Greece is the word

30 05 2020

Broken Greek by Pete Paphides

When Pete’s parents moved from Cyprus to Birmingham in the 1960s in the hope of a better life, they had no money and only a little bit of English. They opened a fish-and-chip shop in Acocks Green. The Great Western Fish Bar is where Pete learned about coin-operated machines, male banter and Britishness.

Shy and introverted, Pete stopped speaking from age 4 to 7, and found refuge instead in the bittersweet embrace of pop songs, thanks to Top of the Pops and Dial-A-Disc. From Brotherhood of Man to UB40, from ABBA to The Police, music provided the safety net he needed to protect him from the tensions of his home life. It also helped him navigate his way around the challenges surrounding school, friendships and phobias such as visits to the barber, standing near tall buildings and Rod Hull and Emu.

With every passing year, his guilty secret became more horrifying to him: his parents were Greek, but all the things that excited him were British. And the engine of that realisation? ‘Sugar Baby Love’, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, ‘Tragedy’, ‘Silly Games’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘Come On Eileen’, and every other irresistibly thrilling chart hit blaring out of the chip shop radio.

Never have the trials and tribulations of growing up and the human need for a sense of belonging been so heart-breakingly and humorously depicted.

It’s a genuinely lovely, warm and charming memoir with some really delightful stories about growing up in Birmingham in the 70s and 80s. The consistent theme of growing through chart music is the thread which runs through the book and almost every song brought back memories for me, even though I am a wee bit older (just a slightly later musical developer).

A brief extract from the full playlist (you can find it on Spotify) gives a flavour of what we are dealing with here:

Every one a classic. And with the huge musical knowledge and experience of age his analysis of these songs in hindsight is really something special. Particularly enjoyable and poignant though is his encounter with his then musical comedy heroes, the Barron Knights.

The other connection for me was the setting – Acocks Green was where my Mum spent many years post-War and where her adoptive parents lived until they passed away some years ago and I remember visiting during the 70s (although no recollection of the Great Western Fish Bar, sadly). Music, identity and genuine honesty make it a really entertaining and pretty heart-warming read.

Given that the landmark event which concludes the book is in 1982, there is plenty of scope for a sequel.

 

four stars


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