From THE MEMORY MAN to MUSIC MAN: the soundtrack of Steven Savile’s life

Peter Ash and Frankie Varg, agents with the European Crimes Division, investigate a series of murders where the victims are sent sinister gifts in the post… severed human body parts. Accompanying those gifts is a note: Memini Bonn. I remember Bonn. What does this mean, and when will the killings end?

memory man

From teenage years and romantic crushes to moving houses and heartbreak: THE MEMORY MAN author Steven Savile reveals the five albums that changed his life, and why…

I love music. I’m obsessed with it. My most recent purchases are all second-hand vinyl. I just went to the mailbox tonight to find a signed copy of The Gin Blossoms latest, Mixed Reality. Beside me, there’s a record collection of something like seven hundred LPs. When my father died I pretty much fell apart. I didn’t write for six or seven months. I actually wondered if I’d ever write again. A friend of mine, a music journalist, said, “Steve, you need to do something to take your mind off things, find something to obsess over. You should try collecting records.” Which, given I’d ditched all of my old vinyl when I emigrated, and I’d got about 3,000 cds I don’t have kids and I live a really cheap life, so I get to indulge my obsessions so I thought he was mad. But the next day I started browsing the racks at a small second hand vinyl store in Uppsala, and came home with half a dozen records. Slight problem, in that I didn’t have a turntable, but I fixed that. Of course, by the time it arrived I’d already bought about sixty of my old favourites on vinyl. So, yeah, I’m that guy. Right… five. I hate you. Five is impossible… ish.

1). High Land Hard Rain – Aztec Camera – I borrowed this from the library, on tape, when I was 13 years old. I used to play it religiously walking home past the graveyard and along the race course in Epsom to our old house in Langley Vale (which completely makes an appearance in Memory Man hah!). I’d sing it at the top of my lungs and Knife when that came out when I was 15. These two records defined my musical life. I still listen to them every week, maybe not all the way through, but individual tracks. I’ve flown halfway around the world to see Roddy in concert, several times.

2). Gladsome, Humour and Blue – Martin Stephenson and the Daintees – which is a leftfield one that I’m guessing most folks reading this won’t know. Confession time… I owe my thirty-year love affair with this album to a girl. See, back when I was a callow youth I fell down the stairs in a hotel because a girl smiled at me. I kid you not. I fell backwards down a full flight of stairs, rolled, and came up on my feet grinning. Because I wasn’t the kind of kid girls said hi to, especially not knock you off yer feet girls. We were inseparable for that time. She was my first kiss. And boy did she earn it. I was terrible. I mean… I had a green army jacket, like the kind of thing you bought from the army surplus store for a tenner, and the lapels were loaded with badges, stuff like Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Aztec Camera, that kind of thing, and every time she leaned in trying to kiss me, I panicked and said I couldn’t do it with them looking, stupid stuff like that.

So, anyway, end of the holiday romance she went her way, I went mine, and we stayed in touch, writing long letters about nothing. In one she mentioned she’d bought this album, and the guy was a poet. She’d even bought the special book of lyrics he did to go with it. So I had to have that, right? It was the first CD I bought which necessitated buying a CD player and an amplifier, yeah, there’s a pattern here, isn’t there? and I loved it. I played it over and over and over for years. Hell, I even mention it in one of my books, Coldfall Wood, and have given Martin a copy as a thanks for the decades where his album has served as the soundtrack to my life. Anyway, as it goes, she and me we stopped writing. We grew up. We grew apart. I often wondered how she was doing. She was never on Facebook or anything like that, so there was no finding her, even in this modern age, and her name wasn’t exactly rare, so she’d turn up hundreds of hits that weren’t her, making it hard to track her down. Then, one day, I noticed Martin was doing a gig in London, and the last time I’d had any point of reference for where she might be she was living in London, so I thought, man, wouldn’t that be a blast, go to the gig, and you never know, maybe bump into her? If it was a movie, we’d see each other across the crowded bar, there’d be a moment of recognition, and a holy hell, what are you doing here? moment.

But you know, life ain’t like that. She wasn’t there. But the concert was brilliant. I had a fantastic time. She turned up on Facebook maybe two years later, and we met up for a drink to share old stories and just catch up, and I told her about the gig, and about the album, and how Martin and I were mates now, which was mental. And she said, “Who?” Having completely forgotten both the record and the singer. Seems some boy she fancied had taped it for her on a blank cassette and she couldn’t remember anything about it. Which, of course, is exactly how I would have written it.

