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At first, it seems that Danny Weird hasn’t got a lot going for him. He’s tall, clumsy, a stammerer and altogether ungainly. But Danny has taught himself to read music and is writing his own songs. Conquering nerves and the stammer, his songs get him an in with an up and coming young band with two charismatic lead singers. Danny plays bass and stays at the back. But as the group gains in confidence, the quest for fame and fortune looks more and more certain. They have talent and Danny can write songs – the dream comes true.

Banks edges inside the business of rock and roll and before long Danny could buy a nearly new 747 for cash if he wanted, but he doesn’t own an intact pair of socks. This is, indeed, as proclaimed on the cover: “Charming, sad, comic” and yes, probably one of the funniest, if not the truest, rock biopic yet. The only problem is, we can guess that it’s all going to end in tears. Hotel rooms are trashed, women bedded, the female member of the band exploits her sexuality to the hilt and the tragedy of rock stardom is duly introduced. Two members of the band immortalise themselves in electronic ways – on stage.

The relationships between the band are guarded but Danny is clever enough to ensure his musical gifts receive their just desserts. But I have to say, it’s such a well-known trope that Banks struggles to make it an original one.

This is, in the end, an okay read. I liked the ending, suggesting as it does some personal happiness for Danny, of whom the reader might grow quite fond. It’s not the definitive rock band story, but it will do until something better comes along.
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VINE VOICEon 10 April 2013
I've read almost everything Banks has written and read this as soon as it was published in the late eighties. With the recent very sad news of Banks' terminal illness I thought I'd give it another go to see how it had stood up over time (25 years in fact) and I have to say I was not disappointed.

This is the tale of David Weird (Weir, D or therefore "Weird"), a gangly, stuttering Glaswegian who also happens to be a brilliant songwriter. We follow the story of how Weird joins and directs the musical growth of Frozen Gold, starting in 1973 until their break-up in the early eighties. The tale is interleaved with Weird's present-day life as a recluse in the late eighties (present day at the time of writing).

Both parts of the story are well done (although the band stuff is more interesting) and Banks uses the spell-as-it-sounds method of writing the Glasgow patois, just as Irvine Welsh would do later in Trainspotting. There are things kept hidden from us as we go along, revealed bit by bit and the interplay between past and present is satisfying. Frozen Gold remind me in some ways of a Fleetwood Mac (perhaps with more prog rock leanings) and physically I always see Weird as a Mick Fleetwood type. There are likenesses with other bands and the excesses, lifestyle and music of 70s global groups are well done.

Given its publication date, there are a number of references to AIDS, contrasting the late 80s attitudes to sex with those of the 70s. And reading it today is interesting - it hasn't dated in many ways at all - although a lack of mobile phones always makes you stop and think "why doesn't he just... oh" from time to time.

If you're into music and/or Banks as an author and haven't read this, I'd recommend you give it a go and hope you won't be disappointed.
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Not only do I love listening to music, but I also enjoy reading about it - biographies, reference books, novels... Most of the rock novels I've read before have been average at best, but this was excellent.

The novel tells the story of the rise and if not the fall then the aftermath of the rise of Daniel Weir - known to his fans as "Weird" - the bass-playing songwriter of a band called Frozen Gold. The book opens memorably, Weir explaining that until a few nights ago he was preparing himself to commit suicide, but then something changed his mind, and the book would explain everything.

What follows is the story of Frozen Gold's rise to fame, and the toll it took on each of them, some more shocking than others. The book is well constructed, excepting the final few the odd-numbered chapters being set in the recent past, the even ones set during the time of Frozen Gold, and in some ways this makes it something of a page turner - a chapter ending with hints of a shocking incident which won't be covered until the chapter after the next - so this is a quick read, despite its almost 400-page length.

I found the Frozen Gold chapters to be entertaining, and refreshingly free of cliche, and the present-day sections were more downbeat but still enjoyable. The scenes describing a dog getting drunk, and also the partial destruction of a nightclub were laugh-out-loud funny too.

Of late I've read a few disappointing Iain Banks books (I'm currently reading my way through his catalogue) but this is one of the best. Recommended.
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on 28 February 2009
"Espedair Street" is the fourth novel by the critically acclaimed Scottish author Iain Banks. Narrated by Daniel Weir - affectionately known to his friends as 'Weird' - it charts his experiences of the music world of the 1970s, from his teenage years growing up on an estate in Glasgow, through his sudden elevation to rock-stardom, to his equally rapid fall from grace. Alternating chapters deal with Weir's recollections of his rise to success, and with his life in the present time (1987) as, alienated and alone, he struggles to find true happiness.

Banks' conversational, stream-of-consciousness style flows easily and at the same time proves effective at capturing the reader's interest. Tension is established from the very first sentence ("Two days ago I decided to kill myself") and there is a real sense throughout the first two-thirds of the book of impending tragedy, which puts a dark tint on Weir's rise to fame. The sheer pace of events lends a feverish quality to the narrative, while at the same time it is clear that Banks is trying to delve into some fascinating - if dark - aspects of human nature. This is powerful writing: Banks at his best.

Unfortunately this all turns slightly flat in the final hundred pages, when the tension that has been so cleverly built up suddenly evaporates. The story begins to drag as it turns into a succession of Weir's (mostly drunken) escapades. The resolution, when it finally arrives, has the feeling of being rushed and lacking in imagination: an attempt to tie all the loose ends up as quickly and neatly as possible. After the rollercoaster ride that has led up to it, this feels somewhat contrived. There are few truly memorable characters: apart from his one-time love interest Christine, the rest of Weir's band, Frozen Gold, can be difficult to engage with. Banks makes little attempt to explore how fame has changed them all, and as a result they tend to fall too easily into rockstar stereotypes.

