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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Word #53

Issue 53

July 2007

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Cover star – Leonard Cohen

Word shuffle

1) P4 – second page listing some of the tracks on the free CD. Includes Patrick Cleandenim, Sonnenberg, Asobi Seksu and The Wailin’ Jennies.

2) P19 – the 20 worst singers in pop are listed. Unsurprisingly, given that Smash Hits used to call him ‘foghorn Hadley’, Tony Hadley is right up there (“sounds like an elephant trapped in a shipping container”). Also included are Rod Stewart since 1972 (“approaches his umpteenth covers album with the vim and brio of a man completing Community Service”), Madonna (“the sound of a brittle martinet”) and top spot goes to Mariah (“all technique, gallons of sugary gloop and not an atom of soul anywhere”).

3) P121 – a page of album reviews. Nige Tassell reviews Shady Bard’s ‘From The Ground Up’ (“a compact and bijou Birmingham collective who actually sound rather wonderful – a gentle swell of guitars, piano and strings whose slowness to build should be applauded heartily”). Jamie Bowman writes that ‘Goodbye’ by Ulrich Schnauss “is an album so German it practically wears lederhosen and drives a Merc”. Tiny Dancers’ ‘Free School Milk’ is ‘”curiously confusing” according to Jim Irvin. “one minute the Verve fronted by Neil Diamond, then jaunty tunes like Baby Love and I Will Wait For You summoning up 60’s pop by forgotten acts like Marmalde and Christie.”

4)  P6 –a page of DVD adverts from HMV. You can buy Bowie’s ‘Glass Spider’ DVD/2CD combo for £16.95 (copies on discogs currently going for double that), Iggy & the Stooges ‘Live In Detroit’ for £16 (used copies for £4 on Amazon) and Julien Temple’s ‘Glastonbury’ special edition 2DVD/2CD/book combo for £26.95 (now a tenner on eBay).

5)  P20 – in a neat act of symmetry, the random number generator has chosen the page with the 20 best singers. Lauded warblers include Sandy Denny (“sounded a bit like the Middle Ages’ version of a pop star”), Winston Rodney from Burning Spear (“even if the rooticality doesn’t speak to you, the pipes surely will”) and Russell Mael from Sparks (” the strangle-scrotumed falsettist gave metal vocalists their challenge”). Roy Orbison is proclaimed as the best (“his voice seemed to come from outer space – an unearthly sound that could move in the most unexpected ways”).

Interesting – Sylvia Patterson interviews Paul McCartney and asks him about his Smash Hits nickname.

SP: Were you aware, back in the ’80s, of the full title that Smash Hits used to give you?

PM: Wacky? Thumbs aloft? Macca….Wacky Thumbs Aloft?

SP: “Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft.”

PM: Is that the full thing? You learned it! I loved that, Thumbs Aloft. And funnily enough it was coined by the guy at the time who looked a bit like me. Mark, the editor. So I thought there was something deep and psychological going on there.”

Mark E Smith is interviewed about favourite music (“the only thing I listen to at home is Italian house, Italian rave and piano house”), books (“I like Malcom Lowry, ‘Under The Volcano’, that’s alright”) and films/TV (“I’m a big ‘Neighbours’ fan – they’ve only got 12 actors in Australia and you can see in all their face how they want to move to London and make a pop record”) in the Word Of Mouth section.

David Quantick reviews some classic BBC comedy DVDs. “Watching Eric Morecambe work is still a joy, because he clearly loved it. He makes lines up, he laughs, he stares at people, he makes faces – he is enjoying himself. Fearless, we see him mock the dignified and make them like it.”

There’s a 3 page article by Robert Monks on how pirates have come to dominate the collective imagination. “The crossover of the juvenile and adult mind is, it seems, at the centre of the pirate mania. The modern conception of the pirate owes a huge chunk of itself to two of the most enduring childrens’ books there are, Treasure Island and Peter Pan. According to Christine Alhadeff, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, the ‘pirate theme’ reflects preoccupations that are archetypal for children. ‘Piratical values reverse the conventional order of things,’ she says. ‘Instead of longing for love and tenderness, the band of self-sufficient men and boys sail off under a skull and crossbones.”

Longer article

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Word Interview #8 – Rhodri Marsden

While I was interviewing Rhodri for a book I’m writing about fanzines it seemed like a good opportunity to briefly talk to him about his recollections of Word. We met in March 2018 at the British Library, a place Rhodri had never been to before. This made me feel like a street-wise Londoner.

We discussed his writing career following his days as a fanzine editor.

