on 3 September 2008
'Espedair Street' is the story of Daniel Weir - 'Weird' - the songwriter of (fictional) scotish rock band Frozen Gold. The novel depicts in alternating chapters Weird's current life -in 1987- as a 31 year old ex rock star and his journey as a 17 year old in 1973 to become one. Frozen Gold are a mid seventies supergroup - think Pink Floyd meets Fleetwood Mac, with all the ego,excess, drugs, sex and booze you could wish for!
The story is pure teenage boy wish fulfillment - beautifully and poetically rendered. The yearnings Weird has for love, sex and success along with the drab wet world of early 70's scotland he wishes to escape from are very well written. Equally well written are the stories of rock success and massive excess! Weird retains our sympathy because he is enriched by success yet scarred by it and because he retains most of his teenage insecurities.
I first read 'Espedair Street' 20 years ago when I was 17 years old myself. Then the story of Daniel Weir, the stuttering loser managing to become a rock star struck a powerful chord, 'Espedair Street' was my 'Catcher In The Rye'. Reading it recently as a 37 year old was akin to rereading an old diary. I was transported back to the late 80's and had the joy of reading a much loved story all over again.
Reading it now I see 'Espedair Street' as a wonderful teenage self indulgence. I would be fascintated to know what a 17 year old from 2008 makes of it - now that the late 80's 'now' the book is set in is now so long ago!
One section made me chuckle, (pages 128 -129), Wes MacKinnon, Frozen Gold's keyboard player buys a mainframe computer,transfers their studio music recordings onto discs so he can play them on his computer... Isn't this a late 70's version of a modern pc media player - riping cds to lisen to them on your mp3 player!
I LOVE this novel, like all great books it has passages you want to read again and again because they capture a feeling you yourself have had but express it better than you ever could. If this kind of teenage rock and roll is your thing I recomend 'Less Than Zero' by Bret Easton Eliis and 'Wonderland Avenue' by Danny Sugarman which is a REAL memoir about his teenage heroin adventures with Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop! For the ultimate Iain Banks novel get 'The Crow Road' which really is the business.
Now WHERE do I get hold of some Frozen Gold albums..?!
on 2 January 2004
Banks is incredibly versatile as an author. Each of his books manages to deal with a wide array of subjects. Yet the commonailty of his books is the way the reader is completely drawn in to the characters.
Espedair Street - about an ex rock-star - is moving, and at the same time hilarious. It genuinely had me laughing out loud (on the Tube, not the done thing).
For once, a Scottish author has managed to portray dingy life and the struggle of a disadvantaged background, in a non-depressing manner. Congratulations.
I've found some of the reviews critical of this book as it is unrealistic. It may well be. I'm not an ex rock star, so I don't know. Don't buy it perhaps if you want a book about a rock-star. But as a book about the human being - from no-hope misery, to success and back - this is outstanding. Read this book.
on 11 March 2000
Espedair Street is presumably a novel Iain Banks had planned from his youth - Being lyric writer for a mega-successful rock band is an obvious fantasy for any talented writer since the 1950's - (and for many non-talented writers too, no doubt). It is also a novel that had been on my to-read list since I first started reading Banks' work a few years ago, spurred on by the enticing back-of-book notes. In common some of his later novels, noticeably Whit, Espedair Street is told in two different timeframes. The narrator, Daniel Weir, gives scenes of his current life amongst the have-nots of Glasgow, holed up in a disused Church, interspersed with the details of his career in Music that lead him to this point. Then a man from his past turns up in his present with news that creates a crisis of conscience, the resolution of which takes us through the closing chapters. As in all his work, Banks' words flow well off the page, and the novel is laced with plenty of imagination and wit, and a good pace is maintained throughout helped by a constant shifting of scene. The background to Weir's home provide an interesting fore-runner to the religion in Whit, and there are memorable scenes with a drunk dog and a pigeon, and in an aeroplane around Kent. The fight scene in the night club is skilfully choreographed, and the accidents that befall his friends are also well thought out. However, on completing the book I was left feeling that the sum of the novel added up to less than sum of the parts. The characterisations were fine as far as they went but I felt they lacked depth. In this his latter friends were better drawn than the fellow band members. I was left wondering if Banks' point was the shallowness of rock stars, but I was left wanting to know more of how Dave and Christine were changed by fame. His lover Inez, apart from a certain hardness of heart, and Janet, his first never developed any personality except for the roles they played for him. The biggest failing though was in the sympathies the book failed to engage. In this I don't think Banks was well served by those back-of-book notes. I never felt that Weir's predicament was as bad as I was meant to feel. Certainly he was living a life that was a wee bit squalid, but it was a life of his own choosing and as the denouement of the night club scene showed he always had the means to escape it. Sure his relationship with his father and the death of his friends were serious events, but the overall picture was not as bleak as I had expected from the dramatic opening paragraph. Espedair Street gets three stars out of five because the reading of it was an enjoyable experience, while it lasted. The plot was a simple one, and as a whole it did not get me thinking about any 'issues' as I like the best of fiction to do. I was left with a feeling that Banks had set up an interesting situation but had not been quite sure where to take it, and taken refuge in sentimentality. I could recommend you read this book, but not as strongly as I would 'Whit' or 'The Crow Road'
on 12 November 2005
Daniel Weir used to be a famous rock star. Now he is only in his early thirties and knows he never has to work another day in his life. But what do you do if you’re financially successful; though don’t know how to live properly.
