Rob Chapman’s first novel tells the unconventional story of a fictional guitarist through an elaborate mosaic that gradually reveals the outsiders and uncompromising spirits roaming the fringes of popular culture. ANDREW BALDWIN reports
‘We were young and intense, egotistical boys and just fell out. I often wonder what might have been’
MUSIC plays a huge part in Rob Chapman’s life.
He teaches on the subject, is author of a book on the pirate radio stations of the 1960s and has attended many of the big festivals. Oh, and he was in a band.
But there’s one golden rule when he’s writing at home.
He says: “It’s a must for me to have quiet. You can’t listen and work at the same time.”
Rob, 53, has been doing a lot of writing of late and has just seen first novel Dusk Music published.
The novel is set within the world that Rob knows best – popular music.
The story follows Keith Gear, a fictional guitarist who we first meet as a 16-year-old in 60s London.
After jamming on stage in Soho with Jimi Hendrix, Gear forms a friendship with his hero and embarks on his own career in music.
Yet Keith Gear’s story is an unconventional one and after experiencing brief success with his band Dominion, he leaves a life of fame and celebrity behind him.
As we follow his path through the decades that follow, Rob Chapman creates an elaborate mosaic that gradually reveals the outsiders and uncompromising spirits who roam the fringes of popular culture.
“I prefer musicians who travel the backwoods path,” Rob explains. “They have a more interesting story to tell.”
He knows first-hand what it’s like to be in a band, having been the singer and lyricist with the Bristol-based post-punk band Glaxo Babies, who were keenly supported by John Peel.
“When I was young, I dreamed of being in a band,” says Rob.
“Then I was in a band, but we imploded just when people were starting to get interested and Chrysalis Records were sniffing around with money.
“We were young and intense, egotistical boys and just fell out. I often wonder what might have been.”
As well as his fiction, Rob writes regular articles for Mojo, Uncut and the Times.
At the moment he is also working on a biography of the late Syd Barrett, the original singer with Pink Floyd, which will be published by Faber.
He is also a senior lecturer in music journalism at the University of Huddersfield and a broadcaster.
Dusk Music is semi-autobiographical until about the age of 16, then encompasses experience and knowledge Rob picked up after that age.
It’s a novel which has been a long time in the making and how the book came about reflects the process of writing fiction, he says.
“It could actually be my second or third novel, I just don’t know. What happens is that you start off writing one thing then decide it could be two stories and that’s how you go on,” he says.
Rob was singer and lyricist in Glaxo Babies in his final year at university – “how mad was that?” he asks.
In their short career of 18 months they supported the likes of The Cure, Adam and the Ants and the Human League.
“I have to say that we seem to have some sort of cult appeal. It was an enjoyable time on the whole and years after the event, people are digging up our records,” he says.
Rob’s first teaching job was at Feltham Borstal in Surrey, where he spent three years “with never a dull moment”.
He drifted into music journalism at the comparatively late age of 40, around the time Mojo magazine started, realising he knew a considerable amount about the subject.
Getting out of academia for a while in his mid-40s in 1998, he devoted himself full time to his journalism and writing.
“I was getting to the point where at my age I thought I’d never get things done,” says Rob. “I was helped by having a very supportive other half who was in a well-paid job.
“There are literally hundreds of authors who are unpublished because they won’t revise. You’ve got to be pragmatic about it and be prepared to put in what publishers suggest, he says.
“If it’s bad they’ll tell you straight away.
“But if they tell you that you’ve got something there you should go along with them and work on it.”
Dusk Music, by Rob Chapman, is published by Flambard Press at £8.99.