On Wednesday (26 September) I did an event to promote Terry Taylor’s republished novel Baron’s Court, All Change, a book I’ve been championing for the past decade. The book was first issued in hardback back in 1961 when novelists weren’t expected to make endless promotional appearances, so I could appreciate that Terry – who is a very youthful 79 – didn’t want to get involved in all that. I was, however, pleased when he decided to travel down to London for the event. I checked with Terry before we started to see if he was alright with me mentioning he was in the audience, and he said this was okay.
So after a brief introduction from Malcolm Hopkins of Housmans Bookshop in Kings X, I outlined the plot of this classic London youth culture novel and talked a little about Terry’s prose. The story line that most interests me concerns the unnamed 16 year-old modernist jazz freak narrator getting into first smoking and then dealing charge (pot). I found out later after talking to Terry that this strand originally made up the bulk of the novel – but his editors had insisted he add in more of the narrator’s family background. This additional material works well enough but it is more conventional and not as ahead of its time as the rest of the book.
What is truly incredible about Baron’s Court, All Change is the prose – which is really fresh, direct and not at all hung up on literary style. The vitality of the writing really makes it stand out from everything else published in London between the mid-fifties and the mid-sixties. It is on a par with the best of American beat literature but unashamedly written in a working class London accent (with plenty of hipster slang) – and while closer in spirit to Jack Kerouac than the UK’s most famous beat Alex Trocchi, it is just as good as Cain’s Book but very different from Troochi’s more mannered prose! And while I really dig Cain’s Book, I don’t wish I’d actually written it but I do wish I’d written Baron’s Court, All Change!
After I’d rapped for a bit, Iphgenia Baal read one of three passages I’d chosen from the book to break up my talk with a very different voice to my south London monotone. The first passage I’d picked describes Terry’s unnamed narrator having his first taste of wacky baccy. It was fantastic hearing Baron’s Court being read out loud really professionally in front of an audience – it sounded absolutely fabulous. I then talked a bit about some of the legends surrounding Terry before Iphgenia read a passage from his novel set in a jazz club where the unnamed narrator is persuaded he should get into dope dealing. After further words from me, Iphgenia wrapped up our formal – albeit quite casual – presentation of Terry’s novel by reading a section of the book that covers the junkie scene, something the narrator wants nothing to do with….
We took a few questions from the floor and since I wasn’t able to answer them all correctly, Terry filled in from the audience. One question was about why ‘Jazz’ and ‘Charge’ are capitalised throughout the book. My incorrect guess based on my own experience of publishing was that Terry’s editor thought it would make them appear more dramatic. Terry corrected me by saying that the capitalisation was his idea because Jazz and Charge are as important to the narrator as God is to other people. Speaking off-the-cuff from the audience in an event dedicated to him seemed to me like a perfect non-return to public life for Terry Taylor; he writes brilliantly about being a hipster because first and foremost he’s lived his life as one! And like all those who are truly mad for kicks and living life to the full, that’s necessitated him staying out of the spotlight!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!