D J Taylor’s new novel is a sequel to Rock and Roll is Life (2018), a scurrilous romp through the 1960s and 1970s transatlantic rock scene narrated by the Oxford-educated Nick Du Pont, PR and gopher for the fictional band Helium Kids. Flame Music takes up Nick’s tale again at the fag end of the 1970s, an era when every dinosaur band, manager and also-ran was frantically making a sideways move in order to evade extinction.
Nick’s sideways scuttle is to form Resurgam Records and hoover up the glut of new wave, mod and punk bands vying for the attention of the majors. Taylor makes the best of this fascinating cultural turning point, a time when the bloated, big-haired and coke-fuelled excesses of the 1970s were giving way to the puritanical post-punk movement, characterised by the harsh angularity of the Buzzcocks, Rickenbacker basses and men in braces. As with the book’s predecessor, much of what stands out here comes from the sheer delight Taylor takes in capturing the details of the era: every venue, producer, fanzine and label is period-appropriate, the result of a misspent youth he admits to in the afterword. ‘I never played in a band, wrote for a music paper,’ he writes, ‘but heavens, I sure did listen to the product. I was the kind of late-teenage boy who bought the Jam’s singles on the day they came out.’
Taylor’s relish for the times and his customarily elegant sentence-making result in a consistently entertaining read. He has an Amisian talent for character names (Gary Dexterside, Biff Tregunter) and a winning way with band handles. The synth-pop band which bankrolls the label is the unimprovable Systems of Romance. There’s