❉ Miki Berenyi’s autobiography is brutally honest, funny, moving and well-written, writes James Collingwood.
In the very early ‘90s, Lush’s first compilation album Gala was more or less on constant play on my cheap Walkman. Tracks such as Sweetness and Light, Etherial and De-Lux sounded beautiful even on the crappy portable technology of the time. Comprising vocalist and guitarist Miki Berenyi, guitarist and fellow songwriter Emma Anderson, bassist Steve Rippon and drummer Chris Acland, Lush’s sound seemed to match their name.
Released at the end of this month, Lush bandleader Miki Berenyi’s autobiography Fingers Crossed: How music saved me from success is a funny, moving and well-written account of her life up to the breakup of Lush. It describes an unusual and at times troubled childhood, gives a brilliant account of life in a band and ends in the tragic and heart-breaking event which fans of the band are all too painfully aware of.
As Miki herself has said of the book, “My story is as much about a disrupted family life, a childhood in the ’70s, an adolescence in the ’80s, alienation, friendship, love, sex, self-destructiveness and optimism as it is about music – what it felt like, as much as what happened. There are shocking events – but it’s not a misery memoir. Bad stuff happens to everyone and it’s how you get through the crap that I find important – and interesting. I’m not documenting my life for people to gawp or wonder at, but inviting them in, to experience the highs and the lows, and feel what it was like to live through it.”
Miki’s parents were the Hungarian-born journalist Ivan Berenyi and the Japanese-born actress Yasuko Nagazumi (who appeared in You Only Live Twice, The New Avengers and had a regular part in Space 1999). Meeting at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, they split up when Miki was young and the first part of this book describes the ups and downs of this childhood. Detailing events such as a hilarious family trip to the continent, her father’s womanising, being on the set of Space 1999 and Wombling Free where she meets Bernard Cribbins and the antics of the disliked and selfishly womanising stepfather Ray, who seems like a character out of Toast of Tinseltown. A glowering presence in the early part of the book is also the absolutely monstrous and abusive Nazi grandmother Nora. Miki’s motto in getting through this childhood seems to be (in her own words), “Why dwell on the sad stuff when the best medicine is to seize any opportunity to have a laugh.”
It is when she meets a group of friends at private school, Queens College, that Miki finds her gang and gets into music, editing the fanzine Alphabet Soup with schoolfriend Emma, regularly going to gigs and partaking in the London nightlife of the ‘80s London nightlife before forming Lush (initially called the Baby Makers) with Emma and fellow students from North London Polytechnic. An interesting and surprising aspect of the book is her accounts of her relationship with Emma and their dynamic together within the band.
Initially yoked together as part of the so-called “scene that celebrates itself” and “shoegaze” bands of the early ‘90s (shoegaze being coined in reference to a gig by her future long term partner’s band Moose and satirised in David Quantick’s hilarious NME column “Memoirs of a Shoegazing Gentleman”) the band seem to transcend this scene and form an identity of their own. As part of the 4AD label they make great music, tour America on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour (with of all people Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers!) and later have hit singles Ladykillers and Single Girl.
The book is often brutally honest about events of Miki’s early life and is equally honest about characters, events and relationships in the music years. She dislikes Britpop and a lot of the attitudes and characters associated with it as part of the laddish culture of the ‘90s (one chapter is called “Bollocks to Britpop”). She is also unflinchingly upfront in her encounters with sexism, abuse and harassment (an anonymous member of the Primal Scream entourage seems particularly nasty).
At the same time, there is a lot of fun in the book (the US tours seem particularly eventful) and the book is fascinating on the structure of the ever-changing music industry at the time and what it is like to be a working band. It affectionately, sincerely and humorously describes relationships with band members (Chris Acland sounded like a lovely guy), audiences and entourages during this exciting period of music history. Miki has said that this is very much her own story and her own point of view – other people may have a different take on the events in this book but that’s why it works as a brilliant read. Her personality does shine through and ultimately it does draw you back to the music, the fun making it and makes you want to re-listen to those early albums Gala, Spooky, Lovelife and Split again.
❉ ‘Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved My Life From Success’ by Miki Berenyi will be published via Nine Eight Books on 29 September 2022. Pre-order it on Rough Trade.
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre. His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1
Header image source photo: Miki Berenyi, 2022 © Abbey Raymonde. All rights reserved