Hard News: Friday Music: NME – it was fun while it lasted
NME was never a prominent part of my youth/musical education, but the tale of its inescapable influence – despite being three months out of date by the time of local landing – certainly resonates, as my secondary school library used to stock The Face, which portrayed a world quite different to that around us. Coincidentally the New Yorker’s Hua Hsu recently penned a similar piece of reminiscing (and what struck me about this was that he was in NY, seeking out the very same worldliness as me and my friends in suburban AKL):
On the music tip, I belatedly got around to listening to that Black Milk mix from a few weeks ago and it was a good one (backyard system in effect, holding onto them summer days). Also came across a mix of 80’s dubplates from an 80’s South London Sound System, Ghetto Love (originally found at a car boot sale, sigh). Might not be everyone’s cup of tea but with the likes of Ken Booth, Garnett Silk and Tristan Palma well worth a spin if that’s your thing (DL link at the bottom pf the page as well)
Russell Brown, in reply to
my secondary school library used to stock The Face, which portrayed a world quite different to that around us. Coincidentally the New Yorker’s Hua Hsu recently penned a similar piece of reminiscing (and what struck me about this was that he was in NY, seeking out the very same worldliness as me and my friends in suburban AKL):
I particularly loved what The Face was doing towards the end of the 80s in mixing its style and music fare with reportage and politics. And it was quite thrill meeting Sheryl Garratt once when I had to deliver something to her as a cycle courier.
I actually have copies of the first issues of both The Face and iD – they were part of a pile I found when I broke a new squat in 1987. The junkies who'd been living there left the toilet solid to the brim, ut they had good taste in mags!
Might not be everyone’s cup of tea
Relevant to my interests!
I'm old enough that my first NMEs were bought and obsessively read in the late 60s, but by the early 70s I'd moved on to Melody Maker, which had moved with the long-haired times rather faster than the then staid NME - which began its reinvention under Alan Smith from 1972 onwards. By the late 70s, I relied on Time Out for its gig guide, rather than NME or any other weekly...
I was on nodding terms with Alan in the early 80s, when he'd moved on to being a publisher of video magazines. Nice guy.
My favourite bit of NME lore was the staff reaction to being moved into that bland faceless tower on the South Bank, stuffed with women's magazines and knitting publications. Typewriters were defenestrated, smashing on the car park below...
Quite liked the classifieds. Popped along to the post office to buy my postal notes and hope like hell I didn't get ripped off. Never did.
I'd regularly buy NME in the 1980s and dive straight in for the Swells features, reviews and general shit talking. His hate reviews and winding up of the current coolest bands fans was always fabulously entertaining. Even in the 2000s, not long before his death he was still funny. From an article in Village Voice pushing the wonders of er... Sigue Sigue Sputnik..
"Unfortunately, back in the ’80s, the S.S.S. we-bring-rock-from-the-future shtick went down like a cup of cold sick with a generation of British pop kids dressed up in thrift-store dead-man suits and skanking to the fossilized ska pop of 2 Tone. An entire generation turned their back on Sputnik’s future rock and embraced instead the defeatist, introspective, monocultural meanderings of passive-aggressive ponces the Smiths."
NME for me was late 70s Christchurch, and The Face and iD were early 80s Wellington. By the time I got to London in 1985 I was bored with them – all too blokey in-group and not enough good music. Or maybe I was getting too old.
Slightly related, three weeks ago I happened to be helping son track down an arcane textbook at the Unversity of Canterbury Bookshop before term started, and I headed upstairs to the Law and Commerce section. Halfway up the stairs I looked down at the stair tread and 40 years disappeared.
By the time I got to the top I was expecting to see Tony Peake grinning at me over a few heads and his record bins.
Just so happens that Finn started at UC 40 years to the week from the start of my unillustrious but life-changing student years there. Another circle closes.
I used to buy The Face religiously throughout the late 80's and always felt that by doing so I was at least six months to a year ahead in the culture stakes than non-readers. When I lived in Christchurch in the early 90's, Planet magazine filled this role.
It’s funny cos I remember following the whole Britpop brouhaha through two month old copies (one month if you were willing to pay three times the face price for ‘Airfreighted’) in the nineties. I am told (as in, much much later because at the time I was none the wiser) that it was past it’s prime by the 90s and they were even accused of drumming up the whole ‘Oasis vs Blur’ thing. I also heard that they’d missed the Madchester and acid house until it was well and truly happening.
Like I say, it was not something i was aware of in 1997 when I bought the self-proclaimed ‘biggest edition’ celebrating the launch of Oasis’ Be Here Now (on the subject of things being passed their prime) which i still have somewhere.
