With a foreword by punk poet John Cooper Clarke, and a subtitle of ‘Tales Of A Teenage Mod’, you start out with a good idea of what to expect from Matteo Sedazzari’s story of a half English half Italian boy growing up in the leafy Surrey suburbs.
Sedazzari’s debut novel is semi-autobiographical, but in Matteo’s words, he’s a nicer boy than he was. Matteo, like the hero of his book, discovers The Jam at a young age, and also grew up in Sunbury and Walton-On-Thames, and the book chronicles what may or may not have been his parallel existence: an older brother who introduces him to the finer things in life, such as music, art, books and culture; three friends and lifelong buddies who grow up alongside him sharing many of the same experiences; his best girl, his “sunshine girl”; and of course, The Jam: Paul, Bruce, and Rick – with Bruce even making a special appearance.
Matteo’s writing style reminds us a lot of Jack Kerouac in his homage to the Beat Generation, ‘On The Road’. It’s open and frank and easy to read, and you can imagine the central character effectively narrating it to Matteo, and we in turn become the protagonist, and can relate to his antics. ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ could very easily be adapted to a screenplay – there’s humour and sadness, as well as the odd dramatic moment. There’s aspects of the main character which also remind us of Keith Waterhouse’s character, ‘Billy Liar’, whose flights of fantasy from time to time get him into trouble. Our lead has a few of these moments, and there’s times when it’s uncertain whether or not his stories have actually happened or are his idealised impression of events.
It’s clear which characters in the book are based on real life people: our nameless main character’s friends, Vinnie, Tom and Rick are obviously based on Matteo’s real life school mates, Jimmy, Tim and Richard, and as the three people he’d known best from those days, they’re more fleshed out than many of the others. This isn’t a criticism by any means – it stands to reason that he would have more of an interest in understanding those with whom he spent most of his time. His girlfriend Susie, is more of a caricature than a character, but that’s fine as well – a young boy aged 11-13 wouldn’t necessarily have the words to describe fully how he feels about his girl.
We really loved the comedy aspects of the book – our especial favourites were his run-ins with Mr Bates, the Royal Family loving neighbour in Sunbury, who bears more than a striking resemblance to serial killer John Christie; and when the boy and his mates duff up a Dennis Waterman lookalike.
Central to the book however is the music. Sedazzari, who went on to become a writer of fanzines when he was unable to emulate The Jam in music, takes us on a near visual journey through the many genres of British music through the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s more than just The Jam – but they are the linch-pin however. The boy goes into depth as to the appeal of Soul, Punk, SKA, among others – but of course Mod is where it’s at – The Who, The Small Faces, Secret Affair – and always coming back to The Jam.
Check out Matteo’s interview with Radio Jackie: