Word #45

Cover star – The Killers

Issue 45

November 2006

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Word shuffle

1) P36– JudeRogers briefly chronicles some of the showbiz marriages that have lasted. Includes Martin Sheen & Janet Templeton (still married after 56 years), Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward (married for 50 years until Paul’s death) and Michael Caine &Shakira Baksh (still together after 44 years – despite their relationship beginning after he spotted her in a Maxwell House instant coffee advert).

2) P78– the final page of a 5 page article on Beck by Roy Wilkinson. “One part of Beck’s personal collage that seems more than a little odd is his involvement with Scientology, the sort of unutterable silliness that seems incapable of spreading further than California. It’s difficult to equate Beck with something so naff. Tom Cruise? Jumping about on Oprah’s sofa? Berating Brooke Shield’s for taking anti-depressants? There is a man who snugly fits in Scientology’s public profile. Jazz keyboard virtuoso Chick Corea has toured the world playing a musical work based on the Hubbard novel ‘To The Stars’. That also somehow makes sense. Even John Travolta and Juliette Lewis. But Beck? A US webzine even suggested that masses of Scientology references (including a big drawing of head-loony L Ron Hubbard’s head) lurk in the artwork of the ‘Guero’ album. Has Beck heard this theory? “No, I haven’t heard that one.”

3) P30 – full page advert by HMV for John Mayer’s new CD ‘Continuum’.

4) P22 – Hazel Davis writes about Dave Stewart’s latest project, the album ‘Make Believe’, the ‘lost’ 1974 masterpiece by the entirely invented Platinum Weird. “I make lots and lots of music that nobody ever hears,” Stewart told me from L.A., but we have all these mediums now, TV, the internet, podcasting and so on, that I thought I would rather do something like this that I could get personally involved in. Britain is obsessed with the latest thing.”

5) P16 –Mark Ellen writes about about the directorial debut of Mick Rossi (formerly of Slaughter & The Dogs). The budget for ‘Played’ was less than a million dollars but the cast includes Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Gabriel Byrne and Patsy Kensit. “Budgets were stretched and corners were cut. When Rossi, playing ‘a low-life villain’, needed to be let out of Pentonville prison, he merely vaulted the barrier and got the shot before guards could stop him.”

Interesting – Lloyd Cole is asked by Sylvia Patteron how he compares with Morrissey. “Well, I’m just trying to write in keeping with what I am, a middle-aged person. I don’t think Morrissey will ever want to do that, he just wants to be a big boy. That’s fine, but it says nothing to me about my life. I know Morrissey a little bit and I think he built this persona, this creature in his late teens, because he didn’t like what he was, which became Morrissey of The Smiths and what was there before, I don’t know if there’s anything left.”

 

Different Word-reading couples evaluate each others’ music collections. Juliet dislikes most of Jonathan’s favourites. “He’s got this weird thing for this guy from Leeds called Braintax. Have you heard him? Terrible. Raps about the same stuff all the time – Shepherd’s Bush, drugs, guns. Monotone rubbish with a load of ambulance and car sirens samples. He’s into crap like The Darkness too.”

Jonathan on Juliet – “When we’re in the car she plays things like AC/DC and Motorhead, so she’s transformed from this right-on hippy thing to a head-banging monster every time we’re driving. She still likes the goddawful Wham! and their ilk, the cheesier end of ’80’s pop, and she’s carried this taste for terrible pop-dance music into the ’90s with things like 2 Unlimited and The Shamen which is really irritating.”

Billy Bragg met his wife for the first time when he was the best man at her wedding.

Edward Lawrenson reviews ‘Borat’. “Baron Cohen shows particular flair as a physical comedian, none more so than when he and Bagatov wrestle naked through the corridors of their fancy hotel, ending up in a conference of suited, sober business men where they are prised apart by security guards. Playing like the misbegotten offspring of ‘Jackass’ and a ’70s porn movie, it’s a brilliantly daft bit of knockabout.”

Ralph Steadman talks about his old partner in crime Hunter S Thompson.”He used to drive at night with his lights out because the police wouldn’t see him. And he didn’t want the police to see him because he used to drink and drive – by which I mean, mix drinks and drink them while driving. ‘Ralph’, he’d say, ‘take the wheel’.  And I had to lean over while he mixed a cocktail.”

Longer article

Caitlin Moran and David Hepworth go head to head over Madonna.

 

Word #44

Issue 44

October 2006

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Cover star – Joe Strummer

Word shuffle

1) P11– double page black and white school photograph from Mount Temple comprehensive school in Dublin, dated 1976. Readers are invited to play ‘Where’s Bono?’

2) P55– a whole page of adverts for 3 recently released ‘Live At The BBC’ albums. Free and The Housemartins get a qaurter page each whilst The La’s get a whole half page.

