It’s exciting any time we announce a new book but particularly so with our latest, Trip City, as it’s our first fiction title and it comes with a soundtrack by A Guy Called Gerald on vinyl. Author Trevor Miller explains how he came to write the book.
TCSOF ‘21 – PART ONE – HOW IT STARTED
This is supposed to be an essay – an introduction to how a novel came about. I think it is expected that I write about Acid House. London nightclubs. ’88 and ’89. Or how ecstasy changed everything. What a revelation it was.
All of that is true. I lived ALL the nights I wrote about, in one way another. Did the coke, the acid, the speed, the K and the MDMA. There was The Wag, Gold, Sullivan’s, Westworld, Hedonism, Delirium, RIP, The Brain, and Limelight. Too many others to mention.
That’s the tale I was telling in 1989. But 30 plus years later – it’s a different world, and my world view has changed. I hope I am kinder now. I hope I have evolved. And maybe the transcendental meditation I practice – thanks to the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts – has helped me understand. And it is IMPORTANT for me to understand.
I can only tell this part of my story because a number of the principal characters have been gone for a while now. Nearly nine years for my brother Bernard. Mum a year after that. Dad the following year.
My earliest memories are of vinyl records. Super-8 film. Summers spent in my father’s Rocksteady and Bluebeat record shop in Moss Side. Then my dad’s pal, Cyril Esner, got my brother Bernard a VHS VCR. He became obsessed with recording movies off the telly. Lots of sci-fi. The Omega Man. Soylent Green. Logan’s Run. Also, Stardust with David Essex.
I don’t recall how or when Bernard got sick, but everything derailed because he did. And in those days, visiting an NHS children’s hospital felt off-world. Deformed kids. Abused kids. And mum would drag me round to visit Bernard in the hospital so many times it became a chilling blur.
In some ways – Trip City begins because I wanted to escape mum, dad and Bernard. And in other ways, the legacy of Trip City (or at least me still being able to write) only continues because of things I learned from them. Even if that meant leaving them behind or losing them.
Aged 16, I found Saturday nights at Berlin – a nightclub on King Street, behind Kendal Milne’s department store. By then, I was sneaking dad’s whiskey and refilling the bottle with cold tea. I would say I was staying at my high school friend Steven Edward’s house – but head into town on the bus with my ‘club clothes’ hidden under a raincoat. Decades later, I realised that the kid with the flat-top I saw on the bus, who worked as ‘Pot Man’ in the club, was actually Ian Brown from The Stone Roses.
Saturday night at Berlin was called Private Road. They would play goth, indie and industrial – everything from the Velvet Underground through to The Cramps. I remember being drunk from barley wine in the pub but drinking canned Breaker malt liquor in the club. Even though I barely knew anyone inside the shadowy environs of 38 King Street – THIS felt like home. And those Saturday nights would lead me to Katherine and her twin sister who worked the coat-check. Those two befriended me and introduced me to the likes of Gino and Nasty – who took me to The Hacienda and Trevor Johnson, Nathan McGough and Wade Tolera – amongst others.
Around that time, Trevor Johnson was designing record covers for Factory. Nathan managed a jazz-combo called Swamp Children, who became Kalima. Wade Tolera was a male model. We had some amazing times around venues like Cloud 9, Corbieres Wine Cavern and, of course, the ‘Hac’. It was the first time I took acid. The first time I saw The Smiths play. And I remember watching Madonna perform Holiday, three feet away, for a segment on The Tube.
TCSOF ’21 – PART TWO – LONDON SWINGS AGAIN
By the time I went to college in London in 1984, alcohol and drugs were something I used as much for maintenance as liberation. And at first, London felt quite lonely. Quite isolating. But finally, in Soho, I found a second home. Old Compton Street. Bar Italia, The Coach & Horses. And it still felt like the Soho of Colin MacInnes – maybe Absolute Beginners or Mr Love & Justice.
One weekend – mid-1984 in Camden Market, I went drinking with Trevor Johnson and was introduced to his London cronies. There was Rick Stonell, aka Rick The Barber, because he had a barbershop in both Camden and Kensington Market. Paul Caren, aka Brookside, because he was from Liverpool and talked like the TV series. And I think a guy known as Yogi who worked in Herbert Johnson’s, the hatters on Bond Street.
Over the ensuing weeks, I went to Ken Market to hang out with Rick The Barber. Somehow it was Paul ‘Brookside’ who decided he would show me the ropes and around town. His version of it.
Paul sold vintage menswear in the basement of Ken Market – but was famous for his wry wit and penchant for the two-for-one screwdrivers sold at happy hour in the bar around the corner. We would get drunk there on midweek afternoons, and Brookside would introduce me to various Northern Soul luminaries – some of whom I would buy amphetamine sulphate off to sell-on to my college pals.
My start in London clubs began in early ’85 when Wiz (who would go on to direct music videos for Massive Attack and Flowered Up) asked me to emcee at a psychedelic night he was DJing in Deptford. It was in an old church crypt. The night simply being called The Crypt. Wiz and his gang (mostly from Radlett) were all riding on the mod/psychedelic revival that was sweeping across London. Scott Crolla’s paisley menswear had become quite the thing, and Dr & The Medics even had a chart hit with a reworking of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine.
