Word #51

Cover star – Rufus Wainwright

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May 2018

Word shuffle

1) P12 – two page interview with Carla Bruni by Ian Reeves. “What the two women (Marianna Faithfull, her friend and English teacher) share is their own place in the tabloid history of The Rolling Stones. Bruni’s 1990’s affair with Mick Jagger (three decades or so after Faithfull’s) was the sort the red-tops like to describe as ‘on-off’ and is often cited as the last straw for his marriage to Jerry Hall. There are plenty of other names in the cuttings file too – including Eric Clapton, Kevin Costner, and, bizarrely, Donald Trump.”

2) P70 – Christopher Bray writes a two page feature on the 50th birthday of Sweet Smell Of Success. “Before Sweet Smell, Burt had been either the acrobatic athlete of colourful costumers, or the femme fatale’s fall-guy. After it, he was as often cast as a hard-nosed huckster as he was a hero. Had Mackendrick (Alexander Mackendrick, the British director) coaxed a new kind of performance from his star, or had he merely exposed Lancaster’s heartless, reamed-out vanity to the world? Norman Mailer, who wrote a biography of Gary Gilmore and so ought to know, once said that the only time he looked into the eyes of a born killer was when he met Burt Lancaster.”

3) P126 – The Home Service section in which Word writers enthuse about their current passions. Jude Rogers talks about her recent trip to the Pacific North West and says that “musical highlights from over the pond included Alela Diane’s fantastic The Pirate’s Gospel on every boho cafe radio, the Mountain Goats and Pony Up! in the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland – the latter a young female four piece who do a nice line in sassy, how-dare-you-dump-me-riot-grrrl numbers – and Peter Buck walking past us in Seatlle, wearing massive cans and an anorak.”

4) P103 – A page of adverts: the ‘Collector’s Edition’ of OMD’s Architecture & Morality, Loney, dear’s new album Loney, Noir (“Loney , dear should be 2007’s Jose Gonzalez” – Clash magazine) and 6 Bananarama albums are remastered and expanded and available at Borders.

5) P17 – a two page feature on Crowded House’s comeback gig on a boat, in front of 400 people. Neil Finn tells Jon Bennett: “In a way there were more more obstacles in my mind when Paul was around. Paul isn’t around now and we miss him desperately. We could have carried on when he left ten years ago if we’d applied ourselves but we could have gone mad. There’s a lot of psychosis in being in a band and it was right to do something else. There is a strength in the way Nick, Mark and I relate to each other and it can grow and develop and be organic. If I’m going to be in a band, what other band is there? Why would we name it differently?”

Interesting – David Hepworth believes that we’re living in a ‘Golden Age Of Music.’

“On a simple quantative basis, there is infinitely more music to be enjoyed. The new stuff pours forth and the old stuff doesn’t go away. The 17 year-olds I talked to knew who who Jimi Hendrix was. I’m not sure I knew very much about Django Rheinhardt. I was locked in the present because the past didn’t seem to have been invented. Now and in the future, an increasing proportion of the catalogue of record companies, the floor space of megastores and the digital catalogues of online retailers will be taken up by that which has been done in the past rather than that which has just appeared. In fact the whole idea of ‘back catalogue’ is a nonsense. And as Andrew Harrison pointed out recently, this has the effect of blurring the difference between new and old. Thanks to the iPod, everything from Loius Armstong’s Hot Fives to the new album by Clipse swims around in a permanent now.”

Andrew Collins reviews Arctic Monkeys’ difficult second album. “Now Turner has turned 21, the lyrics have matured along with his problem skin. He misses Sheffield (“Dorothy was right though”) and a mystery girl (“In my imagination, you’re lying on your side, with your hands between your thighs, ” he coos on 505 a thematic sequel to lovely B-side Despair In The Departure Lounge). And it seems that married women have been throwing themselves at him on tour. When on the Shakespeare’s Sister-indebted The Bad Thing, a suitor takes off her wedding ring, he’s “struggling to think of an immediate response”.

