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Frank's Wild Years: playlist for a novel

Lionel Bart lights a 'harry rag' for John Lennon

When it comes to deferment activities – the ones that allow you to kid yourself you’re working even if you’re not actually writing – there are plenty of options. In detail mode you can always go the legitimate research route: story development, character studies, time-lining, lunchtime drinking etc. Or you can focus on those actions that are loosely and more accurately termed ‘arsing about’. On balance, you’d have to say that mentally casting your novel-in-progress as a film constitutes arsing about.

With Frank’s Wild Years three weeks from publication, I thought I’d share, if not the imaginary casting call, some songs from the accompanying soundtrack album. I put it together as a playlist around two-thirds of the way through writing the novel,  adding as I went along. It was a mix of songs that inspired the writing and served as a soundscape to the story. It also played a part in evoking the world of the novel when it came to sitting down to write. As with so much music, it provided a shortcut to time and place so tangible you can taste it.

What follows are a selection of links to songs (in bold) with the remainder of the list at the end.

For anyone under 40, Mr Max Bygraves marketed pre-karaoke singalonga-LPs that featured in pretty much every grown-up record collection in the late-60s/early-70s. Lionel Bart’s original stage version about villains and ne’er do wells in Soho was altogether rougher at the edges.

There’s toffs with toffee noses and poofs in coffee houses
and fings ain’t what they used to be.
There’s short time, low class mysteries – without proper histories,
fing’s ain’t what they used to be.
There used to be class, doin’ the town, buyin’ a bit of vice,
that’s when a brass couldn’t go down –  under the union price, not likely.

Standing outside a pub with a Pepsi and a straw, munching from a packet of Golden Wonder while the grown-ups are inside sinking pints and tomato juices with a dash of Lea & Perrins.

Stay Free – The Clash

The Clash - circa '78 -79
The lad who sits in his room practising guitar while his mates are planning their next move – at its heart a song about having to say goodbye to your past to give yourself the chance of a future.

We got thrown out and left without much fuss
At weekends we’d go dancin’ down Streatham on the bus
You always made me laugh, got me in bad fights
claim we pulled all night – smokin’ menthol

Disappear – Madness

Always been one of my favourite Madness songs, this from the band's second album 'Absolutely' features Monsieur Barso’s rolling pub piano and Suggs' bittersweet lyrics.  Evocative of the story’s keynote and people and places a long time gone.

Disappear with the fun and the fear
another chance to misbehave.

You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me – TheNew Seekers

The New Seekers

Parties in rooms over Catford pubs, a singalong song from a bygone age. Before there was Abba, there were Eve Graham and Lyn Paul – Top of the Pops favourites. And you could knit mittens from Paul Layton’s sideburns.

This fits like a treat. Lady Day sings heartbreak like no other in a voice that gives you that tingle and somehow makes the world a better place to be.

Walk Don’t Run – The Ventures

The Ventures - with a teeny tiny drumkit
Written by Johnny Smith and a breakthrough hit for the Ventures – the band were a major influence on surf guitar bands that followed. This is a classic 1960 Fender sound; I think it’s a Jazzmaster and a Strat in the clip.

The Right Track  - Billy Butler

A perfect slice of Northern Soul that comes with added resonance. Great song, positive feeling.

I’ve been trying to reach my goal too long
To give up on my journey now
and I believe that I’m on the right track

Sweet Adeline – Elliot Smith

Beaut of a track from Elliot Smith’s XO album.

 There’s a kid a floor below me saying brother can you spare
sunshine for a brother, old man winter’s in the air.
Walked me up a story asking how you are,
told me not to worry, you were just a shooting star.

Tom Traubert’s Blues – Tom Waits

The guv'nor - Mr Waits

With due deference to Mr Waits, his poetry and music, I tip my porkpie hat. Mr Ray Banks has written eloquently elsewhere of the crossover between noir fiction writing and Tom Waits. For me this is a beautiful song with the line that inspired the beginnings of a novel one night in February, 2008.

The remainder of the playlist as it currently stands goes something like this:

My Old Man’s a Dustman – Lonnie Donnegan
Get Down and Get With It – Slade
Dancin’ on a Saturday Night – Barry Blue
The Only Livin’ Boy in New Cross – Carter USM
Respect Yourself – The Staples Singers
Heaven Must Have Sent You – The Elgins
Rough Rider – Lloydie & The Lowbites
Jackpot – The Pioneers
The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie
Something Better Change – The Stranglers
All The Young Dudes – Mott The Hoople
Nowhere to Run – Martha & the Vandellas
The Beast in Me – Johnny Cash
Endless Sleep – Nick Lowe
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
Dry The Rain – The Beta Band
This Can’t Be Love – Ella Fitzgerald
There’s a Devil on the Loose – Mavis Staples

Frank’s Wild Years is published by Caffeine Nights on 19 March. As for who plays Frank in the film, that’d be a local boy made good, South East London from his DMs to his Oscar nomination. I’ll leave that one with you. Enjoy the tunes. 


  1. Absolutely fantastic choice, Nick. Can't wait for the film - it's hard enough waiting for the book. Now to think through the product placement... xxx

  2. Thanks C, product placement - I was thinking a branded malt whisky ... to go with the usual t-shirts, badges and er... books!!


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