Word #65

Word 65

July 2008

Cover star – John Martyn

Word shuffle

1). P102 – David Hepworth reviews albums by Emmylou Harris (All I Intended to Be) and Mary Gauthier (Genesis). “Emmylou Harris records, while generally delightful, have always had a tendency towards prettiness. It is too late to expect anything vulgar of her but in this case one might wish for a little less taste. Gauthier’s consistency could be her key quality. Like Tom Waits, on the face of it her range ought to be narrow, but it’s fascinating how much power she can muster and how she can draw you back time and again to spare…”

2). P115 – more album reviews. Reissues from Yazoo, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“…Rosetta gave birth to stomping Southern holy rock and rolling”), Camper Van Beethoven, Mudcrutch and The Replacements (“The sound you hear on the first four Replacements records is that of a band striving to bridge the chasm between the emotional directness of hardcore and a less fashionable fondness for pretty pre-punk melody”).

3). P75 – Stuart Price talks to Graeme Thomson about producing Madonna. “What’s brilliant about her is she’s blissfully unaware of how a computer really works , so she’s not there saying ‘Can we try this effect?’ or (pointing at a screen) ‘Can we move that bit over there?’ There’s none of that. She sits on the couch and says ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I like it’. You’re left to do your own thing without someone leaning over your shoulder.”

4). P61 – a full page advert for Al Green’s new album on Blue Note, Lay it Down. Features guest vocals from John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae.

5). P50 – David Hepworth writes about the public’s attention span. “One of the more curious facets of the modern entertainment business is that, while it is widely accepted the average attention span is getting shorter, it nonetheless makes products that demand more of our time than they have ever done before. In order to justify high-ticket prices, live shows go on for ever and ever. It is now common to look around at a major rock concert and catch people yawning, which would have been inconceivable until about 1980. Everything’s super-sized. The best-selling children’s book of today is a four-doorstop series that would give Dostoevsky pause.”


John Naughton pays tribute to the recently departed Humphrey Lyttleton. “By his own admission Lyttleton was not a natural student. A French master returned one piece of work to him with the memorable admonition, ‘If this was Russia, you would be found in the river in the morning, headless and floating downstream.’ Nevertheless, thanks partly to the influence of his father, Lyttleton developed an easy facility with the English language, which he retained throughout his life. As well as enabling him to be the librettist to Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes’ cartoons in the Daily Mail, it also, in later life, helped him to become a successful author as well as food critic for Harpers & Queen, despite, by his own admission, knowing nothing about the subject and preferring simple fare to haute cuisine. The conclusion to one-less-than-rosette-worthy-meal spoke of a ‘khaki liquid which hovers in an agony of indecision between tea and coffee.'”

Jim White reviews the film A Complete History of My Sexual Failures. “The hit of the last Sundance Festival – the work that had critics choking with laughter at the press screening I attended – is, so the director (Chris Wiatt) claims, a documentary. The premise is simple. Fed up with being continually chucked Wiatt decides to find out what is wrong with him through the simple device of interviewing everyone with whom he has ever had a relationship. So off he goes, carrying his boom mike with him, knocking on the doors of his exes – hopeless, shambolic, holes in his socks, Nick Bloomfield dressed as Kurt Cobain.”

From the ‘Well, I Never Knew That’ feature:

  • David Bowie’s Fashion was originally titled Jamaica (Chorus ‘Ooh, ah, Jamaica’)
  • Jimmy Page plays lead guitar on Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain were part of the chorus who sing the ‘Guilty!’ bit on Erasure’s Drama single. They were in the same studio.

Longer article

Bill Drummond is interviewed by Andrew Harrison


Word #64

Word 64

June 2008

Word shuffle

1). P97 – from Andrew Harrison’s ten page feature on Radiohead. “Making Radiohead records has become so torturous, he (Ed O’Brien) thinks, because the band’s success put them in a place where they could do literally anything they wanted – and so could not work out what anything was.”

2). P7 – tracklisting for the free CD including The Shortwave Set, Colin Meloy, Carlene Carter, Skyphone, Martha Wainwright and Joan As Police Woman

3). P80 – page of adverts for: Bon Iver’s tour and debut album For Emma, Forever Ago; The National’s Virginia EP and A Skin, A Night film; and Tooth Of Crime by T Bone Burnett.

