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Grafton, London, 1990
(price: 3.99; 400 pages)

dedication: For Graham, with love and
For Jeanne Ruzicka, wherever the hell she is

The blurb on the back:

A bad trip you can call your own.
Brian Parker had attended some strange warehouse parties in his time as a music journalist on
Elpee magazine. But, as he climbed down the manhole in the middle of Ludgate Circus and followed the distant subterranean thud of 60s West Coat acid rock, he realized that this must be the weirdest. Secretly hosted by the giant record label Paradigm, it was a hype for a hype - the launch of a new psychedelic underground that would soon be dominated by fresh Paradigm signing Kenny & The Merry Pranksters.
As the industry's publicity machine moved into top gear, Brian found himself chasing a story that involved occultists, mafia bosses, the Fourth Estate and a handful of small ugly terrestrials. And that was only the starting point for a crazy tour with even crazier people - and the beginning of a hype that could only end in disaster...
Hype! takes a wonderfully cynical and humorous look behind the scenes of the world's record industry, where chart success is everything - and quality has very little to do with it.

opening lines:
It seemed to Brian that he had been walking for hours, yet he still could not hear the tell-tale thud of a disco bassline or the babble and chatter of a party in full swing.

I used to read John Gill in Sounds, and I guess that dates both me and him. His biography in this book notes that he 'has written for publications ranging from Smash Hits to The Times', which may not seem like much of a range as we stumble blindly in the valley of the shadow of Murdoch, but over the years Gill has actually proved to be a good rock critic - one of the few who doesn't make that term sound like an oxymoron.

He's not, however, a great novelist. He's taken the traditional route of writing about what he knows, so this is a story about record company excess filtered through the mind of a rock journalist, and that's really where the problems start. The hack in question is one of those post-Penman cultural theorists who presided over the death of British rock music in the 1980s, and as a character he's simultaneously unlikeable, implausible and irritating. You're bored with him twenty pages in and the fact that he doesn't do drugs (except alcohol) means that you know someone's going to slip a tab of acid at some point and we're going to have to suffer his hallucinations. It duly happens.

The other problem is that Gill wants to write a wild, free-wheeling, rampaging satire, and it's all a bit too laboured and forced. Which is a shame, because the record industry needs writing about - if there are illegal practices, connexions with the Mafia, bribery and corruption going on, then it's worth exposing. But to do it in fiction is always going to be a disappointment: after all, Fredric Dannen's Hit Men named names.

Even so, the story about an American band reviving the duller end of 1960s excess is okay, and Gill's writing style is perfectly readable. He also deserves praise for getting in a name-check for the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town: as you'll have noticed, I don't buy many new books, but when I do have to get something, I go to the Owl - it's a real shop.

I wouldn't worry overmuch if you've missed this one.


another novel by a rock hack:

Tony Parsons, Platinum Logic
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