Stars on 45: Scottish author discusses the sequel to The Last Days of Disco.
David F. Ross’s début The Last Days of Disco was hailed as ‘Dark, hilarious and heartbreaking’ by Muriel Grey and ‘Full of comedy, pathos and great tunes’ by Hardeep Singh Kohli. A poignant tragi-comedic evocation of a transformative decade filled with laughter and the promise of crushed dreams. Ross’ acutely observed social commentary signalled the arrival of an exciting new voice in Scottish literature.
Ross’s second novel returns to the 1980s and revisits some of the characters we met in The Last Days of Disco. A companion novel, not a direct sequel, The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas eulogises the era when teenagers dreamed of recording a hit single and appearing on Top of the Pops.
Your love for 1980s music shines through The Last Days of Disco and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas. What is it about that decade which inspires you?
It was the decade where I made choices – good and bad – which made me the person I am today. I think those late teenage years are ones where your senses are most attuned to the emerging influences around you. The world seems a big, exciting, tempting, scary place and that combination of hope and fear makes things more memorable, I suppose. As a result, it’s pretty easy to tap into those palpable emotions that I felt when I wanted to be in a band, or to be Paul Weller. It was probably the time when I felt most alive, which isn’t to say life isn’t good now … far from it. But I’ll always have a nostalgic fondness for what ultimately is now recognised as a fairly pivotal decade; for me and for the country.
This is the second instalment in a trilogy. Have any of your childhood memories been woven into the books?
More so with the first book, I think. This one was more about letting my imagination run wild, and although informed by people and circumstances that help keep it authentic and grounded, it’s ultimately about me wanting to be the frontman in a band.
The Rise and Fall of The Miraculous Vespas takes place around the same time as The Last Days of Disco. Did you map out the characters’ journeys before writing the first book?
No, not really. As you’d gather, I’m a fan of Irvine Welsh and john Niven and my love for their books came from the character-driven narratives of their stories. I learned from them that if the protagonists are well drawn and believable, that they could really do anything as long as it stayed true to their characters. I invested a lot of time in the characters for the Last Days of Disco and then just let them interact to a certain extent. With three-quarters of the book draft finished, I had no idea how it was going to end. The ending just really emerged as a logical way those characters would react to the circumstances they found themselves in. It was slightly different with the Miraculous Vespas in that I had the ending in my head fairly early on, so I generally knew where it was ultimately leading. It was more just a case of pointing the main characters in the right direction and then seeing what would happen.
How much research did you undertake into the murky world of 1980s pop management?
I have friends in the music business who were in very popular Scottish bands in the early 80s and their insights and memories were very helpful, however, I was careful to avoid the pitfall of it becoming almost a comedy-documentary. Spinal Tap cornered the market there and it would be foolish to try and do something similar. It is still fundamentally a story about people desperately pursuing their dreams (whether legal or illegal) and I think that if there is a developing underlying thread to what I do, it is probably that. I’m interested in interesting people; what motivates them and how they interact with their context and the opportunities it throws up. So, yes … I’ve picked up a certain vibe from friends and acquaintances who were there, but it’s really all about the characters and the interaction of their stories.
What makes a good pop manager?
I think it’s a potent mix of inspiration, determination and outright seat-of-the-pants madness. The legendary svengalis of the late 70s and early 80s had acknowledged – rightly or wrongly – that the managers of indie bands were as important as the band members themselves. The music press interviews of the time were as likely to focus on Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols), Bernie Rhodes (The Clash) or Alan Horne (Orange Juice / Postcard Records) as any of the singers or guitarists of these groups. Often they were just basically opportunistic chancers who, by force of character and strength of will, achieved what they did despite making it up as they went along. Max Mojo shares that restless, inventive DNA. Some of the greatest music of all-time came out of that context, where record labels and bands were being run from people’s bedrooms. It’s incredible, and sadly now – in the homogenised, commercialised pop-pap world of Simon Cowell etc – lost to us forever I fear.
If you had to construct a premier league of pop managers who would be in the top three?
Malcolm McLaren, Colonel Tom Parker, and … Max Mojo.