On an unusually warm night, fuelled by a surfeit of speed and blotter acid, emcee Mr. Love was born. Or at least that’s what I called myself while introducing records in The Crypt as Wiz DJed them.
I took the name from the Colin MacInnes novel – despite the fact Mr. Love, as depicted, had been a Soho pimp. Anyway, I just remember wearing a long wig, shades and a paisley coat I bought in some junk shop. Still, the drugs and the carnage were a taste of nights to come. Many years later, Mr. Love would emcee ‘Night of a 1000 DJs’ at The Limelight – which was basically a DJ Gong show… And I vaguely recall DJ Harvey (from Tonka) chasing me around the club wanting to kill me – as I had gonged him off, after only ten bars of his first record.
Mr. Love’s first DJ appearances would come in Mornington Crescent later that year, in the summer of ’85. Brookside had invited me and Steve King down to a Saturday night party at Barry Sullivan’s wine bar opposite the old Camden Palace. It was a little boutique jewel-box of a venue with a bright upstairs and dimly lit basement, including a small dance-floor for DJs.
Saturday night at Sullivan’s was called The Boiler – hosted by Dece (from My Silent War, an early Hull punk band) and Mark Wigan from i-D Magazine. And on that first night, the DJs were a particularly eclectic bunch. The most memorable alum were Baz Riley and Craig Brick playing Motown and Northern Soul. Baz was a legendary mentalist. Unique for his glass eye and self-destructive antics. Craig was the brother of Chris Brick, who had Demob in Soho. The Boiler was also where I first met Sean McLusky, with whom I would collaborate over almost three decades. But back to…
That very first night was tremendous speed-driven fun in the basement. So I asked Dece and Wigan if I could play records in the club the following week. That was how it started. And from playing records at The Boiler – next, I was making videos of hair fashion shows for Ken Market cutters – Vision Industries (Dave Henley and Martin Nolan) at The Wag. I remember Chris Sullivan asking me if we could install a video set-up permanently – so he might document the various live shows and happenings. That did not happen.
It is important to consider that before the Second Summer of Love, the music had given rise to various youth culture tribes. And each tribe with its own signature sound, fashion and attitude.
Regularly at The Wag and other venues, on any given midweek or weekend, I may have attended Rare Groove nights with Norman Jay. Acid Jazz nights with Eddie Pillar. Northern Soul at the 100 Club. Funk nights like Shake & Fingerpop, Hip Hop nights with Paul Guntrip, the Watson Brothers and Dave Dorell.
TCSOF ‘21 – PART THREE – COMING UP
House, then Acid House and ‘E’ changed the pop-culture in the UK forever. It galvanised disparate groups of revellers into one cross-cultural ‘loved-up’ movement or moment.
And 1988 was a tsunami of drugs, alcohol and music for me. House Music. House Music all night long – drifting into maniacal calls of “acieeeed.”
Shoom was never really my bag, BUT I went to ALL the others – squeaking-by by living in a squat. Earning money off occasional petty crime. Or emcee spots. Or making flyers for various promoters. Finally, I went to the O’Neill surf-wear showroom on Great Portland Street and bought an electric blue tracksuit with a day-glo motif. The tracksuit was a factory sample – so nobody else on this scene had anything like it. PLUS, I had the haircut, the beard and a steady supply of pills from a friend or acquaintance or some of the rough-neck dealers. They knew that I did the flyers, so they would probably get guest-list off me, somewhere. Maybe?
There was Hedonism on Hangar Lane. Future at the Sanctuary. Trip at The Astoria. Clink Street, south of the river. And dozens upon dozens of one-offs like Gold, Juice Box and Millennium at Cinatras. Plus, if you had a vehicle and were up for travelling – there were various events in a field or aircraft hangars like Burn It Up at Sunrise. And for the more urbane or gritty – RIP were throwing warehouse parties across the city.
Suddenly everybody knew the same tunes. Everybody had pills. And fellas like me, who fancied themselves as sophisticated club types, found themselves dancing all night with loved-up football villains who were now on the same team.
In a heartbeat, minds were expanded. Consciousness touched beyond the beyond. And adventurers like myself were pushing the boundaries. Taking every pill or powder or organic substance I could get my hands on. And there was a proliferation of designer drugs. Ice. Cake. Glass. The notorious pill known as M25 (named after the ring road). I would often talk with guys like Wildcat Wil about doing peyote. DMT or ayahuasca. But nobody had anything remotely like that. So for me, multiple pills and booze would have to do.
In the midst of this madness, I am appearing in a friend’s experimental art movie for a few free dinners and some cab fares. They have loaned me this very expensive Jean Paul Gaultier suit for the film. Naturally, I was wearing it around town. The last thing I expected that night in a Fitzrovia pub was to run into Frank Hatherley. Frank was one of my old college teachers. Well, he saw the suit, thought Miller’s hit the big time and offered to buy me a beer. Bingo!
