top of page

Criminally Good Music

David Cox

Jul 30, 2022

What do you get when you cross six of the countries best crime writers with the music of The Beatles, The Clash and The Pretenders amongst others? We spoke to writer (and drummer) Doug Johnstone who gave us the lowdown on writing supergroup The Fun Lovin' Crime Writers.

So Doug, not long to go. Are you all feeling confident, excited, nervous?

All three! We’re quietly confident that we can put on a good show, we’ve been going for six years, and got better and better as time’s gone on. We’re excited for sure, because this is our first run at The Fringe. We’ve mostly played book and music festivals, only a couple of straight-up gigs, so this is exciting new territory for us. And we’re nervous too – I think nerves are good, they mean you give a damn, and you can use that energy for the shows.

Whose idea was this show?

Well the band grew organically from a drunken night at the House of Blues in New Orleans, and spread as we recruited more musically talented crime writers into the band. These particular Fringe shows were pitched to us by the good people at The Stand, and we jumped at the chance. They have confidence that we can put on a great show, and we’re determined to do so.

Have you had second thoughts since?

Not at all, we love playing in the band and hanging out together. We all write books for a day job, which is quite a solitary lifestyle, so this is a brilliant excuse for us to socialise together. And we get an immediate buzz from the audience during the performances, which is again unlike the writer-reader relationship. Honestly, we’ve all had the best time over the last few years being in the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers.

Can you describe all your roles in this event?

Well the line-up is:

Val McDermid – vocals

Mark Billingham – vocals and guitar

Chris Brookmyre – vocals and guitar

Stuart Neville – lead guitar and vocals

Luca Veste – bass

Doug Johnstone – drums and backing vocals.

Val, Mark and Chris split lead vocal duties between them, with Stuart singing lead on a couple. He’s also an incredible guitarist, and Luca and I have been in bands all our lives too, so we’re not too shabby. There’s a lot of charisma up front on stage, and a fair bit of theatricality to the show as well. Mark and Val especially know how to work an audience, and that really shows.

Who has the best and worst voices amongst you?

Ha, I’m not answering that! Well, even though Luca doesn’t sing in the band, he’s still got a cracking voice. Val’s voice is probably the most distinctive, she was a folk singer many years ago and you never lose that. And her voice has grown as the band have progressed, which is amazing.

How easy was it to select the material?

Well, we only play songs about crime and murder, to link to our day jobs as crime writers, but it turns out there are hundreds of songs about crime and murder! We had plenty of ideas, and we’ve gradually honed the set to a very tight bunch of classics that everyone will know. Everything from ‘I Fought the Law’ by The Clash to ‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads, and all points in between. Throw in The Beatles, Tom Jones, The Pretenders, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and many more, and you get the idea.

Are there are any songs you regret leaving out of the set?

I don’t think so. There are a fair few songs that we’ve ended up dropping from the set, either because they weren’t quite working or we got bored of them. And there are always new songs we’re working on to slot in there. The set is always rotating, but always entertaining, hopefully.

Who will be the most and least nervous on opening night?

Everyone’s a little nervous before we go on stage, for sure. I think Val, Mark and Chris handle that a little better, as they’re more used to big crowds with their writing careers. The rest of us just suck it up.

Your show ends at 10.30pm. Will you then be embarking upon a Rock and Roll lifestyle for those 4 nights?

Well we’re not exactly bright young things anymore, but definitely a couple of beers and a curry. I mean, Edinburgh is open 24 hours during the festival, so there’s bound to be some partying to do. Having said that, this is the first time we’ve played so many shows in a row – we might have to be a little careful.

Ian Rankin is not known for being shy. Was he approached to be part of this project?

When we started up, Ian had his own band on the go, playing original material. We’re all really good friends with Ian, but the band is a settled unit now. We always get crime-writing friends up for a bit of backing vocals, though, so watch out for some surprise guests

My wife is a big Dorothy L Sayers fan and I love the macabre world of Patricia Highsmith. ( We have just watched the film of Plein Soleil which is great). Is there a particular writer or book that has influenced you?

Each of the band will have a different answer to this, but one of my favourites was James M Cain’s Double Indemnity. It’s just perfectly plotted with crazy characters and beautiful dialogue, all in just over a hundred pages. Sublime stuff.

In the unlikely event of a murder in the audience who is the most likely amongst you to solve it and to have caused it?

I reckon Val would be best at solving a real crime, she’s a bit of a genius, and an amazing brain for a quiz team. To be totally honest, I think either me or Luca would be the most likely to have committed the murder. No further comment.

A few years ago we saw Val interviewed by Miles Jupp where she revealed her passion for " The Chalet School books". Do you all have similar unusual reading interests?

I think so – we all love different kinds of books, and we all read very widely. People think that as crime writers we only read crime, but personally I love all sorts of genres – science fiction, literary, graphic novels, anything with a well-written, gripping story.

Finally, do any of you possess a " Fun Lovin Criminals" album?

I know I do! That first album, Come Find Yourself, is a straight-up classic. And who hasn’t sung along drunkenly to ‘Scooby Snacks’?"

Thanks to Doug for taking the time out to answer our questions, he and the rest of the The Fun Lovin' Crime Writers play The Stand's New Town Theatre at 9.15 from August 8th to 11th. Tickets and information at the link below.

bottom of page