We ran on past our finishing time last night in our workshop — so late that the university building was locked up before Guy and I had our tutorials with Alison. These then took place on an amenable table outside the Queen Boadicea pub on St. John Street (quite apt for my novel). More of the consequences of the tutorial in a later post. This meant I missed a meeting I was hoping to pop into in High Wycombe (also in a pub) and got home quite late. However, I stayed up to watch a fascinating documentary on Heaven 17’s 1981 album ‘Penthouse and Pavement’.
This came out around the time I did my ‘O’ levels and, while I loved the Human League and Soft Cell and others, I wasn’t quite old and trendy enough to have bought ‘Penthouse and Pavement’, although I think I knew of its existence. When I went to university I got to know the album pretty well. I even think I played tracks off it, like ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ when I did the Friday night disco a couple of times at the student union. (It’s hard to believe, I know, but I did a bit of DJ-ing when I was 18 and then did a weekly show with my friend Hog Head on the student campus radio station when I was at UC Santa Barbara.)
Watching the documentary made me realise how much of a subconscious influence it must have been on me as many elements seems to have already turned up in my novel so far. It was said on the programme that ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ was actually a concept album for the 80s — obviously contrasting the disparity of wealth in the Thatcherite early 80s of the penthouse dwellers with those living on the pavement: the vinyl LP had a ‘Penthouse’ side and a ‘Pavement’ side. The brilliant cover, ‘like a cheesy company annual report’ Â as I think someone commented, was an ironic, arty comment on capitalism with the suited, pony-tailed band members striking yuppie poses — handshaking, on the phone doing a deal — which anticipated the Loadsamoney culture by five or six years.
The part of ‘The Angel’ that I’ve written so far has remarkable similarities — James starts high up in a gleaming office block, coming down to street level to meet grimy, struggling Kim. A stretch of pavement also plays a big part in one chapter. Thematically the characters represent the tension between penthouse (James) and pavement (Kim). The vocals on the title track, my favourite, are also an interplay between Glenn Gregory’s world-weary, deep male tones and sparky, soulful female vocals on the chorus (someone called Josie James, who’s not the woman on the video). That’s similar to the exchange of points-of-view I have so far in the novel. I’d also like to achieve a similar effect (for the City part of the novel anyway) with the prose as Heaven 17 achieve with the music — quite fast, sparse, sly, unpredictable — but not taking itself too seriously.
I guess I could elaborate further and speculate that the first track off Heaven 17’s next album, ‘The Luxury Gap’, becomes the next theme of the novel — ‘Temptation’. This track has been released in several different edits — and often turns up on compilations. My favourite is when Carol Kenyon’s ooh-oohing is allowed to run its full length (just before ‘step by step, day by day’). This is another track with a male-female dynamic and is relevant to the next part of The Angel — particularly the lines taken from the Lord’s Prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation’. In fact the next two singles off The Luxury Gap also fit my story — ‘Come Live With Me’ and ‘Crushed By The Wheels of Industry’ — this is now starting to get worrying.
I looked up the video of Penthouse and Pavement on Youtube after the programme, which I vaguely remembered — and in another stroke of perhaps unconscious serendipity the actress who plays the spying secretary is almost the spitting image that I hold my mind of Kim — once she’s got herself healthy in the countryside — she’s even got green(ish) eyes. (The actress is called Emma Relph — who was in the 1981 Day of the Triffids and is now apparently an astrologer.)Â The video is embedded below — take a look at the typewriter and photocopier — yet other artefacts don’t seem to have changed too much in 29 years.