Daniel Miller of Mute Records is interviewed by Toby Manning. “Being a producer is a pain in the arse because I’m not very good at being the conciliator. Depeche go through these long cycles of splitting up and not splitting up. One of them will ring up and go. ‘I’m fucked off with X or Y’. A lot of it is about not wading in and letting time do the job to be honest. I’ve never said, ‘No, don’t split up’, I say. ‘Don’t decide now, see how the tour goes’. It usually works out.”

Rob Fitzpatrick reviews Basil Kirchin’s album on Trunk Records, Particles. “We Don’t Care is breezy jazz whipped and whizzed to buggery, Amundo takes one rumbling bassline and squashes it into extraordinary new shapes, The Dice Is Cast is like Bernard Herrmann with his head in a huge electronic bread bin.”

Longer article

Following an article about Pentangle in Word 50 , Colin Harper, the compiler of their box set, replies to their criticisms.Word51 002Word51 003



Word Interview #7 – Andrew Collins

I met Andrew in the autumn of 2017 in a café in south London.  Before the actual interview started we were talking about records. As a music journalist whose enthusiastic reviews in the NME were an important component in many of my vinyl purchases, I was happy to discover that Andrew continued to have a connection to music’s physical objects.

…the next house move we thought, ‘Do we really want to move these heavy things?’ Something in me clicked and I decided to just keep the 7” singles. I’m glad we did because they’re like photos in a photo album but they can be played. They’re lovely objects.  Also, they’re kind of rarer because the vinyl revolution is about 12” albums. I found a flight case online that was designed for singles and the collection fitted perfectly so it felt like it was meant to happen. You could literally carry it – it’s heavy but next move it will definitely come along.  All the 12” singles and LPs went though.

I sold the lot to a nice guy that used to come down to London from Newcastle. I’d not met him before and he turned up in his Range Rover. He said ‘”You can leave the room and I’ll sort them into two piles – one of records that are worth something and the rest aren’t worth me buying but I’ll take them off your hands if you like.” The pile that was worth anything was pretty small although the wad of cash was nice. I just kept a small pile of 12” singles so I could do an eighties disco if anyone asked me to – some elongated remixes of Echo and the Bunnymen tunes and stuff like that. I’ve only been asked once since then as a promotional event for one of my books but I was glad I had them. I think keeping the 7”s helped to counteract the emotional upheaval from having to get rid of a load of records.  I’m not sentimental about CDs really. My old ones are mostly at my Mum and Dad’s house. I went up there an few years ago and said “I’ll do you a deal. I’ll clear the loft out and get rid of anything in there that’s from when I left home in 1984.” I put boards down to make the space more useful for them and put some boxes of CDs up there. It was a good deal, everyone benefitted. When Bowie died I went up to see them for the weekend, took some bags up and collected all his CD albums. They’re all on i-tunes but somehow it seemed important to have them as objects.

I think the world is still getting over his death.

I genuinely believe that when he died the whole world started falling apart. He got out because he knew it was time to go – unfortunately. And as for keeping magazines, I wish I had all the Word magazines. That’s why we need you!

Well, that leads us nicely on to the first question… when did Word first come onto your radar?

I was slightly out of the loop with EMAP at the time. In 2003 I was working for five days a week at 6 Music. In fact I remember that one of the first times I was in the magazine was for one of those articles where you’re asked for recommendations, you know ‘Books For a Rainy Day’ or ‘Records You’d Save In A Fire’. There was a photo of me alongside it with shoulder length hair. The first piece I actually wrote was ‘How To Be An EastEnders Writer’ which was lovely to do because it was something I knew about. At that stage it was two people I’d worked with for years who had formed a publishing company that I didn’t even know about. I think Mark or Dave must have got in touch and said they were starting the magazine. I was quite wrapped up in 6 Music then – if someone told me now that that they were starting a magazine and they were people I knew and loved I’d be banging on their door! I was quite busy but I was really glad to be asked to do a decent-sized piece about EastEnders and then I just started picking up more bits and pieces as I went along. From day one to the final issue there was just no downside to any of it. It was the magazine that came at the right time for me and for the people who read it. I subscribed from the beginning because I knew that Dave and Jerry needed subscribers as you can imagine. A lot of American magazines survive on subscriptions and I wanted to support my friends in their venture. I wasn’t writing for it then so it wasn’t for mercenary reasons!

