Reelin' in the Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life, By Mark Radcliffe

Bolton boy's book of records
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The Independent Culture

Fans of Mark Radcliffe's warm, eccentric meanderings on the radio will know exactly what to expect in this nicely structured and surprisingly touching memoir of a life lived in love with, and in awe of, the greatness of music.

Radcliffe has delivered an autobiography and memoir already, but brings a freshness to this book by focussing on the music that has had the biggest impression on him by picking a landmark song from each year of his life and discussing why it means so much to him.

Scattered about the place are little vignettes of his life as a nerdy schoolboy, typical student, and enthusiastic broadcaster and DJ, with Radcliffe coming across throughout as a wide-eyed fanboy who can't believe his luck that he's managed to make a living out of "talking in between records".

The choices of songs are mostly inspired, and refreshingly uncool. With the occasional exception, Radcliffe mostly avoids the standard rock canon, and there is a welcome diversity on display too. There can't be many books about music out there that find Sandie Shaw and Stereolab rubbing shoulders with Chubby Checker and The Prodigy, but each artist has their place here, and Radcliffe does a good job of passionately getting across his enthusiasm for the work that has moved him.

Like his radio delivery, the prose style here is idiosyncratic and prone to shooting off at tangents, the author delivering mildly rib-tickling asides on the weird and wonderful facets of life that either enthral or perturb him.

But it's when he's writing about the music that Radcliffe excels. In general he fares better with the mid-period of his life – through the 1980s and 1990s – with some of the earlier passages coming across as a tad too flippant, while the coverage of the more recent years tends to peter out a little towards the end.

But in the middle there are some gems. His exaltation at Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden made me want to go and dig out the album again, while there is a truly moving account of watching Nirvana play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from the side of the stage at their infamous Reading Festival appearance of 1992.

Taken as a whole, the book is a neat summation of Radcliffe's ethos towards his greatest passion – a lifetime of championing the outsider, the underdog and the innovator, and a career spent revelling in the glory of music.