It's very exciting when a biography that you feel needed to be written and written well, finally comes out. I have for ages believed there should be an in depth biography on surely one of the most influential electric guitarists of the last 40 years - John McGeoch. I'll be the first to admit I am coming at this from a fans point of view - as several of the punk and new wave bands that John was in during the early 1980's through to the 90's are my favorites - Siouxsie and the Banshees, PIL and The Armoury Show.
The Lights Pours Out Of Me is written by first time biographer Rory Sullivan-Burke. What I immediately love about the book is that Rory is clearly a massive fan of John. The book is authorised by John's family and they contribute massively to his story throughout the book. Like me, Rory could not believe there was no biography on John, but unlike me, he got off his backside and wrote one - and an incredibly good one at that. The book is written chronologically, starting with Johns early days and with him learning the piano. It then moves on to him first picking up a guitar aged 12 and his family moving to London. One of the main ways we really get to learn about John is through the extensive interviews in the book. Amazingly though they are all new interviews - not just ones dredged up from old NME's, but ones done specifically for this book. It says an awful lot about John that all these people were willing to give their time. Nearly all of the contributors (and there are many) knew John - some professionally as fellow band mates, some as roadies, some as family and some as friends. Those that did not know him (Johnny Marr, John Frusciante etc.) give valuable insights into how he influenced them as players. Interestingly I see in the credits that John Lydon was approached, although he does not appear in the book. For me, and I say this as a John Lydon fan, it is no loss. The book perfectly shines a light on John McGeoch through his work and friends. This is what really lifts the book above the usual music biography. I enjoyed Allan Glen's biography on one of John's contemporary's - Stuart Adamson, but it was really missing up to date interviews and insights from friends and family.
Of all the people interviewed for the book I mostly enjoyed the contributions from Russell Webb (bassist in amongst others, Skids and PIL) and John's daughter Emily. There is such a warmth when they both discusses John. Through such interviews we learn about John as a human, John as a guitarist and John as a father. We get a completely 3D view of all aspects of John's life. A talented artist aswell as guitarist, John faced the demon of alcoholism in his life, which is addressed tactfully throughout the book. We learn about the pressures that John faced, the highs and lows in his career (joining Siouxsie and the Banshees was a massive high, leaving them was a massive low) and how this affected him. Many of the interviewees are in the same industry and have an understanding of the pressure so their tone is non judgmental and caring. We learn so much about John as an amazing father and how he coped with being away from his beloved daughter when he was on tour. Emily, John's daughter speaks with love, affection and admiration for her father. . Emily gives beautiful insights into John's family life and how he separated it from the hedonisms of the music industry.
After all of John's amazing achievements on the guitar - top ten hits, world tours, sell out arena's and massive acclaim, his work dried up. John went back to one of his first loves as a nurse dealing with patients with mental health issues. It seems inconceivable in todays world
that such an influential guitarist would be out of work and one can only wonder at the wonderful music yet to come from John's fingers had his life not been so tragically cut short.
Honestly this is the best biography of a musician I have read in a long time. Not only did I feel I got to know what made John tick, but I was also introduced to some great new music by him. For me, if you want to hear John at his best check out either 'Israel' by The Banshee's or a really hard track to find - the live version of 'When the river runs dry' by The Armoury Show. You can find it on a live gig of the Armoury Show post on Youtube. Richard Jobson of Skids and Armoury Show has recently been performing Armoury Show songs again and he says in the book that he needed two guitarists to fill John's shoes !
Thanks Rory for writing this book - I can think of a few other guitarists I would love to have great biographies on, so if your reading this reach out and I'll let you have their names !