Mirroring my own thoughts exactly, Russell. Great piece.
I did laugh at the knowing reference in your intro : >>>. It says nothing to me about my life, <<< A reminder of my 3.5yrs on the NME staff in 1984-1987.
As you will know, it's a line from "Panic" a 1986 45 by The Smiths.
Morrissey chanted: ''hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ ... the music they play says nothing to me about my life...''
In 1986, that lyric prompted apoplexy at NME staff meetings, at a time when the paper was effectively directionless and waiting for the Next Big Thing, having championed every previous NBT from the front.
The indie crowd agreed wholeheartedly with Mozza'a anti-disco sentiment, whereas the ''soul boy'' faction regarded it as a publicly racist insult to black music, which they thought should be the future direction of the paper.
I kid you not. I actually witnessed furious arguments about this lyric.
The Smiths/indie fans fought their corner, and the remaining old guard just shook their heads and longed for Nick Kent and Tony and Julie to come back and kick ass on speed again.
Long-serving editor Neil Spencer quit....I was sad to see him go, he was a geezer and gave me my job. Tony Stewart followed soon after - he is still at the Mirror in the features dept 28 years on.
I wore a Slits screenprint shirt to my job interview in March 1984. There was a vacancy for a sub, I had been tipped off by phone even before I left Christchurch.
The shirt was carefully chosen - I was well aware that editor Spencer knew Ari Up and the others. He raised his eyebrows when I walked in.....''like the shirt, man''.....
He asked me what music I like...I told him I liked classic punk rock and reggae, mostly.
''Oh yeah, what reggae?'' He was testing me to make sure I didn't say Musical Youth, I think.....ha ha ha ha....but Tony Peake had schooled me good at the UBS counter in Christchurch.
"Culture, Burning Spear, Tapper, Prince Far I, Trinity, Lee Perry and anything out of the Black Ark, Studio One styles...''
He nodded approvingly. He'd smoked ganja with most of them. I got the job. .
When Spencer left his shoes were big to fill in 1986. . It was a new era now....and there were massive arguments monthly about editorial direction and what to put on the cover. By this time, of course, post-punk was pointless, Madchester had yet to surface, acid house was foetal and probably in 1 or 2 small-time London clubs only in 1986, and Thatcher still had an iron grip on the UK.
Meanwhile Neil Kinnock's Labour Party cosied up to the NME via Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and a few others in search of the Yoof vote ...and when the soul boys weren't writing about the nascent Public Enemy or General Kane or The Communards of the rare groove soul underground club scene, they wanted socialist political think pieces on the front cover (covering such ground as Labor policies, American missiles/air bases in the UK, feminism, the evils of Thatcher, etc). These issues sold very poorly. The kids weren't buying it, maaaaaan..
Amid the ructions, at least my personal ambitions were being fulfilled in the job .
Since my start in March 1984, my subbing chores were increasingly permitted to be accessorised by reviewing and interviewing stints....By I had met and interviewed Vic Godard, David Lee Roth, Joey Ramone, Chris Bailey, Anthrax, Howard Devoto,The Triffids, among others, went on the road with Steve Albini and Big Black in Germany, shook hands with Tom Verlaine, stood 20ft from a smarmy Johnny Lydon holding court as a procession of fawning celebs grovelled for an insult from him at Island Records' 25th aniversary party, and been on every decent gig guest list in London for three years.
I even managed to get a few early Flying Nun releases into the reviews pages (and not all given the thumbs-up by me) and did a one-page interview with The Chills.
I spent my 25th birthday in October 1986 riding around in an Island Records limo in Paris for a weekend with Julian Cope (ex Teardrop Explodes), whom I first met in Mainstreet Cabaret, Auckland during their one-night stop there on the drug-drenched final Teardrops tour which made it to Australasia. The Paris foray made the front cover in January 1987 (silly season, not much competition, I got lucky, as did The Triffids a couple of weeks earlier). Best of all, my ego reminds me, I got my name printed on the front right under JC's.....as he hit the charts with ''World Shut Your Mouth''.
It was all downhill from there, apart from meeting and interviewing Brian Wilson in mid 1988.
I quit NME in late 1987...nothing being covered really mean a whole lot to me...I was only really seriously impressed by Public Enemy, the Beasties, and Sonic Youth at the time...and the new boom in CD reissues meant I was finally discovering all the great 1960s and 1970s stuff that Year Zero/"Rocket To Russia" had led me far away from in the previous decade.