4). P77 – from Paul Du Noyer’s four page interview with Hugh Cornwell. “When I left (The Stranglers), I just wanted to leave, but a few things left a sour taste in my mouth. One was that I couldn’t get my amplifiers back for a year afterwards. I don’t know – there’s always been a lot of sniping at me from them and I don’t think it’s necessary. I wish them all the best, so I don’t see any reason to snipe, but they take every opportunity to denigrate me.”

5). P106 – Half Man Half Biscuit get a whole page to themselves with John McReady’s review of CSI Ambleside. “This record isn’t going to be bought by anyone under 30 or those who think Pete Doherty represents the pinnacle of achievement for popular song. It’s very definitely for grumpy old fellers like Nigel and me who remember Phil Cool and have been to Ambleside and quite enjoyed it. We’re both only ten short years away from writing letters to the local free newspaper about litter and on-street parking in the town centre while dreaming of open revolt at Center Parcs. Until then this will have to do”


Mike Nesmith explains “I’m very interested in electronica these days, especially stuff coming from the Pacific Northwest and the UK and Europe. It’s not to be confused with trance or dancetronica, although sometimes the distinction can be hard to make. A touchstone for what I’m talking about is Behind the Sun by Chicane.

The philosopher John Gray (his book, Black Mass has just been published) is interviewed by Rob Fitzpatrick and has some interesting things to say about progress. “Progress in society is not like progress in science. Science is cumulative – we’re never going to go back to alchemy- but in politics and ethics things do come back, often under different names. Progress is a modern myth – this makes some people fall into despair, but it’s true. In science it’s real, knowledge grows, and – short of some huge ecological catastrophe – it will keep growing, even accelerate. We live longer and we’re healthier, but war gets more destructive, tyrannies get more powerful. There are gains – peace is better than war, freedom is better than being a slave – but the gains that are achieved tend to be lost. Torture that was prohibited by international law until two or three years ago is back.”

Clive Langer recalls the genesis of House Of Fun by Madness. It all started when Dave Robinson from Stiff records paid a visit to the band and producers, Langer & Winstanley, in the studio. “Dave said ‘This song sounds good. What is it?’ and we said ‘It’s called The Chemist Façade.’ The lyrics were written by Lee Thompson and the music was by Mike Barson. It was sounding great. If you listen to House Of Fun, just imagine it without the chorus on it. We thought it was going to be an album track or B-side but Dave said, ‘Well it could be a single if you could write a chorus.’ We were used to Dave wanting commercial songs right from the beginning of Madness – we were always pushed to have a radio hit  so we said, ‘OK if you come and see us on Monday morning, we’ll give you a chorus.’ Simple as that!”

Charles Shaar Murray isn’t impressed by Radio On, the 1979 film starring Sting, David Beames and Lisa Kreuzer. “This is not a film – this is Cinema, To be more precise it’s a series of ideas about cinema that have escaped from the theoretical journal that’s their natural habitat and somehow ended up on a screen.”

Longer article

Rob Fitzpatrick writes about his experiences with the console game Guitar Hero.

Word #63

Word 63

May 2008

Cover star – Roger Waters

Word shuffle

1). P34 – first page of a two page feature by Fraser Lewry on “memoirs of self-inflicted torment”. In The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, he find himself as an zoologist with no previous experience, on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. The side-quest to take some Emperor Penguin eggs to Blighty doesn’t go well. “Force 11 blizzards, loss of equipment, crippling temperatures of minus 60 degrees, a diet of blubber and, eventually, a second journey to recover the bodies of those who died reaching The Pole.”

2). P15 – Andrew Harrison visits Will Self. “The office where Will Self writes gives you the astonishing feeling that you’re situated inside the writer’s brain. Situated right at the top of his house, there are dictionaries and cigars and pipes and ashtrays. There are spindly steel chairs and a bike. There’s a window with a view of Stockwell. And then there are the Post-It notes. Hundreds of them. They cover each wall in perfect yellow ranks, like erudite rising damp, each one bearing a mnemonic phrase in Self’s intense italic handwriting: GUIDES TO NON EXISTENT COUNTRIES or CRACK WHORES or THE PASSION OF BENNY HILL.”

