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Fall River: the playlist

As always, the soundscape of the novel

Once again, social realism in a playlist. Like characters and situations in a big, lovelysocial-realist novels (think Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance or Ngugi waThiong’o’s Petals of Blood) the songs here sit side by side in socialand cultural relation. Their juxtaposition illuminates effects of culture, expression and power. I call what I did in Fall River magic socialrealism. The novel has effects that certainly aren’t realist, but it also uses the tools of social realism. It’s characters and relationships are emblematic of broader social relations. In character psychology, we are invited to identify and to understand how it feels to be in various positions inside those relations.

So, this isn’t a list of songs I love, though I do like someof them, but a picture of the social and cultural landscape of the novel. Most of these songs or artists here are mentioned in particular scenes in the novel and stand in for moments in the cultural life of these characters. The first and
last song aren’t mentioned, but are there for the feels, and because they are part of my own early experience in the UK in the late 90s.


Portishead - Roads

This is the soundtrack to the novel’s opening scene. Since Ifirst heard this track in around 1996, it has called up for me the sense of
those edge places in Britain, places on the edges both geographically and
socially. Its soundscape and its lyrics also speak both to Alice’s situation
there and to the novel as a whole. ‘Can’t anybody see, we’ve got a war to


Tammy Wynette – Stand by your Man

Tamara Jinks is haunted by this song, which caused her name tobe shortened in 1968, when she was twelve years old. Ever since this creepy
feminist backlash hit the charts, Tamara has been called Tammy. Her
Americanised nickname, and character responses to it, are the occasion for an
exploration of class-inflected responses to American culture, as either desire
or disdain. ‘She made that face people like her make when they say the word
“American”’. Incidentally, when I’ve played this song for anyone under 40, they’ve
said, ‘Yes, but isn’t she being ironic?’ Ah, blissful ignorance.

Rudimental (feat. Sinéad Harnett) - Home

What I trawl I had through the charts of 2014. Verydepressing, which is maybe the point. I liked this, though. Conflicted feelings
about that experience of the place we call ‘home’ shape so much of the novel. As
so many migrants do, my daughter and I use the word home to mean different
things, depending on where we are standing when we utter the word. Home is ‘not
here’, rather than ‘here’ for us, I suppose. Anyway, Jo uses this track behind
the credits for one of her early films. She, Khadija and Alice all have those compulsions
toward and away from ‘home’ that shape so many of us.


London Grammar - If You Wait (ShyFX remix)

I am lucky enough to be a university lecturer, and thus havemy finger right on the cultural pulse. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) Some of my
former students are still in touch and doing amazing things. When I was writing
this novel, and also behaving like a good little author with a twitter account,
I asked on there, ‘You’re in a club off Brixton Road. It’s 2014 and the
promoters are aiming for that baby Guardian-reader demographic who spend hours
dressing like they don’t give a shit how they’re dressed. What’s on the deck?’ I
think it was the wondrous Aimée Bea Ballingerwho replied, ‘The ShyFX remix of London Grammar’. Thanks, Aimée!

Fleetwood Mac – The Chain

Khadija’s friend Nik mixes some Fleetwood Mac in that sameclub. Khadija is unimpressed and says it was like being at home with her mum. Nik says it was ironic. Because Brixton in 2014. You can excuse any speech or behaviour by calling it ironic. This is a landmark pop album, anyway, innit?

Iggy Azalea, Charlie XCX – Fancy

This time, I asked my daughter and her friends, because theyknew this club (Revolution in Plymouth) at this time. What’s on the deck there in 2014? This was one of my available choices. As soon as I heard it, I thought, this would be Jo’s favourite song, for sure. It focuses her whole
sense of confidence as well as her desiring fantasies, her whole relationship to media consumerism.

Pulp – Common People
You’ll guess that this is for the scene where Jo meets Max,with the whole dynamic described by Cocker rendered upside down and sideways in the novel. And, you know, this just had to be in the novel somewhere, didn’t it? It’s the whole story in six minutes. Aldo, in case you missed this
wonderful piece of political irony at the time, here you are. You’re welcome.

All Saints – Under the Bridge

Now we are in 2010. Khadija and Jo are young, having aconversation about Jo’s desires and intentions and about Khadija’s imminent move to London. Jo’s fantasies are shaped by popular music and television. These are her available models, and it’s important to understand that, I think.
This is what is offered her in the shaping of her imagination. Here’s the thing, I actually contemplated leaving them off this playlist. Once again, I trawled through what would have been available in that cultural moment, trying to select something I could live with on the playlist – which is exactly not the point, of course. That is to say, that I am just as much imprisoned as anyone by
the ideas of cultural value I’m critiquing. I think the word for that might be hypocrite.


Duffy – Mercy

Managed to get someone Welsh on there! Buffy’s brief momentof fame was in 2008, fresh in Jo’s memory. Mae’n Gymraes Gymraeg,hefyd!

Cornershop – Good Ships

I put this here for that scene during the novel’s denouementwhen Khadija and Jo are down at the bottom of Forder exorcising their grief. As Jo tries to explain to a well-meaning lecturer earlier in the novel, they come through everything because they have each other. At bottom, that is their
measure of value. The novel ends on a note that’s at least half hopeful. Young children of immigrants like Mo and Khadija and cultural workers like Jo might just save us. Of necessity, these people have a more complex view of culture and power. They wouldn’t survive without it. This is another one of those albums that calls back my early experience of Britain in the late 90s. A
tremendous piece of work, ruined for everyone by that terrible Fatboy Slim remix of Brimful of Asha, which is all anyone remembers.