There was a lot of fun in writing for it. I didn’t go to the office much, it was too small, but I liked the atmosphere they created, not just in the office but from Mark’s emails or if he called you up. I was coming up to forty in 2003, exactly the right age. I was a similar age to Andrew Harrison and Fraser Lewry and a bit younger than Mark and Dave. As you approach your forties there’s no difference with people in their fifties and sixties. The years make less difference but they make a lot more in your twenties and thirties. At the end of your thirties you think ‘Wow, I’m an adult now’ but you still think ‘They’re in their forties’. And then you get to forty and you admire anyone who does anything at any age! I think ‘good on you’ to anyone who achieves anything from that point, anyone who makes something brilliant. Why should life slow down?

It was the right magazine at the right time and if I’d never written for it I still would have bought every issue. It was only after a few years that I asked Jerry for a guest subscription – by then I was quite a regular contributor.

You were writing articles in every issue by that point?

Yes, it was the first time I had a column anywhere and it was about TV to begin with, called ‘Telly Addicts’. I’d been on the TV programme in the eighties and I’ve managed to recycle the title as a TV review column for The Guardian and a blog which no-one looks at but I felt that I could own it. It was brilliant, you still had to pitch, you couldn’t just write about you liked and I liked that discipline. I’ve always admired columnists, usually political but often cultural as well. One of the reasons I like The Guardian is that their columnists are the best ones. Some of them, like John Harris are friends and that helps but that’s not why I think they’re great – I just think they’re excellent writers. The Guardian has kept me as a reader because of their columnists.

The New Yorker was a model for The Word and is all about people occasionally writing a column. It’s a very personal magazine. For my fortieth birthday Stuart Maconie bought me the best birthday present that you could get, a year’s subscription to it. At that point I was aware of it but I’d never actually sat down and properly read an issue. The ‘Talk Of The Town’ section of The New Yorker was the template for the first part of The Word. You’d have an article, go down a column, then the next story would start and then an illustration just like The New Yorker. The Spectator and The New Statesman did a similar thing but they were the first music magazine to do that. It just felt so grown up. The Word was bigger too so you felt more like holding it and keeping it. It was the best magazine to be in. As a shop window you thought ‘I’m going to do my best stuff for this magazine, I’m going to hone it and not just hack it out.’ I think a lot of people, the writers of my generation who’d come through the NME like Stuart Maconie, David Quantick and others, had been accused of knocking it out. I remember Stuart being unhappy when Danny Kelly asked him to bang something out. He was really offended by the terminology because no writer wants to be seen as a hack. I think everyone is a hack occasionally, especially on a weekly, even more on a daily. When I got to Q there seemed to be less of that attitude. There’s something about move from newsprint to a glossy that makes you care more. I cared a lot when I was at Q because I was learning and I was young and trying to prove myself but I cared even more about what I wrote for The Word. Mark Ellen was in a more executive role when I was at Q, he was always one step above the editor but always visible and hands on. I’d been under him at Select with Andrew Harrison as my editor and under Dave at Q so the idea that those two would pop up in their own scrappy little office in Islington with a scary lift – it was just too good to be true.