3). P44 – Jude Rogers meets The Shortwave Set, a three-piece from London, who have recently been recording in LA at Danger Mouse’s studio. “The mismatch between The Shortwave Set’s dusty, insular south London world and the bright showbiz lights of LA produced its own incongruities. Dave spent an hour talking to a bunch of young men from New York who were very nice even though he had no idea who they were – afterwards it turned out they were The Strokes. Later John Cale and Danger Mouse shared misty reminisces of a time they each lived in Deptford – Cale in Goldsmiths College, Danger Mouse as a young musician.

“We remember it as a place where we’d spent years drinking and blagging”, says Andy [Pettit of the band]. Years of trying to record songs at home while Ulrika was an au pair, Andy earned a living teaching music software to schoolkids and Dave worked in Battersea at a camera rental firm.”

4). P112 – Andrew Harrison reviews the deluxe edition of the seminal album by The La’s. “The La’s were destined only to play John the Baptist to Oasis’s ultimate Beatlist resurrection, making but one album and selling a fraction of the quantities shifted by their Mancunian disciples (in later years Noel Gallagher would be unstinting in his praise of lead La Lee Mavers). It’s significant, though, that the only Oasis record to make serious efforts to breakout of their self-created trap, Don’t Believe The Truth, resembles nothing as closely as it does the La’s.”

5). P125 – James Medd meets John Fogerty and asks him if things were bad for him once Creedence Clearwater Revivial split up. “I don’t see it that way now because I’m very happy, and if I walk around begrudging what happened to me, if I can’t let go, then I’m not free. But for a long time there I was so sad and broken that I wondered if I’d ever get to where the music was fun and working for me.”


Pegi Young talks about some of her favourite new musicians in the ‘Word Of Mouth’ section: “I’ve recently discovered Devendra Banhart. I cut his song The Body Breaks – he’s a great songwriter. Joanna Newsom too – she’s a trip, a really great musician”.

Marco Pirroni is interviewed by David Quantick. He discusses key moments in his musical career, including his involvement in the nascent punk scene in London. “It wasn’t democratic at all. We hated each other. It was them most snidey, bitchy scene to be in. No one had a good word for anybody. You couldn’t turn your fucking back. But it was a scene I thrived on. I enjoyed the malice! I thought the malice was exciting. It was just a nihilistic attempt to prove how much better we were than anyone else. Not musically, just…genetically!”

Mark Ellen meets Roger Waters and asks if the Live 8 lineup of Pink Floyd will ever perform again. “The answer is: I’d be very happy to do it but it’s sort of up to Dave, I guess. But I don’t think he wants to do it, so I don’t think it’ll happen. And that’s absolutely fair enough. It’s not going to change my life. But I did love Live 8. I thought it was really, really special.”

Vince Clarke chats to Graeme Thompson ahead of a Yazoo tour. Regarding their split in 1983, he says “We had such different personalities. We didn’t talk. We had problems working out what we were doing. I was a control freak. And we were only 21!”

Roy Wilkinson travels to Manchester and ponders on Mark E Smith’s location in the current cultural pantheon of Britain. “His place in this world rests on something other, rarer than the records he makes. Indeed, Smith’s position is so peculiar is difficult to think of a precursor. Maybe he has something in common with the holy fool, an equivocal, disruptive figure found in Russia from the 14th century who was allowed to say things the most people just couldn’t – often in the form of parable or cryptic allusion. These days, Mark Smiths strange presence hangs not on great albums, but on various bizarre and captivating manifestations. What would the uninitiated have made of Smith’s unforgettable October 2004 appearance on BBC Two’s Newsnight?

 Smith was ostensibly there to talk about the just deceased John Peel. Instead he chewed wildly, swivelled on his chair, fiddled with his nose and flicked his tongue with lizardine weirdness. He concluded with a crazed smirk and the suggestion that the BBC anchorman Gavin Esler was somehow after Peel’s job. “Are you the new DJ?” he chuckled, to his own amusement.”

