Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realized. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank “Heady” Hendricks, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail. A hilarious, poignant nod to the elusivity of stardom, in an age when “making it” was “having it all,” Welcome to the Heady Heights is also a dark, laugh-out-loud comedy, a heartwarming tribute to the 1970s and a delicious drama about desperate men, connected by secrets and lies, by accidents of time and, most of all, the city they live in.
Hi and welcome to the Heady Heights! Your host today will NOT be Hank “Heady” Hendricks, it’ll just be little old me, but considering the fact that I’m much less of a diva and have a lot fewer criminal tendencies, you may very well be better off!
Last year at #Orentober I had a talk with David F. Ross about music (ICYMI). At that point I had heard about Welcome to the Heady Heights and I knew it was about a band and a talent show and a guy wanting to make it as an impresario, so I figured David must have a link with music. That was before I’d even realised David had also written the Disco Days trilogy. Talking to David convinced me I needed to read his books, if nothing else to find out whether his wicked sense of humour pops up in his books as well.
It does, thank the bookish gods it does! Cos you might think that the 1970s’ equivalent to Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor (I kept picturing Heady like Simon Cowell) is all fun and games but it’s not. It is surprisingly dark and gritty, and it’s precisely the author’s dry sense of humour that tips the balance to the right side, and prevents the story from becoming overly dark.
Archie is looking to make some money. Before he knows it, he’s chauffeuring a bona fide celebrity around: Heady Hendricks, the creator of The Heady Heights, a talent show for radio and then television. When Heady gets attacked in Archie’s presence, Archie unexpectedly overpowers the attacker, leading to Heady’s undying gratitude, or five-minute gratitude at least. Archie tries to broker an audition for himself but since The Heady Heights has more than enough singer-songwriters, Heady tells him he can have an audition but for a boyband.
This is the start of a new adventure for Archie, because he may have found his band, but keeping them on the straight and narrow is something else entirely, and that’s not even mentioning the other shit he finds himself in. Archie is a great character, I loved him. Trying to take care of his da who suffers from dementia, he kinda wormed his way into my heat. But let’s also hear it for WPC Barbara Sherman. I can’t get over the fact that there used to be such a huge distinction between male and female police constables, and neither can she, because she knows she can do a hell of a lot more than be a glorified babysitter.
Glasgow, mid 1970s. A city and an era I know little about. For me that made Welcome to the Heady Heights simultaneously more enjoyable and more difficult than it might be for other readers. Enjoyable because I love to learn and it was all fresh and new to me. Difficult because I found it harder to relate. The 70s are just before my time, and I think readers who are a little older than I am might appreciate this book a little more because it will resonate more with them.
The dialogues are written in dialect, e.g. Ah instead of I, fae, tae, widnea, … It’s a good thing I’ve listened to a great many audiobooks narrated in a Scottish accent, allowing me to wrap my head around the somewhat strange looking words quite rapidly, but it did take some getting used to, so just a quick heads-up to other (non-native) readers who might struggle with that. Unfortunately there is no audiobook available.
I had a great time with Welcome to the Heady Heights, and looking back at it I keep coming back to little bits and bobs to appreciate. A gritty drama with a smidgeon of the absurd to lighten the mood in a grime-covered Glasgow, recommended, especially to the 70s children out there.