Select, October 1991

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The Big Wheel

Bruce Thomas

William Shaw

It could be any group, in any hotel, anywhere: "It's the middle of the night and bells are ringing. I get up and run into the Keyboard Player on the landing. We get hold of a fire extinguisher and prepare to be heroes, but we find that it is just the Drummer, who has short-circuited his bedside teamaker by trying to make mulled wine in it, and has somehow triggered an automatic fire alarm…" It just happens to be Elvis Costello And The Attractions, and the deadpan narrator bassist Bruce Thomas.

Now released in paperback, The Big Wheel is a bitter comedy about the inconsequential stupidity of touring. The cast list are himself, the Drummer, the Keyboard Player and the Singer, otherwise known as The Pod ("owing to an increasing tendency to resemble the shape of those creatures from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers"), all of whom have grown to loathe each other within the confines of a tour bus.

And they have hated each other for so long now that even the hatred has become just another form of tedium. Names are never given, but the identities of Pete Thomas, Steve Nieve and Elvis are not hard to discern.

Elvis sits around sulkily, unsmiling and predictably caustic, while the Drummer and the Keyboard Player indulge in desperate bouts of drunkenness and prankery to relieve the hotel room boredom. The boorish Steve Nieve shines out as the person not to invite to your party, whether he's emptying the fish tank in a restaurant, or passing out on the lawn to wake long after the sprinkler system had set about watering the grass.

It sounds fun, but Thomas lets you know it isn't. In nightmare moments he imagines himself locked on a Big Wheel that'll never stop.

Doubtless the product of a dozen intermittently kept tour diaries, it's a hilarious blend of alcohol-induced surrealism and sharp-eyed observation.

Terrified that this dumb acting is all life holds for the jobbing musician, he chronicles the gulf between the fun that everyone thinks touring should be, and the interminable adolescent hell that it really is.

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Select, October 1991

William Shaw reviews The Big Wheel.


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Photo by Ed Sirrs.
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