Books: Days of rolling Rizlas
Powder by Kevin Sampson Cape pounds 10
Sunday 20 June 1999
The Grams are a gaggle of scouse chancers with a handful of achingly beautiful songs. Keva, the brooding singer, is constantly jousting with James, the junky guitarist, while the rhythm section wonder where they fit in. The group flounder in Liverpool, managed by their mate Wheezer, until chance brings them to the ears of Guy deBurret, a 23-year-old aristocrat intent on injecting some moral fibre into the music business. Straight out of a detox clinic, he sees The Grams as his epiphany. He trades his trust fund for his own label, Rehab Records, and signs them up.
The early days of pot noodles, Rizla-rolling and NME are plectrum-sharp. It's a testament to Sampson's skill at characterisation that he can create sympathy for such a bunch of vain, clueless souls. As they strive to find the epicentre of "something big" we too long for them to be the new REM and not the next Bros. One superb moment has Keva deciding that he wants to be on his own mailing list. That's just how lost in music you can be.
The band's ascent is punctuated with some refreshingly dirty sex scenes. Mothers and daughters (simultaneously), octogenarians (on gym equipment) and the handicapped (limbs optional) all feel the force of their libido. It's not long before sex has all the impact and occasion of tossing out the rubbish. As Keva despairs, "all around him people were giving him head whilst losing theirs".
Stardom, however, remains the really destructive force. Powder is also a rather tentative metaphor for the flaky nature of the music business. As Keva and company take on America, with its corporate Ted Danson lookalikes and transvestite-stalkers, tantrums quickly become the norm and the tour bus becomes a highway-bound bell jar. It's not a lot more fun for Guy and Wheezer. "For all those moments, you know when you hear a track and it's magic?" sighs Guy, seeing his pop utopia crumbling before his eyes. "For that moment I've got a year's worth of shit."
Prudent editing would have helped some of the slower passages (at 500 pages it's way too long) and with an almost Cecil B DeMille cast of producers, roadies and groupies there are occasions when I understood the band's confusion. However, these minor quibbles aside, Powder remains a loving reminder of how consuming music can be and if nothing else should make a lot of HMV customers very happy.
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