Caught by the River

Soul & Inspiration – Brian Case

9th January 2008

Brian Case – a jazzer and no fan of rock’n’roll – has been, and done, a lot of things in his life, but I doubt you recognize the name.

He’s been a writer for NME and every other ‘head’ mag worth its salt, he’s been a critically-acclaimed author (his 1968 novel The Users – a kind of violent existential English bebop farce– is so good he never wrote another one) and for anyone who’s ever known him he’s been the ultimate source of hipster nods for everything from books (great on crime) to films to records (jazz only, of course).

Along the way, he’s taken live ammo to an Al Pacino interview (it’s a long story…, but his Dad was a copper), abruptly ended a Burt Lancaster press conference by referring to him as Mr. Reynolds, wrestled Will Self to the floor at a book launch (he likes a drink), been hospitalized in the States after taking horse tranquilizers with Ian Dury, been on the road with the Sex Pistols on their first ill-fated UK tour (“Idiots!”) and interviewed Miles Davis in a completely blacked-out room (“I didn’t interview Miles, I interviewed his voice”).

So for over four decades, he’s been consistently in the know about everything worth being in the know about, and he’s always been willing to pass that information on. Yet when they read out the divine roll call of feted music journos – the entrenched canon of Kent, Bangs, Morley, Burchill, Parsons – he never gets a look in. Too jazz, probably. Too contrary, definitely. Which is all a bit of a pain really, because he’s got more talent than all of them.

At this point, I should declare a personal interest. I first met Brian when I was 16. He was a friend of my future wife’s parents and he’d been told that I was into music. By that he assumed jazz (what else is there?). Despite my protestations to the contrary, he followed me round the house simulating the hiss of Max Roach’s hi-hat. Tsk, tsk, tsk! He kept putting on record after record, determined to make me see that this was one of the greatest noises ever. Bearing in mind that at the time I thought I was in the Jesus And Mary Chain, he was up against it. He didn’t care though. He knew he was right. Tsk, tsk, tsk!

I’d never met anyone like Brian. Still haven’t. His love and knowledge for music was all-consuming, as all-consuming as his love for red wine and roll-ups. When he’d finished with music, he’d zigzag over to books or films. He turned me on to some of the great loves of my life – Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Gil Evans, Max Roach (!), the lot.

I haven’t seen him for a couple of years now. It’s a shame because whenever I do, I always come away enriched. Someone, Jeff probably (actually definitely), once said to me that the only meaning of cool was that if you knew something was good, you had to tell someone else about it. That definition makes Brian Case one of the coolest people around. If you see his byline on the bottom of anything, make sure you read it. It’ll be about jazz or pulp fiction or something interesting. Whatever, it’ll be worth it.

James Oldham

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