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While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Back Street Runner

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Futura, London, 1980
price: £1.25; 224 pages
(first published by Michael Joseph Ltd, 1979)
dedication: Thanks, Lynn, for supporting me all the way

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Michael Joseph, London, 1980
hardback price: £5.95;
286 pages

The blurb on the backs:

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Billy and Black Dog had only just started to climb towards the charts, but they were destined for the top. Until the terrible night two men and a girl made sure Billy would never play guitar again.
For the poverty and heartache of the band's early years, the music had been reward enough. Then only revenge could free him from the pain.
'An impassioned lament' -
The Guardian
'There have been few novels that have faithfully caught the world of rock bands. This, the author's first, is one' -
Publisher's Weekly
'Compulsive' -
The Listener
'Extremely readable, it captures the excitement, euphoria, obsession, cruelty and disappointments felt by a small rock band on its way up' -
'Brilliant' -
Daily Express

Back Street Runner
Fleeing from Stoke after killing the three thugs who viciously put an end to his career as a guitarist in the rock band Black Dog, Billy Dancey finds himself drifting from city to city, eventually arriving in London. He still hasn't adjusted to an existence outside music and, inevitably, he decides he must try to return to the rock scene in the only capacity now available — as a drummer.
Returning to the North, to Sheffield, he meets Caroline, a lonely young black nurse with problems of her own. But they fill a gap in each others lives and she gives him the stability and encouragement he needs, although he knows he can never tell her the real truth about his past. After weeks of practice on a set of drums, he feels competent enough to join a second-rate pub-rock band, Mushroom. At last he seems to be settling into a routine; he has a day job at a local colliery, he has Caroline, he has rock music; maybe he can start afresh — even if he is still plagued by bad dreams.
Then the illusion is shattered, when Mushroom have a gig in Stoke. Billy is thrown into panic. He could refuse to go but his new loyalty won't allow him to. He knows he is taking a risk but he feels sure that fate is on his side. He is wrong, and he finds himself to be a desperately hunted man, with Caroline, miles away, his only hope of survival. All he can do is run; run, hide and hope....

The story of a young band in the provinces struggling to make it into the big time is the great cliché of rock novels. Not many of them, however, are anywhere near as good as While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

It starts with a band named Black Dog on the verge of success. They've just signed a record deal and have got a last-minute booking as support slot for a major act, where they stand a chance of really making an impact. Unfortunately the guitarist, Billy (who's also the narrator) gets in a fight with a group of gig-goers and gets so badly beaten that he has to have a couple of fingers on his left hand amputated. Which kind of screws his career as a guitarist.

The rest of the book alternates between flashbacks, recounting Black Dog's early career, and the story of Billy's quest for revenge. Both elements are effective, the balance between is finely judged and overall ... well actually, it's a bit depressing in content, though beautifully written.

If you can handle such a downbeat story, and don't mind a bit of misery, this is a damn fine book.

Back Street Runner picks up the tale with Billy, unable to turn his back on chasing the rock dream, eking out an existence as a drummer (hence the much less impressive cover) in a minor little working band. It lacks the dynamic drive of the first book, but it’s still bleak stuff, and still miles better than most of the competition. It’s also surprisingly convincing, considering there’s no indication in the author biography to suggest that Mr Breeze ever played in bands himself.

Paul Breeze
Paul Breeze

from the fly-leaf of Back Street Runner:
Paul Breeze was born in Stoke in 1952, the son of a scaffolder. he attended Burton junior and infant school, then grammar school, which he left at sixteen having failed all his O levels. He has done various jobs since, including clerk at a local colliery, production workers in a wires and cables factory, labouring and cleaning on pot-banks, as well as periods on the dole.
Paul Breeze lives with his wife in Hanley.

ARTISTIC MERIT: 4/5 and 3/5
3/5 and 3/5
3/5 and 2/5

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