Brighton Festival Review: Brett Anderson

Boredom and poverty were the salient themes of this Brighton Festival book launch, which took place amidst the lavish interior of the Theatre Royal. Suede frontman Brett Anderson was here to promote his recently published memoirs, Coal Black Mornings, which traces his early life growing up in Haywards Heath and the genesis of his intriguing musical career. The writing of the book, we hear, was inspired by the death of his father and his own experience of having children. These events led him to revisit the circumstances of his own upbringing in an arty working class family living in poverty in the 1970s.

He’s interviewed on stage by Guardian rock critic and Brighton local, Alexis Petridis, who jovially directs the discussion of the singer’s formative years. When Brett muses on the topic of boredom, which he claims was a key source of his creativity, we get a glimpse of him both as a frustrated teenager and as an anxious parent. “It’s impossible to be bored these days,” he notes, almost lamenting the fact his kids will always be denied that source of creativity by endless online distractions. Later, while Brett recounts his life in London on the dole, we get a real sense of how the origins of his songs are anchored in a very particular time and place. The upshot is that a band like Suede would not be possible now.

The most interesting moments of the talk were about the experiences in Brett’s life that directly influenced his music. We hear how ‘Killing Of A Flashboy’ was written as a result of being chased by thugs through Manchester, in a story that ends with the glorious image of Brett Anderson hiding inside a school wheelie bin to escape a beating. His relationship with Justine Frischmann is touched on briefly, and we hear how the subsequent break-up acted as a galvanising force that fed Brett’s ambition and even prompted the whole androgynous aesthetic.

Following the chronology of the book, the talk takes us only as far as Suede’s signing to Nude Records in 1992. Rather than the rest being history, Brett claims that this was the moment he lost sole ownership of the story. Given his newfound relish for prose writing another volume seems likely, but there’s no promises as yet.

Though the talk was followed by a Q&A, little more was gleaned due to some rather inane and sycophantic audience questions. Still, Brett handled all with wit and grace, politely ducking out of giving an honest opinion on Morrissey’s cover of ‘My Insatiable One’. His only comment: “It’s a shame he left out the word ‘shit’”.

All in all, it was an interesting hour in the company of one of the defining songwriters of the 90s. Suede came back onto our radar with a phenomenal performance at Together the People in 2016, and we await the band’s new album with a mixture of hope and dread. Will it? Won’t it? After the talk, eager fans joined a book signing queue which stretched out of the theatre and blocked off New Road. Even 20 years after his heyday, the skinny lad from suburbia inspires a strange devotion.

Theatre Royal, Sunday 20th May 2018

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Ben Bailey

Ben Bailey runs the SOURCE website and was formerly the listings and reviews editor on the magazine. As well as writing stuff for other publications he also finds the time to play in various bands and once came 4th place in a BMX tournament.

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