Dylan Jones: As a social history of London in the Seventies, Savage's book is beyond compare

Talk of the Town
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The Independent Online

For the past few weeks I have been training myself to wake up early in order to plough through The England's Dreaming Tapes by Jon Savage: "interviews, out-takes and extras – the essential companion to England's Dreaming, the seminal history of punk". I woke up one morning at 5.45 to spend an hour with Chapter Four – an interview with Roger Armstrong, the manager of the "Rock On" stall in Soho market in the mid- Seventies. Along with Ted Carroll's parent shop in Camden, this was a major catalyst in the revival of roots rock. Many punk bands bought their records there – "holy relics of mania on seven-inch vinyl". With Carroll, he formed Chiswick Records, releasing records by the Count Bishops, Johnny Moped and The 101ers.

I know, you really have to care. But I do. As a social history of London (and, in its way, Manchester and New York) in the mid- to late-Seventies, Savage's book is beyond compare. Though I'm a huge fan of his writing, sometimes the sociological contextualisation blurred what actually happened. So without wishing to disparage his original book – remarkably nearly 20 years old – The England Dreaming's Tapes are gripping because they are transcripts of the interviews he undertook as research; an oral history of one of the most important periods in modern 20th-century music.

The book builds a picture of London life in the Seventies, a time that was rather grey politically and socio-economically, when a generation of outsiders, oddballs and pop-cultural refugees were all searching for "the next big thing". As you read about the genuine media furore caused by punk, as you listen to how the principal players at the time (including Malcolm McLaren, the so-called media manipulator) were all intimidated by the press coverage, you remember what a totally different country we were 33 years ago. As well as being a good writer, Savage is also a good listener.

Everyone is here – bands, protagonists, club-runners, journalists, shopkeepers, photographers – and it is an absolute joy. So I suppose you could call this an absolute recommendation.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'