The Irwell Edition of the Works of Anthony Burgess, published in hardback by Manchester University Press, is a new series which aims to bring all of Burgess’s novels and non-fiction books back into print. Each volume contains an editor’s introduction, a newly edited text, extensive notes and annotations, plus previously unpublished materials drawn from the Burgess archives in Europe and North America.
The Pianoplayers is one of the first volumes to appear. First published in 1986, it is the story of Ellen Henshaw, who is put into the doubtful care of her father Billy after her mother dies, and with whom she shares a picaresque series of adventures in the boarding houses, silent cinemas and music halls of Manchester and Blackpool in the 1920s. The story revolves around Ellen’s ‘pianoplayer’ father, seldom sober but kind hearted, and an itinerant and impoverished musician who embarks on a desperate attempt to set a record for the longest piano marathon in history.
The novel is a moving, funny, and affectionate portrait of a lost world, which is the world of Anthony Burgess’s own early life. Songs from the period fill the pages, recreating the texture of the time. To mark the reappearance of this important and unjustly neglected novel, we have compiled a playlist that gives a flavour of the music that saturates its pages. Listen out for classics from the music hall, songs from the hit films – and ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, played as the Titanic sank and whose meaning becomes clear at the novel’s denouement.