The Last Days of Disco – David F Ross
Early in the decade that taste forgot, Fat Franny Duncan is on top of the world. He is the undoubted King of the Ayrshire Mobile Disco scene, controlling and ruling the competition with an iron fist. From birthdays to barn dances, Franny is the man to call. He has even played ‘My Boy Lollipop’ at a funeral and got away with it. But the future is uncertain. A new partnership is coming and is threatening to destroy the big man’s Empire … Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller have been best mates since primary school. Joey is an idealist; Bobby just wants to get laid and avoid following his brother Gary to the Falklands.
A partnership in their new mobile disco venture seems like the best way for Bobby to do both at the same time. With compensation from an accident at work, Bobby’s dad Harry invests in the fledgling business. His marriage to Ethel is coming apart at the seams and the disco has given him something to focus on. Tragic news from the other side of the world brings all three strands together in a way that no one could have predicted.
The Last Days of Disco is a eulogy to the beauty and power of the 45rpm vinyl record and the small but significant part it played in a small town Ayrshire community in 1982. Witty, energetic and entirely authentic, it’s also heartbreakingly honest, weaving tragedy together with comedy with uncanny and unsettling elegance. A simply stunning debut. ‘Full of comedy, pathos and great tunes’ Hardeep Singh Kohli ‘Warm, funny and evocative. If you grew up in the Eighties, you’re going to love this’ Chris Brookmyre.
The Last Days of Disco is the second book published by Orenda Books and it is another triumph – an absolute joy to read. It is worth noting that the two Orenda books that I have read have been very, very different. The Abrupt Physics of Dying was an action packed eco thriller set in far off Yemen (a country I would struggle to find on a map). The Last Days of Disco is a story about people, is totally driven by the characters and is set in Kilmarnock (where I started school).
The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980’s. It is Thatcher’s Britain, unemployment is high, the Falklands War arrives mid-story and life is hard for the Cassidy family. Bobby Cassidy is struggling through his final year at school but with opportunities of future employment looking sparse he is keen to pursue a money-making opportunity and start his own mobile disco. Fortunately all does not go smoothly and there are laughs to be had as the best intentioned plans go disastrously wrong.
Humour is a key element to Last Days and there were dozens of scenes which had me in stiches. Ross uses the reader’s benefit of 30 years of hindsight to set up some fabulous gags. However, there are some very emotive moments to share too, Gary Cassidy is a serving solider and is deployed to the Falklands during the 1982 war with Argentina. These sections of the book and Gary’s letters home to his family, added an extra element of humanity to the characters. I need to avoid spoilers at this stage, however, Gary’s story is one that I suspect I will remember for some time to come.
All good stories have a nemesis for the central character and in Fat Franny Duncan we have a nasty and petty thug who wants to control the Kilmarnock disco scene. Bobby’s new enterprise is encroaching on his patch – for Franny this cannot be allowed to continue. Although Bobby is largely unaware that Franny Duncan is out to sabotage his new venture I loved the varying degrees of success (or lack of it) that Franny experiences in scuppering Bobby’s gigs. A particular highlight here was the Disco at the Conservative club.
One key element of the book is the language: it is realistic and accurate. This is to say that it is regional and it is crude. This may put some readers off, however, to tone down the language would rob the story of authenticity – this is how many people in the West of Scotland speak and you need to accept that to enjoy the book.
Language aside, the other joy to be had from The Last Days of Disco is the music. David Ross is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the soundtrack of his youth. The references to bands and the records of the time are gems. I grew up listening to the songs mentioned in this book yet there are countless tracks referenced which I had never heard of. A fact-finding trip to Spotify is going to happen in the near future for this reader. For any music fan this book is a glorious nostalgia trip.
The Last Days of Disco will be my final review of 2014 and it will ensure that I finish my reading year on a high. As I read I was reminded of Trainspotting…but with disco rather than drugs!
I loved everything about this book and have to award it a 5/5 review.