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Soundtrack of a life....
on 24 May 2011
First up I need to declare I am a big fan of Mark Radcliffe- his and Stuart Maconie's Radio 2 show kept me company on the long drive home when I was working late, until their move to 6 Music and I have previously given very favourable reviews to his previous "Showbusiness" and "Thank You For The Days" offerings, so I want to try and avoid this turning into a hagiography.
This is, however, a well thought out and structured book. Each chapter covers a year in his life since he was born, with each named after a song from that year. There is a clever mix of pop history, autobiography and general history, putting everything into context from the personal to the political, and each chapter has a slightly different angle- in some the actual song takes centre stage and Radcliffe uses his encyclopedic knowledge and wide-ranging tastes to dissect it, whereas in others the track is merely refered to in passing, but still provides a theme. One chapter is simply a letter of apology, starting "Dear Kate", but most people will work out quite quickly who he is addressing.
I know it is a bit of a cliche to talk about laugh out loud moments when reading, but many hackneyed phrases become such because they do contain a basic truth. Radcliffe's great use of the English language in a non-prentitious way shows that you can exhibit intelligence without being ostentatious- that it's okay to be clever and still come across to the common man. There is the odd bit that would probably work better on a radio show than it does on the written page- eg his riff on DJs named after kitchenware (although he does make a good comeback from this one with Mary Anne Hobbs).
Generally this is written as he speaks, so anyone used to his radio show will probably hear his voice reading it to you (although the book doesn't incluse as many "ummmmmms" and "errrrrrs", to be fair!) so as a handy insight into how a DJ who became such because of a true love of music rather than some desire to be famous got to where he is, it is inspirational, especially to those who decry playlist based celeb presenters- (for example- unlike Chris Evans, I don't think Mark would get a question on what the next lines in "Fairytale of New York" are wrong on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire").
In summary this is a funny, well developed and interesting take on the autobiography format. Due to its structure it encourages the reader to think about what would define the years of their lives for themselves, as well as throwing up a few forgotten gems from the past- in effect Radcliffe puts the reader's own lives at the centre of what is supposed to be his autobiography. It is a refreshing escape from celeb-land and X-Factor world, and Mark shows what dedication and an open-minded approach to music, not bound by genre, can make for not only good radio but good books as well.