3) P129 – a page of album reviews. Dorian Lynskey reviews OutKast’s ‘Idlewild’ (“it’s the first OutKast album to pale next to its predecessor, the first to outstay its welcome, the first to sound fatally compromised”) and Jude Rogers enjoys the “ridiculously chirpy” ‘#3’ by Surburban Kids With Biblical Names (“imagine a gang of bedwetters finding a a big stash of Ritalin…the spirit of Jonathan Richman runs manically all across this record”).

4) P34 – the first of a 3 page article on Shirley Collins by Rob Fitzpatrick. “In a small terraced cottage behind Lewes castle, Shirley Collins is laughing so loudly she’s drawn the attention of the chap currently cleaning her windows. We’re talking about the two months she spent travelling through America’s deep south with Alan Lomax in 1959, recording white Baptist hymns, fife and drum bands, share-cropper blues, field hollers, prison songs and other fast-disappearing folk music of the southern states. One of Shirley’s jobs was to transcribe the lyrics from each recording – no easy task when the accents and dialects are so heavy and you’re thousands of miles from home.

‘I had heard very little black American folk and blues and these were proper deep south prison songs,’ Collins says. ‘The references meant nothing to me. I learnt that Black Betty was a whip, but there were so many sexual connotations I just didn’t understand. I was only in my 20s and that’s like being six nowadays.’ She bursts out laughing again.”

5) P84 – final page of a 3 page feature on Ray LaMontagne. “LaMontagne’s musical awakening occurred via the strangest of sources. Having scraped through high school he went through a succession of menial jobs. ‘I don’t like working for other people,’ he sighs. ‘I can’t stand it if I have to punch in the time clock, I get pretty low pretty quickly.’

But then, working at a Maine shoe factory, he was woken one morning by a Steve Stills song called Tree Top Flyer and his life changed. A tale of a freelance pilot operating beyond and – literally – above the daily punching-in grind, it’s easy to see why it appealed to LaMontagne.”

Interesting – In the ‘Home Service’ section, Mark Ellen recommends ‘Stalingrad by Antony Beevor. “It’s a slow read: you have to put it down every five minutes to try and accommodate fresh evidence of the misery that can be wrought upon the human condition by fellow humans, this further complicated by the cocktail of guilt you experience  if you’re reading it on a beach and about to visit a seafood restaurant.”

Andrew Collins reviews ‘The Gothic Box’. “Goth compilations usually pad wildly with ‘unreleased versions’ and Creaming Jesus. or scrap the door policy (I have one that includes The Wonder Stuff and The Ramones).”

Chris Salewicz writes about Joe Strummer in a 9 page extract from his book ‘Redemption Song’. “There was a fundamental flaw in firing Mick Jones that no one seemed to have thought out: with the exception of Topper’s Rock The Casbah, it was Mick who wrote all the music, so getting rid of him was madness. By dumping Mick, a problem may have been solved for Joe, as he perceived it. But another was about to be introduced. Bernie Rhodes was about to take charge of the music. Replacement guitarists were brought in, and the ‘dodgy Clash’ – as I heard them referred to – toured and began recording the Cut The Crap album.”

Dorian Lynskey asks Badly Drawn Boy about his “notriously erratic” gigs. “I openly admit that I’ve made many mistakes when I’ve played live but I think that’s the element that people buy into. I couldn’t design that if I tried. I want to leave 80% of the gig to chance, including the setlist, and that means you can fall on your arse at any point, which I have done, but people like it beacuse it’s human.”

Christopher Bray looks at the life and career of Anthony Perkins. “Much to Hollywood’s chagrin he had hooked up with another rising young star – Tab Hunter. So desperate was Perkins to keep this affair private that even when the two went to see a movie together, Perkins insisted they sit apart until the lights went down. When the lights came back up the two men would drive away in separate cars, Perkins powder-blue Thunderbird trailing a few hundred yards behind Hunter’s mustard-coloured Ford Fairlane as they made their way to the latter’s pad. Perkins may have picked up the Tab but there was no way he was going to admit it.”

Longer article

Andrew Collins declares the death of indie and asks ‘How Indie Are You? .

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Word #43

Issue 43

September 2006

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Cover star – various stars of the 80’s

Word shuffle

1) P123– the DVD of ‘Lost’ (Series 2, Part 1) is reviewed by Dorian Lynskey. ” The show demands that you embrace its absurdity; it leaves no room for dabblers or nitpickers. Personally, I love its pulpy energy. The story of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 began as a disaster B-movie and turned into the longest episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ ever made (in one of several illuminating extras, creator JJ Abrams admits that Rod Serling’s freak-of-the-week classic is his favourite show), but there’s much more lurking beneath its trashy surface: the outlandish, paranoid mind games of ‘The Prisoner’ and the bizarro soap operatics of ‘Twin Peaks’ for starters.”