"Espedair Street" is - at least for its first two-thirds - a compelling and brilliantly suspenseful read. Ultimately, however, it is let down by a lack of direction. Though it manages to depict in lavish detail the rockstar life that so many aspire to, and everything that that entails, there is unfortunately little depth to the story, and in the end it fails to satisfy.
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on 23 August 2013
Having recently returned to Espedair Street nearly 20 years after my first reading, I wondered if I would still enjoy it. After all, last time I picked it up I was in my early twenties, bursting with enthusiasm, oozing confidence and excited about what life might throw at me.
This time round, I'm slightly more shop-soiled, certainly longer in the tooth, and way more cynical. Not entirely unlike Banks' hero, Daniel Weir, in fact. Happily, I wasn't disappointed.
Espedair Street is fairly short, and relatively lightweight, at least compared to its author's later family sagas and sci-fi operas. It doesn't quite come under juvenilia, but it's recognisably from Iain Banks' early period and some of the characters and plotlines aren't as fleshed out as you might like. That said, it's still a terrific read filled - like much of his work - with buckets of humour, poignancy and joy. Weir's a great hero, by turns thoughtful, frustrating, conceited but, ultimately, lovable. I suspect he reflected his creator's views and some of his responses to his early success. However, despite the fact we're constantly told authors are the new rock stars, writing's not quite up there with performing to tens of thousands of people. And, just occasionally, Banks falls flat with some of the descriptions of rock star excess. On those grounds, it's not quite a five star read, but otherwise a solid part of the cannon and still highly recommended as a great way into a great author's work.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2000
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've read it at least three times and given copies to my brother and several friends. The central character, Daniel Weir, is a sympathetic and well-written one. His transformation from Glasgow slum kid to international rock star is exciting and believable; his latter-day status as a reclusive loser is less so.
Iain Banks has a habit of dropping well-constructed characters into contrived situations, and sometimes he lets his delight in his imaginary world take him into the realm of the faintly ridiculous (St. Jute's?) But, hey, perhaps it's deliberate...
Some of his flights of imagination fall a bit flat due to slightly pedantic writing. When Banks tries to explain big ideas with very precise and detailed writing, it is almost as though he is trying to convince himself that a certain concept can work. When he trusts his imagination and runs with it (as in the 'Three Chimneys' episode), he comes up with some really memorable scenes.
The premise is good, the execution is more than competent (although the book is a bit short), and the characters are as interesting as any that Banks has written. I'm not sure why I'm not giving this more than three stars...perhaps because 'A Song of Stone' was so awful. Two stars off for following up a great book with a load of drivel!
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on 3 December 2010
Espedair Street is a very good book and a very enjoyable read. The plot revolves around the rise and fall of a 70s rock star called Daniel Weir. I thought Espedair Street was a great read and the characters in the novel are authentic, funny and realistic. There are some great comic moments in this novel which made me laugh out loud. You will enjoy reading how Daniel goes from living on a tough scheme in Paisley to becoming a 70s rock god to living in rich obscurity in a fine eccentric house in Glasgow. The novel starts with Daniel at a low ebb considering suicide. The story reveals Daniel's entertaining life story in the world of rock. Banks has fun writing about the excesses of 70s rock and I would imagine some rock stars would squirm reading this novel.
I highly recommend Espedair Street even though the novel is not very long. It is highly readable, entertaining and beautifully written.
5 stars. Excellent stuff.
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on 30 September 2010
I read Espedair Street, what? 15 years ago? I loved it then. Since that time I've slowly fallen out of love with books. I find them increasingly shallow, shrill, thoughtless and worst of all predictable. Which is a dire state of affairs really, given that I'm a published author as well. But reading this novel again after all these years has reaffirmed that there are gems out there; real life-changing gems like this one. I won't bog this review down with a detailed description of the story...there isn't much plot as such, it's more a reflection on a character's last decade of life, decisions made wrong or right. Sorry, that doesn't sound gripping in a Dan Brown-way to your average reader after a quick and brainless poolside read...but I assure you, casual buyer, it is.

Alex Scarrow (author - Last Light, Afterlight, TimeRiders)
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on 13 November 2014
This was a good read,though it somehow took me a long time to get through it. It flashes back and to the present of a lyricist who has made it big in spite of all the setbacks Iain Banks writes with knowledge and understanding about the pop scene of the 70's and 80's.You cannnot help but have sympathy with Daniel Weir-Weird as he deals with the new found wealth from rags to riches in down at heel Glasgow.All of the problems he faces both emotionally and physically.
Iain Banks writes with knowledge and understanding and makes this novel well worth a read.It is a shame that there will be no other novels coming from the novelist Iain Banks.
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on 20 October 2014
Read for the second time for a book club. I was embarrased because I recommended it!
The book doesn't seem so funny second time around. An opinion shared by the first time readers at the club!
The style is up to Mr Banks normal standard and the content suggest either a close asscociation with the pop world or excellent research.
The hero, in keeping with the generally accepted view of pop stars is self indulgebnt and self absorbed, not particularly likeable ... but then maybe he wasn't supposed to be.

Still worth the read
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