David Mitchell: 'I think most writers have a deep-seated envy of musicians'

The bestselling author’s new novel Utopia Avenue dives into London’s 60s music scene. He talks about writing cameos for Bowie and Zappa, world-building and not repeating his greatest hits

David Mitchell and I are talking – nerdily, greedily – about a moment in popular music when prog rock, folk rock, acid jazz and psychedelia all bubbled jauntily to the surface of the cultural pot. I’m telling him about how the guitarist and songwriter John Martyn ended his days in the small town near where I live in rural Kilkenny; he’s filling me in on how Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, Noel Redding, lived out his life in Clonakilty, the seaside town in County Cork where Mitchell lives with his wife Keiko and their two children. Redding, he says, continues to dominate conversation: “In people’s memories and anecdotes, he’s still walking the streets now.”

But neither of us was there for the heyday we’re remembering, and which provides the setting for Mitchell’s eighth novel, Utopia Avenue, its title the name of his invented four-piece band. In the late 1960s, both of us were just being born. So why the fascination with recreating this precise period?

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