Sunday 17 February 2008

All the stars that never were...

This evening will be a highlight – seeing my favourite diva, Dionne Warwick, on stage at the Lowry in Manchester. I’ve watched her concerts several times over the years, starting when I was a student at Oxford in the 70s; most memorable of all was seeing her at the Royal Albert Hall, with Burt Bacharach, the man whose compositions made her name, playing the piano and conducting the orchestra. Her voice isn’t quite what it once was, but she remains a class act. And those wonderful Bacharach-David songs have formed the soundtrack of my life.

One of them gave me the key to the construction of my fourth novel, Yesterday’s Papers. I was driving into work on day, listening to Dionne when I halted at traffic lights in Aigburth, a suburb of Liverpool. She was singing ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’, a classic track I’d heard hundreds of times before. But the line about all the stars who never were, parking cars and pumping gas, suddenly hit me. What happens to performers who never quite make it? By the time the lights turned to green, I had a crucial plot twist fully formed in my mind.

In Yesterday's Papers, Harry Devlin, similarly, figures out the mystery while listening to the song. The book is one of my own favourites. It was listed by The Sunday Times as one of only two crime novels in its Paperbacks of the Year, more than a decade ago; side by side with mega-sellers such as Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It should have been a breakthrough moment. Unfortunately, my then publishers had already decided to give up on Harry (they only published the paperback editions; I had a different hardback publisher in those days.) The book had sold out and they didn’t reprint. The result was that not a single extra copy was sold on the strength of The Sunday Times accolade. Frustrating, to say the least.

But listening to Dionne singing live again will be something special.


Anonymous said...

How was it?
I too love the old Dionne Warwick songs, especially the Bacharach.

Martin Edwards said...

She was excellent. The concert took the form of her recounting her life story, with musical interludes. All but four of the songs were written by Burt Bacharach - and I thought yet again what an extraordinary gift it was, to have written so much music that is almost universally knownn - and, in fact, very hard to escape, wherever you are in the world. And some of his unknown work is just as good.