In between the daily events in his life, we get to find out how he became the man he is nowadays. From a shy boy who wrote songs to the biggest band in the history of rock. His past and his future can’t be seen as separate entities.
Banks is one of my favourite authors. Not every single book he writes is as good, but to me, that only shows he is human as well. He shows an incredible insight into the rock business, he seems to be able to write autobiographical stories for dozens of people. I enjoy his books a lot, need to complete my back catalogue. This one, though old, is certainly a recommender.
on 31 May 2012
Espedair Street is narrated by retired songwriter Daniel Weir, as he looks back on his wild days as a member of the world famous rock band Liquid Gold. When we meet him he is living as an eccentric recluse in Glasgow, doing what he can to stay unrecognised and only keeping a few friends who do not know of his past. He tells us of the life of excess, folly and unbridled indulgence, the loneliness and the wild parties. Weir is the odd one out, carrying his ugliness sometimes like a burden, other times like a trump card of comedy. The swirling mess of the incestuous relationships within the band, the drugs, the stadium-sized pyrotechnics contrast sharply with Weir's present-time quiet life, whilst all the time his retrospective wisdom makes the messy end seem inevitable.
And then, in the midst of what you might think is a story of a tired man at the end of his life regretting what has passed, it becomes clear that Weir is only thirty, and that he might get a chance of a new beginning.
This is an uplifting book with a good mix of melancholy and hope. The time of Liquid Gold's heyday sounds electric and destructive, whilst the Weir's current life is dull and grey in comparison, but no less destructive. And all the way through Weir's narration is funny, touching and entertaining. There is a certain something lacking that stops this book delivering a punch that is remembered after you put it down, but a good read none the less.
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume 'Iain M. Banks'. "Espedair Street" was first published in 1987, and is his fourth non sci-fi book
Daniel Weir is a very reclusive and hugely rich former rock-star. He played bass and wrote the songs for Frozen Gold, a Scottish band that had once sold records by the lorry-load. However, the band is no more and Daniel's involvement with the music business now goes no further than the occasional TV theme or film score - something just to keep my hand in. Despite his fame and wealth, Daniel seems to suffer from very low self-esteem : he comments several times on his bulging eyes, that he has a big, hooked nose and he's very conscious of his mismatched feet. (Both are huge, though one of them is a size bigger than the other). Seeing himself as a "mutant" - and believing that he scares children - has probably contributed to the stutter. He did manage a few romantic liaisons during his time with the band, although - in his own words - he "never expected to be loved". However, while he sometimes thinks fondly of his post-fame conquests, he never seems to have fully gotten over Jean Webb, his first girlfriend.
