Journalist and writer Ada Wilson has received praise from, among others, David Peace, for his latest book. Ian McMillan reviews the work.
Ada Wilson comes close to being a West Yorkshire Renaissance Man; and maybe the first surprising thing about him is that with a name like that he’s not a lady.
Ada (short for Adrian, of course) is a musician and a novelist and an editor and his latest book is a view of East European history through the mirror of the blues.
He looks at it specifically through the distorting prism of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, two troubled members of the original line-up of Fleetwood Mac.
I first came across Ada in 1979 when his wonderful synth-based and layered single In the Quiet of My Room was reviewed ecstatically in the music paper Sounds; people have claimed that this criminally catchy song influenced Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders, and maybe it did.
I dug into his earlier work with bands like Strangeways and saw his various groups tear up small rooms in and around Wakefield and then I lost touch with him for a while.
People told me he wasn’t playing so much music and I heard a rumour that he was working in advertising.
He reappeared toward the end of last century, reinventing himself as a prose writer. His novel The Very Acme was published by the enterprising Route in 2005; Ada wanted it to be “a story about two and a half streets” and was part of his mission to describe Wakefield to the world and although Very Acme took in global travel and historical perspectives, it never moved too far away from the thought processes and language of Lupset or Westgate.
Now Ada has produced Red Army Faction Blues, and his aim in this beautifully-written novel is to write about rock music in the same way that David Peace wrote about football in The Damned United, as a mirror of contemporary history, as a glass through which to view the world.
Wilson feels there’s a great hunger for history that happened yesterday or the day before, and he also feels that a creative approach can pay a different kind of dividend to the purely non-fiction line. Wilson believes that writers like David Peace are inventing a new form “made possible by the internet and the deluge of information available”. This multi-layered realism, achieved through placing actual people and places under fiction’s microscope, certainly underlines the novel’s contemporary echoes of unrest, surveillance and a sense that things are getting a little out-of-hand politically and culturally and nobody quite knows what’s going on. Ring any bells?
Red Army Faction Blues is set in two different places and times – London and West Berlin in the years between 1967 and 1990.
It has an unlikely anti-hero in the shape of Peter Urbach, an undercover government agent who is attempting with varying levels of success to worm his way into a group of student radicals, including the charismatic Rainer Langhans who is still alive and who Wilson went to interview for the book. Somewhere along the way Rainer encounters Peter Green, the enigmatic and, some say, drug-ravaged guitar hero of Fleetwood Mac’s early hits. Wilson is interested in the fact that, from the original members of the band, three ended up with severe mental health problems. Oh, and there’s a character called The Egg and Potato Man, too: in the book he goes round London passing himself off as Peter Green, and he’s real as well.
If all this sounds complex, it is, but if you stick with the story it’s well worth it.
Ada’s songs always had many layers to them, as I remember, and maybe Red Army Faction Blues is just In the Quiet of My Room in another form, thirty years on.
Red Army Faction Blues is published by Route, priced £8.99.
Cult career of Ada Wilson
Ada (or Adrian) Wilson was born in Wakefield where he still lives with his family; in the 1970s he was part of the West Yorkshire rock scene that included such luminaries as Bill Nelson of Bebop Deluxe, and he signed a major record deal with his band Strangeways.
Over the last decade Ada has become a novelist and editor, and he’s a major part of the burgeoning West Yorkshire writing scene; his previous novels include Very Acme and The Righteous Brother, both published by Route.
Ada Wilson was also a murder victim in Victorian England, but her real name wasn’t Adrian.