On Monday 8th April the remains of Brit-noir author and musician John B Spencer were cremated after a short Humanist service at Putney Vale Crematorium. A larger than expected crowd turned up for Spencer’s last ‘gig’, with all seats taken and mourners spilling out into the carpark. A typical touch was the bouquet of rhubarb from John’s allotment that replaced wreaths on top of the coffin.
John B (the B is for ‘bastard’, he insisted) Spencer was born on 5 June 1944 in Hammersmith, West London. ‘Under enemy fire’ as he liked to say. He started his working life in publishing (ending up as production manager at Granada), then founded and ran a successful illustrator’s agency (Young Artists) before turning to life as a professional musician and author in the mid 1970s. His songs were described by one critic as ‘written while God was looking the other way’, with the influence of American folk blues (Woody Guthrie, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly) strained through a British sieve and delivered in a voice of coarse gravel.
He toured with Fairport Convention, played the Glastonbury Festival, and his songs found their way into the repertoires of Augie Meyers, Richard Thompson, Martin Simpson, Jerry Williams (who took Cruisin’ [On A Saturday Night] into the Swedish top ten) and the Home Service, which Spencer temporarily fronted when John Tams was indisposed.
He wrote eight novels, four of which (Quake City, Perhaps She’ll Die, Tooth & Nail, Stitch) have been published by The Do-Not Press. His final novel – the aptly named Grief will finally hit the shelves in June 2003.
As Kirkus said of Tooth & Nail in 2001: ‘It updates the noir tradition by expanding the cast of misfits… leaving nothing but threats of action until you’re ready to scream’. Time Out described Spencer as ‘the best kept secret in British noir fiction… seriously good and dreadfully underrated.’
John B Spencer died in Charing Cross Hospital in the early hours of Monday March 25th, 2002.
MORE PRAISE FOR JOHN B SPENCER
“Yet another demonstration that our [British] crime writers can hold their own with the best of their American counterparts. snappy dialogue. the pace of a rabbit at a rave. Recommended.” – Time Out
“Spencer updates the noir tradition. threats of action that smoulder until you’re ready to scream.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Spencer’s previous novels have been compared to Elmore Leonard but Spencer has a distinctive voice of his own. The dialogue crackles with electricity and the characters have an energy that leaps off the page. Go out and buy it!” – Shots
“John B Spencer is not so much a Renaissance man as an Armageddon artist, his berserk energy and the unflagging venom he shows towards the mainstream culture makes him a great novelist.” Stewart Home novelist, critic
“John B Spencer’s characters live in utter isolation and utterly without history, unable to connect, skittering out of control across the surface of their lives. Yet such is Spencer’s skill that we grieve for them, see ourselves in them, recognize – as they never will – our common humanity.” James Sallis
“John B Spencer’s patch of West London is the furthest removed from Notting Hill and the closest to the actual truth. His families of smalltown hoods and chancers go back generations, now they have to share their space with the upwardly mobile residents of Chiswick, Acton and Hammersmith. And this is where all the grief starts. Trouble, as Spencer surely knows, can come knocking in the most familiar forms, whichever side of the tracks you’re from. Using the poetic vernacular of the smalltime villain to rub caustically against the continually worried tones of the designer coffee-drinking classes, Spencer has created a calamitous convergence.
“Like no one else, Spencer gets inside the heads of his characters, sensing their every motive, doubt and weakness, understands the way the mundane everyday can slowly slide into a living nightmare with no escape. This is the real West side story.” Cathi Unsworth
Novels by John B Spencer (published by The Do-Not Press)
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