year was Tony Beesley's book "Our Generation", an in-depth exploration of the late 70's punk scene around South Yorkshire, dealing mainly with punk life in Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield & Rotherham. That was a pretty massive book & gave a fascinating overview, the amount of detail giving a great sense of time & place. Since then Tony's carried on the labour of love in documenting & recording the scene - this new book narrows the focus from "Our Generation" to concentrate on two particular venues, the Outlook in Doncaster and the Windmill in Rotherham. Like "Our Generation", the book's mainly made up of skilfully edited & interwoven interview quotes, interspersed with commentaries from the author. There's also an absolute gold-mine of fan photos, posters, fanzines & fliers reproduced here.

Although they appealed to the same audiences, there was quite a difference between the two places. The Outlook's manager & promoter Bob Roberts comes across as someone for whom the music always came first, even it was at the expense of business considerations. The Windmill provided some great nights too, but was a more hard-nosed operation, where there was often a disparity between what was advertised & who actually played there on any given night.

Apart from representing for the nascent punk scene,  both clubs also catered to the late 70's mainstream of Heavy Metal & "progressive" nights & disco, & Tony Beesley & his interviewees are very good at evoking these tribal differences & how change takes place, as hair is cut & loyalties alter. Where the detail of things like gig lists really help is in showing for how much of the time, various different musical scenes could overlap & co-exist. Sure, everything changed with the Pistols, but in a more subtle way than is usually represented now. Thus, taking the summer of '77 as an example, in addition to legendary gigs like the Ramones/Talking Heads double bill, Damned/Adverts & Jam gigs, bookended by two Pistols shows, the Outlook also hosted shows from Alberto y los Trios Paranoios, Split Enz, Drs of Madness, Kursaal Flyers & John Otway.

The book is pretty essential reading for any serious Pistols fans. There are some great fan photos of the group & the reports on their two contrasting shows are pretty revealing. At their first show - just after the Grundy fiasco on tv - Glen Matlock was still in place, but with Sid along for the ride as part of the gang. The group are short of material, but are friendly & engage with the audience. The next show was only a year or so later, but already the punk landscape was changing. This was the "SPOTS" tour, with the Pistols' Doncaster show advertised as being by the "Tax Exiles"(!). This time Sid is in the group, but off his face most of the time. Only Steve Jones & Paul Cook turn up for a record signing session with fans. There's also some very interesting insights into the commonly held belief that the Pistols were "banned by the authorities" from playing - according to people who were involved at the booking end of things (like Bob Roberts) this was largely another Maclaren fantasy to get more publicity/notoriety for the group, with promoters actually desperate to book the most sought-after group of the day. It's cool too to see the contracts for the Pistols' Outlook shows, already looking like ancient relics.

While there was always a scarcity value to Pistols gigs, the fans' account of the week-by-week gigs at the clubs show who were the bands who were really out there working & connecting with the fans - groups like the Adverts, Generation X, Stranglers & the Buzzcocks. There's also belated respect for people who've almost been written out of the story or forgotten now, like Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, the Boys, John Foxx-era Ultravox, & the Rich Kids (with a couple of really nice photos of a young & happy Steve New).

The whole punk story is landmarked with legendary clubs & venues - CBGB's, Max's, the Roxy, Barbarella's, the Vortex, the Electric Circus, Eric's - and in "Out of Control" Tony Beesley makes a good case for at least one of these places to be given the same status. There's also a very nice balancing act in the way the author describes a scene that in some ways is still close & ongoing, & in others is part of a distant, pre-internet/mobile phone black & white world. By the end of the book it feels like you know the Outlook & Windmill crews & another story starts to seep through, between the lines: the eternal mysteries we all undergo at that age of finding your place, your mates, what you like, where you're going to...

The main thing is that the book's a really entertaining read & massively informative. It'll get you scurrying to find music you'd almost forgotten about (got the Boys playing now!). In years to come it'll also be a great piece of ground-level oral history for anyone wanting to know what the late seventies punk scene was really like.

Reviewed by Den Browne 14/07/10

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