Look, I’ll admit my dirty little secret, which is – drum roll – that I have never, that’s NEVER, not even as a hormonally charged fourteen year old, been a fan of any boyband. EVER. I realise this makes me weird. I even tried to cultivate a liking for (showing my age now) Take That in their original early nineties heyday just to try and fit in. But big boots and plaid shirts and Pearl Jam cassettes kept calling me back to the dark side. I think I was just too
weird grumpy depressed cool for all that sweaty lust and screaming and waiting outside the newsagent before school on a Wednesday morning just to be the first to tear out the latest poster in the centre pages of Smash Hits, ready to blu tack to my artex bedroom wall.
Imagine my surprise therefore when I dove into Chris Russell’s “Songs About a Girl” and found myself barely surfacing for air. This is, after all, a book that is unashamedly about a boy band, albeit one that is told from the point of view of a non fan. In it we are treated to a rare insight into the backstage antics, the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts, and of course the tensions and bonds that inevitably build between the people that find themselves in this rarefied position. As readers we are elevated out of the mosh pit (do those kind of gigs have mosh pits?) and taken by the hand up onto the stage to look back out at the stadium that is screaming our name, blinded by the lights.
It’s testament to Russell’s tight plotting, dry humour and deft character development that a cynic like me found myself utterly absorbed by plucky heroine Charlie’s journey as she gets to know the band (and herself) better. The dialogue and lively banter lifts off the page and makes the characters come alive, and the mysteries and questions at the heart of the narrative keep the pages turning right until the final few lines. And beyond.
It’s so thoroughly fresh, modern and current that I really can’t explain why this book made me so gloriously nostalgic for the years of teen fandom I never had, but it did. So, having missed out on it in real life, I’m glad this book gave me the chance to be a boy band fan for a little while at least. Better late than never, and I’m sure that, were they real, Fire & Lights would undoubtedly have the edge on early-nineties Take That in any case.