Larry Rhodes Death – Keith Martin wrote and sang a song in memory of his friend Larry Rhodes who passed away at a young age. The song “memory of Larry Rhodes” inspired Andrew O’Hagan’s book “Mayflies.” Larry Rhodes died in 2002 after battling an undisclosed illness, while Keith Martin was confirmed dead in 2018. “Some folk might not achieve renown beyond their place of upbringing, but their influence goes far and wide. Keith Martin was the inspiration for Andrew O’Hagan’s beautiful book Mayflies & he was also central to the inception of Butcher Boy Music,” a fan of Keith said.
Andrew O’Hagan’s book Mayflies
Andrew O’Hagan: ‘If you are honest, you never stop being who you were’
The writer’s new novel, Mayflies, is an elegy to a teenage friend. Here he talks about growing up in working-class Ayrshire, going against the grain and the spirit of 80s post-punk
Every teenager, or every teenager who is lucky, has a Keith. Keith is the friend who jokes and dresses with more swagger than anyone else, who looks out for misfits and makes them feel understood, who is the scourge of bullies and bigots and the master of revels, who can conjure laughs from thin air on nights when you are bored and skint.
Andrew O’Hagan met his Keith – Keith Martin – on the council estate near Irvine new town, on the coast of Ayrshire, 20 miles from Glasgow, where they both grew up. In the 1980s they went on CND protests and miners’ marches together, they were a wayward double-act chatting up girls, and while O’Hagan was still at school and Martin was working as a lathe-turner in a local factory, they formed a band. Thirty years later, with none of that history forgotten, it was O’Hagan who Keith Martin first called with the news no one wants to share; that he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and that they had at best only four months of friendship left.
By then, Martin, largely at O’Hagan’s prompting, had long ago left his factory job to become an inspired and inspiring English teacher in a Glasgow secondary school. He died in 2018 aged 51. Two years on O’Hagan is publishing a novel, Mayflies – both life-loving and elegiac – written with his mate closely in mind. The book is in two halves. The first inhabits that 1980s world of record shops and dole queues and teenage kicks, and centres on a memorable weekend when Martin and O’Hagan (Tully and Jimmy in the novel) ventured south on pilgrimage to a music festival featuring the Fall and the Smiths and New Order, organised by Factory Records. “We came into Manchester like air into Xanadu,” O’Hagan writes.
The second half of the novel begins in another place entirely – O’Hagan’s own current London literary world – with Jimmy coming home to his house in Primrose Hill from the book launch of a dissident Hungarian novelist in Eaton Square. It is there, armed only with a glass of scotch, that he gets the call from Tully with the fateful news.
When novelists write books that are intimately close to home, they tend to lean on the clause that it’s all made up; O’Hagan is keener to stress that this one – much more than his previous five novels – is nearly all true. The death of his oldest friend gave him no choice, he says, but to put aside the fiction he had been writing for several years – a big Dickensian-sounding novel, set in the present-day divisions of Islington’s Caledonian Road – to make some emotional sense of those last months. As Jimmy observes, when Tully was not around, the rest of the gang always unravelled too: “That’s teenage love isn’t it? When the party is less fun because your mate is the party.”
You can see some of that lost love in the photos that O’Hagan has kept of their band, which had a name for the ages, the Big Gun. Martin was spike-haired on vocals, O’Hagan shoehorned in as percussionist “shaking a tambourine and trying to look cool”. Despite a brilliant writing career that has included international prizes and visiting professorships, O’Hagan says no accolade has come close to matching the excitement he felt on hearing the Big Gun’s one and only single played on John Peel’s Radio 1 show in 1986.
You made your friends at bus stops with people who had the same mission: heading to town to buy the new Smiths record “The five of us were all gathered round the radio in Irvine with our quiffs when the record came on,” he recalls. “At the end Peel said, and I quote: ‘Melody arrives unheralded into the programmed, that’s the Big Gun from Ayrshire. I must say I like that immoderately.’ The five of us were punching the air, and wondering what ‘immoderately’ meant.”
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