In the summer of 1986 I was twelve years old, and just getting into music. For my sins I used to buy the now sadly departed Smash Hits magazine religiously. One week, in amongst glossy, colourful images of the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna And Spandau Ballet, I came across a spread featuring two of the most miserable looking bastards I had ever seen. Black clothes, dyed black hair, eyeliner, drainpipe jeans, boots. Just looking at them you got the impression they were dangerous. Not to be fucked with. It was almost like they were the antidote to the preening pop glossiness that littered the musical landscape at the time. Looking back, they obviously spent a lot of time and effort trying to look like they didn’t give a shit. Whatever. In a time when image was everything (not so different to 2014, then) they stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the Jesus and Mary Chain, and I was hooked instantly, before I’d even heard any of their songs.
A few days or weeks later I was listening to the Radio 1 chart show on a Sunday afternoon, and one song stood out. It was called Some Candy Talking. Yep, It was the Mary Chain again. Some people say that particular song its about heroin. The band deny it, but they would, wouldn’t they? At the time I didn’t care. I didn’t even know what heroin was. All I knew was that single was fucking epic, and unlike anything else around at the time. I knew they had an album out, which would have been Psychocandy, and rushed out to buy it. But the single wasn’t on the album. Not on the cassette, anyway (it was on the CD, but I don’t think I had a CD player). What the fuck? Who doesn’t put their hit singles on their albums? After a while I realized that Psychocandy had been released the year before, and Some Candy Talking was from an EP of new material. No problem, I thought, it’ll be on the next album. But it wasn’t. That next album was Darklands, and I bought it anyway, because by that time April Skies had been released, which is truly one of the best songs ever written. I didn’t get to own Some Candy Talking until the 21 Singles compilation came out in 2002, still an essential album. Anyway, enough about the music. What about the book?
Zoe Howe is a dedicated music writer, and does a fantastic job of bringing the Mary Chain story to life, charting their rise from a council estate in East Kilbride to their creative and commercial peak, and then back down again. She writes in a sympathetic, accessible style, and while she is obviously a fan, she doesn’t allow this to colour her opinions too much. It’s painstakingly researched, with input from many of the main players in the story, including Jim Reid (the nice one). Also included are a comprehensive discography and a timeline, which helps you put everything in context in the grand scheme of things.
At its core, Barbed Wire Kisses is an archetypal rock n’ roll story of love and success, debauchery and violence, of two waster brothers being given the keys to the world and throwing them away in a drunken rage. The Mary Chain had the spiky attitude of the Sex Pistols, and the unabashed creativity of the Velvet Underground. Predictably, the story effectively ends in an acrimonious split whilst on an American tour in 1999, with William and Jim Reid both paying a heavy price for years of substance abuse. Like a shooting star, they were never meant to last. Happily, though, after years of avoiding each other they briefly reunited in 2007 to record a song for the Heroes soundtrack. It was called All Things Must Pass, which is weirdly prophetic when you think about it. A new album was rumoured to be in the works, but we are still waiting for that. They are, however, back on the road this winter to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Psychocandy, the album that should have had Some Candy talking on it but didn’t. Unless you bought the CD.