Sunday, November 26, 2017

Forensic Records Society

Growing up, there was almost no music in my life. The radio was always tuned to one station that played almost zero music, nothing popular, and I didn't watch a whole lot of TV. The only live music was when there was a community gathering and someone would pull out the guitar and do the ever-popular ten guitars. I hit my twenties with maybe three records to my name (Dire Straights, Pink Floyd and the Motels). Going to University, I fell into a crew of people who listened to a lot of music - not because of any love of music but because there were competitions over which camp of high end stereo was the better (the Linn v Naim wars). I could never afford that level of kit but it did mean that I had to get a stereo, then acquire records - which I tended to buy cheaply and play alphabetically.

I think I would have fitted in quite well in those days with the six or seven blokes who comprise the Forensic Records Society, the latest by Magnus Mills. James and the never-named narrator are mates - when I think about it, absolutely no information is provided about either of them, such as how they met or their lines of work. Their only intersections are by way of the records they play to each other and the pints they drink in the Half Moon. They come up with the idea of creating a group of like-minded people - although it soon becomes James' gig. He puts up a poster inviting people to join and so for a few weeks, this handful of blokes go into the back room and play 2-3 records of their choice. The only rule is that there is to be no comment or judgement on anything played: when Chris quotes from records, an edict is eventually made that there are to be no quotes either. The idea is that they will simply play their 7" singles, (LP's are not specifically banned, not until someone brings one along) listen to them "forensically", have a pint or two and go home Alice is the only woman in the story: she is the bar maid and forms the view that these guys, particularly the narrator, do no not like music.

A fellow in a long leather coat tries to join but makes the mistake of being late to the session and is denied entry. Maybe this is why he starts a rival club - the Confessional Record Society. The details of how it works are obscure: James tries to have an infiltrator but his confession is not worthy and he is denied membership. The club is very popular: its membership is comprised of a horde of pink t-shirted young women. This and James' hard-line causes a splinter group to break away from the Forensic Record Society - the narrator kind of likes this group and that creates problems for his friendship with James - there is a distinct cooling. Clearly, James expects loyalty.

The novel could represent a tension between purist and populist approaches to a number of things, such as religion or politics but I was quite happy to read it as being about competing approaches to running record clubs, listening to music and the relationships that develop between the blokes - not just that between James and the narrator, but also how the other members form a kind of nucleus, one that doesn't include the narrator. For a while, he's left out in the cold, not that James seems to mind as he has formed an alliance with Alice.I really felt for him, as he didn't seem to have anyone else in his life. Of course, nothing is said - that's the nature of blokes, and ultimately, this book (like several of his other books) is about the nature of blokes and their relationships with each other.


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