Perhaps the central problem with novels about the rock business (such as David Mitchell’s recent Utopia Avenue and Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked) is that they end up dealing in clichés. Alan Warner is too clever a writer to fall into this trap in Kitchenly 434, his compulsively enjoyable tale centred on the 1970s rock scene. Warner’s coup is to have the novel narrated not by a fictional musician but by a hyper-pedantic young fogey called Crofton Clark, the prolix, pompous ‘butler’ of Kitchenly, a rock star’s moated country pile in Sussex. Crofton’s description of the house’s recording studio, with its ‘prim necromancy of amplifiers, a full trap drum kit with shining cymbals’, is faintly Martian. There’s much that is funny and touching about his unworldly ignorance and lack of self-awareness. An ‘authoritative figure’ in his own estimation, Crofton is actually a clownish holy fool and an uptight, if loveable, bore.
The rocker he works for is Marko Morrell, lead guitarist of stadium rock band Fear Taker. Marko is a vividly louche presence, despite the fact we don’t meet him properly until the final chapter; with his ‘renaissance barnet’ and the ‘bristling Telecaster solos’ of his early years, he is essentially