Fleet Street journalist Jane Moore tells Rob Fitzpatrick that the tabloids really do have a safe full of incriminating pictures. “I have seen the safes and I have seen the pictures, but I couldn’t possibly reveal what they were. I can’t imagine any of them would ever be used though. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised at what I saw. The people you expect to be in there actually are in there.”

Longer article

Carlene Carter is interviewed by Andy Gill about her turbulent life.

Word #62

Word 62

April 2008

Cover star – Elvis Costello

Word shuffle

1). P3 – contents page. Mark Ellen’s editorial explains that this month’s issue is particularly educational and that he’s “learned a stack of new stuff from Elvis Costello. But then you always do.”

2). P57 – Tom Chaplin from Keane shares some of his favourite music (“I’ve been listening to Aladdin Sane a lot. I love putting that record on and walking around London, it’s very dark and claustrophobic”), books (“I’ve got Running A Restaurant For Dummies by Michael Garvey. I’ve always wanted to own one, to have somewhere people don’t just come to for good food, but to romance each other and find their own corner in the world. It’s probably a pipedream, but I’d love to”) and DVDs (“I love Deadwood and not just because I used to like Lovejoy”)

3). P63 – Graeme Garden is interviewed by Jude Rogers. He explains why he thinks that ‘Don’t know’ is often the best answer to a question. “One is often forced by social pressures to come down on one side and people don’t accept that ‘I don’t know’ is often the correct answer – and often the best answer. Some of the brightest people I know are bright because they don’t bluff their way through conversations but say, “I’m sorry perhaps I’m being stupid but what do you mean?” It’s so much better not to have opinions than have them when you are not fully informed. And that’s my opinion!”

4). P24 – Andrew Collins recounts a recent experience when he returned to his old university in Northampton. After speaking for 90 minutes he opened the floor up for questions but didn’t receive a single one. “Could it be that all 2 .3 million of the UK’s traffic cone collecting demographic don’t have questions anymore? I posted this question on my blog and a number of suggestions were put forward. Maybe today’s students think they know all the answers? Thanks to the accessibility of the internet, there is no mystery or magic surrounding anything or any person now. Want to know something? Type it into Google. Art students, in particular, are getting less bohemian, cowed by vocational fear of the real-world. A student called Joe confirmed that questions really get asked in lectures. He put it down to lack of confidence and fear of saying something, like, stupid in front of your, like, peers and shit.”

5). P46 – Kate Mossman speaks to songwriters Clive James and Amanda Ghost and asks “What’s the most perfect song ever written?” Clive answers: “Ian Dury singing his wonderful Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. As a rich complement to its driving rhythm, it has a text clever enough to turn any other lyricist bright green.” Amanda responds: A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell. The chorus says “You are in my blood like holy wine/ you taste so bitter and you taste so sweet/ I could drink a case of you, darling/ And I would still be on my feet”. The lyric becomes almost overwhelming, when the song itself is about being overwhelmed. Apparently it was written on open tuning, so no-one – not even Joni Mitchell – knows exactly what the pitch was, and she can never get exactly the same sound again. it was divine inspiration.”


Rob Fitzpatrick interviews John Niven about his recent novel Kill Your Friends. “Paul Oakenfold, who I have personally experienced being a tool, is ridiculed for his ‘pudgy fingers’ and ‘teeny little legs’. Is there any score-settling involved? ‘Not really,’ he laughs. ‘But I always did wonder what happened to those guys at school that turned them into this? All those DJs were basically talented entrepreneurs – they could have just as easily become carpet barons.”

Billy Bragg is interviewed by Joe Muggs. He seems to show an early understanding of the political shifts in the country that were to come over the next decade: “There’s so much sheer frustration, which is what’s driving people to vote BNP, people who aren’t even racist themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I think the BNP are racist fascists. But there are a lot of people who now find they are the only party in England talking to and about working-class people, which is a travesty.”

There’s an article called ‘Heroes and Hotties’ which hasn’t aged particularly well. “Some people light up the landscape of our minds” (18/21 are men) and “Other just frazzle us with their beauty.” (17/21 are women).

Andrew Collins asks Clive Anderson about spoof chat show hosts. “I was interviewing Dame Edna once and I was wondering how I could address the subject of spoof chat show hosts, so I said ‘I’ve always admired you Dame Edna, I’ve modelled myself on you, I’ve tried to follow you in every way – of course I don’t dress up as a woman, because a man dressed as a woman is always a bit pathetic, a bit desperate.’ I was very plased with that, as I could just see a little flicker of recognition in her-stroke-his eyes.”

