Word Interview #10 – Nige Tassell

Nige and I met to talk about his writing career and memories of Word in a London pub in December 2018. During a quick chat before we began the business at hand, we discussed transcribing, editing and reordering interviews. Nige told me a piece of advice he learnt from someone who knows a bit about it. “Something David Hepworth always told me is that no-one ever sued a journalist for making them sound better than they are.”

 

I really enjoyed reading Butch Wilkins and the Sundance Kid. It seemed to that your childhood was a struggle for supremacy between music and televised sport. Is that how it felt for you?

I’ve got a theory that the boys who didn’t buy Warlord comic or have Action Men get into football and become mad about that. About three years after that they get into music. They’re two very similar passions. At 9, 10, 11 I was crazy about football and then I started buying Smash Hits in 1981. Suddenly I’m asking ‘Oooh, who are Department S? Who are the Teardrop Explodes?’ And we all know who the guiding lights of that magazine were. So it was a struggle for supremacy but it was cooler to like music. At school I kind of floated between the slightly nerdier kids who played with a tennis ball in the playground and the ones at the other end who had an Our Price bag glued to their wrists, like I did. As I got older I‘d be hanging out more with the music gang. In the mid-eighties sport wasn’t cool. It was a dire time for football but a good time for music.

So sport was more of a private passion?

Yes, the book’s about me spending my teenage years indoors. I didn’t run off in my school uniform to follow Aztec Camera around like Pete Paphides might have done. I was stuck at home watching the RAC Lombard Rally. There was lots of snooker and darts too. Then I started playing snooker – that’s another story about how I fucked up my A levels by spending time down at the snooker hall instead of revising. That’s a tale for another book.

It was very evocative of that period. I was born in 1970 and I’d forgotten how large a part televised sport played in my young life. It seems odd now but people like Jonah Barrington, June Croft and David Bryant were quite big names then. I doubt many people could name a squash player or a bowls champion these days.

I was wondering if it was just me, if it was just because that’s when I was absorbing it. My kids wouldn’t know it because it’s not on terrestrial TV. As much as the book is a bit of a nostalgia-fest, it’s also about teenagers. It’s a bit like Fever Pitch, but rather than doing anything remotely heroic like standing on the terraces and watching a match, the most adventurous I get is popping downstairs to the biscuit tin. I don’t think we realised we were in that golden age of terrestrial TV. Everything was there on tap and you presume that this is how the world will always be. As soon as I bought a portable telly with the proceeds of my paper round, it was all at the flick of my big toe because the set was at the foot of my bed and I could switch channels that way. It was all I needed. It never seemed to coincide with music. The Tube was on Friday evenings, 5:30 until 7:00. There wasn’t any sport on then, but there might be some live athletics on around 8:00. Whistle Test was 8:00 on BBC2, that didn’t clash with anything midweek. They were able to coexist, they could dovetail in terms of my TV consumption and I could fill in any gaps by playing records. And then, if some sport is on, off comes Echo & The Bunnymen and on goes Sid Waddell!

It’s interesting to track the changes too, like the televised live football games.  The BBC get them for a while but then they can’t afford them. They didn’t feel like big changes at the time.

No because it was between two terrestrial channels. Either way was fine. I can see it with Moore and Tyler or Motson and Davies. Seeing a whole live game that wasn’t a cup final but a normal, run-of-the-mill league match was great. You’d have Sunday Grandstand from May to September, during the cricket season, but during the football season that would largely disappear. There was little Sunday sport on, unless there was a snooker or darts tournament on. So having live football suddenly on a Sunday afternoon was great. But there’s something in people not having much choice. They value things a lot more. I barely watch any live football matches now. I don’t have Sky or BT Sport, I watch the highlights on Match of the Day. If I wanted it I could get it, but it’s something to do with too much choice. In the eighties we had shared experiences and that wouldn’t necessarily happen now.

It also got me going back to listen to old theme tunes and sporting clips. Some I remembered, some I didn’t know like the guy (Randy Mamola) who comes off the motorbike and gets back on.

When you’re sat at the kitchen table at 11 at night, your wife is asking if you’re coming to bed and you say you’re doing book research and you’re watching a Midweek Sports Special from 1983 because you need to find out who wrote the theme tune… The music for certain things like the tune for Mexico ‘86 which was then used for The Big Match and Saint & Greavsie. That was prickly skin moment, that tune is hard-wired into me even though I’d not heard it for years. I could even remember the footage clips from the intros and what would happen in them. It was all in the back of my head, doing absolutely nothing. It’s all there, under a layer of dust so you have to put it to use by writing a book about it.

You mentioned Department S and the Teardrop Explodes earlier. When did music start becoming a larger part of your life?

I certainly had no help from my parents’ record collection which was just appalling. They had Abba’s Arrival which was about their only remotely contemporary album. They had a New Seekers one but it wasn’t the normal square sleeve – it had all these flaps you had to put in a certain order. That fascinated me more than the contents of the record. The first album I bought was the cassette of ELO’s New World Record when I was on holiday with my gran, down by the seaside in 1978. She thought I was a bit strange getting an album by an orchestra at the age of seven. It’s only in the last six months that I’ve realised I bought it because I liked Fanfare For the Common Man – by ELP not ELO! But I ended up loving ELO, they were my first proper band. Later on I got into all the Liverpool bands like the Bunnymen and the Teardrops. I’d look at all the WHSmiths adverts in Smash Hits for £3.99 albums. Post-punk was called ‘Bleako’ where I came from.

Bleako?

Yeah, as in bleak – if you like bleak music, you’re a bleako! Then I saw the Smiths on TV in 1983, playing This Charming Man on the BBC2 arts show Riverside. I’d seen their name in the indie charts in Smash Hits and thought it was something to do with Mark E Smith. I was only aware of Mark because there was a mention of him in the book Liverpool Explodes by Mark Cooper. I’d never heard of The Fall so I thought it must be his band.

Must be him and his brothers and sisters?

