One of the enchanting things that emerged from the process of gradually borrowing those Ali Smith books from the library was the continuity in the covers. There is a pleasing (Smiths’ singles style) consistency to the way they are presented, which reflects well on her “kind sponsors” at Hamish Hamilton/Penguin.
One of Ali’s books appears in Canongate’s myth series, Girl Meets Boy. This uses a well-known Roger Mayne photo, ‘Girl Jiving in Southam Street’, which is a perfect choice for Ali’s book cover as the subject, Eileen Sheekey, looks suitably androgynous and could easily be a Bowie precursor.
Morrissey used the same photo for the single he recorded with Siouxsie Sioux, a cover of ‘Interlude’, one of the great Timi Yuro recordings made with the British arranger and producer Ian Green in the late 1960s, a sequence which features the devastating ‘It Will Never Be Over For Me’. ‘Interlude’ itself is sung by Timi in an alarmingly appealing deep voice over the title credits of the 1968 film of the same name featuring Oskar Werner and Barbara Ferris. Morrissey was a champion of Timi in the early days of The Smiths when his selections for the NME’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer’ feature seemed radical and a direct challenge to the orthodoxy of the classic rock canon.
Girl Meets Boy is a title which, oddly, always prompts the singing of an old Haircut 100 hit. Ali’s There But For The (which features a Siouxsie t-shirt in the story) meanwhile suggests August Darnell’s Machine/Kid Creole classic ‘There But For The Grace Of God Go I’. Indeed Kid Creole’s Coconuts singing of the gorgeous word ‘onomatopoeia’ from ‘Annie I’m Not Your Daddy’ turns up in her storytelling, coincidentally or not, but then some will tell us they were not supposed to be singing that at all which is pure spite and ruins the fun.
Similarly the gorgeous photo of Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy swinging down the street which is on the cover of Ali’s How To Be Both plays a vital part in the book. Indeed, Ali uses a line or two from Sylvie’s delightfully dramatic ‘Le Testament’ for the epigraph of How To Be Both. Actually, there is an appealing pattern to Ali’s epigraphs, with her choosing four for a book from a lovely variety of sources.
In How To Be Both Ali writes about listening to ‘Le Testament’: “What is great about the voice of that singer called Sylvie Vartan is that there’s almost no way it can be made gentle, or made to lie. Also, although it was recorded decades ago, her voice is always, the moment you hear it, rough with its own aliveness. It is like being pleasurably sandpapered. It lets you know you’re alive.”
Ali also chose a Sylvie Vartan song as one of her choices for Desert Island Discs. This was the enchanting ‘Par Amour, Par Pitié, a great example of the subversive nature of the 1960s French yé-yé sound. The reclamation of 1960s French pop was part of a trend which developed in the 1990s, another challenge to orthodox rock canon.
Gradually the appreciation of the yé-yé girls (Françoise, Sylvie, Chantal Goya, France Gall, Jacqueline Taïeb, Stella, Annie Philippe, Clothilde, Pussy Cat, Zouzou, and so forth) grew so much that the scenes featuring Chantal Goya in the recording studio in Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin- Féminin became loaded with new suggestions which it is doubtful the director ever intended.
Ali mentions Godard’s A Film Like Any Other in How To Be Both and the cover of her Public Library story collection features a still from Godard’s La Chinoise featuring Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky reading.