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Joan’s true life tales are better than fiction
In 2005 I went to a cottage just outside Skipton to interview Mike Lamb, who in the late 1950s ran the popular music venue The Students' Club - now under the tarmac of Prince's Way, near The Odeon.
There I was introduced to Joan Komlosy. As Joan Kilshaw - she was born and raised in Bradford - she had served soft drinks behind the club's bar.
Later she dabbled in song-writing and interviewed Rock stars such as Bryan Adams, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson for popular music magazines and radio. In 1997, she married Don Powell, founder of and drummer for 1970s rock band Slade. Their marriage was over within three years.
What could otherwise pass as interesting but superficial anecdotal chat serves a purpose. Part of Joan's life forms the basis for Cracking Up, her first novel, which she describes as a "fictional memoir".
But the line between fiction and autobiography is pretty thin, I suspect. When Joan's alter ego, Lily Francis, has a go at introducing Bob Geldof to Prince in a posh London club, but the diminutive star hides behind his manager. She can't resist naming the big names - everyone else is given another identity.
In another episode, Shadows guitarist and vocalist Bruce Welch turns up at Lily/Joan's London flat to do a radio interview only for workmen in surrounding apartments to let fly with a cacophony of hammers and drills. Again, I suspect this is a diary excerpt brought in to give the text a bit of body, a feeling of lived reality, because the author is a better chronicler than she is an inventor of stories. What's more, she knows it.
In the hands of a Nell Dunn or Helen Fielding, say, Joan's bits of autobiography would have been extenuated, exaggerated and turned into the kind of picaresque romp the book needs to be; a cross between Poor Cow and Bridget Jones's Diary. The material has potential; for example, as a series of letters.
As it is, however, Cracking Up is dull stuff. The writing is witty and sparky enough and Joan has an ear for dialogue; but the material to hand has not been transformed as it might so easily have been. Scraps of songs, and bits of reportage about Bradford, Salts Mill and its late owner Jonathan Silver are illustrative but have little else to offer. It doesn't matter how many times the flat floods or workmen cause an inconvenience in the bathroom: the mere recital of these episodes is not enough.
Joan's original intention was to write an amusing autobiography but did not consider herself enough of a celebrity to attract sales. The semi-compromise she settled for should have been discouraged by the publisher, for the result is neither one thing nor the other. Memoir would have been a more accurate description had Joan focused less on the daily ups and downs of her flimsily fictional character Lily and more on the real showbiz characters she mentions.
The back cover carries endorsements by horror writer James Herbert, popular musician and former The Tube presenter Jools Holland and adventurer extraordinaire Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Joan could also have added comments from former Rolling Stones bass man Bill Wyman and the late Countdown presenter Richard Whiteley. All of them read the first two chapters which are based on Joan's brief marriage to Don Slade' Powell.
- Cracking Up, by Joan Komlosy, is published by Matador and priced at £7.99