Exactly, a family like the Osmonds! So, I rushed out and bought This Charming Man and Hand In Glove and the rest of the seven inches as they came out. I got into R.E.M quite early as well just before Reckoning was released. They were my twin loves. I wasn’t a big Peel fan because he was on a bit late for me and I had paper round to get up for in the morning. The biggest influence on me was Janice Long, her Saturday night programme. I could stay up, it wasn’t a school-night and she wasn’t as wilfully obscure as Peel. That’s where I first heard James Brown and a lot of post-punk stuff. In about ’88 I got into Andy Kershaw, even though he was a couple of years into his Radio One tenure then and discovered African music through him.

I graduated from Smash Hits to Q, via NME. I liked Q because of the humour, but I could have done without so many Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour covers. But it was perfect-bound and really collectible with the numbered issues. With the Tom Hibbert stuff, it was entertainment rather than a way for me to discover new bands like the NME had been.

My degree was American Studies and my dissertation was about how black music had been co-opted into the white mainstream. It was called Are You Ready For a Brand-New Beat?  I thought it was so clever! I started getting into a lot more black American music then.

Where were you living then?

I was at Essex University and stayed there after graduation. We then had a few months on the dole and housing benefit. At that point I was writing for a little blues magazine called Blues & Rhythm done by some lads in Lancashire. They’d send me a four-hour tape of an interview with some obscure bluesman whose accent was impenetrable. I didn’t have a computer then, so I’d be writing out pages and pages of it and thinking ‘Is this journalism?’

Then we moved to Bristol and I started working for Venue magazine, Bristol’s equivalent to Time Out. I’d been reading it for a couple of years – it was high-quality and well written. Eventually a job came up as one of the music editors – well, seven hours a fortnight collating the listings. I did that for a couple of years and was then appointed editor. That was my first job in publishing, editing a fortnightly 152-page magazine with, thanks to pages and pages of listings, a really high word count. I had no experience. I really was in at the deep end, but did that for three and a half years. I think fortnightly is the best frequency for a magazine – see here Smash Hits and Private Eye. There’s not too much pressure to read it there and then, but each issue comes around fairly quickly. There can be a disconnect with a monthly magazine; you might read it for the first ten days and then stop thinking about it.

Then Venue got taken over by the Bristol Evening Post who wanted to make turn it weekly. But there was no extra staff or money. It was a real cottage industry, it was crazy. Everyone has some kind of job where they have a formative experience and that was mine. We would always be late, always chasing our tail. So many times I’d be locking up the office as the milk float was going down the road at dawn or I’d have to meet a courier at four in the morning in a lay-by somewhere on the road to Avonmouth to hand the processed film to a courier on a motorbike. It must have looked really suspicious.

At the point when I was getting really cheesed off with it, I got head-hunted by the publisher who put HMV Choice magazine together. It was their in-store magazine that covered their specialist departments – classical, country, soundtracks, folk, jazz, world music and all that kind of stuff. They took me to lunch and said “It’s five issues a year. Could you deal with that?”. Having come from a job where I was doing 51 issues for significantly less money, I thought I might just be able to! It wasn’t the pinnacle of music journalism, but it was steady and I interviewed lots of great people. It was at that point I started getting involved with Word because I suddenly had evenings and weekends free again.

I remember writing to Mark Ellen who I’d met once before through Andy Kershaw at WOMAD. I asked if I could interview Green from Scritti Politti as they had a new album out. Jude Rogers wrote back asking me to the review that album as that was the message Mark had given her. But it was a foot in this very significant door. That was when they did those 250-350-word standard reviews, rather than the 150-worders, so you could get your teeth stuck into them. This was 2006 and I reviewed stuff for them for another four or five months before graduating to features. I started doing features I could put together easily, ones where I didn’t need to take time off from the day job to go and interview people. I did one about famous ex-flatmates Dustin Hoffman sleeping on the kitchen floor of Gene Hackman’s apartment, that kind of thing. I could pop out at lunchtime and go into a bookshop or library and look things up. I did these type of features for a while but didn’t want to get pigeon-holed as the guy who only did that.

The first proper interview I did was with Seasick Steve. I went and spent some time with him at the End Of The Road festival, around the wood-burning stove in the back of his van. and it was my first job I did with WORD photographer Muir Vidler, who took some great pictures. Andrew Harrison was looking after features at WORD at that point. He’s a great editor, but quite a tough one who’ll tell it like it is. After I filed it, I got an email back an hour later. “Nige, this is fucking great! Going to give it some more pages.” Had I done a shit job on that, I’d have been off features.

So I carried on doing whatever interviews were needed. I was reliable and versatile, someone who would put the research in, do a solid job and deliver it on time. I was at a slight disadvantage not being London-based unlike a decent majority of their writers. I was in the wilds of Somerset by then. If they asked “Could you interview Dodgy at the Royal Festival Hall?”, I couldn’t say “That’ll cost me £70 on the train. Are you going to pay my expenses?” because they’d just get someone who lived three tube stops away to do it instead. You just have to suck that up and be dedicated to the cause, but by doing that you get more and more. And when you heard from Mark saying he had an idea and you were the person he had in mind – that’s a nice feeling. These were the guys who introduced the concept of music journalism to me, so to be writing for them was an honour and a privilege.

Mark was an amazing editor – the best I’ve ever written for. As bouncy and up as he is, if he didn’t like something he’d tell you. “You need a stronger opening. Can you go back and fix?” What you couldn’t do with Mark was say “Do you want 700 words on this singer/writer/comedian?” Other editors might accept that to fill up some space but Mark would always ask “What’s the angle?”. He wanted it summed up for the two sentence strapline so readers knew where the piece was coming from. Otherwise it’s just “blah blah blah, they’ve got an new album out, blah, blah, blah…”. Mark always made it sharper by drilling down.  When he started doing those pieces inspired by The New Yorker that rolled into each other, they lived or died on that little strapline. They had to pique your interest and tell you why you needed to read it. The genius of Word was that they put the effort in and created their own identity and their own take on things. They didn’t kowtow to the PR wanting to focus on certain things. They had their own ideas. They had a lot of goodwill in the industry so they could get some amazing interviews.

What was your favourite piece that you wrote? You mentioned Seasick Steve earlier.

