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Guardian Angels

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New English Library, London, 1974
(price: 35p; 128 pages)

dedication: This is dedicated to the day the music died
- February 3rd, 1959

The blurb on the back:

A giant rock group tour is being planned, with top names from the United States, and security is the big problem with the promoters. How can they avoid the appalling violence from rioting fans, without jeopardising the lives of the security guards themselves?
The Hell's Angels seem the answer, and Gerry Vinson's Last Heroes emerge from their Welsh retreat to do the honours. But the American groups have organised their own protection - an American chapter. The inevitable rivalry and ill-feeling is only averted when they are faced with a new threat - the satined and scented skulls.

opening lines:
'End of May 1940 it was. I'd been lying there on the bleeding beaches for three days with bugger-all food and only half a canteen of water.'

If you've been around this site before, you'll know that I'm definitely not a biker, and know bugger all about these Hell's Angels novels that the New English Library used to pump out in the 1970s. In the mods vs rockers split that historically divided British youth culture, my musical tastes were firmly with the rockers, but my stylistic preferences were even more firmly with the mods - they dressed better, they had aspirations and they washed. Sounds good to me.

Consequently, anything I might say about these novels is probably not worth the bytes it's typed with. Nonetheless, I've long been aware that Mick Norman is rated higher than his rivals*, so I approached this one with some interest. And - guess what? - even I think it's pretty damn fine.

Partly the attraction is that it's such efficient writing: really tight prose that captures characters in a couple of sentences and then sets them loose in the action. But there's also a fantastic vein of what would nowadays be regarded as playful post-modernism. The novel (the third in the series, following on from Angels From Hell and Angel Challenge and preceding Angels On My Mind) is set in the near-future of the 1980s and includes chapters supposedly extracted from publications of the period. Here, for example, is an '80s Angel named Brenda being interviewed by Oral magazine:

There are plenty of fine books about what we do. They're all old - written in the early seventies, most of them, but you might still find a copy around of them. Some of the brothers have copies, but they look like the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are pages missing and what's left is held together by glue and tape. Try and read anything by either Stuart, Cave or Norman. They all knew what it was all about. (p.93)

You see what I mean? Self-referential stuff like that wasn't much in evidence in the 1970s, but became all the rage in the future he was describing. And there's masses of such entertainment going on, including a prophecy that Reagan will wipe out the Angels in America. There's even a bit of RS Thomas' writing, long before he became the most celebrated living British poet, as well as confirmation that even in the '80s the eternal verities will prevail, so that when the Angels have a party, they play:

Holly and Eddy. Del and Gene and Chuck. Raves from even beyond the grave. Some precious forty-fives and some of the great revival albums from the nostalgia group of the seventies - the immortal Sha Na Na. (p.30)

Well, okay, we can all obviously live without Sha Na Na, but you take the man's thrust. And if you do want some nostalgia, my copy of the book has a Woolworth's sticker inside the back cover offering it for sale at the price of 18p. That's a decent offer, that is.

And finally, being someone who venerates Buddy Holly as the most gifted artist ever to work in rock & roll, I'd like to say that that's the best dedication you're going to find on this site.

Mick Norman - as if you needed the likes of me to tell you - was a pseudonym used by Laurence James, one of the editors at NEL who ventured off into writing and eventually produced an estimated 150 novels. (This is what's known as a conservative estimate - i.e. you shouldn't believe it.) Amongst them were the later Confessions novels under the name Jonathan May, and some horror under the name Richard Haigh.

* I'm particularly indebted to David Kendall for directing me to Mick Norman's work, and to Ryan Taylor for additional information including the website listed below.


visit some excellent web-pages on Laurence James
bonus Mick Norman cover scan

Angel Challenge

more bikers...

Alex Stuart
The Devil's Rider

Thom Ryder
Angel Alone

Thomas K Fitzpatrick
The Blood Circus

youth cults