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The Story of John Nightly

A novel about the rise and fall of a 70s musical prodigy by Tot Taylor

This book is fully funded, but you can still support it!


The Synopsis

The Story of John Nightly is a novel about the nature of creativity, specifically at a heightened level - the level of genius.

It mixes real and imagined lives in the tale of a young singer-songwriter from the 1970’s. I wanted to write about how something as innocent and life-enhancing as the gift of music can also become destructive.

John Nightly (b. Cambridge 1948) finds his dimension in the world of ‘pop’ music, the art form of his time. In previous decades, he might have been a novelist or poet, a painter or playwright. In previous centuries, a grand chef or gardener, astronomer or plant-hunter, when these occupations were revered as highly as that of ‘Artist’.

John Nightly’s ability is spotted early, his LP Ape Box Metal becoming the third best-selling record of 1970. But success turns out to have side effects and he disappears into a thirty year void of missed opportunities and unfinished projects.

We meet him first as a musical child prodigy in the late fifties, then finding fame in the London music scene of the mid-sixties, supermaxed at various clinics in Los Angeles during the seventies and finally, after too many lost years, in his hideaway on the coast of Cornwall as a cultivator and exporter of exotic plants.

But his past comes back to haunt him via the rediscovery by a superfan of his magnum opus, the Mink Bungalow Requiem - a requiem mass which was to have been his parting shot. Just before his meltdown, John Nightly toured the world with it backed by two symphony orchestras, a thirty-piece rock band, a dance company, three school choirs and sixteen articulated trucks. Meeting this teenage saviour dude, can John Nightly be brought back to life again?

A tangled love story, the recording-studio as creative hub, the music industry as dramatic backdrop, astronomical tables, Methodist hymnals and surfer mags as well as some serious gardening tips also play important parts in this one thousand page novel.

The Story of John Nightly is a work of pure fiction.

The Excerpt

The Story of John Nightly: LOS ANGELES 1971

From around the time of the third US tour, mid-July 71 onwards, the Nightly live set tended to be configured in two halves, the first being a slowburner. Ashley would begin with a short prologue, one chord held down on the mellotron with his left hand, while he played the Lux Eterna theme on an electric harpsichord with his right. Then a waltz treatment of Lavender Girl, a specialty which went down particularly well with stoned audiences. The atmosphere would be somewhere between evangelist convention, mime theatre with a budget and rock'n'roll funfair.

Everyone would be settling down - performers and audience - sunset would come and night would begin to fall. Without any announcement, dressed head to toe in white, and in complete darkness save for a solitary guiding torch, a silent, slight figure, a magicien - the Magicien - would emerge from the shadows.

With his guitar set unfashionably high - the way Merseybeat groups held their instruments - the only mahavishnu it could’ve been was John Nightly, if not John McLaughlin, who also cut a dash onstage and off in white cotton slacks and polo neck, Royal Navy haircut and twin-necked cherry-red SG.

In his soft white suit, loosely-tied cravat and felt bolero - one of three or four per night to be sacrificed to the crowd - John would’ve been watching the build-up from behind the PA. Getting in the mood, swaying in time to the music before stepping out. As candle-lighters tip-toed around the stage, making sure to avoid the perilous tangle of cables and leads, and dancers put their arms around each other to give good luck hugs, there would be a gradual realisation among those gathered that the ‘presence’ they’d come to pay homage to was now . . . among them.

As Ashley continued to improvise, forcing Stravinsky onto Irving Berlin, weaving in and out of Debussy, a dash of Pretty Things here and Russ Conway there, the twinkling, skywide star-curtain would appear from smoke-filled scaffold. As it descended, the lighting of candles would gradually replace the late evening sun as the stage-set was transformed into a revolving celestial sphere, backlit to reveal the performers, each bathed in their own radiant glow, while the band took up their positions and dancers trespassed upon the edges of the stage. As if Tycho Brahe had been the set designer for Jailhouse Rock.

After a few minutes or so the preamble would grind to a halt, the circular section of the platform would stop revolving and BANG !

“I . . .” John would say, “am a traveller . . .”

