Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 March 2019 from Orenda Books
Welcome to the Heady Heights …
It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever…
Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, and immediately seizes the opportunity to aim for the big time. With dreams of becoming a musical impresario, he creates a new singing group called The High Five with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. The plan? Make it to the final of Heady’s Saturday night talent show, where fame and fortune awaits…
A hilarious, poignant nod to the elusiveness of stardom, in an age when ‘making it’ was ‘having it all’, Welcome to the Heady Heights is also a dark, laugh-out-loud comedy, a poignant tribute to a bygone age and a delicious drama about desperate men, connected by secrets and lies, by accidents of time and, most of all, the city they live in.
I am thrilled to be starting the blogtour for this marvelous book. As I was reading it, one question kept threading through my mind. If it was a sandwich, what kind of a sandwich would it be?
It’s 1976 and 52 year old Archie Blunt is contemplating the world from the Necropolis, Glasgow’s 37 acre multi-faith cemetery housing over 50,000 bodies and itself something of a monument to Freemasonry. Archie is a bus conductor, though that’s about to change. As he sits, surrounded by his bevvy of beauties, aka the lassies on the lager cans, he dreams of making his fortune.
Archie is just one of the vivid, colourful characters to populate David Ross’s vibrant and dynamic world. A glass half-full kind of a man, as long as that glass has some kind of alcohol in it, Archie will be content. He’s one of life’s optimists and whenever life conspires to bring him down, he’ll aye find a reason to get back up again, encouraged by Jim Rockford, his ever present invisible friend who’s been with him since his wife Betty died.
Archie hasn’t had what you’d call a lot of luck and yet, although his life seems to be full of losers (and Rangers supporters) like Bobby Souness, he still thinks he has a shot at the big time.
The same can’t really be said for either Barbara Sherman (aka The Tank) a WPC in Tobago Street Police station or for Gail Proctor, a freelance journalist in search of the biggest story of her career.
In the East End of Glasgow WPC Sherman is a rarity and her colleagues see her as a joke, fit only for missing pets and accompanying the wife of Glasgow’s most prominent MP, Jamesie Campbell, on her shopping trips. Gail doesn’t have a commission, but she is certainly on a mission, though it’s not bearing the fruit she might have hoped. Following Big Jamesie Campbell around is her personal quest for some kind of payback for her journalist Uncle Alec’s death.
Ross presents us with a plethora of vividly drawn characters full of brio, menace and the general bampottery of Glasgow’s East End petty villains and some not quite so petty. I swear I knew Big Jamesie Campbell, or at least two of the people that went into making his character so horribly lifelike.
Jamesie is one of those larger than life politicians who get things done. His generosity is applauded far and wide, usually led by him, and if he makes a few shillings from it, who can blame him?
Archie thinks he has won a watch when he ends up working as a driver for Big Jamesie and is thereby introduced to Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, the biggest light entertainment star in TV with his own show named after him. The Heady Heights is a talent show; forerunner of the X-Factor type and when Archie intervenes to save him from a doin’, he knows he has to be onto a good thing.
Alas, poor Archie has no way of knowing he has fallen in with more than the petty thieves and vagabonds he knows well enough. This is the big league and the crimes are brutal, sordid, abhorrent and unforgiving and the perpetrators all too good at covering each other’s backs.
In an era when Savile was just getting started on television, and Jeremy Thorpe resigned after a major scandal, these were the men who knew they were powerful enough to get away with murder.
As Archie connives to make the most of his opportunity, Gail and Barbara Sherman are also following the trail left by Big Jamesie and his cohorts.
These are big, bold, largely writ characters you know, even if you can’t love them – though you have to admire their optimism. Like a Howson painting, these are faces that stay etched in your memory, their crags and depths showing every moment of their trials and sorrows.
David Ross has painted a brash and coruscating picture that brings life to his subjects, even where hope is a step too far. The humour is rich, excruciatingly funny and welcoming in a sometimes pitch dark landscape. This is undoubtedly David Ross’s best book yet and it even comes with its own excellent playlist.
Verdict: The Heady Heights is a delicious, meaty sandwich, layered with glistening pickles, hot and fiery to the tongue. It packs a real punch and brings tears to your eyes and its bloody delicious.
David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over thirty years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social media commentator, author and enabler by night. His most prized possession is a signed Joe Strummer LP. Since the publication of his debut novel The Last Days of Disco, he’s become something of a media celebrity in Scotland, with a signed copy of his book going for £500 at auction, and the German edition has not left the bestseller list since it was published.