2) P17– the second of a 2 page article by Hazel Davis detailing addresses listed in pop songs. “King George Street by Squeeze: Difford and Tilbrook’s gloomy narrative chronicles domestic abuse and poverty in SE10. A heart-rending tale from pop’s social commentators, yet the street remains uncommemorated and the wife-beaters still stalk the place with impunity. Allegedly.” She also mentions the prostitutes on Chatham High Street (as mentioned by Billy Childish, Bleecker Street (Simon and Garfunkel) and Killermont Street (Aztec Camera).

3) P73 – final page of Toby Manning’s 4 page piece on Syd Barrett. “After ‘Barrett’ (his 2nd solo album), what (Peter Jenner (his co-manager) calls ‘the fog’ became thicker. “Always stuff would emerge from the fog and then disappear back in. In the earlier sessions it was more like a song. Later it was a snatch of riff or lyric. You couldn’t really communicate. We’d just try and encourage him. It’s really hard to accept that someone who’d been so creative and so full of creative energy couldn’t get it back out. Unbelievably frustrating and upsetting.”

4) P62 – third page of Lynsey Hanley’s 4 page piece on Belle And Sebastian from their gig at the Hollywood Bowl. “There’s as much of a glint as a twinkle in (Stuart) Murdoch’s eye as he talks: Belle And Sebastian is more than simply a band, it’s the life he lives. It’s the one he dreamed of when he was ill, which is why it matters so much. Sheer will is what brought the band into existence, and is what keeps the whole endeavour going. Therein lies the secret of the elevation of B&S from indie figureheads to a band that can command the attention of 20, 000 excitable Californians: to Murdoch, this was always their destiny.”

5) P97 – a page of adverts for gigs. The Feeling play 19 dates, Aberfeldy do 15 whilst Ryan Adams & The Cardinals offer the punters a mere 6. There’s also an advert for Chilton Fest 2006, asking for “bands/helpers’punters to come and enjoy what is likely to build into one of the more special events in the UK Summer Music calendar.” A cursory google search reveals that in early 2017, Chilton Fest is pining for the fjords.

Interesting – In the ‘Word Of Mouth section, Russell Brand reveals his musical tastes: “I like a bit of drama, a bit of mystery and portent which leads me naturally to Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. I’ve been listening to ‘No More Shall We Part’ a lot recently. I really do enjoy him enormously, but it’s The Smiths and Morrissey that really rule my musical life. I love what Morrissey is doing now in very much the same way as I loved what he was doing 20 years ago. My cousins were really big fans of The Smiths and they introduced me to what is now a daily pleasure.The music and the lyrics have invaded my life and my philosophy and inform everything I do.”

By contrast, the cricketer Kevin Pietersen is less florid in his approach. “Last year when we were playing in the Ashes, my big album was ‘Hot Fuss’ by The Killers, I listened to to them a lot. What do I like about them? What do you mean mate? I like their music, I’m not a big analyser mate.”

Tony Hadley reminisces about the heady days of New Romanticism. “My granddad, a lovely man and always very smart in a suit, I met him once outside Waterloo station and he refused to sit in the same carriage as me. I was wearing ballet slippers, white socks, wrap-around Iranian Cossack-type trousers, tight at the ankles and baggy with a flap like Aladdin up the front and a silk shirt with Greek imprints, make-up and a headband. And this was only going to see my Mum and Dad in Pontins.”

Paul Du Noyer speaks to Daniel Johnston on the release of the documentary ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’

PDN: It’s amazing that so much of your life has been recorded. On the DVD it’s like you’ve used a video camera or a tape recorder almost every day since childhood. Why is that?

DJ: Well, I think I was trying in my mind to be famous, so I wouldn’t have to work at the pottery.

PDN: The pottery?

DJ: They have lots of potteries back in West Virginia, you know, for pots and dishes and stuff. I worked in a place for cups and saucers. It was a great luxury to have the radio on all day long, but I had to get out of there. It took me a long time to make money on my art, but now my art sells on my website for a pretty good price. I have a lot of extra money to spend and I feel like I’m rich. I just go and buy albums and DVDs all the time.”

Longer article

Bob Lefsetz is interviewed by Mark Ellen about the future of the music industry.

 

Word # 42

Issue 42

August 2006

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Cover star – Keith Richards

Word shuffle

1) P110 – two half page adverts for the ‘Spunk’ demos from the Sex Pistols and Diana Ross’s lost album, ‘Blue’.

2) P98 – various albums are reviewed, chiefly Lily Allen’s ‘Alright, Still’ by Paul Du Noyer. “Who knows how long she’ll sound so fresh, so unaffected? Years, I hope. For now let’s just salute the pop purity of her ambition: ‘I mean’, she said, ‘why don’t you just try and do an album of 11 singles, instead of three?’ And she has.”

