The pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

 

The Pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

English fiction

Source – personal copy

I review another of the lesser known books from Anthony Burgess this has actually just been reissued by Manchester university press as part of the Irwell series. In fact, if you order the books now there is 50% off for next week or so . I have all the books they have reissued barring Beard roman women and Puma (although I have the end of the world news which puma is a part of the book now removed into a separate sci-fi novel).This book was near the end of Burgess life and in a way was maybe more personal than his other books as it is set in Manchester and one of the main characters had the same job as a piano player as Burgess own father had. Music has been a large part of Burgess life he considered his own music more of an accomplishment than his writing.

My father wasn’t really getting married. What he was going to do was just live with a woman who kept a pub, a woman separatedfrom her husband,her husband had gone off with a young girl, a barmaid I think it was. The woman had had the pub licence from the husband who had died previously , not the one who’d gone off.The pub was called the grapes though it sold no wine except port and sherry, it was in a slummy district it was big and full of brass rails and it had two singing rooms as they were called.

This remond me of the pub in the northern based comedy Early doors like this pub an old pub for the working man the sort that is dying out now.

As I said this book is partly based in Manchester it has two storylines that are in the present which at the time the book was written well earlier maybe but sometime between the late sixties and eighties we meet Ellen Henshaw she is a madam on the French coast her life goes back to the backstreets of Manchester and the story of her fatherBilly  a drunken cinema piano player. He is one of the men that made the music to the silent films before sound took off and  played in pubs as well as she follows him from Manchester through places like Blackpool and the Lancashire mill towns in the ups and downs of his life as the cinema jobs dry up and he starts to fall down the bottle some more this leads to the latter half of the book which is Ellen’s own journey from a convent girl to the sort after girl to spend the time with for money as that career wanes she starts a school of love.

This maggie had a snub nose and a bit of a double chin coming on, but she had these very lovely legs, I’ll say thart for the little bitch. They were very long and you could seethem right up to her bottom, and they were in sheer black silk stockings with the seam absolutely straught at the back.They were beautiful legs, and she didn’t deserve to have them. They were like the legs you see much more of post-war legs having got longer due to better nutriment or Marshall aid or something,My dad played a song for her, nut while she did her bit of monolougue i couldn’t helo notice that he kept looking at these legs

When he has to do Vaudeville with an older act but with great legs as he points out here.

This is a personal book the best character is Billy which is based on Burgess own father who like Billy was a piano player then there is a connection with Ellen who had escaped England which is something that Burgess had done himself in his later years he lived in Tax exile all around Europe. This is a comic lament of a world that is long gone of men playing along to films trying to stay sober to the end of the film and the coming of the talkies meaning they had to leave Manchester and head to the Vaudeville stages that were still around at that time and these pubs with piano players. Maybe not his best book after the death of Billy Ellen story is maybe less believable than that of Billys. But the book is worth reading as the first part evokes those years of piano players in the cinema and how hard it was to improvise to the films there is a number of passages around the musical  notes he played not being musical I not sure how good they were but Burgess was a composer so I expect them to be accurate. Have you read any of Burgess lesser novels I have a lot more to get through by him but this is a fun book by him .

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