Graham Coxon presents the Good Tradition Award to Shirley Collins at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Rob Fitzpatrick writes that it’s “Wonderful because Coxon discovered Collins through Andy Kershaw’s radio show, one night in the early 80’s, hidden among the Talulah Gosh and Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians records, was this “woozy psychedelia” that was “even more English than Ray Davies.” Coxon says the music – Collins’ Albion Band – “was covered in moss and smelled of damp” and it occurred to him that this must be folk music.”

Longer article

James Medd investigates the world of online ticket sales.

Word #61

Issue 61

March 2008

Cover star – Nick Cave

Word shuffle

1) P53 – Rob Fitzpatrick interviews Nils Lofgren about his career. “On my own tours we favour Holiday Inn Express; with Bruce we stay in the beautiful, brutally expensive old hotels. It’s always a pleasure because, as an American, we just don’t have buildings that old. There are no 300-year old buildings where I come from.”

2) P35 – Kate Mossman speaks to Chris Rea about his latest (physical product only) album, The Return of the Famous Hofner Bluenotes

“Rea decided to make an album that would restore a physical relationship with music. It had to be visual as well as audio – to counteract the rise of ‘invisible’ downloads, outwit the ‘cherry-picking, sweetshop selection procedure’ of the iPod and transport the listener back to an older consumer climate.”

3) 73 – a page of film adverts. Lars Von Trier’s new film The Boss Of It All is out in cinema from 29th February. Out now on DVD is Control, the Joy Division story.

4) 113 – a page of album reviews. John Renbourne’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine…1965-2005 is appraised by Pete Paphides. “How good can two acoustic guitars in a front room sound? Over four decades on, the sound of a pre-Pentangle John Renbourn and Bert Jansch shaking up a synergy on Waggoner’s Lad is still an almighty thrill.”

Also reviewed is South Of The Snooty Fox by Sterling Harrison. Matt Hall writes “… backed by his regular live band he brings it on home, on deep soul classics from the likes of OV Wright and Johnnie Taylor, with whom Harrison shares a light, floating touch and slight roughness at the bottom of his range. He died before this album was released, so instead of a springboard to wider acclaim, South Of The Snooty Fox stands as a memorial to a little heard voice, one that was chock-full of soul.”

5) 121 – the Home Service page where writers recommend their favourite books, films and albums. Kate Mossman’s first month in the Word office “has been soundtracked by superb ’70s-Malibu throwback Brent Cash – a ray of January sunshine in slacks, crooning songs about ‘the best year in my life – compleetleeee“, David Hepworth has been enjoying “some swaggeringly early Pretty Things music that I found on emusic” and Mark Ellen muses about Morrissey’s decision to remove his shirt at a recent Roundhouse gig; “there’s no ‘overhang’ as Mrs Rob Fitzpatrick would have it, but there’s evidence of a good Christmas.”


Rob Fitzpatrick writes about the modern phenomena of pop stars on current affairs programmes – in particular, Alex James decision to appear on Question Time in January. “With his unwashed hair and artfully rumpled shirt, James attempted a look of chilled sangfroid – but was clearly terrified. He stroked his chin over and over again like some poor chimpanzee whose nervous system is being controlled by white-coated Nazi scientists.”

David Hepworth travels to Mali to interview Toumani Diabete. “The presence of genius is usually marked by the evidence of toil. This is not the case with Toumani, either in his solo records or with the vibrant pop records he makes with his Symmetric Orchestra. He plays as if it’s no trouble. He is vague about how much he rehearses. His producer, Nick Gold, doesn’t know either but assumes that any artist who can arrive in the studio so well prepared must be putting in the homework. Some of the tunes go back into the mists of history. But then there’s also one that he confesses was inspired by UB40’s Kingston Town and the other that starts just like The Good The Bad And The Ugly.”

Alan Moore is interviewed by Andrew Harrison. “I’m just disappointed with mainstream comics. I simply can’t read superhero comics any more – they are revenge fantasises of the impotent, to quote an Alice Donut album. I’m sick of the ethics of these vile, vampiric corporations.”

