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Louder Than War review 'Three and a half minutes of Fame'

“I’d recommend the book as a disarmingly honest account of the author’s passion for music, all told with great attention to detail and a subtle self-deprecating sense of humour.”

"A detailed and enjoyable account of author Alex Boucher’s time in a succession of early 90’s indie hopeful groups.

"Reading this reminded me a lot of Nick Hornby’s classic Fever Pitch. There he asks readers to consider the hard facts of making it in professional football – even those who seem to be on the path to success in their teens will mostly be discarded before making the first team, especially at a big club. It’s the same process in music – we’ve all known someone who was a cut above at their instrument or songwriting, but did they make a career out of it? Probably not.

Alex Boucher’s story is also a nicely observed account of growing up, from single-minded teenage tunnel vision to the mass of compromises that make up adult life. He takes us back to the then-thriving music scene of the late ”80s/early ’90s and his attempts at Making it by playing the drums in a series of groups. In many ways now it reads like a lost world – before online music happened on a mass market scale, or phones put everything a couple of finger taps away – where a lively independent music scene flourished away from the corporate entertainment machine and the Madonnas of the day.

When Alex’s group Three and a Half Minutes start, he’s 16, an idealistic punk wanting to make great music that doesn’t compromise. It’s a world where Kingmaker are a big name, just below the newly emerging and rapidly ascending Suede, Blur and Pulp. Gradually they scratch away at local and then regional recognition, but can they break through to the next level? At the start, he’s happy just to be there but gets fed up with being excluded from group decisions and generally being treated as the junior member and mainman Matt’s unpredictable moods – of which more later in the book. Progress is made in the form of some singles and ep’s, reviews in the local press and eventually the NME and the special kudos of getting played by John Peel. Along the way, there are plenty of good stories – the time he survives scuffing a gangsta rapper’s new trainers, or some of the cringe-making auditions and talent shows encountered during a brief desperate phase of getting some material rewards by trying to make in a boy band, “NV” (as in Envy, get it?), a disastrous attempt at miming on TV, and even a surprise appearance by Clodagh Rodgers. There’s also a reminder of the pervy predators who lurk around the showbiz fringes in search of young flesh.

There’s an abundance of great ground-up detail – the early unsuitable gigs like wedding receptions, the van reeking of fag ash and stale beer, the group squashed in the back hoping not to be crushed by falling speaker cabinets, the fading joy of the post-gig buzz wearing off in the knowledge you’ve got to be at work in a few hours.

The book is generously illustrated throughout with masses of b/w photos, fliers, cuttings, artwork and posters which work well in evoking the time – venues like the Garage, the Albany in Deptford, the Powerhaus, King Tuts’s and so many more.

A playlist of tracks for each year makes a nice touch too in showing just how diverse and lively the scene was then, when for a week Back To The Planet could seem to be the biggest thing in town or unsigned groups regularly graced the cover of NME on the strength of a demo and a gig or two in Brighton Post Three and a Half Minutes groups Travis Cut (Taxi Driver ref) and Jaff make more progress, but only up to a point and it becomes clear that they’ve hit the “glass ceiling” and can’t move past their existing fanbase or break out to the next level of gigging after clubs and colleges or being sent out with a series of no-hopers US bands like Sleeper and the Queers (anyone remember the Holy Ghost Revival?), followed by NV and a couple of other attempts at going mainstream pop.

At times I wished they had upped their game in terms of management – either enthusiastic but inexperienced mates, or later people who didn’t really understand them – better-booking agents who didn’t rip them off and undermine their name with fake gigs – or being at the mercy of a stoned crusty “roadie” and his totally unreliable van.

It’s a great reminder of a time when there seemed to be more possibilities and less boundaries in music than now. Back then I’d happily play St Etienne, Slowdive, Sonic Youth, Julian Cope, Orbital and Loop without thinking about “genre-hopping”. Along the way, Alex Boucher makes a lot of perceptive points about the narrative of moving from teens to twenties and all the attendant highs and regrets – like his bad treatment of first love Alice, or not recognising the bipolar origin of Matt’s moods.

I’d recommend the book as a disarmingly honest account of the author’s passion for music, all told with great attention to detail and a subtle self-deprecating sense of humour. There’s a gentle generosity to it as well – hardly any put-downs, although there are a fair few dummies along the way who’d merit it – making for an easy and enlightening read.

You can pick up a copy of 'Three and a half minutes of fame' by Alex Boucher in most good book or record stores now or order online, from resellers, amazon, or direct from E I Books.

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