Rock Stars Stole My Life! A Big Bad Love Affair with Music by Mark Ellen, book review

Will Dean
Wednesday 04 June 2014 20:08
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Depending on your purview, you'll know Mark Ellen either as one of the key brains behind some of the greatest music magazines of the last 40 years (imperial period Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, The Word); or maybe as the presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test or Live Aid; or as the bassist in Ugly Rumours, the Oxford college band most notable for the Jagger-like moves of its frontman, one Anthony Blair.

Whichever of the above, Ellen's is a life that has been lived enmeshed in music. Ninety per cent of the time, that's enough to make his reader jealous. At other times, you're glad that he was there on your behalf – whether watching The Edgar Broughton Band at some awful-sounding festival in Clacton-on-Sea or having to endure a day in the company of Jimmy Page and Roy Harper in the midst of a wine-fuelled bacchanal in Cumbria.

Ellen may have been working in music since the Seventies, but there's still an unrestrained joy in what he does. He opens with an anecdote from Rihanna's ludicrous 2012 publicity tour, when she and a plane full of music writers toured the planet on a Boeing 777 for a week. While one blogger is complaining about having the wrong seat, Ellen – on the other hand – can't quite believe his luck at still being part of such a ridiculous endeavour.

And despite decades at "serious" music titles, Ellen's prose still retains enough of the vim that he and David Hepworth perfected in Smash Hits during the Eighties. It's hard not to giggle at his description of Dutch rockers Golden Earring as a "monstrous collection of twerps".

But, as his title attests, the real meat and drink here is his encounters with the good, the bad and the ugly of the rock'n'roll hall of fame. Much of it ugly. Reviewing his first gig, Ellen ends up getting pinned against a wall by Elvis Costello's manager/Stiff founder, Jake Riviera. Later he spends time with a naked Lady Gaga, laments the MBA in rock-star ego-management that is required to organise the Q Awards – and there's a fine tale of travelling with Rod Stewart, with a hatchet job in mind, only to come away charmed.

The collection of people who cross Ellen's path – Blair, old housemate Anton Corbijn, Ellen's girlfriend Anji Hunter, Neil Tennant (who worked on Smash Hits), John Peel, Geldof – is enough to keep you turning the page. Having such a funny, charming guide doesn't hurt either.

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