Sheryl Crow is a big fan of Harold And Maude. “You’ve never seen it? Hang up the phone right now and go and watch it. It’s a forerunner of the independent films of recent years – really quirky, sweet and cool.”

Jude Roger’s favourite line in Simon Reynold’s Energy Flash: 20th Anniversary Edition is “Altern 8 were the Slade of techno.”

Longer article

Roy Wilkinson travels to Brighton to speak to Nick Cave.

Word #60

Issue 60

February 2008

word 60 cover_20200322_0001

Cover star – Morrissey

Word shuffle

1) P47 – the autobiographies of Alan Bennett, Jordan, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Russell Brand, Stephen Fry and Roy Keane are mined for their thoughts on subjects like Enemies (Brand: “I didn’t particularly like David Walliams at first – and he later told me he fucking hated me. He had a certain charm, but there was inevitably something of a clash between his effete head-boy and my subservient truant.”), Philosophy (Bennett: “I already knew at the age of five that I belonged to a family that without being in the last bit remarkable or eccentric, yet managed never to be quite like other families”) and Sex (Fry: She remarked that it was odd that we had never screwed. I told her early on that I was probably homosexual, but she did not see this as any kind of impediment at all.”)

2) P83 – part of a nine page cover feature, detailing six journalists’ meetings with Morrissey. William Shaw met him in 1983.

“You had the sense of him as the curiously shy man who had feared being left on life’s sidelines, suddenly contemplating the possibility that he could outshine everyone.

We talked about the scale of his ambition. ‘So many popular groups within recent years have seen having a big audience as some kind of stain,’ he said. So many people don’t talk to the press, or appear on the TV. We can only presume it’s due to their absolute lack of imagination that they cannot utilise these mediums.'”

3) P55 – Hazel Davis interviews Joe Jackson in his new home city of Berlin. She asks how he has changed as a songwriter since Look Sharp.

“I think the words are finally catching up. I can write lyrics now and I’m more self-critical than I was. When I listen to the early albums, some of the lyrics make me cringe. I used to put a lyric together and it was done and released. I am much harder on myself and will always rewrite something that doesn’t ring right. I have a lot of half-finished songs. I am much more concerned about quality.

4) P49 – a page of adverts for Dave Gahan’s new single, The Young Republic’s debut album and Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall by Mr Wainwright. The website of the album (www.rufussingsjudy.com) no longer works.

5) P92 – Cat Power’s Jukebox is reviewed by Andrew Collins. “Such is the intoxicating power of her sometimes-shaky, sometimes-fierce delivery – and the casual might of her new backing band, the Dirty Delta Blues – these disparate tracks also find a cohesion in their execution. Late-night piano, crisp drums, spare guitar and overriding languidity of tempo, Jukebox stands as any ‘proper’ album.”


Mark Ellen attends the Led Zeppelin reunion. “The key ingredient here was always going to be the drummer. Led Zeppelin were as much about the foundation as what was built on top of it. Their most sampled ingredient is not the vocal , the guitar or bass patterns, but the monumental twin-fisted, blood-thickening wallop of the fearsome and very physical John Bonham. His son appears to have studied every beat of this technique and can roll it out to perfection. Stationed behind an arsenal of deep-end bins, tubs, gongs, and floor-toms, he hacked out the same complex slabs of sound, clubbing his kit senseless to the point where he was breaking sticks and, after 140 minutes, must have been within an ace of a heart attack.”

Sylvia Patterson asks Dolly Parton if she fancied Johnny Cash. “I loved him, he was my first crush. He was the first time I ever knew what sex appeal was. I was just a girl, a kid, I went to Nashville, to the Grand Ole Opry and that’s when he was all skinny and bony and doped up to heaven and weird, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off him. And I just felt stuff I’d never felt as a girl before. And that was the first time someone made me horny. I told him about it after, ‘You were my first crush, I was in love with you.’ And I was. And he laughed. He thought it was cute. June didn’t particularly care for it (cackles head off).”

The wonderful Sylvia P again. This time she asks Alison Goldfrapp about her new folkier direction.

