Is there anything more British than our nation’s small towns? Holed up in far-flung reaches, but also nestled cutely below the spectre of big cities, they are quaint, quiet affairs. Often chastised for being too quiet, a slow meandering existence where Wetherspoons monopolise the nightlife and Superdry the fashion. But is there more? A different kind of existence bubbling under the surface?
It is this relationship that provides the backdrop to Small Town Chase, Nick Power’s debut literary offering, a wildly immersive collection of short stories, lyrics and poems on life in the shadow of the big city. Teenage boredom, drugs, love, local ‘characters’ and everything in between make it pretty much a microcosm of life on the Wirral paradise peninsula and how it relates to that of our majestic neighbour.
“I think of it as being about a town and a city and how they relate to each other,” offers Nick. “So the way that Hoylake relates to Liverpool and the city is the big black hole sucking everything in. People who have never lived here would never know the difference between the two, but there are a lot of subtle differences that you pick up on. Maybe it’s the water.”
The book’s creation began a long way back. Much further back than the recent hiatus of the hugely successful band he and a few mates from the small Wirral town of Hoylake started in school, The Coral. “I have always been writing but couldn’t get down what I wanted to say about stuff in a verse or chorus format. So I just wrote it down. When the band stopped touring they all did solo stuff and I got into it more.”
The Coral were notorious home birds. Number One albums and a string of hit singles is usually aa ripe excuse for any young musician to dart away from their hometown to the big smoke, but The Coral stayed exactly where they were, taking in the hidden charms, odd characters, myths and legends that not only define them as a band (Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker being an obvious illustration) but also define Small Town Chase. Since The Coral’s self-imposed hiatus, Jay and Ian (Skelly) have turned out solo albums, with the others busying themselves with a wide variety of other music-related projects. But Nick’s output is a very different proposition.
Its story is a unique one. With the book nearing completion, Nick was approaching publishers to secure a release when the disturber of the North, Margret Thatcher, died. The ever-marvellous Gordon Burns was in the field gauging public opinion for TV and interviewed a Liverpool-based publisher. Nick saw the interview, Googled the name, discovered erbacce-press and got in touch. He entered a publishing competition which they were running to release a chap-book, but his work was that good they agreed to a full release, buying into his style, idea and vision. A strange and unique beginning, fitting in that much of the content centres around the strange and unique inhabitants of a strange little peninsula over the way.
“Loads of ones [pieces in Small Town Chase] are just about people who I heard about growing up, but I would be obsessed with it and think about it for days. Then it becomes something different in your head to what it actually is. If you actually end up meeting them it was always a lot worse than what I wanted it to be. It usually starts from something I have heard then gets wildly exaggerated. Even though I love going to Liverpool – it’s a writer’s paradise in some ways – but when you get into the sticks things change. It’s like both sides of the coin; things get weirder as you get out. More backwards but in a good way.”
Morrisey and Springsteen provide visceral, romantic interpretations of small-town life (though it is impossible to escape Springsteen’s rabid desire to escape it). Musicians write about what they know about, which is crucial to Small Town Chase being genuine and endearing literary-wise. But interpretation is crucial: “I would hate people to think that I was only writing about stuff exactly as I saw it. It’s always made a lot more grotesque or prettier than it actually is.”
The late Lou Reed was vocal about the love of city life and the city loved him for it. It is ironic that the book’s name is taken from the great man, albeit in a secondary way: “Years ago I was listening to The Velvet Underground’s, Run Run Run. In it he [Lou Reed] says something like, ‘Gonna get me a small town taste’, and it stuck in my head. ‘Did he say small town chase there?’. That was when I was about 17 and I said to myself if I ever do a book I’m going to call it that. I misheard it. ‘Hatchet Harry can’t get no small town taste’ or something like that.”
For Nick, songwriting came secondary to writing in a more general sense. There are often times within Small Town Chase where the line between song and poem is blurred, an example being Blackout.
Jesus Christ, returns briefly, for the Blackout
former Miss World, sees the mirror crack in the Blackout
Midnight mass, say ten Hail Mary’s in the Blackout
Rosa – lee, reads the news upside-down in the Blackout (excerpt)
Obviously, music bears a great weight upon the book, but there are also wide-ranging literary influences. Dylan Thomas, Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Finnigans Wake, the Mersey Poets and American border towns. It’s hard to avoid the distinct similarities that are drawn with American underbelly towns and their relationship to the cities that take all their good young minds, but which ultimately provide their lifeblood, encapsulating the community, weirdness, individuality and unique qualities that come to define a region (laid out clearly in the Caravan Gallery’s, Is Britain Great? series, if anybody would care to explore further). There is a similar caricature, comic-book quality throughout Small Town Chase, which is ultimately informed by Nick’s love of Alan Moore, in particular John Constantine – the anti-hero from the hugely successful DC series Hellblazer. “Constantine is my favourite comic character ever, because he’s from round here. He’s a magician but he always beats the devil in a really scally way. It’s boss. He will call the devil a beaut or something like that.”
Constantine is a representation of the ordinary, in an extraordinary way. Every city has those who are ultimately born to spoil their own show, their fake Paddy McAloons. Life is a stage and we are born to perform. Small towns may on the outside appear as the last bastion of the painfully ordinary; cauldrons bubbling with the underachievers who are still living with their mums well into their 30s; living next door to the overachievers who have made enough money to put a little distance between themselves and work. But if Small Town Chase tells us one thing – it is to look a little closer.