I remember there was a classic Word feature, where they got all the writers to contribute one thing. You’d be asked something like ‘What’s the greatest vocal performance in a song?’ Clearly the best way to approach that is to try and think of something that no-one else is going to do. I did Method Man’s ‘Tical’ which is my favourite track by him. It’s the most incredible performance – he’s got a low voice and has a lot of spit in his mouth. It’s not particularly pretty but you can pick his voice out in the Wu Tang Clan. He does this weird thing in the song where he goes into a falsetto, really odd but brilliant. It was only about seventy five words but it was great on the page because everyone chose different things. I was so proud to be asked, I’m sure everyone else felt the same way. It was treasure trove of thought and knowledge and powers of description and interest in things and yet it was the spread of all music. I’d love to go back and read it. That can never be on a website, there’s something about holding it. It makes me feel like an antique dealer, who really appreciates something you can hold.

There’s some unnecessary panic at the moment about kids reading things off screens but you just look at whatever the thing is that everyone else is using to look at things. We were brought up with the printed word so we still have an interest in that. For me the big question about The Word is why couldn’t it have carried on as a website? Dave said there was no money in it and it was a business decision. Once it couldn’t be a magazine it had to stop which is the saddest thing about it, it felt doomed to fail.

Did you go on the website and forums much?

When it folded I didn’t so much, it made me sad. Sometimes I’d be sent a link if I was mentioned so I‘d go and wade in because I like to have my say if people are talking about me. On The Guardian I sometimes stupidly start looking at the comments but there are too many so I try to stick to the newest or the oldest and let it go. When I was writing things for them, I always read all the comments as I felt that if it had my name on it, it was my responsibility to respond. You develop a little community of your own. That’s been the best thing that’s happened since The Word really, getting to do that at The Guardian – they have a similar sensibility.

The most hurtful thing that ever happened was a letter that The Word printed about my piece about joining a film society. It was a piece that David had commissioned for the back section, those personal stories. I’d written what I felt was a loving and affectionate history about this society. It was set in the early eighties when I was a teenager, a key time in my life when I got to see loads of X-rated horror and foreign films. I loved writing it and had spent ages on it. Someone wrote a letter saying it was the most boring thing they’d ever read – not just in the magazine, but the most boring thing ever! The fact that they printed was more annoying than the fact that he’d written it. I wished it had been online as I wanted to respond to it saying “I’m so sorry, I hope you didn’t read all of it. It sounds like you did in which case I apologise about making it so long.” I thought, ‘I’m not going write a letter for them to print. Who cares?’ and just had to let it go.

Favourite memories of The Word?

Always the podcasts.

How many were you on?

Quite a few I think. I started my podcast with Richard Herring around the same time. I had no idea that my laptop had GarageBand on it, I didn’t know what it was. I was on some of the earlier podcasts before Matt Hall got involved, when the sound quality wasn’t quite as good. It sounded like an echoey room – which it was. Dave and Mark were there, they opened up the laptop and it already had this GarageBand programme on it with channels and a little external mic. I said “What’s this, where did you get it from?” They said it was already on the computer. After the first one I went back to Richard, who used to be a guest on my 6 Music show where we used to have fun going through the papers. I thought we could sit down and chat into it for an hour and just put it out there, we only needed to buy a mic. It didn’t cost anything to put it onto iTunes. Without it I wouldn’t have had those five years of me and Richard almost making a career out of it. We used to do gigs that we’d get a bit of money for. When we split up it was mentioned in The Guardian’s ‘Media Monkey’ page, that’s how big it was.

You had the recent reunion on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. How was that?

I really enjoyed it. Do you know why I enjoyed it? Because years had passed and I always followed who was on it. I felt no bitterness towards him, even though it ended in some acrimony. After it all finished very publically (we both wrote blogs about it) he invited me to his wedding so there was clearly no deep-seated ill-will. Then I went to Edinburgh and saw his show, we went for drinks afterwards and so on. At that point he’d met the woman who went on to become his wife so it was natural that we would spend less time together. I’d watched his Leicester Square podcasts and he’d get fantastic guests on like Stephen Fry and also sometimes less well-known guests from the comedy circuit. The less famous ones were sometimes better. I loved the fact that he’d worked out a way of financing it so it ticked over and he’s got a lot of fans.