“I . . .” the audience would respond, "am a lost child” before the band attempted to reproduce whatever they could manage from the nascent work in progress, the still untitled Black Requiem.

Security Notice: Because of the use of lighted candles in the performance, the stadium manager requests that the audience refrain from smoking, lighting fires or using paraffin cigarette-lighters, incense or joss sticks in the main auditorium or the surrounding area .

‘The Story of John Nightly’ CORNWALL 1994

Cornwall is yellow in spring. From daffodil acres on sloping coastal plains to the lemon tapers of the Aeonium Heliconia which decorate Endymion Peed’s kitchen window. Fiery yellow gorse, nature’s barbed-wire, protects the outland pasture from walkers and hikers. The enemy, unwashed and unwanted. TRESPASSERS. Heavy-booted destroyers of coastal fields and plots. Despised by the indigenous population, walkers are both a serious environmental nuisance and a joke, as far as the locals are concerned.

“What are they on?” Mawg would ask,

“Private land”, RCN would reply.

John Nightly was always cold. No matter how much heating, natural or otherwise, was turned on in whatever room he happened to be. Ironic of course, given that one of his schoolboy ambitions had been to develop the means to conserve and re-use heat and energy produced by natural resources - not to waste massive amounts of expensive manmade fuel on plants.

John insisted on the heating at Trewin being turned up full at all times. As with life in general, everything had to be full-on. All his life he desired only intensity. The extremes of things; the rind of the cheese, the pith of the lemon, the spikiest cacti. The quadrophonic system at Queen Square produced ear-shattering volume which drove visitors away. In the brief period during which he used a car, he was stopped for speeding three times in one twelve month period and never sat behind the wheel (legally) again. He courted the most troubled and troublesome women and conceived of the most unrealistic, unreliable schemes, all the time popping pills as if they were polo mints.

There was never anything at all subtle or moderate about the man or his actions. John would wander through the house accompanied by a small convector-heater which he would plug in whenever he sat down, even for a moment or two, and angle directly toward his feet. Heating bills at Trewin were astronomical. £900 last quarter for the house and cottage alone with a massive £2,000 odd every three months to heat the sunlounges and outhouses. The bill from South West Water was also exorbitant, around £3,000 to £5,000 a quarter. Watering the community properly was expensive. Financially it was daft, but ecologically it was completely immoral. Nothing less than a sin.

The industrial rearing of exotics, both specimen plants and difficult-to-look-after seedlings, isn't exactly a stand-alone activity. Apart from the problems of importing them in the first place - many require special licences and stamped government papers, 'plant visas' you might say - the massive amounts of soil, fertilizer, drainage material, fibre, compost and the endless pallets of food which have to be regularly purchased in order for them to grow and thrive, there is endless administration and bureaucracy to be dealt with in registering each cutting and slip for National PBR (Plant Breeder's Rights).

In retrospect, this turned out to be a very good thing. It meant that every cutting propagated at Trewin Farm, mainly John's Canna Luxor, Lucifer and Mortada varieties, would be subject to a royalty when sold on, just like records, of around 15p per slip. The payments soon accumulated and by the final accounts quarter of 1994, songwriting income wasn't the only seasonal distribution to land on Trewin's welcoming mat.


The Author

Tot Taylor is a writer, composer and art curator. Born in Cambridge, he lives in London.

Tot is interested in inter-related creativity and aesthetics ‘at genius level’ as a means to an end, believing that the best way to know a thing is often in the context of another thing. He thinks that everyone has the potential to achieve greatness and that if our education system put that thought into our minds as infants we would all feel a lot better about our lives. By being ‘creative’ in general we are simply becoming or being ‘more human’. But he believes that only very few people, perhaps a handful throughout all history, deserve the epithet ‘genius’.

Dubious about the elevated status of the creative arts in general, he believes it can be just as meaningful to grow flowers properly, care for someone properly or clean the kitchen properly as it is to play Hamlet, write a novel or compose a symphony.

Tot has occupied his time writing words, writing music and as co-founder of Riflemaker Gallery in London curating art exhibitions.

