Tag Archives: autobiography

Book review: ‘Noise Damage – My Life as a Rock ‘n’ Roll Underdog’ by James Kennedy

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

I’ve not just got a passing interest in rock autobiographies. I positively devour them. Pretty much anyone I admire who puts one out these days will tend to end up on my reading list sharpish. Usually, though, it’s people whose careers I follow, whose albums I buy and whose concerts I go to. James Kennedy is none of these. I was vaguely aware of his former band Kyshera but they were around at a time when I was insanely busy in my work life and any downtime would be spent listening to familiar favourites rather than seeking out new bands. To be honest I had to google Kyshera to give myself any idea of what they sounded like or, indeed, who the aforementioned Mr Kennedy actually is. His memoir turned out to be every bit as gripping as those of my heroes, however.

Born in 1980, Kennedy is a talented kid from a poor background in South Wales. “I am thankful for having cultured, lefty, weed-smoking atheists for parents, continually blasting out Pink Floyd, Zappa, Kate Bush and Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he shares with us, nicely dispelling those tedious one-dimensional caricatures of working class culture that are constantly being sold to us by Red Wall-chasing Tory politicians these days.

Kennedy then finds himself entering a world of professional music at a time when the traditional industry model as we knew it was rapidly imploding. He is not one to get nostalgic for the old ways, however. Fairly early on in the book he sets out his stall thus:

“We have the ability to create, record, produce, release and promote our art, all from our bedroom with no interference, censorship or bullshit from any third parties, and share it with the world for hardly any cost. How we make any money doing this is the new problem.”

The subsequent two-thirds of Noise Damage is then pretty much devoted to that very problem of not making any money. From heinous scams by criminal promoters to unfeasible hours holding down a multiplicity of jobs Kennedy paints a detailed picture of a life that, while bursting with creativity, friendship and critical acclaim on the one hand, gets worn down by years of grim conditions, constant back-stabbings and an absence of anything approaching stability on the other.

The book is an absolute must-read for anyone attempting a career in music (certainly anyone without wealthy parents or an independent income). However, there’s enough self-reflection, critical evaluation and good-natured humility to make this a genuinely powerful testimony on a highly personal level. Noise Damage is Kennedy’s first book. Let’s finally hope he makes some money out of it.

Published 18th October 2020 by Eye Books

http://eye-books.com/books/noise-damage

‘Confess’ by Rob Halford – a gay heavy metal fan reviews the Metal God’s autobiography

I’ve read enough rock autobiographies over the years to know the score: boy from working class background, boy joins a band, struggles along for a few years, makes it big, fame, alcohol and/or drug addiction, groupies galore, several wives, numerous girlfriends, sobriety, reflection and, finally, publishing deal. Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford’s ‘Confess’, however, is a rock confessional with a difference. The wives and girlfriends are notable by their absence and Halford tells his tale as an out and proud gay man.

As someone who became a Judas Priest fan not long after my dad brought home a newly-released copy of ‘British Steel’ back when I was a young teenager, and as someone who has known they were gay from around that same time I was particularly keen to read Halford’s memoir.

Halford’s down-to-earth-working class upbringing in Walsall is easy to identify with. Coincidentally, although the two have never met, he lived just a couple of streets away from Noddy Holder’s family home, another musical hero of mine. Indeed, many of the place names were already familiar to me from Holder’s own autobiography. (The pub that Halford mentions as the location of his local bus stop as a kid is the same pub where the classic Slade foursome held their first ever rehearsal – trivia fans).

As Halford starts to metamorphosis from council estate kid to heavy metal rock god I certainly felt a sense of exhilaration as his dreams are achieved – such as the era-defining success of that iconic British Steel album, for example.

For much of the book, though, I also felt a sense of immense sadness. This paragraph, where he reflects on the state of his life in 1980 – by which time he was in his late 20s – is a telling one:

“It was five years since I’d been seeing Jason. Apart from the odd snatched random fumble I had been alone ever since… not just alone but forced to supress my longings, my needs, myself.”

When I think back to my own life at that stage, I had already met my partner. We’d bought a flat and been living together for several years by then. I was born fifteen years after Halford and my modest brush with life in the public eye never obliged me to hide my own sexuality. However, it’s not difficult to really grasp the pain and evident loneliness that Halford was going through. He does eventually find personal as well as professional fulfilment albeit that there are dysfunctional relationships, tragedy addiction along the way.

There is also a fair bit of revelatory gossip and down to earth black country humour to keep the reader entertained. However, there are a many segments that are deeply, deeply moving, too: Halford’s obvious joy at the emotions he experiences performing sober for the first time, the palpable relief he feels when he first publicly comes out back in the late 90s and the excitement he feels reuniting with Priest in the early 00s.

‘Confess’ does not always make for easy reading. There is a real sadness to parts of it but Rob Halford’s warmth and humanity shine through. Absolutely one of the best rock biogs in ages.

Published: Headline Publishing 29th September 2020

Related posts:

Album review : Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

Live review: Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 2015

Live review: Les Binks’ Priesthood at Minehead 2020