Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Literature Festival, The Dancehouse
Full and frank disclosure from the off: I am and have always been a Suede fan. When they arrived in the early 90s they felt like a band that really mattered, like I might physically fight anyone who did them down (though the truth is I’d never hurt the proverbial fly). How much did I care? Well, enough to feign the flu to get off work and travel to London to see a fan club exclusive b-sides only gig. And I was elated to interview singer Brett Anderson and bassist Mat Osman for Manchester’s late, lamented City Life magazine back in 2003 – then crestfallen when they announced a few days later that they were splitting up, shortly before my piece was published.
Today Suede are a going concern again with a new album – their eighth – ready for release this year. Anderson has also been busy writing a short, whip-smart memoir, Coal Black Mornings, which was published last month and has already generated much acclaim. He’s in town tonight to promote the book with a Q&A session presented by Manchester Literature Festival at The Dancehouse, chaired by Yorkshire novelist Adelle Stripe.
Stripe is an unabashed Suede fan, and her brimming enthusiasm is enormously winning. To be fair, Anderson has always had a legion of ardent *cough* admirers. The front rows of The Dancehouse are packed with folks of both genders, all of whom have a glimmer in their eyes which suggests they still wouldn’t say no.
Not exactly a tough crowd to please, perhaps, but Coal Black Mornings doesn’t take the easy route and play to the stalls. It covers the slow rise of Suede but not their time in the spotlight. There’s some much-discussed material on Anderson’s relationship with Justine Frischmann, but there’s far more on his curious childhood in Haywards Heath and his relationship with his parents. He now has a son of his own, and on stage he explains that reflecting on this fact was instrumental in him starting to account for his life and write the book, as well as inspiring several tracks on the last Suede album, 2016’s Night Thoughts. For long-time Suede-watchers, there’s something altogether moving about Anderson having grown from being the microphone-whipping, dyonysian rock beast of old into a thoughtful, doting father.
In conversation with Stripe, he reveals that he’s not a great admirer of many rock star autobiographies, with the notable exceptions of Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. Instead, he aimed to try and write something which had the evocative, poetic power of Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie. It’s a lofty ambition, but he’s never been short of that and the book itself benefits from it.
Some great stories are told tonight, including a few from Anderson’s time studying Town and Country Planning at Manchester University from 1986, complete with an abortive stint as a DJ at the city centre’s Cyprus Tavern (which subsequently became late-night drinking den The Granby). In fact, the experience of being pursued by tanked-up unappreciative punters from the Cyprus Tavern went on to inspire a great Suede b-side, Killing of a Flash Boy.
Stripe gets some good, honest responses out of Anderson and he’s far from uncritical about Suede’s output. He reveals that he doesn’t like the varispeed production on their 1996 hit Trash or the orchestral arrangement on the heartbreaking Still Life. The faithful in the audience gasp en masse when he says he doesn’t really like their 1994 single Stay Together at all. On a happier note, he really likes crisps and his favourite flavour is salt and vinegar.
People often miss Anderson’s dry, impish sense humour, but it’s clearly on display tonight. He describes forgotten late-80s chart botherers Big Fun as “like three Jason Donovans”, and when one punter suggests that his memoir is “down”, Anderson advises him to go and read Ronan Keating’s book. When asked if he’s read Morrissey’s published work, Anderson deadpans that he’s read some bits – and the reviews. Later, he mentions in passing that he has an idea for a novel which he’s now toying with writing. On this showing, there’s plenty of potential. The writer of those beautifully-turned Suede lyrics has become the author of spare, pithy, powerful prose.
Images provided by Manchester Literature Festival
Coal Black Mornings is available now from Little, Brown as a hardback and an e-book
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