3). Hold Your Fire – RUSH – we all have our rituals, right? Every home I live in, and there’s been a lot of them, (I didn’t settle down until I was in my late 30s, so I think I racked up about 27 homes along the way) there’s one song I play first, when I move in, and again when I leave, when the place is empty and I’m feeling like an era is coming to an end. That’s ‘Time Stand Still’ by Rush, with Aimee Mann on backing vocals. There’s something about it, when Geddy Lee is singing about freezing this moment a little bit longer, and experience slipping away, it encapsulates the hope you feel first setting foot in a place, wondering what will happen to you here, and then when you leave, it echoes, you let your past go too fast, no time to pause…

4). Strange Kind of Love – Love and Money – this might just be the perfect album. Funny story, so, when it came out, I bought a ticket to go and see them at the Riverside in Newcastle, a great little venue, spit and sawdust stuff. It must have been my first year at uni. I went with a guy I’d met in a queue for another long since gone nightclub and we’d become good mates. Anyway, 8 o’clock comes, no band, 9, 10, no band, and the natives are getting restless. The guy running the venue comes out, explains the band have broken down on the motorway coming up from last night’s gig in Leeds, which if you think about it is a bit of an odd one, I mean, it’s a full 24 hrs and they’re still stuck on the motorway? Hmm… anyway, they were coming, they were late, wouldn’t get here till around 1 in the morning, but if we were game, they wanted to put on a full show. Of course we were. Even if they didn’t show up till maybe 1:30, and we were all very drunk. I was in the front row, close enough for the lead singer to spit on as he enunciated, you know the deal. Brilliant.

Fast forward almost thirty years, I get an email from a guy whose been in the audience at a small gig in Paisley where the singer is doing his raconteur bit, and he mentions one of my books as something he’s really enjoyed recently which was mad. So I emailed the guy, James Grant, via his website and we start talking. We get on really well, he invites me over for a couple of his gigs, lets the wife and I hang out backstage while he tells his friends in the bar how cool I am, because I wrote for Torchwood. It’s all quite surreal. We talked for ages about me doing a book based around his music, where he’d maybe do a soundtrack to go with it, or a movie script. I’ve got this great idea of a funeral scene with all of these 80s Scottish pop singers and band members in the congregation, burying someone, and literally only a handful of people having a clue who is in those pews… because James has got some very cool friends, and none of us look like we did in 1985… apart from Marty Pellow. I mean, he obviously did a deal with the devil.

5). The One I Love and Orange Crush – REM – it’s my first heartbreak band, so I’m cheating and taking two songs that are inextricably linked in my mind. The ones where the girl in another lifetime… you know the one. We’re going back to university days. I walked in, first week, into this massive lecture hall. I was doing business studies at Newcastle, before I dropped out, shifted over to Politics and went down an entirely different rabbit hole. So, two rows in front, there’s this massive Joey Tempest-like mop of blond hair, and a pair of bright red-framed glasses, and it was love at first sight. I mean I wasn’t just infatuated. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t think. My mates were all taking the piss. I just sat there, dumbstruck. I needed to know this girl. So, there’d be these moments, she’d look back at me, smile, look away. I’d be looking at her, grinning, then panic and break eye contact. Over and over, the dance of a thousand cuts. But I mean, I’d only kissed three girls in my life up to that point. I was not good at this. There was no cool, hey how you doin’ from me. But, day by day her friends started noticing, my friends started noticing, and everyone figured yeah, this is going to be a thing. But we became friends. Which was probably my cunning plan. Turned out she had a boyfriend who’d gone to a different uni two hundred miles away it was doomed, but she wasn’t ready to end it for at least a couple of months.

We were in that nightclub where I’d met the Riverside gig mate in the queue a few weeks before, dancing to REM’s ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘The One I Love’, when her friend came up to tell me she was crying in the stairwell, so I went to sit and chat, and just make sure she was okay. She’d finally ended it. There was a moment when she looked at me, and then she said, ‘I’m not ready for this,’ and I said it was fine, I’d wait because whatever it was, or would be, I figured we’d get there in time. I was 18 and a complete idiot, obviously. On the way out, my mate came up to me and said, hey, look, mind if I go and have a word with her? Talk you up a bit? Sure, I said, I mean, hey, mates know you, they have your back. On the Monday I get into uni at 9 but don’t have lectures until 10, so I go into the rectory for a bacon and egg butty, and the girl who’d come to tell me she’d been crying is waiting for me I’m that predictable, same sandwich every morning to tell me that I’d fucked up good and proper, because my mate had hooked up with the One I Absolutely Loved, and they were having a thing. Fantastic. I mean I was absolutely broken, because I mean, it was it, the one… their thing lasted two weeks. It was what it was.

We stayed friends, we got closer, and everyone was sure we’d finally just get over ourselves. I bought tickets to see Aztec Camera at the City Hall. We went together. It was a brilliant night. Waiting at the Metro for her dad to pick her up and drive her home I held her, she knew, I knew, she leaned in for that first kiss. And I eskimoed her nose because I panicked. It was that close. The moment that would change everything. That was a Thursday night. On the Friday we saw each other, she invited me to the disco with her and her mates, but I couldn’t go because I was playing football. No biggie, there would be hundreds of other nights. She met the man she married at that disco and I went back to playing REM. I should probably have guessed, given the lyrics…

THE MEMORY MAN by Steven Savile is out now in the UK and from 1 February in the US. Find out more here.

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