Hi and welcome to #MusicMonday! Originally hosted on The Tattooed Book Geek where every Monday Drew shares a song he loves, I hope he doesn’t mind me messing up his format ? But it’s Monday and it’s #Orentober and it had to be done… Kinda? Well no not really, I just felt like doing this ?
Without further ado, meet David F. Ross, Scottish author of The Disco Days trilogy and Welcome to the Heady Heights, design director, music lover, owner of a wicked sense of humour:
Hi David, welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove! Happy you could make it! How are you today?
Okay… That’s… Oddly specific ? Anyhoo, I invited you to Music Monday because you seem to have a bit of a thing for music… It plays a large part in your novels, how important is music to you?
Very much so. Music is a constant in my life that I couldn’t live without. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without music on. Most of the best memories in my life are underscored or associated with music. The last ever concert by The Jam at the Brighton Centre, meeting Ray Charles and Elvis Costello in Montreal, spending a few hours buying records at the greatest place on earth … Amoeba Records at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco etc etc…
Your debut novel was called The Last Days of Disco, and two books followed it up, making up the Disco Days Trilogy. Do you have a weak spot for disco? Can you be found underneath a shiny spinning disco ball showing off your John Travolta moves on the weekends?
A man who doesn’t have a weak spot for disco is dead from the waist up. Some of the greatest records ever made are ‘disco’ records. Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, or ‘Good Times’ by Chic. Or maybe Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’? Some of the most life-affirming sounds ever committed to vinyl.
As for white suits, open-necked shirts and making a prick of myself on a syncopated dancefloor … sorry, no. Far too much narcissistic self respect for that.
Do you remember the song / band that made you fall in love with music?
There’s nothing else quite like a piece of music to pin-point a significant memory. From first days at school, to loss of virginity (one of these days I’ll finally remember where I left it…) to the birth of my children; all the vivid moments in my life – good and bad – have had an associated soundtrack.
From the eight years before 1972 that I knew her, my only remaining recollections of my mum involve music. Although not through the beat groups of the mid and late 60s, surprisingly. My dad was a country and western fan, particularly of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Their subliminal influence has left me with a natural tendency towards songs with a darkly descriptive background story. Glen Campbell was also a favourite of both my parents, as were the crooners. Sinatra, Crosby, Como and Martin were all regularly played on the big mahogany Marconi radiogram. Their records were the backdrop to my early years in the top corner tenement flat where we lived, near Hampden Park on Glasgow’s Southside.
David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ was the first record I bought with money that could be considered my own. There’s my plea for coolness. My grampa had paid me for cutting his beloved grass with an old manual blade lawnmower. I made a terrible, patchy job of it, but he kept his side of the deal anyway. Perhaps more accurately, the first record I was given was by a band named the Strawbs. The A-side was titled ‘Part of the Union’ and I loved it initially, but quickly grew to hate it as it jumped at the start of the chorus. Years later I heard the song again and I fully expected it to go:
‘You don’t get me; I’m part of the U…part of the U…part of the U…part of the U…’ for days until someone eventually lifted the needle. At the age of eight, I blamed the record for its inability to get to the end of its grooves. I’d no idea that a blunt stylus was the real culprit. The bastards could sing it fine on the radio. Why did they only get the stutters in my grampa’s house? I’ve tried to excise this blundering, stammering shambles from my personal history, but it’s still there, at the back, hand up, protesting like a belligerent old shop steward.
‘David Bowie can get tae fuck, boy. Ah wis yer f…f…f…f…f…first.’
On the 9th January 2016, I was approached to write a live review of Bowie’s new Blackstar LP. It was a strange vibe that I got from that first listen. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then two days later he was dead. The messages were right there in the lyrics and I – and many others – hadn’t appreciated exactly what he was saying. He’s the most imaginative and influential artist in music history and there most certainly won’t be anyone like him again.
In fact, the entire world – and virtually everything in it – has gone to complete shit since January 2016. If only we’d known that Bowie was the glue holding it all together.
What is your favourite band? Are they your favourite genre too, or are they the exception to the rule?
Not sure you’ll allow me the space I’d need to answer this question properly.
Of course I will, go right ahead ?
