Serious Time

"Inexhaustibly nasty and unputdownable." The Guardian
"Beg, borrow, blag or even buy a copy of this book." Howard Marks , author, Mr. Nice
"Scorching stuff." Patrick McCabe, author, The Butcher Boy
"Ambrose eschews Irish literary allusions for a high octane hybrid of London squatspeak, American rap-metal slang, Beatspeed and present tense amoralism." The Hot Press

Serious Time is my Music Biz roman-a-clef about an Irish band on the cusp of fame. Narrated by Subliminal Kids' manager, Kim, it's a story of being foreign in London, of how losing your sense of belonging can alter your outlook. It is also about squat culture, the London music secene and life in Brixton in the late 80s, with the cracks in the veneer of boomtime beginning to show.

Serious Time

It's 2am and I'm in the Coldharbour Lane apartment of DJ Found while his girlfriend Erika - an architecture student - is out working in a Notting Hill nightclub. Even though she knows that I am here, our meeting is in some way secret, as if she doesn't understand what we really get up to. They are a very strange couple and I don't know exactly where their agenda begins or ends.

I walked all the way down here after midnight, via the dole office, via the Barrier Block, illegally picking up a six-pack in Zambezi Cafe, a late-night dive full of rastas and minicab drivers. There was a poster in the window for the roots dub Aba Shanti I Sound System and smoky dub reggae blasting out of an ancient ghetto blaster behind the counter.

Found is an East German boy, child of the non-materialistic world with a funny 19th Century sense of humour, a Romantic in the mode of Goethe and Schiller. Sometimes when he is just too stoned he thinks the world is divided into a man's world and a woman's world. He has a certain point and this evening we are playing a man's game in a "man's world". The flat is Erika's doing with all her warm comfort, sensible German shoes in every room, her architectural drawings everywhere.

He stands with his back to me now, concentrating on his two turntables, his sampler and his reel-to-reel. He says that art begins with two turntables, not an original idea but an obscure one. Found knows so much more about this new music than me that, untypically, all I can do is shut up and listen. Found, who can be childish or cerebral by turn, hands me a heavy-duty essay written in German which I can't read on Faust, Stockhausen, architecture and Kraftwerk.

The music Found makes mixes new dance beats - the rave music they advertise in Soho with beautiful full colour flyers - with TV dialogue, the taped conversations of old girlfriends, Erika talking to him while the two of them are in bed together, Communistic American folk singers, negro prisoners breaking rocks in the Southern penitentiary, awful East German heavy rock groups, the voices coming through the tannoy out at Heathrow, the first TV ads he heard in his first London flat. He is creating an autobiographical aural sculpture chronicling his emergence from the cocoon of East Germany into the light of seeing the Wall come down, and on and on to moving to London, the very heart of the free market. The music he creates, melodic enough in its intellectual way, is totally new to me and I'm impressed.

'Kim you are a very smart man and your friend Jesse is smart too,' Found says, taking a break from music making, his Germanic accent making him sound strident and emphatic, 'but you'll get old if you don't pay attention to what's happened to music and sound since the Seventies. Your whole civilisation is on tape today. President Reagan, Andy Warhol, your Rolling Stones, everything you saw and heard when you were a child was seen and heard by the universe. There is a universal soundtrack. Tape memory is human memory and I believe that tape memory will replace composition.'

Erika phones in just then and they talk in German. I don't understand anything but I hear the exasperation in his voice and I hear my own name mentioned several times.

'Is Erika on her way home?' I ask Found when he eventually gets off the phone.

'No. She wanted to come home but I told her that you were here so she is going back to a friend's place for a while. I told her we were doing important work.' With this he turns back to the tapes and the turntables.

I lie on their big springy double bed reading Vogue, listening to the music he's writing and occasionally glancing at the television where some disgusting TV movie is happening.

At dawn I decide I better go before Erika gets home. I leave him caught up in his own world of composition while hard working people are making their way to work on Coldharbour Lane. I'm slow going back towards Brixton but elated with the music I've seen and heard being written in front of my worried-about-the-future eyes. I know that guitar rock is fundamentally challenged, but I still love it; I also know that logical alternatives like Found might blitzkrieg my world and wipe out my culture.

I forget all that lofty stuff when I reach Zambezi Cafe where I bought the six-pack hours earlier. It's cordoned off and dozens of paranoid looking Pigs, some of them quite senior, are standing everywhere conferring with one another and talking into walkie talkies. The cafe is sealed off by crime scene tape. There's a little blood on the footpath, somebody got murdered, but otherwise everything is the same as when I was in there earlier. In my crotch I'm carrying a little grass that Found gave me as a farewell gift so I move along quick enough.

When I get home I'm so shagged that I want to crash right away but Jesse is watching breakfast TV with his girlfriend and he calls me into the sitting room, where the local news has just reported a fatal stabbing in a Brixton cafe. I tell them that it happened on Coldharbour Lane and that I've just been at the scene of the crime. Jesse's girlfriend doesn't want to hear about it and heads for their bedroom.

'They said it was a drug related killing?' Jesse says.

'I was in the fucking place late last night, man. I went in there to get a six pack and there were just a few dudes sitting around.'

'Where were you going?' Jesse asks drily.

'I was on my way down to see Found.'

'That asshole.'

'Well, you don't have to like him...'

'I don't.' Jesse turns off the TV with the remote control and leaves the room.

 

© 2015 Joe Ambrose | design: webdesignandbuild.co.uk

"Captures the tune of an Ireland gone wrong." - Colum McCann on Joe Ambrose’s Too Much Too Soon
 

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