His music activities include the score for the National Theatre’s eight-hour production of ‘Picasso’s Women’ as well as numerous theatre and film soundtracks and record productions. He has also curated art exhibitions worldwide. Riflemaker is currently showing the American feminist pioneer Judy Chicago (also at Tate Modern in 'The World Goes Pop’ until January 2016).

For the past fifteen years Tot Taylor has been working on his debut novel The Story of John Nightly.

Questions & Answers

As a long time follower of Tot Taylor and his music I am looking forward to reading the big book. There is just one Q that pops up: will there be a soundtrack to the book? Mikael

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

Thanks Mikael. The novel includes references to approx ten songs by John Nightly including his teenybop hit 'Zigging & Zagging' and his masterwork 'Mink Bungalow Requiem'. In order to make the novel absolutely real, yes, the songs had to all be written and also roughly recorded in demo form during the fifteen year novel-writing process. The main themes of the orchestral mass were also written and recorded. Hopefully at some point there will be a record. It won't be by me, but after the book is published I'll be turning my attention to that. The songs include his 'teenage madrigal' as mentioned in the book, and his more elaborate late 60s/early 70s love song poems, when he was at the very peak of his creativity prior to his breakdown. Thank you for asking! Tot Taylor

david plumb david plumb asked:

Any subliminal reason for the name John Nightly ?

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

David, Yes. There's a subliminal reason for every name, place and every event in the novel. I wanted John Nightly to be 'Everyman' - anyone can be the receptacle of a very special gift for music - so a simple name. And not a name which would not suggest any background, nature or character. As it says in the novel, without his musical gift he is really just an empty vessel, an 'ordinary' person. But...a 'night time person' as opposed to his longtime nurse/manager and collaborator John Daly who meets John Nightly in Cambridge mid-60's but is still there to watch over him in 2006, the year of his timely demise. Thank you for asking, Tot

James  Gordon James Gordon asked:

I love the idea of "The Story of John Nightly". How did you come up with it?

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

I kept encountering people in unexpected situations who had had important careers in music, in some cases they had been influential figures but were now making a living cleaning, stacking shelves, driving mini-cabs, working on building sites. I began to wonder what might have happened to several specific people who had been influential to me. Many of them had survived and were living quiet lives (see my blog piece on MEDIUM for more on that).

But 'quiet' doesn't always mean 'retirement' and it doesn't mean that they were 'old' either - some music people have had enough by the time they reach 25! I had a feeling that their quiet lives might prove to be just as fascinating as their lives in the spotlight, featuring as it would memory, impressions and no doubt false memory and inventions too.
I liked the idea of writing something of length where the characters would be coming in and out of focus over a period of several generations. thanks for asking ! Tot

Trender Lee Trender Lee asked:

I pledged for a couple of books for bands I manage after reading the excerpts. 'John Nightly' read very 'real' than other rock star novels.
Guessing it is part based on your experience ?

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

The novel is not based on my experience, no. I went to great lengths not to 'recount' stories but to create situations or 'scenes' as with a film in order to let the characters create themselves and 'play out' the scenes. The lead character is much older than myself and so due to the speed of change in his active era making music - say 1966-1972 - events which would have happened to John Nightly would have been very different to people operating say from around 1980 to the present. I then made a conscious decision that he would die during the course of the story (2006) which would give me more of an opportunity to look at very recent times past (2000-2006) and the 'new feeling' around making music (and growing exotics!)

Ian Sephton Ian Sephton asked:

I own a promo copy of the first 170 pages or so, and I spotted a reference to PART 1 OF 7. Were you considering publishing the story in several instalments ? Or does the story fall naturally into 7 parts now that you are aiming to publish a single 1000 page hardback edition?

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

I made 'proper' demo copies of the book all the way along - during the fifteen years of writing it. For some reason I seemed to have to have the story in my hands to really see what it was doing (I also got into the very bad habit of getting up crazily early in the morning so that I could speed read my own novel right from the beginning and try to understand the rhythm of it before getting to the new section I was supposed to be writing that day ! So, no, it never was planned to be issued in seven parts, but yes, there are seven distinct 'sections', 'moods' or 'feelings' to it (see the comment in the novel about 'The Planets'. The sections have been carefully 'toned' shall we say. You'll see all kinds of 'allegorical' references all the way through as well - i. e. places, people, groupings, the way each group behaves, place names (first few pages take place in Carnaby Street) like so much of life in 1966! - the final few pages we find the family back in that kitchen in Carn Point... 'Good' forces in the novel tend to have 'vegetation' names, and 'bad''ll see. Thanks so much for asking Ian !! It makes me think !! take care, Tot

Hello Tot,
Are there any readings planned? Or any other pre-events?

