Former Labour minister Alan Johnson talks about his new book In My Life
- Credit: Nell Dunn
Former Labour minister Alan Johnson talks about his new book, which tells of his lifelong love for music
The Labour politician Alan Johnson is best-known for having held several Cabinet posts, in the Blair and Brown governments.
But he has told the Herald that if he had achieved his original ambition in life, he would have happily sacrificed his high-profile political career.
Mr Johnson was at Winstone’s Independent Booksellers in Sidmouth last Friday to promote his latest book, In My Life, in which he writes about his first love – music. From an early age he dreamed of becoming a successful musician. He recalls listening to The Light Programme on the radio as a small boy in the 1950s, going to see his hero Lonnie Donegan with his mum, the thrill of acquiring a Dansette record player, and the beginning of his lifetime devotion to The Beatles.
In his teens he also spent an exciting period as guitarist and songwriter for two bands (The Area and The In-Betweens), during an equally exciting time for musical innovation
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“I wanted to describe what it was like to live through that incredible era of music,” he said. “We saw music develop, pop music, from Lonnie Donnegan and skiffle to The Beatles, and their incredible transformation from Love Me Do to Strawberry Fields Forever.”
He also writes evocatively about saving up to buy records and treating them as precious objects.
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“It was an era of music deprivation, you couldn’t listen to much of the music you wanted to hear. If you wanted to hear pop records they were few and far between. The beginning of Radio One in 1967 was a really big moment. Now, of course, we’ve gone from famine to feast.
“I still remember the first records I bought and what labels they were on. And I remember Billy Joel’s Nylon Curtain was the first cassette I bought. So it was vinyl, cassettes, CDs and now back to vinyl again.”
Mr Johnson continued to enjoy music as it evolved, particularly the post-punk phase which produced The Jam, Talking Heads, Tubeway Army and The Police. He also loved Elvis Costello, and in 1982 he recorded some of his own songs on a cassette and sending it to Costello. “I’m still waiting for a reply,” he said, wryly.
In My Life is a wonderful read, funny, self-deprecating and full of detailed musical nostalgia. Mr Johnson may not have achieved his first ambition but he has certainly succeeded in his second – to be a successful writer.