I’ll treasure that one because it opened the door. It was always good when you went on assignment, especially for someone who was largely home-based. The day I spent in the Test Match Special commentary box was great. We walked in there and it was a cavalcade of famous faces. I remember seeing Jeff Thomson and then Geoffrey Boycott came in. Muir, the photographer, was with me again and he had pretty much a ginger afro at the time. Boycott just says to him “Curly hair that.” We filled our boots at the buffet, then Stephen Stills from CSNY turned up as the lunchtime guest. I counted about seven or eight England captains, and also grabbed Phil Tufnell for a quick chat. We made ourselves scarce when all the bosses came in, wandered along the gantry and found an empty little studio with just a couple of chairs and a desk. We sat there watching England against Australia in a one day international with the best seat in the house. Afterwards I asked the producer about the empty studio. “Oh, that’s the TalkSPORTstudio. Jack Bannister doesn’t like leaving home so he watches it on the telly and phones his update in every quarter of an hour.” So we stayed there!

I’d been doing the HMV job until the end of 2008 and we’d had two kids by then. I’d been getting plenty of freelance work without really trying so I thought I should go for it and go solo. In the first month I had the offer of a trip to Mali on a junket. I asked Mark if he fancied a piece on it and he said he could give me a couple of pages. I thought it wouldn’t be enough to justify the record company flying me to Mali via Paris. A few days later, though, the record company said it was on, so I had a couple of days to get all my jabs done and suddenly I was off. This was my first month as a freelance. I’d also interviewed Michael Sheen that month and then I was sitting with a G&T and my feet in a pool in Mali in January. It felt like going freelance was the right decision.

I got to interview a load of people for Word. Every month I was doing a good chunk for them. The beauty of it was that 90% of them were down the phone line so I could do the work from Somerset at no disadvantage.

And you finally got to speak to Green.

I did, for WORD’s final issue as part of an article on squats. I interviewed Boy George for that too. I remember talking to him while I was pushing my son around the aisles of Morrisons. George apologised for being in an airport departure lounge. “That’s ok. I’m in the supermarket doing my shopping.”

What are some of your memories of those interviews?

I’m almost certain to be the only person who travelled to The Ivy by National Express coach. I was there to interview Rebecca Front.

I can always remember where I interviewed people when I do phone interviews – quite often it’s sitting in my car in the driveway. It’s better reception and it’s quieter than the house. For Santigold, she was in the US and I really wanted a clear line so I found a summer meadow up on the Mendips to call her from. We chatted about our respective love of the Smiths. There are worse ways to earn a living than that.

They’re not always straightforward. WORD ran a big piece on Ian Dury on the tenth anniversary of his death – Paul Du Noyer wrote the main tribute and Mark asked me to speak to a load of people and get one anecdote from each one. That way you’d get a rounded portrait of a complicated character. I remember interviewing Sinead O’Connor for that. At the time I had a desk in an office that I was sharing with a PR company. They were loud and sparkly so I had to say “I’ve never asked you to be quiet but can you be shut up? I’m about to interview Sinead O’Connor.” One of them shouts “Everyone be quiet! Nige is on the phone to Sinead O’Connor.” The room goes silent with everyone now listening to my bumbling interview technique. And it was a classic.

“Sinead, it’s Nige from Word.”

“Hang on…I’ve just got a bit of fish in my mouth…. OK, it’s gone now.”

“So what I’m doing is speaking to people who knew Ian Dury.”

“Yeah, I met him once. He seemed alright.”

“Have you got a bit more?”

It turned out there was nothing else – she didn’t make the cut! But I got to speak to Peter Blake, a few of the Blockheads and Phill Jupitus.

I was due to interview Richard Ayoade about Submarine, the first film he directed. I watched it at the film distributors in Soho and was due to speak to him afterwards. I was in the viewing room on my own and I could sense this presence. I looked up and he was watching me through the window to see if I was laughing.

I used to do a lot of the Word Of Mouth pieces, favourite books, films and music. They were easy to do; it’s a 20-minute thing I can do from home and you got to speak to loads of great people. As long as the PR had prepared them, which hadn’t always happened, they were straightforward. One comedian said “Oh, you’re joking, is this what it is? If I hang up, that’s it, don’t call back.” We managed to get to the end of the interview and it was all fine.

The worst thing is when they name something you don’t know like “You know that lost Nick Drake album?” or some obscure band and you say “Oh yeah, yeah, I think so…” After the event I’d be trying to phonetically decode what they’d said. Sometimes you’d have to blag it a bit but otherwise it was good fun. Twenty minutes to do the interview, an hour to transcribe it, a quick tidy up – nice job! I’m just wondering if any of them were bastards but none of them were. Word only chose the good people. The most difficult was probably Ayoade, just because he’s painfully shy. Normally with comedians you can’t shut them up!

I’d thought it was a bright, warm day when I sat on the banks of the Regent Canal with Tim Minchin to interview him, but it was deceptively cold. God, I must have seemed so unprofessional. The batteries on my dictaphone were going and he said “Don’t worry, I’ll record it on my IPhone and send it on”. Then he noticed me shivering and offered me his coat. “You’re literally shivering, let’s go back inside!” Just because they’ve got a public profile doesn’t mean they have to be distant

So what happened after Word closed?

I see Word as the highpoint of my career really. I was still doing things for them up to the end, including the sleeve-notes for the free CDs. Half my income as a freelancer was coming from them every month at that point so it was a JFK moment when I heard the news. I was putting the WOMAD programme together when I got an email from Mark and I just thought ‘Oh, bloody hell!’ I was obviously sad for my mortgage repayments – but more so for the staff there and just sad that it wouldn’t exist anymore. It was the best magazine and I’m not just saying that because I wrote for them. I would read it cover to cover, even the interviews with people I didn’t massively care about.  I’ve got all the back issues at home. Other magazines have come and gone, been put in the recycling bin, but I’ll never get rid of those. I had as much enjoyment from reading it as I did from writing for it, something I’ve never really had that with any other magazines. I’d advise anyone to go back and read them again, the quality of the writing is brilliant. All the editors weren’t just editors, they were great writers too.

God bless ‘em!

I loved it, I miss it so much! It’s about six years now since it closed and enough distance has gone that I feel a bit detached from it. When I leaf through them again, it brings back a lot of memories.

Did you appear on many of the podcasts?

