The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

Music is about silence…Music comes out of silence and at the end goes back into it. It’s a journey…And of course the silence at the beginning of the piece is always different from the silence at the end.’

Clapton, up on stage bathed in a lone spotlight; in the darkness behind are massed an array of musicians and backing singers. Clapton knows the power of silence, or, in this case, a pause. He evokes it on a CD of a performance I have. At a live concert silence is impossible, but a pause is a powerful tool with which to manipulate an audience. He strums the first couple of notes from the riff. The crowd have been waiting for it, expectantly. They know the ropes. Clapton then stops. He doesn’t continue. He stands stock-still. The noise within the silence starts to reach fever pitch. Chants break out. The single word is exhorted out in unison – anything to get his pluckin’ hand picking the notes again, but still the guitar-slinger is unmoved. By the time he reaches back into the riff and all the lights come on, the pregnant pause has almost hurt. Then, finally, Old Slowhand launches it. ‘Layla’. In the crowd the relief is almost orgasmic. ‘Layla’ is up and running, the throng beside themselves with joyousness. The classic from Derek and the Dominos, that timeless ode to a beautiful lady who, back in the once upon a time, seemed unattainable, is the most perfect tune in the musical cannon of the man referred to and known as God. Perhaps it is the most perfect rock/pop song ever written. But it’s that pause that gets me every time I listen to the track. It sums up all the pleasure music has given me over all these umpteen years.

And another sheer joy, musically associated – specifically the realm of vinyl – is Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Music Shop’. If it is not my best read of ’17, it’s pretty close to it.

Frank. Big, shambolic Frank runs a music retail outlet at a time, in the eighties, when the CD is first making inroads into the market. It was small and shiny and it was about to thrust vinyl into the dustbin of history – or at least that was the theory. We all know what happened there. Frank refuses to have anything to do with the new-fangled discs, despite pressure from the music reps to get him to change his ways. How could he? He is a true believer – one of many as it has since turned out. He feels nothing can convey the intimate soul of recorded music like vinyl. Nor will he sell cassette tapes for the same reason. Frank is a loner with a love of people – just as long as they do not get too close. Mostly these are his customers. He catalogues his vinyl according to feeling, not alphabetically or by genre. Thus Sibelius can be next to Aretha next to the Duke and so on. And he can magically bring together people with musical tastes they had no idea they possessed. He knows just the track for any given moment. Music can solve all the problems of the world.

Frank also loves the other shop owners on dead-ended, down-at-heel Unity Street. With these Joyce has created some truly lovely characters such as presumably defrocked Father Anthony with his religious iconography business and the Williams Brothers, undertakers who have been noted holding hands. There’s a baker and a florist and unbeknown to Frank, a tattooist who loves him. And then there’s Kit; totally, totally useless Kit – the assistant Frank employs because nobody else will. All is cosy. Frank is set in his ways, has a modicum of peace of mind and does without the real love between man and woman. Then along comes an elegant dame in a green dress. She peers in the shop’s window and promptly faints – and Frank’s world is turned upside down. He has been fortunate enough to find himself on Unity Street. But can he cope with what Ilse Briuchmann brings to the table?

Frank’s wobbly relationship with the planet has its roots in his upbringing. His single parent mother, a bohemian type, knew little about giving love, but a great deal about pontificating on the topic of music. She interferes when Frank starts to put together a life for himself, doing irreparable damage to his state of mind. But she taught him well for what became his lifelong passion, The book is laced with trivia, some of it heartbreaking, about the movers and shakers who gave us all the gift of their talent, from classical composers to rock gods. And it was mostly fresh news to me.

I suppose, if I was picky, the only discordant note (clever) was the Hollywood style grand finale, a tad out of kilter with the tone of the rest of the tale. No matter, this is a beautiful read putting me in mind of ‘Rosie’s Project’. It’s full of whimsy in a saga where confusion and cross-purposes drive the narrative. I just simply loved Frank, the poor bugger.

The author’s FB page = https://www.facebook.com/RachelJoyceBooks/

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