THE phrase “How does it feel?” recalls Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. His “complete unknown” “with no direction home” well describes the itinerant musicians who populate Mark Kermode’s memoir. Kermode — film critic for the BBC and The Observer — takes the title of his book, however, from a song in the 1975 film Slade in Flame. Recalling his 11-year-old self hearing Noddy Holder singing “How does it feel? Runnin’ around round round. . .”, Kermode writes: “It felt pretty good. All I wanted to do was to form a band.”
That first schoolboy group was called The Spark Plugs, in which Kermode was the pianist — “in the loosest possible sense”. On the basis of an article in Everyday Electronics, he built his first guitar.
A firm “do-it-yourself” ethic permeates this entertaining journey through Kermode’s shadow career. Unschooled, but driven by enthusiasm, he settled into skiffle, a style of music requiring knowledge of just three chords and the possession of a cheap guitar, a tea-chest bass, and a washboard. When he was busking with The Railtown Bottlers, Kermode’s finger ends would split and bleed all over his double bass; so he subsequently played while wearing gardening gloves. In 2013, his “hillbilly/skiffle set-up” The Dodge Brothers recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. They played Greenbelt in 2010, and Glastonbury in 2014.
Tamsin LarbyMark Kermode (third from left) busking with The Railtown Bottlers in Castlefield, Manchester. From the book
“How does it feel?” records a lifetime of onstage thrills and spills. Beguilingly, Kermode never shies away from a challenge. The book opens with his standing in the spotlight at the Royal Festival Hall in front of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, about to play the theme from Midnight Cowboy on a harmonica — a task for which he is under-qualified and poorly rehearsed.
Whenever asked to try something new, Kermode responds, “How hard can it be?” That question reveals the philosophy at the heart of this amusing and engaging book.
The Revd John Davies is Priest-in-Charge of Clapham with Keasden and Austwick with Eldroth, in the diocese of Leeds.
How Does it Feel? A life of musical misadventures
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10