Occasionally people would ask him on Twitter when he was going to have me as a guest and I noticed he would never respond. I thought it was really funny, I guess he just thought ‘I’m not going to get involved’! I did wonder if he would run out of comedians at some point. I was never going to ask but loads of people kept asking me and I would just say something like ‘I think it’s too soon, it would be too awkward’ so it didn’t look like I cared. When he asked me, I said yes straight away. I thought I’d do it in a way that draws back a bit of the moral high ground for me because I’d been painted as the villain of the piece. 6 Music had asked me to pilot a show with Josie Long. I’d told him about it and did the pilot. They wanted to get her on the station but she didn’t have much radio experience so they decided to put her on with an experienced presenter who liked comedians – and that was me. We did that show and went on to do six months, at which point he and I had split up. He said I’d been duplicitous because he thought I’d put my career before my relationship with him even though what I’d done with Josie hadn’t had any bearing on what I’d been  doing with him as 6 Music had got fed up with him.

So, when he invited me I said yes. I thought it would be a great thing to do and I love performing, as I found out when I was working with him. I thought I would just go out there with an absolutely confident attitude. A lot of the audience were people that used to come and see us so they’d be happy to see me. I said “I’m the most anticipated guest you’ve had on. It’s easy to get Stephen Fry, he’s got an agent – but you’ve got me now!” His job as the interviewer when he’s with Stephen Fry is clearly delineated but it’s different with me because we used to be equals. This time he had to interview me and listen to what I had to say. I stopped and said to the audience at one point “He’s never asked me this many questions before.” On our podcast he’d talk about himself, I’d talk about myself and we’d talk about silly things; it dawned on me how weird it was, him asking me about things I’d done in my career. So I enjoyed it, not to get back at him because beforehand we’d had a hug and been pleased to see each other. I liked going off on my flights of fancy too which you can only really do on stage.

Like the Frog Tape riff?

Yeah, I hadn’t planned that but that’s why it worked, I just got my teeth into it. It was important to me because I’d been doing a lot of DIY! I listened back and thought it was pretty good.  Long ago I decided not to be a stand-up comedian because I sort of was one for a while. I did one run at Edinburgh and a few years with Richard. It was good that it happened when I was older because if I was younger I might have thought I should have a go at this. It got to the point where I didn’t want to go out every night and that’s insulting to all stand-up comedians because the one thing you have to do is gigs. If you’re married or have other things you want to do in the evenings or just like to be in bed by half past ten, then it’s not for you. Not that’s it’s a young person’s game but it’s better if you’re single with nothing else to do in the evenings. I did a free show (the safest way to do it) in Edinburgh, people came and it was full every day for the run. I remembered my lines, got some laughs and some kind comments from other comedians. There’s an idea that comedians hate non-comedians having a go but that’s not true. Sarah Millican and Gary Delaney came to the show and gave me tips about how to deliver certain lines and I took their advice. It was nothing but fun but when I got home I thought I can’t be doing it anymore. I love going to watch comedy but I’m past the point of trying to do it properly. So when I went on the Leicester Square Theatre podcast with a little audience of partisan nerds it was great fun but I can’t see why we’d do it again – it wouldn’t be a reunion.

Do you listen to any other podcasts regularly?

