An engrossing character study with strong thriller elements, The Mud Dance by Neil Grimmett vividly brings to life a pair of working-class British rock-n-rollers trying to make it to the ‘big time’ in the 1970s. The music scene at that time was dominated by ‘supergroups’ like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Humble Pie, and featured ever-wilder tales of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll involving the bands and their groupies.
The chapters are named for songs of the period that help describe the events unfolding in that section. Each chapter also begins with a introduction set in the present where Kenny, our guide through the story, plays in a seedy music club by the seaside. Kenny’s a gifted drummer who became a ‘local hero’ more than once as his musical fortunes rose and fell. He’s now teamed up with a new keyboardist whose playing brings back some deeply-buried memories.
Those memories center on Kenny’s relationship with his former best friend and music partner, Larry. They meet in school and discover a mutual interest in music, though Kenny’s passion for the art seems to come from a purer place. Kenny senses Larry has some dark secrets, but still follows the highly-skilled keyboardist as he forms and then breaks-up a few bands. Losing himself in the music seems to be Kenny’s only ambition while Larry’s motivations are as murky as his ego is large.
Watching Kenny grow as a person, in the present and the past, is one of the pleasures of this book. He starts out in the past somewhat unformed, and his willingness to play second fiddle to Larry is a bit frustrating. But as events unfold and he is faced with making some difficult choices, he begins to come into his own. With the aging rocker version of Kenny, we realize something has happened to undo much of that. The only way to find out what is to take a journey through the past with him.
Having read and greatly enjoyed Mr. Grimmett’s debut novel, The Threshing Circle (my review), I was not surprised to find the story told with clear and wonderfully evocative prose. I found myself constantly drawn back to this book, picking up my Kindle whenever a free moment allowed. As readers who enjoy a good story well told, we are all the worse off for his passing.
One note for those who don’t like adult language. There is some pretty strong (to our current ears) cursing that is accurate to the period and the place, and vulgarity. If you’re bothered by that, perhaps take a pass.