3) P127 – a page of book reviews. Nige Tassell reviews ‘And They All Sang: The Great Musicians Of The 20th Century Talk About Their Music’ by Studs Terkel. “Terkel, who’s still with us at an impossibly active 94, is a broadcaster who not only holds his own whatever the subject, but who also knows exactly when to shut up and listen. Accordingly he squeezes out some fascinating insights. whether it’s a 22 years old Bob Dylan on small-town suffocation, Janis Joplin revealing how she was introduced to the blues by the local library or Alan Lomax recalling the time he and his dad sprang Leadbelly from the State Pen.”

4) P62 – Joe Muggs interviews Devendra Banhart. “Isolated from popular culture, and feeling neither American, nor Venezuelan, Devendra wrote songs from the age of 12, and when he returned to California from Caracas in his late teens to study art in San Francisco, he completely bypassed all modern scenes and culture in favour of making new friends who introduced him to the music of Syd Barrett, Pentangle, Vashti Bunyan and The Incredible String Band. ‘These guys were my only influences. It was Vetiver and the musicians I knew, and the older music that they played. Harry Smith’s ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’, all this kind of stuff; this was my pop music!”

5) P54 – the first of two pages of letters from the magazine’s readers. Edward Randell writes”I’m beginning to think that my subscription to your magazine is pretty eccentric. Why? Because I’m 17. This last issue your article on Lily Allen was blighted somewhat by the assertion that ‘new artists are getting younger by the minute’, which is pretty much equivalent to little old ladies who think the policemen are getting younger.Your grown-up approach to popular culture is infinitely preferable to squealing indie hype, and I have immense love for some of the old gimmers you write about but please could you start to make the likes of me feel a little more welcome. We’re not all Rock Dads you know.”

Interesting – Will Self has a problem with music since giving up smoking dope. “I put on things that I know are really moving and it’s like having sex with a fantastically thick condom on, only partly stimulating. In the last few years only Gavin Bryar’s ‘Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ really transfixed me, it was so modal and moving.”

Mark Ellen’s editor’s note is about Keef. “Smouldering softly on this month’s cover, its dark eyes generating a strange sort of thermo-nuclear heat, is the face that appears to have been chiselled on the side of Mount Rushmore. The leathery countenance and bionic bone-structure suggest the man inside is now comprised of a substance more durable than flesh and blood that is virtually indestructible.”

In the ’30 More Songs You Have To Hear’ article, Andy Partridge of XTC chooses ‘American Haikus’ by Jack Kerouac. The poetry and music here pushed out a line that was later picked up by Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits and, ultimately by rappers. But Kerouac is the originator – he’s certainly the best I’ve ever heard. My favourite line goes, ‘In my winter cabinet the fly has died of old age’, how can you top that?” Jose Gonzalez selects R.Kelly’s ‘Trapped In The Closet’. “It’s very very funny, but I don’t think he knows that. I must have watched the video at least 50 times and listened to the ‘suite’ – it’s about 45 minutes long – easily as many times.” Corinne Bailey Rae selects ‘Georgia On My Mind’ by Ray Charles. “I first heard it at a gig in Leeds by Maceo Parker and it was so moving I actually cried. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael, I think as a love song, but when Ray Charles covered it he imbued it with a whole new emotional weight, taking this love song and making it resonante with overtones to the state of Georgia and racism.”

Andrew Harrison asks if a phone could one day topple the iPod as the digital player of choice. “The whole experience (of the Nokia N91) is as eye-openingly seamless and easy as, well, my first dabblings with iTunes. It’s even got a Dock. And then there’s the FM Radio, 2 Megapixel still/video camera, web browser and novel capacity to connect to wireless hotspots in Starbucks or wherever.”

Award for the best by-line goes to ‘Hey Nanny, no!’ accompanying an article by Andrew Collins on the trend for disapproving matrons on TV.

Longer article

Trevor Dann writes about the recently deceased Top Of The Pops.

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Word Interview #5- David Hepworth

hepworth-pic-2David and I meet in the foyer of the British Library. We make our way past the pop-up Punk shop (“trustafarians selling you Clash albums for £25”) to the terrace café and chat about Word magazine and David’s book ‘1971 – Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year’ in the late September sunshine.

Let’s start with Word magazine. Was setting up Development Hell the first step in its creation?

Yes, Jerry Perkins and I set it up initially to develop magazines for publishers. We quite quickly decided we wanted to launch a magazine ourselves so that necessitated raising money which takes a long time and is a very educational process. We raised the money on the basis of what we’d done working for EMAP. The feeling amongst investors was that while the landscape was heading towards a digital age, the magazine area was still worth investing in. That proved not to be the case and it was a long and painful learning process for people who’d already learnt an awful lot. Nobody was wet behind the ears, nobody was naïve: in retrospect we were all naïve but no more so than every other publisher in London, from newspaper groups to broadcasters. I don’t think anybody envisaged the kind of hollowing out that’s taken place in the last five years. We now live in a world that’s owned by Google and Facebook. Everybody works for them – they either admit it or they’re in denial.

