Sunday, 11 March 2018


Brett Anderson doesn’t so much walk into the room but glide. Back straight, no upper body movement and little steps. He could carry a book or his washing on his head, easy. With rakish grace he wafts from the back of an East London pub function room to the stage, where he decants into a large red velvet armchair, slouches back with a decadent air and waves a long bony hand. “Turn this terrible music off” he says, by way of an introduction. That terrible music is Suede’s brilliant, crunching, pirouetting, ‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, a 1994 B-side, that was, as were huge swathes of Suede B-sides up until that point, better than almost everyone else’s A-sides.

This is Brett’s first ever trip on the escalator at the end of the Victoria Line, as guest of Walthamstow’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Book Club, to talk about Coal Black Mornings, published this month by Little Brown. His demeanour is of a man at ease, debonair, sat in an exclusive Mayfair gentleman’s club, regaling tales of his life; only we’re in the shabby-chic E17, and the assembled ears do not belong to crusty old men smoking pipes. “I love women,” he says, fully aware of the response that will provoke, and an audience comprising of least 20 women to every man struggle to disguise reciprocal feelings. No doubt about it, Brett Anderson's a smooth, charming bastard. 

A man behind a tripod filming on a video camera asks why women love him and men hate him. There's no real answer to that, of course, but personal hygiene goes a long way apparently fellas.

Now he’s 50 (but, trust me ladies, looks much, much older...) we won’t find Brett in the gutter, reading Jack Kerouac and drinking bottles of absinthe – “boring, I know” – but instead he goes to dinner parties with his wife where he always finds himself stuck with “The Man” who wants to talk about cars and tyre pressure. I feel his pain, slightly, before finding some comfort in this news. 

But this is all side talk, the main discussion with interviewer Matt Thorne is about Coal Black Mornings, a book written with his young son in mind, he claims, on train journeys as a series of long emails to himself as he couldn’t be bothered to download Word to his computer. However unpromising that sounds the result is wonderful. I seldom read a book in a day but made an exception here (helped by 209 pages with lots of white space). It’s not The Story of Suede but a compelling account of Brett’s life up to the point of Suede signing a record deal, at which point the tale abruptly ends.

With autobiographies and biographies, I’m not usually overly interested in the subject’s early life, what their mum and dad and grandparents did, what their house was like; just cut to the chase, tell me about recording that classic single, tell me how everyone in the band fell out, their descent into My Drug Hell, then the redemption part at the end. But Brett, quite correctly as it turns out, reckons everyone has had their fill of those coke and gold disc stories, didn’t want to rake over that stuff now anyway, and chose to make his book about failure, love and loss, and achieves it magnificently.

It’s eloquently written, full of poetic phrases and evocative scenes of growing up in the 70s and 80s. Our lives are hardly comparable, but it’s strange how many memories it blew the dusty off in my head. Mostly innocuous stuff about being dragged around old churches on holidays and “sitting in soggy National Trust car parks as the rain poured angrily on the car roof” but nice nevertheless. Luckily for the reader if not him, Brett has far more monumental moments than that to share but the detailed descriptions of people and places impress.

Suede were often looked upon with suspicion singing about council estates and lives in the so-called margins, the assumption being they were middle class boys slumming it, adopting “social tourism” but Brett grew up in small council house in Hayward’s Heath with his mum, dad and elder sister. They were, undoubtedly, poor. In one example, Brett makes clear the indignity of having to queue up each day for his school dinner voucher; something that still stings. They were also the local oddball outsiders. Literature loving Mum, with artistic leanings and fond of sunbathing naked in the garden, was of the mend and make do school, making the only clothes that weren’t from jumble sales. Franz Listz obsessed Dad, who worked as an ice cream man, window cleaner, a swimming pool attendant who couldn’t swim, and finally a taxi driver, was, what may politely be called a bit of an eccentric, an Englishman whose home was most certainly his castle. I won’t spoil his foibles here.

Brett is unfailingly polite about those mentioned in the book (including former partners); even when revealing some unpleasantries about his father it’s respectfully done. There’s no sensationalism involved. The only person criticised is Brett himself and the only digs are a couple of handily placed references to the origins Modern Life Is Rubbish and ‘Popscene’ by (an unnamed) Blur plus a poke at 90s “groups of patronising middle-class boys making money by aping the accents and culture of the working classes”. Who can he mean?

Although not predominantly about Suede (and the Suede parts are curiously the least interesting, and I say that as a massive fan who followed every arse-slapping move during their first explosive year in the spotlight and love them still), Coal Black Mornings divulges events that provided inspiration for early songs. I’ve gone back and listened to things like ‘She’s Not Dead’, dealing with the mysterious and shocking death of his aunt, with far greater appreciation.

Coal Black Mornings is a class apart from most music books or memoirs. It’s full of emotion, honesty and revelations; it’s not a string of personal achievements but, as he writes, “about poverty and family and friendship and the scruffy wonders of youth”. There's a lot of death in there too, lump in the throat moments, but also laugh out loud occasions, due as much to Brett’s skilful writing than the incidents themselves. 

Back in the room, Brett is asked by a geek if he's a sci-fi fan (not really); the best Suede song ('The Wild Ones', correct); who he'd invite as a guest to interview at the Rock 'n' Roll Book Club (Lawrence from Felt, again correct); and having previously expressed a fondness for crisps, a group of fans plonk about 75 packets at his feet.

After the talk Brett signs books, natters to fans and poses for photographs, at which point I can confirm he does indeed smell mighty fine. 

Many thanks to Mark Hart of Walthamstow Rock 'n' Roll Book Club @e17RnR_books in rising to the challenge of bringing Brett to Mirth, Marvel & Maud, E17 and, naturally, to Brett Anderson himself. Coal Black Mornings is available now, £16.99.


  1. Fabulous post Monkey, wonderful. Can't wait to read the book.

  2. Thanks C, you'll enjoy reading about his early listening choices. I was a bit surprised.

  3. Marvellous stuff Monkey. Consider my appetite whetted.

  4. Your review has made me want to read this.