The Tapes Of Wrath – Barry Cain (Hornet Books)
’77 Sulphate Strip author and bona fide legend around these parts with first work of fiction. Joe Whyte reviews.
Barry Cain is something of a legendary figure around us journo types. Coming to prominence as a front-line punk-rock reporter with the long-gone Record Mirror (the one with the poster in the centrefold) and latterly as the creator and driving force behind the utterly irreverent Flexipop magazine which among other things, managed to coax Ian McCulloch to pose with a bowl of carrots and got the Cockney Rejects to dress up as pirates for a photo shoot. It’s fair to say that chemical indulgence and the staff of Flexipop were not particular strangers by all accounts.
His writing from the barricades of punk were crucial; Cain was very much accepted by the burgeoning scene due to his youth and enthusiasm and was rarely seen as the enemy by the punk bands like many of his older colleagues were. His account of The Damned in the USA for the first time and his interviews with a very candid John Lydon are time capsules of an era that was as chaotic and as fast-moving as it seemed to readers at the time. He is also one of the few writers from that period who managed to get close to the young and rising Jam, too. The interviews with Paul Weller were always worth reading; Cain seemed to be able to stave off Weller’s renowned prickly persona and get to the softer, soulful side of the then-youngster.
“’77 Sulphate Strip” is a gather-up of many of those interviews and some contemporary interviews square the circle very nicely. It’s easily one of the best (and most accurate) books about the original London punk scene and really captures the rush and excitement as well as the danger of those heady days.
Cain followed this with “57 Varieties Of Talk Soup” which is equally good; weaving his own life story and relationship through the fading punk scene and rising “new pop” is another page-turner and the author’s self-effacing wit and black humour are utterly compelling. The stories of Iggy, Bob Marley, The Who and others are interwoven with his career highs and lows and his sparkling facetiousness in the face of pompous popstrels is hilarious.
The Tapes Of Wrath is his first work of fiction- although I strongly suspect that the main protagonist and some of the other characters are based less-than-loosely on himself and others remaining nameless- and it is a rollicking journey through middle age and the associated regret that comes with it. It’s also a book within a book; the opening chapter introduces a story on a memory stick from a now-deceased author that a young policeman reads as part of an investigation into a triple murder/suicide scene. Main character Adam Tait becomes less likable as the pages turn- any sympathy about his slightly decrepit existence soon fades although the tales of his drug-shoveling youth and previous wild life may be familiar to many. I’m taking the fifth, personally. These are all people who are easily identifiable with and that’s what adds a real human edge to this book- they’re all ridden with failure, disappointment and middle-aged angst. It’s also a very, very funny book. Think Irvine Welsh relocated to the Surrey suburbs and with slightly less drug use.
He (Tait) ends up falling for a youthful, free and easy femme fatale and although realising that this relationship is doomed, his slightly delusional mid-life crisis-ridden self leads him on a path of no return. His elderly gangster father, long-suffering wife (who is the most likable character herein) and his dodgy, slimy offspring are all intriguing characters who hold the story (or stories) together. It all makes some kind of sense in the end and the denouement is one that I guarantee you’ll go back and read at least twice. The sting in the tail is quite delicious.
This is a triumph of a book- they say we’ve all got one story in us- although I hope in Barry Cain’s case, he’s in possession of several more like this.
The Tapes Of Wrath is out now on Hornet Books
Review by Joe Whyte –author profile