So people say to me that they miss the magazine. I always say, “Well, I don’t miss it at all.” It was my struggle, it was partly my money, my pain and I’m glad to have it out of my life. One thing in any business, is that you’re not wrong to launch things but you are wrong to not close them when they don’t appear to be going right. Of course it’s something we rationally know but we all emotionally resist. You always think that if we can just cut our cloth we’ll get round the next problem and there’s a brighter future ahead – but there isn’t.

In retrospect should you have closed it earlier?

Yes, we should have done. We’d have saved an awful lot of investors’ money. We had some fantastic investors but they know when they put money in that it can go wrong. It went wrong but we were trying to do everything sensibly. We weren’t making ourselves rich or flying around the world first class or anything. It just didn’t work because the timing was wrong.

Where did the original idea for the magazine come from?

It was probably mine but it’s always difficult to go back and trace exactly what the thoughts you had were and the order of them. I think it started with me thinking that there might be an opportunity for a kind of more general arts and entertainment monthly. Something for the people who didn’t want to go down the Mojo or Uncut route. There also seemed to be a lot of stuff happening like long-form television, technology, narrative non-fiction – there were lots of straws in the wind. We thought we could do something like that, that was our initial position. When things don’t go right you very quickly retreat from those positions. I always used to say that the first question you should ask anybody when they say they’re going to launch a magazine is ‘”Where do you want to put it in the newsagents?” If you decide that it’s going to be alongside Q and Mojo you’re going to have a musician on the cover. And if you’re going to have a musician on the cover, you’re going to need a musician who sells – therefore you’re going to end up with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd etc.

You used Nick Cave on the front of the first issue. Was that an obvious choice for you?

There was an opportunity to get him and he was a big deal. What we eventually found – and this isn’t just Word, this would have applied to anything being launched around that time – is that nobody sampled or tried anything new anymore. If people try it and don’t come back that’s a shortcoming in what you’re doing. If people don’t try something in the first place that indicates there’s no curiosity, there’s no appetite for trying something and there used to be. In the 80’s or 90’s, if you put out a new magazine which was even halfway good, you’d sample quite a lot of people. They’d just try it. They’d be in a newsagents, see it and think ‘That looks interesting’ and buy it. That’s completely gone now. We thought we might sell 35, 000 and thought we could then grow it to 50, 000 through word of mouth.We never did 35, 000, certainly not in the early issues, it was way below.

In the first few years we were lunging around trying to find what sticks. And very little sticks when the market’s not growing. Then we had the even worse problem that the advertising disappeared. In the glory days of music magazines, when there were £15 CDs for which they had a huge marketing budget and they had to get their product into Virgin or HMV. It was all about getting physical product into retailers, getting visibility at point of sale and thereby selling a ton of Oasis or Robbie Williams or whatever. Those days have gone. As soon as you move away from physical product, they don’t advertise anymore. We could have sustained the magazine even with a circulation of 22, 000 if we’d had the advertising because they were the right 22, 000 people who spent money. We had neither. The advertising disappeared and it wasn’t just Word: if you look at a magazine like Q now, it’s like a pamphlet. These things used to be over 200 pages, stacked full of ads, that’s the time when people made money. That was the time that people could afford to do decent things like fabulous photo sessions. Nobody can do that now.

You mentioned a loyal readership which was affectionately known as the Word Massive. Were you surprised by how it grew?

I wouldn’t say surprised but I was delighted. That was one of those straws that you grasp at – okay, we can’t sell enough print but there’s a community here, can we monetise the community by selling advertising? There’s a saying in publishing that in moving from paper to digital you’re moving from offline pounds to online pennies. Anything online has only a fraction of the value that it has in the physical world. So you might get some advertising but you wouldn’t get much money from it. If you want numbers they go to Facebook or Google – if you want to target music consumers there are far more efficient ways to do it than using a music magazine these days.

It was good to know that they were there and Frazer Lewry did a fantastic job on cultivating the community. The reason it was so good was that he policed it brilliantly – he told me that he only ever banned two people in the whole history of the forum which was incredible. He was looking at it pretty much all day and all night and that’s why it was so good. Also people bought into it. There was an acceptance that you didn’t abuse people or go too far and most people are very civilised. We had a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure – and then there were the podcasts.

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I wanted to talk about them. They seemed like a lot of fun to do.

They were huge fun. I remember at some point after we’d been doing the podcasts for a while, Mark said to me, “I’m not sure they like the magazine but they like us.” I thought that was a good point. It was simple to do – it was just a matter of energy. “Bang! Let’s go!” The only creative decision I made was that there would be no start and no finish. It’s just going to fade in with people talking and fade out at the end. The listeners like the idea that these conversations are going on all the time and they’re eavesdropping. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I can’t bear ones that waste your time telling you what they’re going to have, giving you a menu. It’s not telly – just get on with it!

