Today we have a guest post from Andrew Smith author of The Speech, talking about some of the inspiration behind his book.
On April 20th, 1968, Enoch Powell, Member of Parliament in the English town of Wolverhampton, made a speech that shook Britain to its core. The ramifications of what some labeled a “racist diatribe” changed forever the way in which race was viewed and discussed in the United Kingdom. The Speech follows the lives of a group of characters—including Powell himself—living in Wolverhampton over a 10-day period before and after his speech. Mrs. Georgina Verington-Delaunay is a volunteer working in the Conservative riding office of Enoch Powell. It is through her interaction with Powell, now at a critical point in his political career, that we get to know him intimately. Frank and Christine are art students inadvertently caught in an undercurrent of intolerance. Nelson and his aunt, Irene, are Jamaican immigrants striving to make a life for themselves in an atmosphere of turbulent emotions and polarized opinions concerning Britain’s immigration policies. A violent crime brings these disparate characters together as they struggle to find their places in the swiftly changing society of 1960s Britain. Set against a background of “subversive” music, radical fashions, and profound change in “moral values,” they attempt against all odds to bring a fair conclusion to an unjust investigation. As they work together against murky elements of self-interest and bigotry, they’re forced to confront their own consciences and prejudices.
MUSIC IN A 1960s NOVEL
My idea of attending art school had more to do with the bohemian lifestyle it offered rather than any real desire to become an artist. It was pure luck that I happened to be proficient enough to be accepted in 1965 at Wolverhampton College of Art, which became the main setting for my recently published novel, The Speech, set in the 1960s.
At school I thought I was pretty hip when it came to music. Every Friday evening I watched the popular TV show Ready Steady Go (opening line: “The weekend starts here!”), featuring all the latest hits. But I realised I was a lightweight once I hit art college and encountered people who discussed the pros and cons of a particular rock band or pop group with unparalleled and undisguised passion. Every student I knew owned a cheap transistor radio, usually tuned to pirate radio stations that were never off the air. Most people had a mono record player, and a few were lucky enough to own a stereo. Popular music was unavoidable, it was everywhere all the time.
Here are a couple of excerpts from The Speech describing my art student protagonist, Frank McCann, working in the Art College photographic darkroom:
Frank watched intently as an image gradually emerged on a stark white rectangle of photo paper lying in a bath of developing fluid. Puppet On A String played on a tinny transistor radio. Songbird Sandy Shaw was too perky for his taste. He flicked off the radio.
And a little later:
Now he could relax and admire his handiwork framed by the background of the black plastic fixer tray. He flicked on the radio. The smooth tones of Otis Reading singing Dock o’ the Bay seeped into the windowless room.
And of course every pub and coffee bar had a juke box. Here’s Frank in his favourite public house:
Frank heard the clatter of change being deposited in the jukebox. A hurdy-gurdy keyboard introduction was followed by Jim Morrison’s trademark sullen style as he began the lyrics of Light My Fire. The door swung open and a blast of cool air propelled a gaggle of painting students into the pub.
Some of the busiest locations for the art student social scene were the jazz and folk clubs held in Wolverhampton pubs. Students went in droves, but fell into two distinct camps: folkies and jazz-freaks, each with their own distinctive style. Here Frank and his girlfriend visit a folk club:
The capacious upstairs room of the Giffard Arms was already packed with folkies huddled around tables when Frank and Christine arrived. Billows of blue-grey cigarette smoke hung in the air from the roll-your-owns folkies preferred over commercial brands. It seemed to Frank they made a perverse performance of the cigarette-rolling chore, making a point of only using Rizla liquorice papers. Despite the smoke, patchouli was the dominant aroma in the room. Along with a solemn expression, folkie women tended to wear their hair long, often painstakingly straightened, usually parted in the middle. Almost all the men sported bushy beards.
Frank isn’t a particular fan of folk clubs, but goes along anyway. Here he muses about folk music:
Why was it, wondered Frank, that a roomful of people with the average age of twenty-five, were riveted by a song about a shepherd wandering the English countryside a hundred years or more before they were born. As far as he could tell most of the songs that folkies revelled in were about a bygone age. And it wasn’t as if they were full of sweetness and light either, most ended in horrible tragedy.
It wasn’t only pop, rock, jazz, and folk that permeated the 1960s student music scene. Ska and reggae, introduced by West Indian immigrants, were becoming popular. Here my Jamaican character, Nelson, recently arrived in England, first hears a recording of The Pioneers, a reggae group that later achieved some popularity among students:
It was in Wesley’s shop that Nelson first heard The Pioneers singing Long Shot. It smooth so! He was torn between excitement at the sheer novelty of the slower tempo and crushing disappointment at not being able to hear the Pioneers sing it for real.
So when it came to writing The Speech, there was no way I could avoid liberally sprinkling musical allusions throughout, which added greatly to the fun of being an author, and gave me the perfect excuse to replay some of the hits from the era.
THE SPEECH: PLAYLIST
Cream – I’m so glad
Sandy Shaw – Puppet on a String
The Doors – Light My Fire
Otis Redding – The Dock of the Bay
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced
The Beatles – Penny Lane
Procul Harem – A Whiter Shade of Pale
Tyrannosaurus Rex – My People Were Fair and Had Sky In Their Hair
Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Jon Raven – The Unquiet Grave
The Pioneers – Long Shot
Andrew Smith was born in Liverpool, but was too young to gain admittance to the Cavern Club to witness the birth of the Beatles. A year or so later he couldn’t forgive his father for taking a job in the British Midlands and moving the family at the height of the Mersey Sound era to Wolverhampton, where there was no sound at all, Slade being still in short trousers. But Smith did witness the local reaction to Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech and, apart from the occasional ‘lost weekend,’ he remembers most of the brouhaha during that time. Smith has published numerous short stories, some of which won awards. His novel ‘Edith’s War’ won a gold medal for fiction at the Independent Book Publishers’ Awards. His latest novel, The Speech, was published in October, 2016 by Urbane Publications. Examples of Smith’s short fiction and other writing can be found at: www.andrewsmithwrites.com