Nevertheless, despite the distinctive look, people may not necessarily recognise him now. In the public eye, he hid behind a big beard, big hair and a big pair of shades - all are now long gone. Few probably even knew his real name - as a star, he was known only as "Weird". (It was an old nickname dating back to the schooldays, when his name appeared as "Weir, D" on the school register). Nowadays, despite the rumours that he's living abroad - most of then started by himself - he's back living in Glasgow. Home is Mr Wykes Folly, also known as St Jute's - a building that looks exactly like a church (although it isn't one) with its own graveyard (but without any actual graves). There isn't any altar wine either, but there is plenty of eastern European beer and vodka. He seems to have pretty much lost touch with his former bandmates and he tends to avoid television, papers, radio for months at a time - so, for much of the book, it isn't clear if they're in the public eye. These days, even the two people who are his closest friends - McCann and Wee Tommy - apparently don't know who he really is. McCann is quite a character - he has quite definite communist tendencies, and after a number of beers has been known to enjoy a fight.
Two of the band's other members were (ahem) instrumental to the group's success - Crazy Davey Balfour and Christine Brice, the band's stars who shared the singing. Davey was everything Daniel wasn't - his dream was to be a real guitar hero, he owned all the flash cars, the big bikes and the planes. When Daniel first meets the band, he's fresh out of school and looking for someone just to perform his songs - he doesn't want to be in the group himself. The others, on the other hand, are making plans for university - though only the bass player follows through on that plan, amusingly going to music college. (Banks has another little joke, in casting the band's drummer as the most normal and sensible member of the group). Anyhow, with a free slot, Daniel also steps in as the band's bassist. When they subsequently sign for ARC Records, the songwriting credits for the first album are nevertheless split three ways. (However, he made sure they were credited to himself alone on future albums - the only intelligent decision he reckons he ever made).
As "Espedair Street" opens, it's 3am and Daniel is sitting at home waiting on a train arriving in Glasgow. Although the last twelve years have seen his life change more than he would ever have thought possible, the events of the last week have seen him decide to kill himself. Only for the day just gone, he might well have gone through with his decision - although his survival has been accompanied by what he calls "genuine financial suicide". The book sees him look back over what has happened - professionally, personally and romantically.
"Espedair Street" is definitely a book I'd recommend - which is hardly a surprise, given that it's been written by Iain Banks. Banks has a certain way of telling a story I enjoy - the occasional jump back and forward, and the hint of looking at something from a slightly different angle. Various things are mentioned early in the book - for example, The Great Contra Flow Smoke System and the Three Chimneys Tour - but it's quite some time before he fully explains what they were. Daniel, himself, I found to be a funny and rather endearing character - but one with a very low sense of self-worth. (He's not entirely sure he ever fully recovered from his Catholic guilt). Excellent stuff.
on 6 June 1999
This is one of Iain's most consistently entertaining books, even if it is a little short. Superbly written, structured and moving along at a breakneck pace, Banks clearly used up all his non-sci-fi ideas in this one as his next book was, ahem, Canal Dreams.
Even if you've not read any Banks before this is still heartily recommended, especially for anyone who is, was or has ever wanted to be a rock star...
on 22 November 2009
This is obviously a novel that divides opinion - interesting to read the very different views on this page.
You probably already know that every Iain Banks novel is different. Espedair Street doesn't have the intrigue and mystery of the Crow Road, nor the action of Complicity; this is a slow burn of a novel, taking its time to build characters and narrative in a non-linear fashion... you need to enjoy hints and flashbacks for this one.
For me, it's about working stuff out - who we are, what's important and why we do the things we do, right or wrong. It's about redemption, too. Fans of Banks humour will also be relieved to know that there are also fish-hooks hidden behind jacket lapels, a vomiting German Shepherd and a shopping trolley full of spray cream involved.
It's one of my favourite books of all time - not everyone will agree, but hey, that's rock'n'roll.
on 5 November 2001
Having read and enjoyed Bank's previous books, The Wasp Factory and Walking on Glass, I tried this one. I was not disappointed. Espedair Street is a well-researched, well-written, engrossing read. The narrator, a gangly, ugly, reclusive former rock star, is realistically flawed, while maintaining enough qualities for the audience to truly sympathise with him. The non-lineal structure of the book captivates the reader and supplies them with constant intrigue. Espedair Street is an essential read for fans of rock music, especially those who also happen to be partial to Iain Banks sardonic wit.
on 19 June 2012
Twenty years ago I think I would have really enjoyed this story of a washed-up 70s rock star facing the brash new world of 80s Britain. Reading it today, aged 44, it felt dated, empty, a little pretentious. It's not a terrible book - just underwhelming.