I did – number 204, not that I have memorised it… I’m delighted to report that, of all the podcasts, it was the longest. I out-spoke Danny Baker. Can you believe that?! It was mainly because I brought some cider up and the tasting took up a bit of time. It was a privilege to go to that glorified clothes cupboard that doubled as the recording studio and row out to Bollocks Island. I appeared at a Word In Your Ear too when my first book came out.

Was it fun doing the podcast?

Absolutely, yes. I’d done a retro piece on cassettes and cassette culture with some great pictures that people had sent in. I went in to talk about tapes but that was only twenty minutes of the hour and a quarter. A lot of it was trying to get a word in – Mark and David were both in full flow. David arrived with three coffees and I’d already had an energy drink walking up Pentonville Road so I was ready.

You were fired up?

You had to be. I’ve been on the radio with Danny Baker and it’s the same with him. You can’t be a passenger or spectator. You have to grab hold and stay with him.

In the ways that the magazine stands up to repeated reading, the podcasts stand up to repeated listening. Some of them will date – I think there was one asking ‘What’s an iPod?’ As documents of the shifts in popular culture in the last 15 years, they’re really interesting. You’d have your favourite ones when certain people were on there but they were all good for a listen.

Do you listen to many other podcasts these days?

Not so much – I’m working a lot from home now after a couple of years of lecturing on journalism.

How did you get into that?

I knew someone who was already lecturing there and he said “They need some lecturers, you should do that.” I wasn’t sure but it was steady income and as a freelancer, that’s rare. I went for the interview and they said they wanted me to do a couple of days a week teaching magazine journalism and sports journalism. I went to a meet and greet after these academics had been off for several months for the summer and someone said, “Oh, Jude can’t make it today I’m afraid.”

“Who’s Jude?”

“Jude Rogers.”

I thought, ‘This is alright, my old Word pal’s Jude’s gonna be here!’ She’s still there but I left after a while as the workload was immense. There was a lot of admin, marking, personal tutoring and I really wanted to be writing. Plus it was a 140-mile drive on the M5 which on a Friday is one of the pits of hell. I got Barry McIlheney and some sports people down to talk to the students which was good fun.

Lecturing’s not something I’d rush back to, but it gave me the ability to stand up in a busy room, read aloud from a book and answer questions. I’ve done a few literary festivals since then so at least it gave me practice of being in front of a load of people. And shingles. Yes, it also gave me shingles.

While we’re talking about books, what was the first one?

That was Mr Gig. When I was at university I made a bee-line for the Ents Office and somehow got elected as the Ents Officer the following year. I put on bands like Lush as the support for the House Of Love. That night, Alan McGee came and knocked on the door saying, “You need to get some beers for the girls, you’re only giving them £50.” I gave them half a crate of Skol. I’ve since apologised to Miki for that. She said, “It was fine, we didn’t normally get paid at all.”

My first job between graduating and being on the dole was a summer spent being a roadie. Then I put on a few gigs and did some DJ-ing as support to bands around Bristol. Once I moved out of Bristol to the country and had kids, I felt divorced from live music. Gigs used to be a dirty subculture that I went to as a seventeen year old and now several generations of families go to bright, shiny arena shows. Gigs are big business and the record industry isn’t, so I tarted this up into the premise of a book and went off trying to re-engage with live music. I went to see bands like The Wedding Present and Half Man Half Biscuit. I also went to a death metal festival and a cheesy 80’s pop nostalgia fest where everyone’s wearing shoulder pads or dressed in Ghostbusters outfits. That was immense fun and I got to interview loads of 80s people. They all were at ease with it and were happy to be playing their one hit in front of twenty thousand people – where else would they be able to do that?

It’s an audience and you’re getting paid.

Exactly.

The one ambition I had in life was to have a book published – and I’d done that. It’s good as a magazine journalist to have something coming out at the end of the following month but writing a book and seeing it on the shelf, knowing it won’t get chucked out in the recycling bin, is pretty addictive. With music, there aren’t many books left to write. If you’re interested in a particular band, you need them to have been around for a decade.

So I moved into sports books. I was writing for the football magazine FourFourTwo then which was a good gig because they’re all young lads in their late twenties/early thirties and I’m not. I remember stuff from the late 70s and early 80s that they know about but that they didn’t live through. It’s all in here (taps head) – I could write a feature from just what’s in my brain. I was the old fart coming up with these ideas, which I’m still doing.

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I then wrote The Bottom Corner about non-league football. It was similar to Mr Gig in some ways – I like the idea of road trips and getting out and about. It adds colour to a piece. That’s what I liked when I did the Seasick Steve or Test Match Special pieces for Word, collecting colour and observing. It’s not just, ‘Here are the words from an interview, shuffle them around a bit.’ I went everywhere from Hackney Marshes to Tranmere Rovers who were in their first season out of the Football League in 92 years and lots of great stories in-between. I was chuffed when Waterstones put it on their list of top 12 sports books of the year.

Then I wrote a book on the 1989 Tour de France – Three Weeks, Eight Seconds. That race was an amazing story. Greg LeMond overturned a 50-second deficit on the last day and won by eight seconds. He had thirty buckshot pellets in his body from a shooting accident eighteen months earlier when he had been twenty minutes away from bleeding to death. I could have waited until the race’s thirtieth anniversary but I really wanted to do it, so we got in before anyone else plugged that particular gap on the shelves. And it got shortlisted for the Sports Book Awards, which was really gratifying. It’s since come out in the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

My next one is out in November. It’s about football’s transfer window.

You’re always thinking ahead aren’t you?

I have to. If I was working purely as a journalist and just did these books as an add-on, one every few years, it would be fine. I love doing them and need to do them financially. It’s tough being wholly freelance and pitching, pitching, pitching. Some of the pitches you can spend hours on and they never go anywhere. As a freelancer you have to very entrepreneurial. A book is a chunk of income and if I can do one a year that’s ok. And the clock’s ticking. I’ve just had a significant birthday that’s made me closer to sixty than forty. I remember when I was a kid, sixty was fucking ancient. So, that’s part of the thing of getting on with the books, keep going and try and get one out every year. Like The Redskins said: keep on keeping on.