We used to love doing them, we would laugh like drains. It was really just an excuse to do, in a slightly heightened way, what we already did in the office anyway, to sit around and banter. The idea that we could record some of it and it was entertaining people was a great feeling. We used to get lots of feedback, people loved listening to it as they walked their dogs or went cycling. It took up dead time in their day and provided some joy. It wasn’t trying to ingratiate itself with anybody, it was just for those that liked it.

The podcasts now tend to be live events with an author Q & A. Are you planning to do anymore which are just talking bollocks with Mark?

It’s not impossible. We have done occasionally. We got round to Fraser’s, talk bollocks and go for an Indian meal afterwards. That’s kind of fun.

What kind of listener numbers do you normally get?

I’ve no idea – and nor do I care. I don’t think anybody in the world of podcasts really knows because it’s a stream. The problem with internet numbers, whether they’re website hits or downloads of a podcast, if you say it’s this number – half the people think it’s too many and half think it’s too few. There’s no way of working it out. Who cares! It’s for the enjoyment of people doing it and the people listening to it.

Which podcasts do you regularly listen to?

There’s a good one about football called ‘The Football Ramble” which I like. I recently started listening to Alec Baldwin’s ‘Here’s The Thing’ where he interviews comedians, writers, musicians. He’s a really good interviewer, I’d recommend that one.

Have you heard Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History’?

I have. As much as I like Gladwell, it’s a bit too much like a radio programme. I like podcasts to be a bit ragged, they should be raw. There’s plenty of polished radio if you want that. I switch around a lot because I do a radio preview column for The Guardian so I’m always looking for new stuff to write about.

What about magazines. Do you have any subscriptions?

Yes, I subscribe to The New Yorker and to The Week. We did used to get The Economist as well but that was my son’s subscription and now he’s moved out, that’s gone with him. I think it’s quite interesting that they’re weeklies. I think information-based weeklies still do quite well but nobody’s bothered about presentation-heavy monthlies. There are too many other things in our lives. I’m not resentful at all, I don’t miss those things. I look at them occasionally for work purposes but not much.

Your book, ‘1971’ started life as a magazine article in Word didn’t it?

Yes, written in a tearing hurry – ‘Need a column, need it for tomorrow morning.’ I wrote “1971 was the annus mirabilis for the rock album…” and it got a good response. We sat and talked about it in the office and people said, “You know, I think you’re right.” And once you’ve set up the theory, every bit of evidence that then comes along confirms it. Years later I was approached by a literary agent who wanted me to write a book about Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’. I said “I can’t do that but I would like to write about music in 1971.” He liked the idea so we did a concept, I wrote some chapters and we shopped it around. Bantam were very keen in the UK and Henry Holt in the United States and it’s done better than they thought; they’ve delayed putting it out in paperback because it’s continuing to sell in hardback. There are plans to turn it into a multi-part documentary because we’re now in the world of Netflix and Apple and music films do quite well. I now have a deal to write two more, one of which has to be delivered quite soon.

One of the parts of the book that really struck me was the section about Elvis, doing his Vegas shows, mining his heritage by playing the old songs.

Yes, that became the future. That’s where it started to go round and round. There’s a part in Bruce Springsteen’s book where he talks about that period of time before we started repeating ourselves. That’s pretty much what my next book is about. We’re now in the period of endless repetition, it’s different.

Something that I’m still pushing as an idea for a book is that The Beatles were underrated. It was one of the few things I wrote for Word that people still ask me about. I really believe that we overrate seriousness in pop music. We overrate people like Nick Cave – if they appear serious they must be better than we think they are. People who don’t to that, like ABBA, we tend to think that they’re not as good as they are. The generation of joy is the greatest aspiration of popular music. Motown. The Beach Boys. Ultimately it matters more than modish misery.

Going back to your memories of Word – it sounds like there was a fair amount of pain involved but there must have been some highlights too.

Yes, of course, there was a balance. I do meet a lot of people with tears in their eyes. “Can’t you bring it back?” I respond, “No!” I’m quite happy now. Do you know how much misery would be involved in all those people having to do that?

However, if you were to slip your rose-coloured spectacles on for a moment…what are your abiding memories?

It’s just the people – I miss the people. I still see Mark, Kate, Fraser and Paul occasionally. We had a great feeling and it was a lovely bunch of people. I said to them when we closed that they’d never have another experience like that in their working life. I think that’s true. I think it was the last magazine of its kind. There won’t be any others, certainly not like that, with that much love. That’s not to blame anybody, it’s just the way of the world. It’s like bands or anything, when the market’s expanding you can go into these things with love and end up making a living out of it. When the market’s not expanding, don’t go into it for love, go into it for money and work out where you’re gonna get it from because you’ve got to eat.

