The making of the Trip City soundtrack

Our forthcoming novel Trip City was originally released in 1989 along with a soundtrack by A Guy Called Gerald on cassette. Not only are we reissuing the book but all five tracks from the soundtrack will be available on vinyl for the first time as part of a bundle. Author Trevor Miller explains how the Trip City soundtrack was made.

It was an overcast afternoon, early in 1989 when I went to visit A Guy Called Gerald at Moonraker Studios in Longsight, Manchester. The long bus ride felt quite strange. Plus for many people, the idea of a soundtrack for a novel was particularly absurd. I wanted to use the word ‘visionary’ myself.

I wanted this process to be something that would kick the Trip City legend into overdrive, add a dense layer of atmosphere, like a smoke machine in a club – or at the very least make the story more accessible for the people who might read it…

But, you have to imagine or cast your mind back to a time before electronic music was largely generated via software or complex apps. Drum machines and sequencers were the gold standard – or all there was. So, the early pioneers like Gerald Simpson were literally inventing a ’sound’ that didn’t totally exist, yet. More importantly, the kind of narrative multimedia you see every day now on Instagram hadn’t been invented.

I must confess, I was a little sceptical at first when Gerald opened a few beat-up holdalls and started lifting out a weird collection of 808s, 303s and the like. Still, he plugged them together like some mad genius and then literally conjured a soundtrack from thin air. I was staggered by his intuitive skill and virtuosity. I was energised by how he changed-up and dropped into different styles, without skipping a beat.

From orchestral, through danceable, even the sombre power of Gregorian chants… He made a theme for the main character. A track emblematic of the ‘Latin’ club in my story. Then a longer piece that was allegedly inspired by the fictional designer drug, as depicted in the text. I wrote a few lines – which he used as lyrics – and five minutes later he called up a female vocalist and she was singing the Trip City theme. If you listen closely, it’s Gerald’s voice saying “you can feel the atmosphere – there is sound, everywhere…” on the Trip City title track.

Later on, a number of journalists came up with the idea that this music or soundtrack was created to listen to as you read the book. Somebody even said that the staccato writing of the novel is meant to emulate the 4/4 beat of Acid House. Maybe I even said that myself.

Thirty-plus years later, I would like to think that the soundtrack is important because it sets the story in a time and a place. It’s an atmospheric companion piece that may well transport you back to those sweaty nights in a smoke-filled club when too many pills took hold. If it does – great. And if not, it doesn’t really matter – because these are still terrific tunes that sound just as unique and emotive as when Gerald made them, all those years ago.

I remember back in the 80s, in my hometown, Tony Wilson (of Factory Records fame) was fond of calling Shaun Ryder the WB Yeats of his day. In that vein, whether or not I like to see myself in the canon of Anthony Burgess and Clockwork Orange – with these five tracks, AGCG feels very much like the Ludwig Van to my Alex DeLarge.

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