Tot Taylor Tot Taylor replied:

Anthony, thank you for that. We're planning three launch events, they are listed as options in the Pledges. There will be readings also at festivals in the late summer and autumn - Unbound will keep you posted, Thanks for asking, Tot

The Rewards

All supporters get their name printed in every edition of the book. All levels include immediate access to the author's shed.

E-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $20 26 pledges
1000 page 1st edition hardback book, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $35 124 pledges
Collectable Book & Launch Party at Riflemaker
Two tickets to the launch party to be held at Riflemaker ("Aim for the coolest art space in town, Riflemaker in Soho, the art world's hip new location" Vogue), plus signed 1000 page 1st edition hardback book, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $65 54 pledges
John Nightly's music machines
One of John Nightly’s sixteen 1970s transistor radios which feature in the book (in A+ perfect working working order - batteries included!), plus signed 1000 page 1st edition hardback book, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
Only 16 available
📖 Pledge $125 13 pledges
Lunch with the author
A ‘music-themed’ lunch in Soho with Tot Taylor and a specially customised soundtrack. Talk music, the novel and creativity in general. Plus autographed CD from Tot who will also read an extract from the novel. Signed 1000 page 1st edition hardback book, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book. Twelve places only.
📖 Pledge $190 3 pledges
Album Playback
In the 1970s bands would have an ‘Album Playback’ party, a ritual to celebrate the conclusion of what would often be a very lengthy recording process. Join us at one of London’s most prestigious analogue recording-studios for a special 1970s style ‘music playback’. A very special evening with readings, the first ever listen to John Nightly’s recordings (mobiles at the door) and eatalot, drinkalot and talk pop music culture, plus the launch party level
📖 Pledge $250 19 pledges
John Nightly vinyl demo
Acetate vinyl one-off copy of John Nightly’s own demo of his 1966 Cambridge songs ‘Lavender Girl’ and ‘Steeple Gate’ which feature in the book, plus signed 1000 page 1st edition hardback book, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
Only 25 available
📖 Pledge $375 5 pledges
Test Book
The author’s own annotated ‘test-book’ - early versions - with his handwritten notes, sellotaped additions, updates and corrections (two only), plus the Album Playback level
Sold out
You are a Supporter of the novel with your name on the front title page of your one-off hardback printed unique leather-bound book which is not editioned. This 1000 page unique copy has a different cover design and a handwritten 100 word dedication from the author, thanking you for your contribution and your support on that title page (i. e. first page of the novel) plus everything up to the album playback level
Songwriting Masterclass
One whole day’s tuition within a very small group at Tot Taylor’s recording and writing studio in London (two three hour sessions in one day), plus the Album playback level
📖 Pledge $1,250 3 pledges
A unique opportunity to make a major contribution to the book. Your name will printed in the front thanking you for your assistance, plus everything up to the album playback level
Tot's Master Copy
Tot Taylor’s own 1,500 page long Master Copy of 'The Story of John Nightly’ along with two boxes of his notebooks, photographs, polaroids, memorabilia, handbills, gig tickets, music mags, fanzines, 16 biographies and 20 other autobiographies and a pile of ephemeral publications which all fed into the novel. Includes the five exercise books which held the original handwriting of the first chapters and the mock-up of the sellotaped pages. There is only one and this is it. His own reference copy which was referred to throughout the whole fifteen year writing process from the year 2000 to 2015.
Sold out
Abbey Road - Your own recording session
Tot Taylor will record and produce your song in one three hour session at the legendary Abbey Road studios in St. John’s Wood, using both analogue and super-24 bit technology, you will receive your track as a professional sound master on whatever sonic format you choose, plus the album playback level