My first shock came in the second paragraph. “This isn’t Manchester or London or fucking Chingford. This is Airdrie.” For those of us who lived near Chingford in the 1980s, the idea of it as a cultural centre is astonishing. Chingford was consigned to the outer darkness. It was a place of wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Its sole contribution to culture was the election of Norman Tebbit as its MP, and that tells you everything that you need to know. How the hell did Chingford get included in this sentence? I mean, people knew that Chingford was there, but that was no reason to visit it. Chingfordians used to flee to Romford or Ilford on a Saturday night for their entertainment. Now, of course, it is probable that someone who lived in Airdrie did not know this. But even so, this beggars belief.
And the second shock was that I was reading a book about the punk scene in Airdrie in the 1980s when I know nothing about it. I was not brought up in Airdrie, and by the 1980s I was too old to be involved in the “scene” let alone punk music. The third shock is that I am actually enjoying it. This is a bit like the shock I had when reading Alan Bissett’s “Boyracers” which I was instructed to read as part of a library reader development course. I enjoyed the energy of the writing, and that is the same with “This is Memorial Device”. The writing is extraordinarily energetic, and will take you along like a wave cresting onto a beach. Just like “Boyracers”. That really is a commendation.
This is the story of Lucas Black, as remembered by his friends and acquaintances in Airdrie, and of the music scene in the 1980s in that Lanarkshire town. It is fair to say that the narrators are unreliable, some of them because they were stoned, some because it is now a long time ago and their memories are fading. The focus for their memories, no matter how faulty, is the music of Lucas Black, who is a sort of savant. He certainly has a profound effect upon all the narrators in various ways.
This is Memorial Device tells the tale of how Lucas Black influences everyone around him in some way, but it is much more than that. It celebrates the joy that music can bring into people’s lives. It celebrates the sheer indomitability of the human spirit. It celebrates friendship. It celebrates the culture of ordinary people living ordinary lives. It celebrates how ordinary people create the extraordinary, and transform their lives for the sheer joy of it. And just in case you haven’t realised it, I should say that David Keenan tells a good story.
Also when both Andrew O’Hagan and Alan Warner tell you that this is a book that you should read, as they do in the blurbs on the cover, you can make a pretty good guess that this is a book you should read. And, no, I am not going to tell you what the title means. You will have to read the book to find out.