 

Butch Wilkins and the Sundance Kid: A Teenage Obsession With TV Sport is out now. Nige’s next book – Boot Sale: Inside The Strange And Secret World Of Football’s Transfer Window – is published in November

 

Follow Nige on twitter here: @nigetassell

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Word #58

Issue 58

November 2008

Word 58

Cover star – Robert Plant

Word shuffle

1) P101 – Two half page adverts for the re-release of Robyn Hitchcock’s back catalogue and Bob Dylan’s The Other Side of the Mirror, finally released on DVD. Possibly the most Word-friendly advert pairing in the magazine’s history.

2) P115– a page of DVD reviews which includes: Steptoe and Son: Complete Series 1:8 (“Find this in your stocking and you might be able to get through Christmas”),  House: Season 3 (“It doesn’t take forensic investigation to work out that Hugh Laurie’s Dr Gregory House character is a warped latterday Sherlock Holmes”) and Chinatown: Special Edition (“Chinatown – the place – is deployed as a metaphor for the futility of good intentions: Chinatown – the film – is a peerless monument to what’s possible when those intentions come right”).

3) P116– a complete page is given over to Andrew Harrison’s review of Doctor Who: The Complete Series 3 Box Set. “John Simm’s grinning, hyperactive, moustache-free version of the Master is insane (two thumbs up!) and driven by a possibly homoerotic need to make the Doctor notice him. He’s the perfect anti-Tennant, a fun loving intergalactic criminal who tortures the Doctor while playing songs from the Scissor Sisters’ second album (the fiend!).”

4) P12 -part of a four page spread about defunct music magazines. This page includes Trax (a London music paper which ran for eight issues in ’81) and New Music News (“hilarious and off-beam NME and Melody Maker rival in 1980: lasted twelve issues”).

5) P109 – a page of reviews of reissues includes: Mick Jagger’s The Very Best Of  (“a real curio is Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup), a funksome thing produced by John Lennon during his 1973 lost weekend”), Can’s Anthology (“the collection presents plenty of evidence for why their muse is greater than the sum of its esoteric parts”) and Songbird by Emmylou Harris (“in the early 1970s, when Nashville was commercialising such potent simplicity out of existence, she was a rare breath of pure country air, and so she has remained”).

Interesting 

Jim Irvin reviews Amy Winehouse’s live DVD (I Told You I Was Trouble) and says “I like Amy and I’d hate to see her turn into a 21st-century Billie Holliday. She’s too good to need tragedy to make us love her. I hope she doesn’t need it to love herself.”

From a page of terrible songs by great bands: I Have a Dream by Abba (“the children’s choir bit would have Mother Teresa reaching for the gin”), Radiohead’s We Suck Young Blood (“vocals like a cat trying to get back in the house”) and top of the pile is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by the HJHM (“group take their eye off the ball and allow Macca’s deathless love of oom-pah on to Abbey Road“).

On the next page we have the best songs by terrible artists: Crazy Horses by the Osmonds (where did this blast of equine thunder come from?”), Who Do You Think You Are? by the Spice Girls (“still Madonna-grade ultrasleek ultrapop”) and Yes win it with Owner of a Lonely Heart (“lumpy prog rockers teleport into the future to spectacular effect”).

Jarvis Cocker is interviewed about the art of live performance. He says “I like to talk onstage. A band isn’t on some kind of exalted level – you’re all in it together. A concert is about communication. You want to feel like you’ve made some sort of contact with the audience and directly addressing them is a way of doing that. I’ve been to see other performers where they use the same spiel night after night and I find it really dispiriting. It reeks of a kind of rehearsed professionalism, which is a word I baulk at. ”

Roisin Murphy “idolised Will Self growing up. My Idea of Fun was important to me in its disturbing brilliance, even though I didn’t know what half the words he used meant. I remember seeing him on that Ruby Wax dinner-party show with her and Marianne Faithfull – most men wouldn’t get a word in but he had them eating out of his hand.”

Rob Fitzpatrick spends an evening with Steve Lamacq and writes “It turns out this man has seen ¡Forward, Russia! – an indie band from Leeds famous for only naming their songs with numbers and having two people in the band whose job it is to shout – 18 times in the last three years. I doubt I’ve even seen my own mother 18 times in the last three years. Roy Castle knew nothing about dedication when compared to Steve Lamacq.”

Longer article(s)

Andrew Collins on In Rainbows by Radiohead and Charles Shaar Murray on Blade Runner: The Final Cut.

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Word #57

Issue 57

October 2008

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Cover star – Bruce Springsteen

Word shuffle

1) P95 – “Grumpuccino to go!” Paul Du Noyer reviews the new album by Joni Mitchell (“More an eco-worrier than an eco-warrior”). ‘Shine’, was released on the Hear Music label owned by Starbucks. “Nearly all of the album is a complaint about something or another. War, pollution and men in general are strongly disapproved of. The musical settings are lightly jazzy; the tunes are simply arranged while twisty enough to avoid blandness.”

2) P137– is the Home Service section in which various Word writers enthuse about the books, films and music that are currently floating their boats. Jude Rogers has been enjoying reissues by Diana Dors (‘Swingin’ Dors’) and Virna Lindt’s ‘Play/Record’, Andrew Harrison has been listening to podcasts from The Onion Radio News and Mark Ellen is “mid-way through Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant ‘Thames: Sacred River’, covering everything from the pageantry or river carnivals to the murk of ‘Our Mutual Friend’.”

3). P13 – a full page picture of Julie Christie in ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ which accompanies the story that she’ll be reading ‘Madam Bovary’ for an audiobook.

4). P47 – pictures from Milan where the concert celebrating 40 years of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ has recently taken place The line up includes Robyn Hitchcock, the Residents, Jarvis Cocker, Badly Drawn Boy, Marianne Faithfull, Baby Lemonade and Russell Mael.

5). P120 – Jim White reviews Cate Blanchett’s latest outing in a ruff, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’. “Blanchett gives a wonderfully toned, moving portrayal of a woman who has sacrificed her own sexuality in service of her duty, but such subtlety is in danger of being compromised at every turn by the fastness and looseness with which Kapur (director) plays with history.”

