Three years ago, Malorie Blackman was on Desert Island Discs, the radio show where a guest chooses the tracks they’d want to be stranded with. Her music crossed barriers. South African harmonies. An operatic duet. Reggae, soul – and Bernard Cribbins. Malorie ends with a blast of My Chemical Romance. For this, along with so many other reasons, she is my hero.
I love music. Like books, it takes me places. Yes, Bowie was great. I always sing along to ‘Let’s Dance’, doing ‘the Bowie voice’ and everything. But, it’s Bruce Springsteen’s storytelling that grabs me. I’ve no idea what a screen door is, but thanks to Springsteen, I’ve wanted one for years. The Jam’s ‘Down in a Tube Station At Midnight’ is a cheery tale about getting beaten up by racist thugs. It still made me want to come to London, though.
Some music barges into my head and slams the Memory Button. The Beatles – that’s pondering the rumours with my friend, Mandy. Paul McCartney died in a car crash in the 60s and was replaced by a look-alike. Actually, he didn’t. But pre-internet hoaxes gathered their own steam. Just hearing the opening chords of Talking Heads ‘Psycho Killer’, and I’m in our Mid-Sussex back garden with my mum singing along to the chorus. (My family was always a bit – different.) Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’- oh, serious dancing on a beautiful day at the Lambeth Country Fair, three years ago. There with all my best London friends and an assortment of slightly embarrassed children.
Sadly, I am writing this on the day it’s announced that Maurice White, the driving force behind Earth Wind and Fire, has died. The tributes are full of heart and memories. His music shaped so many people’s lives.
And that is why music is important in my books. It shapes my characters too.
It is Earth Wind and Fire’s music that weaves its way through ‘Orangeboy’, my novel coming out in June. There’s a spot of Bobby Womack and Jackie Wilson. A sliver of Bill Withers and Billy Paul. A decent dose of the Jackson 5. But it is Earth Wind and Fire that is central.
For a start, their album covers are pictures full of stories. Imagine a spaceman landing in ancient Egypt and blasting the place with colour and light. They should be Ladybird book covers. It would make everyone happy.
In ‘Orangeboy’, my protagonist, Marlon, inherits his dad’s vinyl. His dad died when he was young and music is Marlon’s closest link to him. At times of stress, Marlon tries to list all Earth Wind and Fire’s albums in order. He looks at the cover of ‘Faces’ and tries to see himself. When he places a needle on the record grooves, he knows his father had done the same.
‘Orangeboy’ made me think of inheritance tracks, the music passed down from our families and the songs we hand on. In my family, I’ve inherited calypso from Trinidad and a handful of Italian songs from my stepdad. And to pass on? My daughter has choices, between my husband’s funk-literate vinyl hoard (raided for ‘Orangeboy’) or my own smudged CDs – 80s New Romantic, morose Northern crooning, Blur and, of course, Springsteen. Lots and lots of Springsteen.
From those assorted riches she has claimed – ‘Lip Up, Fatty’ by Bad Manners. Well, the lead singer, Buster Bloodvessel, is from Hackney, after all.
And you. What have you inherited and what will you pass on?
Check out Patrice’s Twitter @lawrencepatrice