Mark Radcliffe
Canongate, £16.99
Review by Alastair Mabbott

LAST year, at the age of 60, veteran broadcaster Mark Radcliffe lost his father and underwent treatment for tongue and throat cancer, now in remission. He had, he felt, reached a crossroads in his life. And that got him thinking about musicians who had found themselves at pivotal points “where everything had changed for them personally, but more crucially how these events reverberated beyond the personal, shifting the course of music and influencing generations of artists to come”.

Basically, he fancied a good old natter about pop that packed in as many highlights as possible. The crossroads theme can be so loosely interpreted that it just comes to represent any time pop music took off in a new direction, and most of the selections are fairly standard: Elvis, Hendrix, disco, Kraftwerk, Bob Marley, house, Nirvana, with some quirkier choices such as a chapter devoted to 10cc’s I’m Not in Love thrown in. Top bloke that he is, Radcliffe is no Greil Marcus or Jon Savage, and with 24 chapters to fill he can do no more than skim the surface, much less come up with new angles or insights.

But I did learn a few things. Multi-track recording can be dated as far back as 1922, and Matt Bellamy from Muse’s dad was a guitarist in Joe Meek’s studio band, both of which are pretty amazing. And if I spent most of the time reading it wondering what this book was actually for, that’s because I took the blurb on the cover too literally. Crossroads isn’t so much “in search of the moments that changed music”, than the moments that changed Mark Radcliffe.

Radcliffe's a grounded, approachable broadcaster with a fine line in self-deprecating wit who has rightly earned a large fanbase, and after a serious health scare he wants to regale them with tales of the things that have shaped him and enhanced his life. Yes, all the things he talks about are covered in greater depth elsewhere, but never from the vantage point of someone who once goaded Mike Oldfield into threatening to punch him, watched Nirvana’s legendary Reading Festival set from the side of the stage, listened to Donna Summer faking orgasm while taking down cricket scores at the Bolton Evening News and still fondly remembers watching Genesis performing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety two nights running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

In the chapter entitled Culture Clash, a discussion of Bob Marley does veer somewhat pointlessly into a long digression on whether bands with the word “young” in their names should do the decent thing and drop it. But mostly his daft detours come as wry reminders that, despite being a radio professional for 40 years, he is first and foremost a fan, and not someone to take himself too seriously.

And if a man who has spent decades flying the flag for free-spirited music hasn’t earned the right to tell the one about keen cyclist Florian from Kraftwerk’s preferred “bollock balm”, then who has?