I don’t miss the writing – I mean I still write but I don’t sit there and think “Oh, so-and-so’s got a new album out, if only I could go and interview them”. I’m sure Mark and Paul feel the same. Sitting there listening to someone saying “I think this album is the best album we’ve ever done.” I can’t believe that there was ever a time when it was important and people wanted to read it. That’s disappeared from the world. I know you get those features in newspapers but I can’t believe anyone reads them apart from the band. “The Killers have got their tenth album out” – well, whoop-di-doo! That’s what the music press did, it used to provide a unique service to the music business in making its acts seem considerably more interesting than they actually were, more glamourous, more charismatic. I’ll go to the Mercury Music Prize night or something and I’ll sit and watch this parade – and I know I’m old and out of touch – but I think ‘God, you’re not very interesting are you?’ And the reason they’re not very interesting is that there’s no media making them interesting. They’re out there on their own. If you want to know why people still remember The Clash it’s because of the NME – they invented The Clash, Penny Smith’s photographs invented The Clash. Nobody’s seen through that kind of lens anymore.

A lot of the time you hadn’t even heard any of their music. You’d read interviews and reviews and convince yourself that you’d probably like them – half of it was what you constructed in your own head.

Absolutely. The music business, particularly the rock press, are monuments to the self-delusional capacity of men, both the guys in the bands and the people in the audience. ‘Do I like this? What does this say about me?’ Mark and I always used to say that the difference between men and women listening to music is that if you play a piece of music in a public place, women will tend to say ‘I like this – what is it?’ Men will say ‘What’s this? I like it.’ They need to know first if it’s one of the acceptable things to like.

So I miss the people and the Massive – nothing else.

Word #41

Issue 41

July 2006

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Cover star – Neil Young

Word shuffle

1) P96 – reviews of ‘Superb’ by The Beautiful South (“…after any seven Beautiful South songs you feel like you’re drowning in blancmange”), Frank Black’s ‘Fast Man, Raider Man’ (“the songs are uniformly strong, though inevitably not always quite strong enough to justify 27 of the buggers”) and a remastered version of ‘Paris 1919’ by John Cale (“….the album comes over like a dusty relic of another world, as comforting as a crackling hearth in the thick of winter, as familiar as a convivial uncle”.)

2) P52 –Andrew Collins praises the Hairy Bikers. “You might say that I, along with 2.4 million other proletarian cookery fans with an empty belly since Jamie Oliver became a social reformer, have fallen for the Hairy Bikers. They are like a 3D Viz strip (helped by Si’s crackling Geordie accent) with their fantastic cries of ‘How fantastic is that?’ and ‘Whack on your tomatoes!’ and to love them is to love life.”

3) P116 – Edward Lawrenson reviews some films including’Offside’ from Iran. “…a lively, quietly angry salute to women with a passion for football and freedom that rather puts to shame our habit of slumping in front of the TV to watch the World Cup. It’s rewarding, thought-provoking viewing, well worth a trip to the cinema.”

4) P10 – a two page piece on the Dixie Chicks and the aftermath of their anti-Bush statement three years earlier. “Now they return with their first record since the furore, in which no concessions are made to a country audience that is no longer listening. ‘When we were doing the marketing and publicity plan for the release we said ‘Exclude radio – we have to be creative’, says (singer, Natalie) Maines. ‘There are 147 country radio stations and only 20 something are playing the new album. So to me that’s pretty much finished. But we planned for that’.”

5) P69 – David Hepworth speaks to Steve Van Zandt over four pages about his bid to ‘rescue radio and save rock and roll’. “We have to make sure that bands get out of this regular-guy look. The two things that could stop this revolution are the regular-guy look and the three-piece band. The two biggest garage bands and the White Stripes and the Hives and they both have a look. I’m all for democracy but we need the separation and mystery is necessary. If you look on stage and you see exactly the same as you, what is there to aspire to? What is there to inspire you?”

Interesting – Neil Young is interviewed by Robert Sandall. “His (Neil’s) love of nature, as expressed by his ownership of a working farm stuffed with a zoo-like array of different animals, prompted a tirade against the arrogance of a certain strain of Christianity and their proposition that humans were made in God’s image. ‘What about the squirrels? How do they feel about that?

Graeme Thomson delves into the working methods of Sufjan Stevens. ” His album ‘Illinoise’ was the product of of months of research, reading everything from Carl Sandburg to police blogs, while he talks about ‘gathering material and reinforcing plausability in the narrative’, not a sentence you’re ever likely to hear Shayne Ward or even Phil Collins utter.”

Andy Gill writes about Grant McLennan’s short life in the Depature Lounge section. “According to Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers, McLennan was a bohemian to the last, a man who shunned the usual worldly demands, preferring to spend most of the day chatting about books and French new wave movies over cigarettes and beer.”

Dylan’s ‘Theme-Time Radio Hour’ is given an enthusiastic appraisal by Robyn Hitchcock. “The beauty of the show so far is how Dylan manages to shed light on himself by illuminating the music in which he was marinated as a youngster. It’s probably not all to his taste but then the same went for the world he was growing up in. None of his selections is as barbed as his own songs, although he’s deliciously ironic at times. ‘Bueno, Stevie, bueno’, he murmurs after Stevie Wonder’s rendition of A Place In The Sun. His long quote from the Italian lyrics is bound to end up on someone’s answering machine.”

