Ben Vendetta’s Wivenhoe Park – review

Personally I am with Jarvis Cocker, who takes the view that 80s were quite possibly the worst decade to be young in post war Britain. AIDS, Thatcherism, looming nuclear apocalypse, Stock, Aitken and Waterman – boy did we suffer.

Still there was some great music made in the 80s and almost none of it made by fellas in frilly shirts, angular haircuts and synthesisers. Well in my opinion anyway.

And if you always prefered The Psychedelic Furs and The Bunnymen to A Flock of Seagulls and Erasure you’ll probably really enjoy Wivenhoe Park, the debut ‘novel’ by American writer and record label supremo Ben Vendetta.

I place novel deliberately in speech marks, because this is clearly the autobiography of an anglophile American who in the middle of his University career swapped Detroit for the delights of, umm Colchester.

Exchange students…

During the 80s I met quite a few exchange students from across the pond.Most tended to be ultra conservative types decked out in crisply ironed chinos and pastel Ralph Lauren shirts, who mainly frequented the library rather than the bar as they were saving money for the big end of term blitz in Paris or Rome.

There were however a few who didn’t fit the template, and these tended to be serious students of British indie music, whose passion for Psychocandy and Wilder had propelled them across the Atlantic to provincial British towns like Reading and in my instance, Lancaster. They were lovely people too and I regret the fact that I have lost touch with almost all of them.

wiv park

Ben Vendetta was clearly a member of the latter group and Wivenhoe Park charts his, oops sorry, Drew’s journey from Michigan based runner and chaser of teenage goth girls through to inhabitant of the Brutalist paradise that is the university of Essex in Colchester.

This is classic coming of age stuff. Drew makes friends, hangs out with bands, dates inappropriate girls, takes drugs and whole lot more. But what makes Wivenhoe Park such a joy is that Ben writes in a very engaging way. In particular Drew isn’t your average John Hughes-esque teen novel fodder (I still haven’t forgiven him for what he did to Ducky at the end of Pretty In Pink) . Sure does he stupid things and yes he makes mistakes, especially with the ladies, but he is also, smart, funny and blessed with a Forrest Gump style aptitude to be present at key moments in British indie history.

The Indie Forrest Gump

So he catches Bobby Gillespie on the verge of jettisoning the Mary Chain to indulge his Byrds fantasies in Primal Scream. He hangs out in the Hacienda in its awful mid 80s period, and even spots a Manc gothy band who would one day go on to make the seminal album that even 25 years on still, kind of defines the city. Along the way there are cameos from all sorts of indie chancers from The Cure through to Modern English, and even seminal Medway garage punksters The Dentists. Then there are his wonderful ruminations on the lyrics of his heroes too. Ben’s take on the title of the third Psychedelic Furs album really will make you smile. Sure it all sounds a bit trainspottery, but the quality of the prose means that you don’t have to be have been a fully fledged Anorak clad shambler to enjoy it

Ultimately you are left wondering exactly how much of what ben has written is true. Not that it really matters. If you ever enjoyed High Fidelity, went to a British University in the mid 80s or are counting the days until Cherry Red reissues the legendary C86 compilation (as a two disc set!) you’ll love this.

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