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RM: When I left university in 1992 I had no idea what I was going to do. I ended up working for Nick Hobbs, who was the manager of Pere Ubu, Laibach and others. He used to manage Henry Cow, he’d been an agent at Rough Trade for many years, he’d set up Recommended Records with Chris Cutler and organised pioneering tours of Eastern Europe with acts like Billy Bragg and Misty In Roots over there. I knew him as the singer with the Shrubs, a C86 band who I’d been to see a few times. I was round at his house to tap him for gig contacts in Eastern Europe for my band at the time, The Keatons, when he asked if I wanted a job as his assistant. It was another one of those moments when someone recognised that I was enthusiastic and reasonably conscientious. He was hugely influential for me in that he was making a living, albeit a chaotic one, out of doing stuff that he thought was important. All of his decisions were motivated by enthusiasm, rather than financial gain; if he needed to buy a thing he would do and worry about it later. He was really good at creating work and making it happen. He was this completely self-contained unit of creativity.

He sounds like a fascinating character.

Absolutely, I still see him occasionally. He lives in Istanbul now, doing the same kind of work. He’s a real eccentric.

Another thing I got from him was that he was an absolute stickler for clarity of communication, whether we were dealing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ rider requirements in the Ukraine or communicating with Pere Ubu’s record label. He would write these beautiful, concise letters. He drilled into me that there was no room in this business for omitting detail or not communicating exactly how things are. He wasn’t a writer as such, but he made me good at organising my thoughts in a coherent way. I remember some friends asking me if I’d considered writing for a living, and I thought yeah, maybe I could.

I got to a point with Nick where the job was getting too stressful. It was taking up weekends and I was getting calls from angry people on the other side of the world at 3 a.m. I quit on Christmas Day in 2000. My idea was that I would leave the job and get into writing, but I didn’t have a strategy. I decided to give it six months, and very early on I got a job working on a website for a BBC drama series called Attachments. Then I got to know a few people, pitched a feature for Time Out and it went from there. Bearing in mind how the media has changed in the last 20 years, I was very lucky timing-wise. I just sneaked in under the wire.

How did you first get involved in doing some work for Word magazine?

I can’t quite remember… I’m not sure how David and Mark became aware I existed. It might have been because I was friends with Michèle Noach, the artist, who used to be married to Robyn Hitchcock. Robyn and Michèle were part of a kind of Chiswick social scene with Peter Blake and various others. Mark Ellen was central to all that, so I’d met him a few times. Also, I suppose by that time I’d amassed a lot of Twitter followers, so David might have been aware of me through that.

I’ve never written very much about music. In around 2003 I’d had a column in the Observer Music Monthly called ‘Guitarist Wanted’. The idea was they sent me undercover to audition for bands I had no intention of joining and then write about the experience. It was really stressful because it involved deception, which I’m not very good at. I also remember that my remit was to be mildly amusing but they took all the jokes out – a very common thing, I’ve discovered since, but at the time it left me highly distressed. I remember the editor and deputy editor took me for lunch after six months of this and I thought ‘Ooh, this is a good sign’. But they told me they weren’t going to do the column anymore and asked if I wanted to review some records instead. I didn’t really want to, but I thought I should show willing. They sent me to review ‘You Are the Quarry’ by Morrissey. I had to go to a plush office and spend an hour and a half with this album, and I remember writing a review which could be summed up as ‘Well, I think it’s alright but who cares what I think?’ And that was the only time I got paid to review a record.

But while I’m not very good at writing about music, I think I’m quite good at writing about the making of it. I think the first thing I wrote for Word was about the art of songwriting. It was looking at how a song emerges, how do people prepare mentally, do they sit down with a guitar or a keyboard, do they have a special room, what comes first, words or music and so on.

And you went on to write some other pieces for them?

I think the main one, which ended up being a three-parter, was about the noises that made pop music. It was looking at the building blocks of pop, things like the Beach Boys’ use of theremin, Big Muff distortion pedal, Motown tambourine…

The cowbell?

Exactly, like ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’! More cowbell! Also the 808 cowbell on ‘Dance With Somebody’. Over the three issues it became quite a sizeable piece of work. I remember there was some interest from Radio 2 about doing a documentary but it never happened. I also went on a Word podcast to talk about it.

Were they fun to do?

Yeah! I think I ended up doing two of those podcasts. Green and also I did some Scritti songs in the broom cupboard at the office.

Were you a fan of the magazine?

Yes, mainly because I really liked the people that made it – Andrew Harrison, Fraser Lewry, Kate Mossman… And Mark is such an extraordinary force of nature. I know him quite well now through Michèle. She does these festivals in the Arctic, in a small town in Norway called Vadsø. She invites some of her favourite musicians to go up there, and we put together a show over the course of a week and then perform it. The most recent one involved me, Terry Edwards, half of REM, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip – a very improbable collection. Mark came on the first one and he’s just great. I don’t know anyone as enthusiastic as him. When you enter a room and see him there you just think ‘Oh, brilliant, Mark’s here!’