I went back to newspapers, heading towards a Fleet St sub-editing career, but still remained on call for interviews and live/album reviews.
At the turn of 1988 ahead of the release of his comeback album, Brian Wilson was available for interview in a Mayfair hotel suite. The features editor struggled to find anyone else who loved the Beach Boys (WTF?). He was a bit drug-fvcked, and his later-discredited shrink Dr Eugene Landy (sadly, I met him too) was charging him $500,000 a year AND getting 25% of the copyright to all of Wilson's songs, regardless of whether he contributed to them or not.
BW remains the one person in my NME era that I was delighted to be uncool with. I straight-up asked nicely if I could have a photo taken with him, and Brian obliged, and NME's Aussie snapper Bleddyn Butcher took the Polaroid. (FANBOY PHOTO ATTACHED)
And that final big NME interview I did, with Brian, paid off again in 1992 when he was battling A&M Music in an LA court. A&M had been virtually handed the rights to all of his classic songs when angry dad Murry Wilson sold off Brian's Sea of Tunes publishing company dirt cheap. Lawyers flew me to LA, put me up in a 5 star hotel for 5 days, gave me a rental car and pocket money, all for a 30-minute deposition in a legal office: "I swear that these cassette tapes are a true record of my interview with Brian Wilson in London four years agio.'' I learned then why lawyers are so costly.
And yes, Russell, Penny Reel aka Pete Simons was a lovely Jewish Rastafariian (!!) and hardcore Spurs fan. He led me into the depths of the Dalston, East London, ''front line'' in 1986 for a scary Brigadier Jerry gig. The Brigadier was fresh from JA and awesome, but boy, the riled-up youthman crowd was intimidating. I was the only pakeha, well me and Penny were, but I was ''safe, yeah mon'' with him at my side. He was an honorary Rastaman around London. He was mates with Tapper Zukie, and so I just worshipped his good taste.
Yeah, I was the first Kiwi there, and got the job in the last year of the cramped but famed Carnaby St office. A move to High Holborn followed, before Kings Reach Tower at Waterloo, where I first met Andy and Brendan one on of my final trips into the office...every time I went in from the turn of the 1990s, I knew fewer faces. I think my last review was published about 1992.
I've kept every clipping and my Cope front cover is framed.
But life moved on. I've not read a copy for 25yrs, to be honest.
And that's the last time I will haul out these memories, I guess. Cheers Russell. Thanks for the inspiration.
Russell Brown, in reply to
And that’s the last time I will haul out these memories, I guess. Cheers Russell. Thanks for the inspiration.
That's brilliant, David. Thank you!
Russell Brown, in reply to
I think this is the best bit.
And that final big NME interview I did, with Brian, paid off again in 1992 when he was battling A&M Music in an LA court. A&M had been virtually handed the rights to all of his classic songs when angry dad Murry Wilson sold off Brian’s Sea of Tunes publishing company dirt cheap. Lawyers flew me to LA, put me up in a 5 star hotel for 5 days, gave me a rental car and pocket money, all for a 30-minute deposition in a legal office: “I swear that these cassette tapes are a true record of my interview with Brian Wilson in London four years agio.’’ I learned then why lawyers are so costly.
A great read thanks Dave and Russell for the starter.
Cheers Russell. Only when i got to LA did I discover the lawyers affording me such temporary luxury were working for A&M AGAINST Brian! They had somehow got hold of the four-year-old NME with my Brian Wilson inteview in it. It included some questions I asked him about Murry selling off Sea of Tunes, and Brian's thoughts on the matter.
I didn't feel so bad about costingf them big money when I found that out. And as expected, Brian won the case and all his old songs back anyhow. I did not see how any of that interview was of legal value to anyone, but that's LA Law for you......
Bill Drummond's autobiography "45" is a fantastic read...probably the best book about the music industry I have read in decades.He's not too fond of the Fourth Estate,neither am I,but he sure know how to manipulate them ...was a pleasure to be a small part in helping him along in a career that many others would dream of having....
These issues sold very poorly. The kids weren’t buying it, maaaaaan..
"The kids" had yet to suffer the consequences of this fucked up decision making.
They had yet to figure out basing decisions purely based on the financial motives, and not looking past that. While it may work for an individual it is disastrous at any larger scale.
But otherwise nice memories.
Wow, loved reading your reminiscing, David - thank you. I read the NME from the early '80s to mid '90s and thought it was a damn fine magazine.
But then I started going off it, I simply couldn't abide Brit-pop.
Fun while it lasted.
When I first bought my first copy of NME after landing in London, one of my coworkers spotted it and said, “NME? No one reads that now.”
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