Ian Rankin: Lockdown may have ended my dreams of rock 'n' roll stardom

Crime writer Ian Rankin relies on music to produce his best-selling novels but fears that lockdown may have killed off his own rock star aspirations.

The author of the Inspector Rebus whodunnits is lead singer in a five-piece band called "Best Picture'', which also features Bluebells guitarist Bobby Bluebell. They released their debut single "Isabelle" in 2017 and made their live debut the following year.

But Rankin revealed it has now been over two years since their last gig due to Covid and admitted he may have to accept his singing days are numbered.

Speaking at the launch of Edinburgh's newest record shop, Thorne Records, in the capital's Bruntsfield Place, he said: "I was very aware during lockdown that although I could sit and work and produce something, if you were a musician that was much harder because you didn't have the live venues and you couldn't go and do the paying gigs anymore.

In a spin: Covid lockdown may have ended Ian Rankin's plans for rock and roll fame. Pic: Mike Day

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"My own band last played in December 2019 when we supported Hipsway in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Those were our last gigs because then lockdown came in March the following year. We couldn't rehearse, couldn't get together, couldn't make new music. There were no gigs so that was that.

"Most of us have got other jobs and the band isn't our whole life. I've been kept a bit busy writing during lockdown and since, so the band has taken a back seat, but who knows.

"I'm a guy in his sixties now so I think my time is limited as a rock star really. Starting from a baseline of having no talent, I'm not sure it's ever going to happen for me.

"Every crime writer I know would rather be a rock star than a writer. A lot of us join bands just for the fun of it. I was in a band when I was 19 and that should have told me that it was never going to be my career choice."

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Rankin performed the official opening of Thorne Records, owned by Mark Thorne, in Edinburgh's Bruntsfield. Pic: Mike Day

The music-loving "King of Tartan Noir" plays instrumental tracks on loop for hours on end during writing shifts and he loves it when fans suggest new music he might enjoy.

He said: "I've collected records all my life and been a habitue of record shops all my life. There was a time when they were all closing and it was desperate when people weren't buying recorded music anymore. It felt to me like some of the vibrant culture was disappearing from the high street.

"To see record shops, and especially independent record shops, reappearing is fantastic. I love it when somebody comes up to me or contacts me on Twitter or whatever and says 'Ian, I think you'll like this'.

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"If it's a band or an artist I've never heard of I'll go and have a listen and if I like it I buy it. It's one of those great things, like somebody telling you about a great writer or a book that you would like. It's a way of connecting with people.

"When I'm writing a book I've always got music playing in the background. When I was young I tried writing to different music -- if it was an exciting car chase I'd put on some exciting music -- but it doesn't work.

"What I need when I'm writing is to create a little bubble where only me and the book exist. So it's instrumental music, it's background music, it's ambient, it's electronic, maybe a bit of jazz or classical, but it's just there to shut out the external world. No vocals, otherwise I'm listening to the lyrics and I'm not writing.

"There are albums I would listen to over and over again when I'm writing -- four or five albums I would just put on a loop. Things like Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Boards of Canada, who are a two piece electronica band from the Scottish Borders, I use a lot when I'm writing.

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"It used to drive my wife daft because she'd come up to my room and go 'are you still listening to that? It's been eight hours.' But of course it's just been on in the background blocking out the phone calls and folk knocking at the door and everything else."

Rankin, 61, who is currently working "day and night" on his latest book, said independent shops like Thorne Records had an important part to play in the recovery of town and city high streets.

He said: "We've got to make the experience of going to the high street a special experience, otherwise people just won't bother.

"There's got to be a mix of different kinds of shops, full of things you're interested in or want to browse and nothing is better for browsing than a record shop full of vinyl. I can spend hours doing that. Give me a record shop and I'm happy."

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Rankin also revealed how he has been able to spend more time with his son in recent months since lockdown restrictions relaxed. Kit has Angelman syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the nervous system and causes severe physical and learning disabilities.

Mark Thorne, 42, owner of Thorne Records, said: "Ian Rankin is a rock'n'roll author. Maybe someday Thorne Records will end up in a Rebus book, that's the dream.

* Ian Rankin was speaking at the launch of a new independent record shop, Thorne Records, at 125 Bruntsfield place, Edinburgh.

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