Rock and Roll is Life: The True Story of the Helium Kids by One Who Was There by D J Taylor - review by Ian Critchley

Ian Critchley

Band on the Run

Rock and Roll is Life: The True Story of the Helium Kids by One Who Was There


Constable 460pp £18.99

‘And then suddenly there was this thing called pop music.’ Thus speaks Garth Dangerfield, lead singer of the Helium Kids, as he looks back on his career in a band that appeared on Top of the Pops twenty-seven times, had half a dozen number one singles and was ‘only marginally less successful than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones’. D J Taylor’s new novel is a highly entertaining riff on the music business in the 1960s and 1970s and the way it helped instigate a change in mores in British society.

The novel’s narrator is the band’s publicist, Nick Du Pont. Oxford-educated, he has little in common with the mostly working-class band members, though the band members also have little in common with each other. Garth is seduced by the occult and has an uneasy relationship with guitarist Dale. Bassist Ian has spent time in borstal and develops a liking for Savile Row suits, while drummer Keith is obsessed with Airfix models and Royal Academy of Music-trained keyboardist Florian thinks he is above all that. This motley crew find themselves in the right place at the right time, riding on the coattails of Beatlemania in 1964 and touring the United States to great success. Nick finds himself ‘caught up in the excitement. The sense of life taking flame.’

Taylor is an excellent parodist (one of his journalistic gigs is writing parodies for Private Eye), and much of the book’s fun comes from excerpts of lyrics from the band’s songs, reviews of their records in the New Musical Express and Uncut in the voices of real critics

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