Normally I try to avoid books about music like the plague. I don’t need somebody telling me what I should know about music, and I’m not particularly bothered about that time that the bassist of this band snorted eighteen grams of coke, banged six underage strippers and called Prince Charles ‘a floppy-eared prick’, all after one night at the Royal Albert Hall. Sometimes, however, (and normally at my father’s insistence) I will read a book about music and, a week previously, I picked up Simon Parkes’ account of his time as the owner of Brixton Academy.
From the outset of Live at the Brixton Academy, Parkes fits the bill of a loveable young rogue who is heir to a fishy fortune (Boston Deep Sea Fisheries, to be precise) and educated at the same school as Prince Andrew, but also born with only one fully functional arm as a result of the thalidomide disaster which came to light in the early 1960s. His story as a huge music fan with no practical experience of running anything close to the salvage operation required on the Brixton Astoria, as it was known when he purchased it for £1 in 1982, is part heart-warming, part nail-biting, but always fun and told with a genuine passion for previous generations of the live music scene. It must be noted that Parkes also has a healthy disdain for the way live music is run and promoted these days, calling it ‘less a wild ride into the unknown, and more a flight on easyJet’ in the book. I sympathise with him, having paid the equivalent of a deposit for a two-bedroomed semi-detached house in booking fees over the years.
I’ve never really written a review of a book, but I gather it is not the done thing to reveal plot details, so I won’t. Instead I’ll reveal a few nuggets in the form of a vague, and at times alliterative, list, which will undoubtedly make you want to purchase a copy of the book immediately. Featured in Live at the Brixton Academy are Yardies, tramps, transsexuals, riots, battles with banks, a man in a top hat and tails, ecstasy, raves, romance, a great big fucking fairground and the death of an icon, but the best bit is that this is all squeezed into a book that you can easily read over a weekend!
A quick glance at the Amazon reviews for the book suggests that I am not the only person who couldn’t put the book down. If you can’t be bothered to click the hyperlink, the book has gathered 31 reviews; 30 at five stars and one at four stars (as of 29th April 2014). The public has spoken. It doesn’t matter if you have never been to a gig at the Brixton Academy, be it in Simon Parkes’ time as owner or after that, or you wouldn’t countenance the idea of stepping into Brixton, even if somebody resurrected Joe Strummer and got the Clash to play there, if you are a fan of live music and wish to hear about how a different side of the industry works, told in a genuinely funny and personal account, then you should read this book.
Live at the Brixton Academy: A Riotous Life in the Music Business was published by Serpent’s Tail on 23rd January 2014.