I’ve just finished Wilson Neate’s Wire book ‘Read and Burn’ – for the second time. And despite being a hefty 400+ pages long, my first read of the book was completed in a weekend before re-reading it from the start at a more sedate pace. So it’s fair to say I’m quite taken with it.
‘Read and Burn’ is an in depth look at the career of one of the UK’s most unique acts, told in large part through interviews with most of the main protagonists – not just the band members but many of their close associates.) And it’s a fascinating look at a band who still display much of the creative drive that’s driven them on for much of the last 36 years.
Even though it spans the best part of 4 decades the book rarely feels like it skips significant events. That may be in part due to the fact that it concentrates almost exclusively on Wire’s active periods with the hiatuses and their attendant solo works dealt with only in passing.
It’s an approach that lends a lot of depth to this appraisal of the band. The history in itself is fascinating, not least because of the band’s complex inter-personal relationships. The over-riding impression from the interviews with Newman, Gilbert, Lewis and Grey (certainly after the recording of ‘Chairs Missing’ in 1978) is one of extreme creative tension, particularly, but far from exclusively, between Gilbert and Newman.
One shift discernable over the course of the band’s career has been the transition from a group of artists making a noise in a band to the current incarnation which now appears to be a well run rock band.
That’s a position that Wire could probably have reached far earlier in their career – had they been minded to do so. Yet the missteps and wrong turns seem unavoidable even in retrospect – the decisions that harmed their chances of commercial success seem to have been rooted in the band’s aesthetic of constant change and rarely, if ever,seem to have been controversial within the band.
The interviews featured on the book are all fairly recent which means that this is effectively the story of Wire as recounted from the present day. Which reinforces the book’s subtitle ‘A Book About Wire’ – because there are plenty of other books about Wire which could be written, and one based on contemporary accounts would likley be a different proposition.
Part of the book’s appeal is that Neate himself is not slow to comment throughout – not just on the records, but also on events in the band’s history and even on the band members’ recollections.
The one thing that’s missing from the book is just how four people with such different views on how the band should function have managed to continue as Wire for so long. Occasionally the members hint at that in the interviews but maybe it’s just too complicated for anyone to really explain.
‘Read and Burn’ is one of the most engrossing rock biographies I’ve read. I’d be tempted to suggest that it’s good enough to be read by those with a general interest in rock music. But I suspect that it’s probably a little too long for that.
Still, anyone with an interest in Wire really needs to read this.