The Jam were my first favourite band, and you never really forget your first love. But I love The Smiths, Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fanclub, The Streets, New Order, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala, Janelle Monae … too many to name.
Music has changed so much since the days of the Ramones, The Clash, The Pistols etc and not necessarily for the better. It’s now virtually inconceivable that a young, enterprising band from a less than privileged background would succeed on their own terms at a national level yet back in the 80s, they were everywhere. One exception to this is the Arctic Monkeys. They are one of my favourite bands in music today. Alex Turner’s lyrics are just brilliant.
The song ‘Suck It and See’ is like an amalgamation of all great music since the 50s. There’s an effortlessly timeless feel to this song that suggests it could’ve been written almost any time since. The line ‘You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion & Burdock, but those other girls are just Postmix lemonade’ … that could’ve come from a Shelagh Delaney script or a Barry Hines book. It’s a beautifully nuanced lyric.
Do you sing, or do you play an instrument?
Two great regrets in life: Not learning another language and not mastering the guitar.
I took lessons briefly when I was in secondary school but when all I wanted to do was learn how to play ‘Pretty Vacant’, my bald, middle-aged teacher had me learning Eric Clapton songs. It was over before it really began.
What song have you played on repeat the most? What is it about this song that speaks to you?
The Jam ‘That’s Entertainment’. It’s the greatest song in the English language.
Paul Weller captured much of that humdrum, everyday boredom of teenage life in Thatcher’s Britain in The Jam songs of the late 70s and early 80s. The pinnacle of this is ‘That’s Entertainment’: a song he claims was written in ten minutes after coming home pissed from the pub. It’s a brilliant evocation of those times, and I can identify absolutely with every line. I only hope I can write something which means half as much to other people as this song means to me. I’ll retire very happy if I do.
Would you rather keep listening to the music you know and never listen to anything new, or would you prefer only new music and never listening to what you already know? And why?
I love hearing something new that makes an immediate impact on me. Recently, it’s been the Fontaines DC record. They’re a brilliant young band from Dublin. But I have a large record collection and I’ll always go back to classics like Curtis Mayfield or The Fall.
How important is music in your writing process? Do you listen to music while you’re writing?
I can barely function without music, so yes, it’s always on.
Do you have a playlist per book? Songs that set the mood for certain scenes?
Not only is there a playlist per book, it’s listed at the back of each of them. I think my books are immersive experiences and the music is a key part of that.
In fact, for The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, the fictional band in the book get to number one with a record called ‘It’s A Miracle’. Rather than merely describe the record, I thought it would be interesting to have an actual song recorded and released on vinyl by the fictional band.
The song was written and performed by my friend, Robert Hodgens of The Bluebells. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you can hear the songs.
If you had to pick a title song for your book(s), what song(s) would you choose?
The titles of my books are already written as if they were LP titles, however, if I had to write a separate over-arching title for the inevitable Orenda Books Boxset of my work, it would be:
‘Obscurity Knocks: A Seminal Literary Anthology by David F. Ross’
(Obscurity Knocks is the title of a song by a band called Trashcan Sinatras, from a brilliant mid-80s LP entitled ‘Cake’. The band make a brief cameo appearance in ‘The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas’)
You’re from Scotland, and have lived there all your life, how is Scotland doing in terms of music? Any Scottish bands I probably don’t know about but should?
Scotland leads the world in every aspect of culture and the arts. I thought you’d know that.
Nope but I’m feeling properly chastised now, cheers David ?
There’s a new, young Scottish band called ‘Fat Cops’. They’re going to be bigger than the Beatles. Check them out.
Anything to add? Something you were hoping to be asked, but weren’t?
I know you were just about to ask me about what I’m working on just now, and whether – like the previous books – there is a music playlist.
Obviously! You took the words right out of my… uhm… fingers? Go on, enlighten me!
Well, my next book will be called Year of the Bridge. It’s set in 1996 and is about a brilliant young footballer returning to his home village – and a host of dark and complicated family secrets – to manage his local Junior team after his playing career has ended abruptly.
His loneliness and isolation are reflected in some of the music he finds solace in. The music helps set the tone and the atmosphere of the book.
Here’s a wee exclusive link to the likely playlist:
Thanks for this, David! I for one can’t wait for Year of the Bridge!