Longer article

This issue’s Word Of Mouth section in which celebrities and subscribers say what they’re enjoying in music, books and film.

 

Word #40

Issue 40

June 2006

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Cover star – Leonard Cohen

Word shuffle

1) P29 – a whole page advert for the ‘Pirate Radio’ 4CD and 1 DVD boxset from The Pretenders. It features 15 previously unreleased songs, track by track notes from Chrissie Hynde and a souvenir poster.

2) P132 – David Hepworth reviews a selection of books which all deal with US soldiers’ experiences in Iraq. “If Vietnam was the first rock and roll war, then the two Iraq conflicts are the first ones to have been fought by young men obsesses with style, weaned on films about Vietnam and uncomfortable when too far removed form a source of digital entertainment.”

3) P116 – another page of adverts, this time one for Imogen Heap’s ‘Speak For Yourself’ (“Smouldering, melodic electropop – excellent” according to Time Out and Scott Walker’s ‘The Drift’ which is  possibly the plainest advert ever to grace the pages of the magazine.

4) P26 – the second of a two page piece by Steve Yates about old records which had another life after being sampled on hip hop records. Who knew that Charles Aznavour’s ‘Parce Que Tu Crois’ was sampled by both Dr Dre in ‘What’s The Difference’ and in ‘Breathe’ by Blu Cantrell?

5) P19 – Hazel Davis writes a two page feature on celebrity marriages such as J-Lo and Chris Judd (“… the fat-bottomed diva married her backing dancer, Cris Judd in September 2001. Nine months later the marriage was over…). Liza Minnelli and David Gest (“throughout their marriage the pair denied rumours that Gest, a concert promoter and lifelong collector of Judy Garland memorabilia, was gay”) and Britney and Jason Alexanvder (“The Louisiana lovers walked down the aisle in blue jeans and baseball caps, but annulled the hasty affair after two days”).

Interesting – A great pop trivia fact from interview with Paul Simon – that Robin DiMaggio, the nephew of ‘Joltin’ Joe’ played drums on his album ‘Surprise’.

Graeme Le Saux (‘he reads the Guardian you know’) reveals his love of various 4AD bands. “Pat Nevin, a good friend of John Peel, got me into 4AD – The Pixies and This Mortal Coil, a brilliant band. I got really into the 4AD artwork by Vaughan Oliver and everything, like you do when you’re young with an enthusiasm for something.”

Mark Hooper of Esquire magazine waxes lyrical about lyrical waxings. The grandly titled Donald C Davidson Librabry’s Cylinder Digitization and Preservation Project has been converting some of the oldest recordings to MP3 format. Hooper writes that the songs are “…from an era that has been completely written out of musical history in a Stalinist rejection of anything no longer deemed cool or relevant to the modern consumer. While the rock family tree’s roots are firmly bedded in folk and blues, another has been entirely overlooked: the one represented by Edward M. Favor’s ‘I Think I Hear A Woodpecker Knocking At My Family Tree’ (1910).”

Nige Tassell reviews ‘White Bread, Black Beer’ the comeback album from Green Gartside.“The Princess Di bouffant may be gone (he now sports a lumberjack’s thick goatee), but there’s one thing the extended hibernation hasn’t altered – that breathy, androgynous voice, seemingly preserved in aspic from Scritti’s mid-80’s heyday.”

Joe Muggs writes about the ‘OC Effect’ – that is quirky or unusual bands who’ve gained exposure through “…hip TV dramas like Six Feet Under and Californian rich-teenagers soap The OC.” He chats to one such beneficiary, Imogen Heap. “It’s a fantastic way to reach people, unlike radio where you’re just another song among many, and where they would never play a song as unusual as ‘Hide And Seek’ anyway, the song is placed in a real powerful context without any introduction or anything. Straight away there’s more involvement with the song, a more immediate emotional reaction, and then a feeling that it’s something exciting to seek out.”

Andy Gill explains the inspiration behind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Sisters Of Mercy’. “They were literally two sisters whom he met in a doorway whilst sheltering from a ferocious snowstorm in Edmonton, Alberta, where he was playing guitar at a coffee-shop. He invited the young women back to his hotel room, where the weary travellers immediately fell asleep in his bed whilst he sat by the window looking out over the river, and wrote the song. “Whatever erotic fantasy I had had about the whole situation evaporated very quickly”, he told Norwegian journalist Kari Hesthamar. Everybody had different purposes – theirs was fatigue and rest, and mine was some kind of bewilderment as usual about the whole situation. That was the first time I ever wrote a lyric from beginning to end without any revision. When they woke up I played them the song and everyone was happy.”

Longer article

Pete Doherty meets Sylvia Patterson. One of the oddest encounters in the history of Word magazine.

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