Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi: Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure
Fat White Family are a contemporary English rock/punk band. This book is a fictional biography and an alternative version of historic events about them. It is written by Adelle Stripe with Lias Saoudi, the front man of the group. Saoudi’s father is of Algerian origin while his mother was born in Yorkshire and Lias Saoudi himself was born in Southampton. You can hear one of their songs here.
Most people reading this book will read it because they are interested in Fat White Family, Lias Saoudi and the British indie music scene. I have to admit that, before reading this book, I knew very little about Fat White Family. However, I do know of Adelle Stripe and read and very much enjoyed her Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile so I read this book as what Stripe called it – a fictional biography and an alternative version of historic events – or, to put it simply, as a fascinating work of (semi-)fiction. I would add one personal aspect. My sadly deceased brother-in-law was a very minor rock star and, indeed the excesses of the rock life probably contributed to his premature death so I have a certain fascination with books on the rock star life.
The book is written in an interesting way. There is a third person narrator – presumably Stripe – telling the story and there is a first person narrator – Saoudi – telling his story and his take on events. Indeed, this seems to me an interesting way of writing a novel, mixing first and third person narration. It has been in actual novels before (see, for example, this page) but it certainly works well here.
As mentioned Saoudi has an Algerian father and we start, as in any good biographical novel, with some antecedents. Saoudi’s grandfather was wrongfully imprisoned on Devil’s Island by the French but survived. Bashir, Saoudi’s father, spoke Kabyle, an Algerian Berber language but when his friend was disappeared for having a book in Kabyle, he decided to leave and went to England,first to Norwich and then to Huddersfield. I am sure the good people of Huddersfield would agree with me that their town is not the most scenic in the UK. He met Michelle, born in Scarborough, and got her pregnant. In those days, unmarried mothers had a very hard time and when the child (Tam, Lias’ older brother) was born, the social services wanted her to put the baby up for adoption. Michelle refused but fortunately Bashir saw what his responsibility was and married her.
He was studying so he sent wife and son off to Algeria to stay with his family and an interesting experience it was. Michelle had no common language with them and had to fit in to Algerian ways, which she did. She had to have a chaperone as a woman could not go around on her own. While, clearly, women had far less freedom in traditional Algerian society than they had and have in the UK, Saoudi, while critical of the Algerian way (The root of so many problems in my life stems from a huge gulf between the gender politics of Islam and those of the West, sees its advantages: When I was in my early twenties all I could think about was sex when every action from drug use to starting a band had sexual conquest at its heart. I started to realise the price that we in the West were actually paying for leaving the old ways behind.
Bashir never adapted to the Western way. The conflict between the two systems, between that of East and West, would eventually destroy my family. My dad never adopted the Western perspective. He couldn’t adopt it.
The family moved to Southampton where Lias was born and a younger brother – Nathan – was the final child. The family moved to Ireland because of Bashir’s job, and then to Ayr in Scotland. The marriage breaks up (Algerian men are very belligerent breed and my father is no different. In fact he is a prime example as far as I can see) and Lias initially opts to stay in Scotland, where his friends were but then moves to Ireland with his mother and stepfather. His father, whom he frequently visited, marries a much younger Algerian woman. In Northern Ireland, Lias was a witness to the Troubles – there were British soldiers everywhere – and he is subject to much racial abuse. Sand nigger is a common epithet used.
His girlfriend was a keen Dylan fan and though Lias was not a Dylan fan, he was so impressed by Dylan’s poem Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie that he bought his first guitar. However, before becoming a musician, art became his interest. He gets a place at Slade Art school. However, apart from musical talent, he quickly adopts the three other key features needed for being a successful rock star – a rebel attitude, excess alcohol and drugs.
He does take up music and we follow the ups and downs, mainly downs. He is kicked out of the Slade for non-attendance. However, he meets Saul Adamczewski, who will become a key member of Fat White Family and whose antecedents we also learn.
Above all he and they behave badly. They follow GG Allin (exposing genitals, defecating on stage). More than once they are in trouble with the authorities.
We follow their career as they gradually have some success – records, US tour and publicity. The only time they make the front page is when they had a party to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Rock bands fail for many reasons, apart from lack of musical success: outside factors such as record companies, critics, managers, venues and the authorities and factors internal to the band such as musical differences, personal squabbles and problems with individuals caused by such things as drugs, drink, girlfriends/boyfriends and general bad behaviour. I think it is safe to say that Fat White Family managed to have all of these.
They behaved badly, often very badly. That a band sets out to shock is nothing new. Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison, to name only two, were doing it well before the members of Fat White Family were born. That a band is self-destructive, the obvious adjective to describe them, is also nothing new. Many, if not most, are.
I cannot comment on their musical talent but the few tracks I listened to clearly show a strong Velvet Underground influence.
However, as I said at the beginning, I was reading this book more as a fictional biography by Adelle Stripe than as the real life story of a band. As a fictional biography, it works very well. Even if you have never head of Fat White Family and have no interest in them, it is a fascinating account of a self-destructive, narcissistic, provocative, controversial and badly-behaved band. Stripe tells her story very well and, were it not for the fact that we know they do exist and do and did behave more or less in the way outlined in the book, we might think that she was massively exaggerating. Apparently, she was not.
First published in 2022 by White Rabbit