‘The music of Dire Straits features a few times in my novel Mainlander. This is pleasing to me because Mark Knopfler is a songwriter whom I find both fantastic and underrated (sample rhyme – “baker’s boy” and “Iroquois”). However I included the references less from my personal mission to see him receive the acclaim he deserves (not that he needs my help, I’m sure his friendship with Bob Dylan is all the approval he needs), and more because his songs are synonymous with the eighties (the book is set in 1987), and particularly with the types of characters featured in the book.
Knopfler often remarks in interviews that when he talks to fans, he realises how important the songs are to them, that they have lived their lives to them. We all soundtrack our lives, and delving back into neglected songs is a way, for me at least, of accessing memories. I wanted that entwinement to be a feature of the book, hence Emma’s deflation when she chances upon Romeo and Juliet on the radio, a song that was part of a teenage mix-tape supposed to help her get over a break-up from which she realises she will never recover.
I write to music, it helps me get into a mood, evoke a place, sense a character. I compiled playlists for all the main characters in Mainlander, songs that I thought they would listen to, or that made me think of them – in the case of louche playboy Rob de la Haye, both of these criteria were met in Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I’m sure Rob would listen to it, although he would almost certainly misread it as a celebration of materialism, rather than an attack. To him it would be a rallying cry.
This is a playlist of all the artists, albums and songs in the order they crop up in the book. Although it’s 80’s-centric, it also manages to be fairly eclectic, it opens with the Skye Boat Song and there’s some Bach on electric guitar – a Stratocaster as it happens, sadly not the Gibson as mentioned in the book, which someone has neglected to record, making me look like a shoddy researcher of my own musical references.’
Words and playlist from Will Smith
Mainlander is out now in paperback
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