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Big Morning Blues

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Coronet, London, 1976
(price: 65p; 122 pages)
first published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1974

The blurb on the back:

The Rookery is the sleazy heart of modern London; the world capital of porn, booze and petty crime. To survive in the Rookery you need to be tough or crooked. Preferably both when you're dealing with a clientele of John the Baptist, Broken Back Brown, Paisley Dave, McMenemy the Enemy, and many more of the coolest villains and maddest maniacs ever concentrated in one place.
Ian Mintlaw McGraw, alias John Thompson, alias James Caskie, thought he was as tough and smart as any of them. Until he woke up in the nick one morning with a hangover and seventy mysterious pounds stuffed in his shoes. If that wasn't worrying enough, getting out and discovering the money's last owner had just been disposed of with seventeen stab wounds was worse. Somewhere not far away one of his charming friends was wandering round with a knife and no money - and even fewer scruples.
‘Gordon Williams is an uninhibited writer, in top gear in this novel’ -
Sunday Telegraph
’A fine book and a funny one’ -
The Times
’Well up to Gordon Williams' toughie standards’ -
Morning Star

opening lines:
My sticky eyes open under a mesh-shielded bulb set in a ceiling far above human reach.

As the cover says, this is from the man who brought us The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, later filmed as Straw Dogs. And it’s really very good indeed. It’s told by a Glaswegian trying to eke out a living as a dodgy music agent and writer (porn, as it happens) in the seedier parts of London, where little ever gets done, because the pubs are just about to open and then the drinking clubs will be ready to welcome their patrons.

The story is slight and not really worth worrying about too much. But the detail of a now vanished world is fabulous. Virtually every page has something that’ll grab your attention, whether it’s attitudes to the civil war in Northern Ireland:

’Irish jokes are getting boring,’ I said. ‘If they’re so fucking dim how come the whole British army can’t beat ‘em?’ (p.133)

through to what constitutes a decent café breakfast:

I started into the mixed grill. The way prices were soaring most of the cafés were were substituting hamburgers for lamb chops but in The Alley Baba they still gave you a piece of liver with the bacon, tomato, sausage, chips and peas. (p.141)

It’s grubby, it’s dingy, it’s shot through with casual violence, and it seldom gets through a page without having a drink. It’s also got some good gags and doesn’t let up for a moment. And the portrayal of a once-great Scottish playwright reduced to whingeing penury by alcoholism is fearfully accurate – based on a real person?

Check this one out. It’s worth your time.


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