Interesting 

The actor Paul Kaye declares that “Pete Doherty is the nearest thing we’ve ever had to Jim Morrison”.

A tribute to Cherry Red’s ‘Pillows & Prayers’ LP by Andrew Collins is spread over two pages. “The album, named after a Victorian children’s book Mike Alway (A&R man for the label) had found in a junk shop, was ready to ship in time for Christmas Day. With its soon-to-be iconic cover photo (another Alway find – scissored from an encyclopaedia his grandparents had given him), the record entered the Independent Chart at number one and refused to budge for 19 weeks, capturing the mood of Oxfam junkies and sensitive young socialists up and down the land.”

Ronnie Gurr, a press officer at Virgin Records in the ’80s says about Richard Branson, “…it was ironic to consider that Richard, despite never having any money to get his round in on the label’s Friday night socials in the Earl of Lonsdale pub, was in the market for a Boeing or three.”

David Quantick finds the appropriate term for Razorlight covering Sting’s ‘An Englishman In New York’ in his review of a Radio One compilation album – “a double-shit whammy”.

Sarah Montague of the Today programme on Radio Four is currently reading ‘The Alistair Campbell Diaries’. “I am reading it for work, but it’s actually a riot. He writes really well and it’s really very funny.”

Andrew Harrison writes about the film ‘Air Guitar Nation’. “It’s a brilliantly funny, entertaining and – dare I say it – even moving story, a kind of male ‘Flashdance’ where a series of losers and nearly-weres discover fulfilment and even a kind of fame.” He meets “Bjorn Turoque, aka Dan Crane, who’s appearing at the Islington Academy for the UK Air Guitar Championships. He’s become something of a face for worldwide air guitar. ‘To be a great air guitarist you need to play something like the right notes but you need a persona, you need to be a rock star,’ he explains.”

Longer article

Stephen Armstrong writes about ‘Spooks’.

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Word #56

Issue 56

October 2007

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Cover star – David Gilmour

Word shuffle

1) P126 – some reissues get reviewed. Nige Tassell recommends the latest Soul Jazz compilation which focuses on the music which came out of Brazil, immediately after the Tropicalia movement of the late ’60s. “…the folky tones of Nelson Angelo & Joyce suggest that, halfway across the world, the gentle musical exploration of Pentangle didn’t go unnoticed either. A compelling lesson in cultural history.”

2) P91 – a page from the Tickets Please! section. Nige speaks to Seasick Steve about his upcoming tour and asks him about staying in swanky hotels. “Shit, I ain’t staying in no five-star hotel! I bought me this big old ’87 Mercedes van – big thing, about 25 feet long, that some hippy carpenter built a log cabin in. It’s got a wood burning stove. I just travel round in this bus by myself and sleep on the side of the road.”

3) P14 – part of a 3 page obituary on Anthony H Wilson by Andy Gill. He writes about how the Manchester Primary Care Trust wouldn’t pay for the £3, 500 per month drug called Sutent that could have prolonged his life. “Wilson would have been well aware of the black irony of the city, which he more than anyone had helped to re-establish as a cultural epicentre, failing to help one of it’s most gifted sons in his hour of need”

4) P34 – Hazel Davis writes about new sensation Kate Nash. “She took a gap year – ‘from what, I don’t know’ – and, after failing auditions to drama school worked in Nando’s Chicken and a River Island clothes shop. A broken leg left her housebound for a short while and, she says, as though it’s really that easy, ‘I wrote a few songs and booked my first gig at Trinity in Harrow.”

P23 – a page of photos from the recent Green Man festival headlined ‘Powys To The People!”

Interesting Stuart Maconie reviews a Shane Meadows film collection. “Meadows is the best film-maker these islands have produced in decades, a director who tells his stories of working-class-life with humour, elan and an unnerving eye and ear for the truth. The films in this box set showcase the various facets of his talent, from gallows humour to farce, horror to human drama.”

David Quantick witnesses a tiny gig by Carbon/Silicon – the band fronted by Mick Jones and Tony James. “Jones’s expectations for the group are pretty low-key. “Nothing, really. I’m hoping for nothing. It’s a band about nothing. It’s like Seinfeld. Seinfeld is a show about nothing. We should just do and be happy to do.”

In Robert Sandall’s article about Radio One he writes: “On a strictly non-attributable basis, pluggers will mutter darkly about Radio 1’s current obsession with ‘evidence of popularity’ before the station will commit. Online evidence is pretty persuasive, apparently: a lot of MySpace friends, a strong presence on Facebook, a big email fanbase…these sort of things speak loudly at playlist meetings round at Radio 1 these days.”

David Gilmour is asked by Jim Irvin how he felt when he heard that Syd had died. “I felt extremely sad about it, it was a tragic waste and I also felt a great sense of regret that I didn’t go and see him in all those years. His family had said it would be better if people didn’t but I wouldn’t have thought that would have applied to me. I do regret that I hadn’t been more bullish about it; I did know where he lived, I could have invited myself in for a cup of tea. We were friends as teenagers and had a lot of memories that had nothing to do with Floyd. Some of that might have cheered him up.”

Longer article

John Naughton writes about cryptic crosswords.

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Word Interview #9 – Pete Paphides

After interviewing Rhodri Marsden about the fanzine he used to produce, I went directly to a great little caff in north London to meet Pete Paphides for the same reason. His zine, Perturbed, was actually the first one I read and I wanted to hear the story of how it came into existence. All that chat will be in my forthcoming book about fanzine editors but here are some choice off-cuts about how a zine interview lead to his first meeting with Caitlin Moran and, some thoughts on Word. I’ve never felt more like I was in one of Dexys’ early music videos, drinking lots of tea and having beans on toast whilst we chatted about the midlands of the eighties. During our conversation, Pete asked me about my old zine and I mentioned that I interviewed Levitation for the second and final issue.

