I switched on the the radio and there was Mark Ellen promoting his autobiography; talking to Danny Baker about the N.M.E., LiveAid, the Old Grey Whistle Test and the misery of meeting Van Morrison. Ellen was as charming and funny as ever; I had a surge of nostalgia and immediately bought this download. For anyone who knows Ellen's work it's enough to say that he reads this with his customary charm, It's funny, wistful and informed on his specialist subjects of music and the music press.
For anyone less familiar with him Ellen started his career in music journalism just as punk was getting underway and he stayed with it, unlike many contemporaries up to the present day; interviewing Lady Gaga and enduring Rhiana's comically awful sounding 777 press junket. During that time he rose through the ranks from writer to editor; progressing from being roughed up by Elvis Costello's manager for looking like a hippy and writing for the Record Mirror, to sharing an office with Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant when they both worked for archetypal 80's publication Smash Hits, to being on friendly terms with the likes of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin when he and David Hepworth set up Word. Throughout; he stayed in love with music and never lost a sense of fandom. Oh yes; and he was in a band with Tony Blair when they were both at University.
We get conversations with musicians like Noel Gallagher, Jimmy Page and Lady Gaga. We get first hand accounts of presenting LiveAid and we get genuinely interesting insights into the way in which the internet has fundamentally changed the music business and the magazine business. His writing is funny, affectionate, insightful and inventive and he has a lovely reading style. It's like being in a pub with your funniest mate. It's possible that all of the above has left you completely cold. I'm conscious that Ellen's writing about something I'm passionate about and he's covering a period from my early teens to the present day so this resonates with me. But if any of that resonates with you too this is a treat..
My interest in this may be a little niche; I'm studying adult learning and I'm an enthusiastic if untalented guitar player. So this book ticks a couple of boxes for me and the fact that the author reads it himself also adds something in terms of conveying a sense of immediacy in how the tale is told. It's possible that for other readers this may be too much of a minority interest but the central messages about how, as adults, we can still master skills that might be considered challenging once we're past childhood are clearly and helpfully spelled out. Marcus also strikes a nice balance between the theory; which he knows well from his day job as an academic; and the practice of sticking his neck out and trying to learn an instrument. The section where he has to audition in front of a bunch of 11 year olds to see if they'll let him into their band at "band camp" is a great example of the latter quality.