“SP: How are you going to square your magnificent persona as a sexual deviant and dominatrix with folk music and owls? You might have to come out from behind the façade.

AG: I have thought about this. I must say I wasn’t very comfortable with that image sometimes. I felt like I’d invented something that I couldn’t sustain. Mainly when I’d turn up at a party and no one would take the slightest bit of notice of me and then someone would say “that’s Alison Goldfrapp” and they’d step back in horror. At the realisation I am actually only five-foot-two and I’m not a dominatrix and I sound like Sybil from Fawlty Towers.”

Longer article

Andrew Harrison interviews British Sea Power in a pub, almost two thousand feet above sea level.





Word #59

Issue 59

January 2008

W59 cover

Cover star – Amy Winehouse (and a tiny Frank Zappa)

Word shuffle

1) P103 – Barry McIlheney gives the soundtrack album of I’m Not There, the Dylan ‘biopic’ a panning. Pretty much the only cover he enjoys is “Antony Hegarty’s extraordinary version of Knocking On Heaven’s Door. Tellingly, it’s all down to his utterly unique vocal style, and it’s the only song here to get within a country mile of the original in terms of impact, emotion and sheer what-the-hell-was-that?”

2) P22– Has health and safety ruined rock and roll?

“Judas Priest

Crime: Riding a fully functioning motorcycle on stage – often in a closed auditorium.

H&S says: Hello? Has anyone here heard of carbon monoxide poisoning? The risk of chest and thorax problems are immense. And what if Mr. Halford’s foot slips off the clutch and the whole thing goes flying into the crows? No thank you very much.”

Also up before the beak are the Bonzos for their “blatantly malfunctioning robots” and Wrathchild for firing a glitter-filled canon “over the heads of people who were already suffering stack-heeled, mid-80s, black country glam-rock.”

3) P11– one of several pages of photos of pop stars dressed as Santa (hence Zappa’s appearance on the cover as St. Nick). Headline: “A message to you Rudolph”.

4) P64 – Arcade Fire are asked about the year they’ve had a predictions for the future.

“Most captivating new story of the year?

Will: The news from Russia this year has been depressing and scary. Putin-4-eva, and to heck with the freedom of the press!

What do you think the music business will look like this time next year?

Win: People driving around college campuses and selling fake Gucci purses and memory sticks with MP3s out of the back of a van.”

5) P81 – Charles Shaar Murray writes about the year that science fiction went mainstream. “Many years ago, when I was contributing to the Literary Review, I lobbied the late Auberon Waugh to ask if I could write a monthly SF column. Genially sprinkling cigarette ash on his impressive paunch, Bron drawled, “I already employ a science fiction editor, Charles. His brief is to make sure that no science fiction is ever reviewed in this magazine.”


Hot Chip’s Joe Goadard admits the band are thinking of dropping Over And Over from their live set soon. “We’re terrified of it being the only song we’re ever known for.”

Sylvia Patterson reviews Top Of The Pops: Mishaps, Miming and Music, a book by Ian Gittins chronicling the TV show. “It’s a boisterous tour on a runaway poop bus, featuring anecdotal high jinks from the unfeasibly crisp memories of generations of survivors, from Sir Jimmy Saville to Francis Rossi to Gary Kemp to unexpectedly enthusiastic (and bountiful) input from a fanatical Johnny Marr.”

The best and worst Christmas songs are rounded up. In the former category, we get Winter Wonderland by the Cocteau Twins (“Elisabeth Fraser’s theremin of a voice was made for Christmas”), Davitt Sigerson’s It’s a Big Country (Bracing pop on the theme of pre-holiday travel/logistics nightmares; utterly cheering and invigorating and the winner, at the top of the tree is Christmas Rapping by the Waitresses.

In the worst category are Easy-E’s Merry Muthafuckin’ Christmas (“lacking the true spirit, we feel”), Kylie’s Santa Baby (Miss Piggy’s version is miles better”) and Naughty Christmas (Goblin in the Office) by Fat Les wins the gong (“about as festive as a burst elf”).

Longer article

Joe Muggs on the relatively new genre of dubstepIMG_20191116_0002.jpg.

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.


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.


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.


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

Word #58

Issue 58

December 2007

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”).


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

November 2007


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.”


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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