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Levitation were the reason I met Caitlin. Do you remember a fanzine called Ablaze from Leeds, run by Karren? I’d started at Melody Maker and she was looking for someone based in London to interview them. I had to meet them at the Southampton Riverside arts complex. The interview was fine, it lasted about an hour. At the end Terry Bickers said, “I think one of your colleagues is up next. Do you know Caitlin Moran?” I’d not met her at that point but I liked her writing. In fact I was kind of annoyed because I’d finished college in Wales and thought I could go back to Birmingham and maybe do the gig reviews for Melody Maker. In my absence Caitlin’s byline had popped up doing Birmingham gigs and she was way better than I was. I thought, ‘Well I can’t compete with her.’ That hastened my move to London. I thought she was brilliant, so much so that I’d written a letter to tell her how great her writing was. Being in the offices in Melody Maker, I knew that you often didn’t get much feedback, it was hard writing into the void. I took it upon myself to write this letter and got her address from the secretary but had never got round to sending it off. We all went to the pub with Levitation that night and she missed the last train home. I said “You can stay at mine if you want – it’s a shitty bedsit in Stockwell but you’re more than welcome.” We stayed up until five in the morning and I told her about the letter. I said “I know it’s a bit weird but I wrote you a letter, I think you’re brilliant. I may as well give it you now”. She thought it was sweet. She slept on my bed that night, I slept on my sofa and we just hit it off.

And that was that?

Nothing happened that night. We went out for a few weeks but she was seventeen and hadn’t even moved to London yet. We decided we’d be better off just as friends and it stayed like that for a few years until we got together in 1995.

We then drank further cups of tea and spoke a lot more about fanzines before I asked him how he came to do some bits of writing for Word.

I think Mark Ellen got in touch with me. I’d do anything for him because of Smash Hits. It’s a shame that he’s not editing a magazine right now, the same goes for David Hepworth. Did you read 1971? He’s a brilliant writer; especially when he’s writing about music that he clearly still finds exciting. It’s funny because beneath that slightly world-weary exterior, he’s a total enthusiast. He is on the inside what Mark Ellen is on the outside, which is probably why they’re so close.

It was always fun writing for them, it was a meaty magazine. In our toilet at home we have all the issues and they’re falling apart because every visitor over the last seven or eight years has picked them up. There was so much in them.

It knew its audience very well and it wasn’t under pressure to get younger readers all the time. For a few years, Q lost a lot of readers by not quite knowing who it’s trying to attract, although for the past five or six years, it’s really got back on track. I thought Word might last a bit longer because it was well written and it knew who it was there for.

Did you ever go to the office?

Once or twice. I went in and did a thing on old music papers with Mark and David. I brought in a haul of old NMEs and Melody Makers from the late sixties and early seventies, and we pored over them for a podcast.

Was that the time you spoke about Darren Burn?

Yes, that’s right. [listen from around 44 minutes in]

I got really interested in him after that and got a copy of the two documentaries from someone.

That DVD has that awful adjunct hasn’t it?

Yes, the short documentary from 15 years later? He looks broken in it. I think he died fairly shortly after that.

He did. I tell you another good one to watch is the Sheena Easton one. She was discovered through a documentary series called ‘The Big Time’. It followed different people like actors, circus performers, or footballers to see if they had what it takes. That’s how she got famous. She was from a suburb of Glasgow – Belshill I think, where Teenage Fanclub and the Pastels are from – and she auditioned for EMI. They take a punt on her and send her to various experts to be restyled. They all chip in with their ideas on what she needs to do to be famous and it’s weirdly demoralising; she’s torn apart basically. At the end of it her first single is released and it’s a flop. The general feeling is ‘oh well, she had her makeover, she was ripped apart by a bunch of experts, she made a record and it stiffed and that’s that.’ It was only because it was televised and a lot of people saw it that her next single was a hit. It was almost out of pity really. At the same time, the song that was featured in ‘The Big Time’ – ‘Modern Girl’ – started rising up the charts too so she had two records in the top 10. It’s still quite a depressing documentary, partly because seventies record company offices are all low low-lit, really dusty and full of cigarette smoke. It looks like terrible things happen in them.

They resemble sit-com sets, like Reggie Perrin’s office, all nylon and over-flowing ashtrays.

They seem to be such uncreative places. There’s something sad about seeing people who were adults in the sixties and now everyone has longer, greasier hair and wider collars. Everyone looks a bit smellier than they did in the sixties.

Word #55

Issue 55

September 2007

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Cover star – Johnny Marr

Word shuffle

1) P7 – the contents page which includes Mark Ellen’s editorial. “The Word office developed a theory that you could actually date people by their phrases, the once-fashionable jargon from their twenties they’d refused to abandon. Pour someone three glasses of red and if they claim to be “pie-eyed” they’re your mother, if they’re “slaughtered” they’re your wife, and if they’re “gurp”, “baked” or “totally twunted” they’re probably your children.”

2) P45 – a page of photos from the recent Word-sponsored Cornbury Music Festival  including the opening act The Love Trousers (featuring Mark Ellen), Imelda May, The Waterboys and the Feeling.

3) P38 – Jim Irvin writes about selling his record collection. “I once asked the late John Walters, esteemed producer of Peel’s show for many years, why he was selling his records. ‘I’m not so much losing a record collection as gaining a conservatory.’ This makes perfect sense to me now, having just lugged many boxes of records into a new flat and wondering what I was doing it for. Yes, apart from a congenital, autistic, male impulse to hoard, what made me start filling rooms with records?”

4) P95 – a page of gig adverts. Trying to sell tickets to you this month are Crowded House, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson, The Human League, Catherine Feeny and David Sylvian.

5) P70 – a page from Roy Wilkinson’s four page interview with Richard Hawley. “As ever, the voice, melody and arrangements that define Hawley’s new album find him channelling Roy Orbison, old Disney soundtracks and ancient Sun studio slapback delay. But there’s more to Hawley than simple retro magnificence. Amy Winehouse mixes age-old soul-pop with lyrics about Wimbledon-born US rap masters – Slick Rick – and phrases as distinctive as ‘What kind of fuckery is this?’ Hawley, too, combines the familiar and the novel. Encompassing both the Memphis of Elvis and BB King and the Yorkshire of Keith Waterhouse, Hawley has perfected a kind of rockabilly Billy Liar.”

