Review: ‘I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music’ by Sylvia Patterson

Sylvia Patterson

Cover artwork.

It was perhaps inevitable that I would relate to Sylvia Patterson, one of my favourite ever music critics. She’s originally from Perth (I’m originally from Perthshire); she’s a self-deprecating, sardonic feminist who loves music to the point of distraction, and had a tendency to choose unsuitable boyfriends in her youth. Check, check, and check. Her memoir, therefore, does not disappoint. Whether writing movingly, and without a trace of self-pity, about her mother’s struggles with alcoholism, her father’s death,and her own miscarriages, this book is a witty but raw,heartfelt slice of her soul.

Initially, a giddy, freewheeling tale of her early forays into Every Musical Tribe Ever sets out her stall- it pulses like a warehouse rave to her frenetic, no-bullshit prose.Starting off at Dundee’s DC Thomson and finding herself at the mercy of boorish editors, she eventually left for London, where she became an in-house writer on teen Bible Smash Hits , with its characteristic pomposity-pricking humour, the bastard offspring of The Young Ones and Noel Coward. There’s brushes with Kylie, the “impervious to cheek” Westlife and other pop poppets. All this of course,was before she joined the older,wiser NME.


“Corkey O’Riley, it’s Kylie!” ‘Ver Hits’ in 1988

Of course there is a roll call of ‘fright wigs’;alternative comedians,indie, goth, CND,Thatcher, feminism,unemployment and manufactured pop music, rolling through the decades to Britpop’s barricades and Acid House warehouse parties.She laments, as the 80s faded, the lack of outsiders, the weirdos who filled the charts – the queer singers, flamboyant personalities and lefty idealists, as pop became increasingly concerned with creating an industry, and the rise of branding and celebrity culture .


Anti-Britpop genius Jarvis Cocker

But the most moving chapter in pop star terms is on beautiful, fragile musician Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers (whom I also met around the same time, doing an interview for my rubbish little fanzine)- her description of this Bambi-eyed, softly-spoken man is accurate: he was gentle, funny, warm and wonderful company, but too damaged and fatalistic. Prone to self-harm, he disappeared in 1995, with his car found at the Severn Bridge. No body was ever recovered. As the Manics get bigger and bigger, there is still a sense of his absence to this day; a painful loss.Patterson reminds us why we still need more individuals like Richey in pop music, even today- outspoken, articulate and unafraid to be controversial.

Richey Edwards

Much missed: Richey Edwards

The flip-side to all of this though, are the anecdotes, which shed light on artists more keenly than much of their musical ouevre: she found Damon Albarn’s hubris really annoying, until one night in Iceland when she was ‘tired and emotional’, and he  grabbed her arm and took her for a walk. She tried to cut through Beyonce’s veneer by asking her,”have you ever been sick down your cleavage?”; was offered a plum by Johnny Cash, threatened with rape and death by Eminem,introduced to Prince’s new wife Mayte, and a few lessons in spirituality by Madonna. Even the once-iconic Morrissey isn’t spared, as she rails against the “bilious ravings of his clearly unhinged mind”.


Her Royal Madgeness

Above all, her love of music remains unabashed- she emerges as a true fan of everything that makes the form wonderful, even after meeting people she once admired, who in person broke her heart. This book is like your favourite jukebox single- you will dip in over and over again, just to retain the giddy three minute rush, to be in that moment.Surely all you can ask for.


(Lorna Irvine)

I’m Not With the Band is published by Sphere , priced £18.99.


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