Last month there was an event called Ceiliúradh held in honour of Michael D Higgins’s state visit to the UK. Aside from a few great performances it proved to be quite a turgid affair. One of the standout moments was a reading from Joseph O’Connor, one of the finest authors of our time, reading an extract from this excellent novel.
It follows the story of Robbie Goulding, an Irish-born teenager living in Luton and the band that he forms and the events of the following 25 years. It’s told in the form of a musician’s memoir and includes interviews and contributions from some of the other key players.
Robbie is given the opportunity of an education from his folks but he opts instead to sell his soul to rock and roll. He joins up with Fran, a guy that regards Britain and Ireland as the same place and doesn’t want to represented by any flag, singing is his only nation. Robbie feels that to be a songwriter is the highest calling, and they should never be misnamed as poets.
O’Connor’s passion for music really shines throughout this book. Songs are presented as being able to get to the places that words can’t express. It’s an addiction that we need to keep feeding in order to function properly.
We see all of the elements in the life of a band here, from their tough travels and time spent in grubby digs to their time at Top of the Pops. It’s never painted as a glamorous life but rather one filled with anxiety, doubt and friction. There’s a constant fragility in a band with anyone able to walk away at any time. There’s also a very special kind of love between its members.
I’ve read a fair few music memoirs and they can often be quite dull, with the writer not giving enough of themselves to the reader. There’s beauty all the way through this fictional work though, with brilliantly drawn scenes like Robbie and a nurse dancing in a hospital showing there’s no end to the power of music to move. The Thrill of it All is a great example of literature and music holding hands and presenting themselves to the world as two of the greatest things this life has to offer.
The Thrill Of It All will be published by Harvill Secker on May 15.