Interesting Robert Wyatt says that his “… biggest influence is records I don’t like, including my own. It’s a bit like if you have tattoos saying I Love Ann. Then she dumps you a month later and you’re going out with Mandy. You think, ‘If I add an M and a Y…’ and it all gets a bit scratchy. Records are like fading tattoos. They’re eradicable more or less, and if you knew that when you were making them you’d have been much more circumspect.”

Andrew Harrison describes Johnny Marr – “Not everything that Marr does succeeds and his work is too diverse for one person to love all of it indiscriminately. But I can’t think of anyone else in British music who has tried such unpredictable, off-script moves. Paul Weller in his post-Jam identity crisis, perhaps, when he lurched from cafe jazz to R&B and finally house before returning to the horny-handed AOR that he was good at – but Marr is in no need of that sort of capitulation.”

Siouxsie Sioux is interviewed by Barry McIlheney who asks what occupies her time when at home in France. “Watching sport, especially Wolverhampton Wanderers. My brother picked them as his football team in the ’50s and they became my team too, thought any time I mention this they always seem to do badly. What I loved about them was the black and gold kit and the gold wolf’s head. That was it for me! I remember Derek Dougan. The Doog! He was a skinhead before there were skinheads.”

In Don Arden’s obituary Andy Gill writes “On one occasion, he was said to have stubbed a lit cigar out on the forehead of another business rival, Clifford Davis. And when his own daughter, Sharon, lured Ozzy from Arden’s clutches, she was savaged by his dogs in an incident she described as ‘horrific’, triggering a miscarriage. What a lovely bloke!”

Tahita Bulmer, singer with the New Young Pony Club loves ‘Fun House’ by The Stooges. “Thanks to that records I drank a lot of tequila, took a lot of boys home and climbed the scaffolding on buildings that were being renovated.”

In the 99% True section we learn that Prince played 23 different instruments on his first album, that he briefly adopted the alias Alexander Nevermind and that his 2006 live show grossed $87.4 million.

Longer article

Graeme Thomson interviews David Peace

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Word #54

Issue 54

August 2007

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Cover star – Van Morrison

Word shuffle

1) P6 – full page HMV advert for DVDs. £12.95 will buy you a Paul Weller documentary called Into Tomorrow or the BBC comedy series Bruiser from David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Ricky Gervais.

2) P79 – the second page of three about how good The Wire is by James Medd. “The key is – and bear with us here – to think of it as a novel. Co-creator David Simon said that, not us. He’s compared it to Moby Dick (“you don’t meet the whale in the first chapter”) and, more usefully and rather less dangerously, to a crime novel in the spirit of Hammett and Chandler. Like a great crime novel, The Wire is realistic but poetic, more gripping the deeper you get into it and deeply satisfying. It makes other TV dramas look like comic books.”

3) P94 – James Medd again, this time interviewing KT Tunstall. He asks her about her audience.

“Well, the front row is usually lesbians, heckling me, going, ‘You know you are – go on, admit it.’ There’s always a couple of teenagers who’ve sneaked in, always someone’s parents who’ve never been to a gig before, and lots of couples. Before Universe & U, I tell them ‘If you’re on a date, this is probably the one to get your tongue in.’ Gets it over with…”

4) P121 – Jim White reviews Four Eyed Monsters, an independent film by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice. It was released straight onto the internet, streaming at http://www.foureyedmonsters.com; it isn’t there any more, the site has been taken over by a budgeting company. “It’s a fine debut, a piece of deft story-telling and technical precision, a warm, wise and witty comedy about the kind of neurotic, self-obsessed New York love affair that Woody Allen used to make in the days when he still made films in his home town.”

5) P27 – Justin Spear rounds up a few recent DVD releases of ’70s kids’ TV shows. “We open on East London at its grimiest. A hairy three-piece band pace the street terrorising a market community, burning stalls and all that stand in their way. Whether the gang’s Clockwork Orange look is accidental or not, the mixture of comedy and thuggery grabs you immediately. And so begins the opening episode of The Meddlers, a three-part storyline broadcast in 1972, opening the third season of children’s TV series Ace Of Wands.”

Interesting Andrew Marr (“the best ears in the business”) talks about his favourite music .”I think Jarvis Cocker is back to writing really strong, unpredictable stories that feel simplified and cleaned-up after leaving Pulp. I love the music and words of Nick Cave – I’m a real fan. Having said that, not everything on the Grinderman record is great – though No Pussy Blues is very, very funny.” Andrea Corr is reading A Thousand Suns by Khaled Hosseini, the guy who wrote Kite Runner. An Afghan illegitimate girl gets married off to a man much older than her. It’s just really tragic”. Sara Cox is “really looking forward to Prince at the O2, seeing him in front of tens of thousands of his adoring fans. I can still sing every word of Raspberry Beret. I’m always listening to Simon and Garfunkel on my iPod, just the greatest hits. Lily Allen is still on regular rotation along with Jamie T and The Streets.”

Jim Irvin reviews some music DVDs, including Into Tomorrow (as mentioned earlier). He describes it as “a candid documentary. ‘I won’t mention any names but one or two of the band were taking him for granted’ says John Weller, Paul’s Dad – which considering The Jam was a trio, doesn’t leave much room for speculation.”

Rob Fitzpatrick interviews “the planet’s least-fashionable band” Marillion. “In the days before proper browsers, keyboard player Mark Kelly used to interact with fans via message boards. He posted a message apologising to Marillion enthusiasts for the lack of a US tour, but the fans took charge of the situation, opened a bank account and started collecting money to fund one. They raised $60, 000 just for the projected shortfall. And those who donated still had to buy a ticket. ‘That woke us up to two things’, says Steve Hogarth (singer): that our fans were not just nuts about us but were willing to put their money where their mouths were. And that the internet was the future, the perfect medium through which we could communicate with Marillion fans.”

Jude Rodgers catches up on the current exploits of a few ex-musicians: Amelia Fletcher of Tallulah Gosh is Chief Economist at the Office of Fair Trading, Keith Clark, once the drummer with The Circle Jerks, is a tax accountant in Los Angeles and Jon King of Gang Of Four is now “MD of Story Worldwide, a company that ‘delivers multi-channel branded content that is contextually relevant to media-savvy audiences’ (no, we don’t know what it means either).”

Longer article

Barry McIlheney interviews Van Morrison.

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