Frank explained that he had set up Avernus Creative Media – a boutique publishing imprint with his pal – an old-time sci-fi author called Brian Aldiss. As yet, I barely knew Brian’s legend – beyond the fact it was legendary. And who’d believe at that point that Brian would become a fan of MINE and at some point introduce me to his inner circle, or the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, himself?
Anyway, as I regaled Frank with clubland stories of drugs, excess and Acid House – he chimed in to say “this might make a good short story for a fiction anthology that Brian and I will be putting together.”
It struck me right then. A eureka moment. Boom! I mean, why be a small part of a bigger book when you could just be the whole book?
And that’s when it crystallised. Almost fully formed. Like the end of The Usual Suspects. When Chazz Palminteri adds up all the pieces. All the parts of the story. Understanding in a micro-sending that Verbal Kint is in fact, Keyser Söze…
Maybe the drugs helped. But – on the fly – I assembled all the concepts into one BIG concept. A man on the run – like me, running away from mum, dad and Bernard. A life in all the clubs. Doing the doors and the flyers and promoting as a part-time emcee. It’d be Colin MacInnes. But it’d be Acid House. But it’d be better than MacInnes with elements of Walter Tevis. The Man Who Fell to Earth. And London gangsters. But more like Fast Eddie Felson. And a good guy like Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps. But the sci-fi twist – like Omega Man. Soylent Green. Something green. Green crystals. A designer drug. A green designer drug. My drug. Green like dollar bills. Worse than ecstasy or MDMA or acid or M25. All wrapped up in a visionary experience. An endless trip, like Carlos Casteneda. Jodorowsky. David Lynch. The Holy Mountain.
I think Frank was blown away – or maybe he just thought I was mental. But he thought it actually sounded like a novel and he took a punt. If I could write up a couple of chapters of my ‘epic poem’ – Frank would present them to Brian – see if he might bite.
Somehow I blagged a manual typewriter. Spent bits of the weekend and Monday in the front room of my squat typing-up what became the first two chapters of Trip City. And I filled it with all my angst and pain. Thoughts just came. Words. Ideas. Characters. Little punctuation. A style. But one central idea – THIS might be the real escape I’d been dreaming of. And, truth be told, by then I was a raging alcoholic and pill head. Sure, I kept it quiet – mostly chain-smoked when I wasn’t drunk or high – but it felt like my issues gave the story weight. Gravity.
On Tuesday, I went into the West End and dropped off the few dozen pages I’d typed up at Frank’s office. In less than a week, Frank and Brian offered me a publishing deal to write the rest of the novel. A novel that I would call Trip City.
Rarely in life do we find a moment where all our problems and mistakes make sense. But, at the end of that summer, writing gave me purpose. I wrote in short sentences. It’s how I thought. How I still think. Sometimes. But the seven weeks it took to write Trip City were also the first seven weeks I had been sober. Or off drugs. I want to tell you that writing connected the dots – kept me sober. Afraid not. But it took me 30 years to realise that the drugs and alcohol abuse was driven by my issues – my real-life family problems. Not Acid House. Not because I never really ended up where I wanted to be.
From that day on, I never took drugs or drink when I was writing. Did it a lot of other times – but not at the page or when I’m at the screen. That was how it was then. It’s still the same now. And if you are interested – the drug scenes in Trip City were ALL written completely sober. Not to say that I wasn’t out of my mind when I experienced the MDMA or acid madness in the clubs. Just not when I was writing about it.
TCSOF ‘21 – PART FOUR – LIVING TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
So it’s 2021, and what have we learned in over three decades? Or – what have I learned from Trip City or after it, more precisely?
Well, I buried my family and some of my friends. I had a bit of a career as a writer and filmmaker – but never quite sufficient to really call myself a success. There has been a global pandemic – horrifically handled by some world leaders. And I have been in my modest apartment in Los Angeles, barely going outside for a year. The corporations took over – some might say. The internet was weaponised to bring you Brexit and Donald Trump. And as we speak, some people are saying vaccines will put nano-robots in your DNA, or that devastating fires in California were actually created by Jewish Space Lasers – no less…
Sounds like a book by Jon Ronson, but more so to me, it sounds like Trip City come to life. Should I say: Trip City come to life with a less interesting soundtrack.
I am proud of this book and soundtrack. Do they have immense stature? I’m not sure. But their very existence makes me smile. And I hope as you read or listen – you might find a little hope. Or consider the fact that sometimes the good guys – well, they may sort-of win, in the end. A Hollywood ending? No. But sort-of a win. Absolutely. At least a notion that escape and a better day IS truly possible. At least it was and IS for me.
The lesson? Be kinder. Be a dreamer – because even thirty years on – magic still feels conceivable to me. Play those old records. Dance around your living room. Reach out to those friends far and near – and uplift them with an affectionate word. Remind them of your shining moments together. Those nights in the club – when you STILL had everything to play for. And don’t forget to say that you’re sorry – even if you’re just saying sorry for the angst or arrogance that kept you going through some tough times.
Maybe that’s just me? Maybe that’s the transcendental meditation? Anyway…
If you’ve read this far, I salute you. If you go on to read Trip City – I applaud and thank you for wanting to connect to those halcyon days…
Just remember that being human is ALWAYS our finest hour.