Predictably enough I listen to Bigmouth! I was on one of the first episodes; Andrew Harrison has given me some dates to do others but they’re always on the one day I can’t do. I’d love to do it again, it’s in a proper studio and feels very professional. It’s always the day I have to be at the Radio Times. I’ve been running the film section there since 2000 and it’s completely different to every other magazine I’ve ever worked on. It’s huge and there’s so much to process. The subs are people that tend to have been there for a long time because it’s a proper skill and you need a certain mind-set. You have to get every listing right and there are so many channels now. There’s a lot of  information in there, apart from all the features. They’re the glamorous pieces at the front of the magazine and the film section is halfway between the two. We pick out certain films to write about and I get to choose a ‘Film of the day’ which I tend to write quite fast, there’s no time for inspiration. The main skills you need are over-confidence and punctuality both of which I believe I have. I have a humble view of my talents but they’re good ones; doing something to order, spell-checking, reading over it at least once and trying to be amenable if you’re there in person. Everyone else is there working their arses off to get the magazine out so you can’t come in and be like Oscar Wilde. You come in, sit down and get on with it. I don’t mind bashing it out because if you also read it back then that’s not bashing it out. I would never name them but…there would occasionally be a piece in Q magazine written by people of a certain level, named writers, and as features editor you’d sometimes get a feature which looked like someone had started writing it, put a couple of quotes in and think it was done. I’d get furious and think ‘You got where you are by working hard and gaining a reputation, don’t piss it away now.’ One I can mention is Tom Hibbert, a brilliant example of individual talent who I only got to work with for a few years because he was in a bit of a decline. When he was in his pomp, doing his ‘Who The Hell…?’ pieces, no-one else could compete. His legacy was sealed by that point and by the time I got there he was still doing it. His copy would come in, not quite crayons on sheets of A4 but pretty raw. There was brilliance in it but as an editor you had to shape it. That was quite easy with Who The Hell…?’ as it had quite a straightforward structure with quotes in it. There’s only so much madness he could get into it, most of it came from his interview technique –which was just to shut up. He’d have Jimmy Saville or someone, ask them a question and then sit there. Once they’d answered it he’d keep nodding, waiting for them to say something else. It‘s a brilliant strategy but it takes a bit of nerve. I’m not sure I’d be very good at; in fact I’d be shit at it, I’d start talking immediately if someone wasn’t saying anything. Anyway, a piece came in from Tom, a think-piece about The Eagles. There was some reunion and we didn’t have an interview so we thought we’d get Tom to write something about them instead.  When the copy came in it wasn’t quite a stream of consciousness but you couldn’t just ring Tom up and get him to change a few bits and I needed the thing on the page. So, as Features Editor, I just plucked the Omnibus book on The Eagles off the bookshelf and went through it. I looked at Tom’s piece again just adding in names of band members and some facts. It read well on the page, plenty of Tom in it but it was also factually correct. I felt like I’d been a conduit for the unbottleable spirit! You can’t have too many unbottleable spirits on a magazine, not when there’s a deadline but you probably could on a website. I love the idea that I got to edit someone like Tom Hibbert.

Sometimes you’d get poor copy from a name writer who wasn’t an unbottleable spirit, just a writer who was very good and you’d think ‘Just read it back!’ So even there, there were people who were coasting a bit. I never felt that at The Word. I’d pitch three or four ideas to Mark every month, usually in an email and he’d pick the one he liked. He’d often say “No, I’m not sure about that, that’s not going to work. Have another think.”  That was fine though because no magazine should be a free pass, you should earn your place as a contributor.


I recently met Billy Bragg at The Green Man music festival and asked him for a question for you. He told me to ask you when you’re writing another rock biography. (Andrew had written Billy’s biography ‘Still Suitable For Miners’)

All the stars were in alignment when I was asked to write the book. I’d been a fan of his before I was even a journalist. I was at the NME around the time of his album Don’t Try This At Home. It was bold, a pop record and I’d have loved it whether I was writing about him or not. I was Features Editor then and had the video for the single Sexuality, directed by Phil Jupitus. Go Discs, his record label, sent it to me knowing I was sympathetic and in a position of some power. I took it in to Danny Kelly and said, “You’ve got to watch this video!” It was a great song and video and I thought it was time for Billy to be back on the cover. I said I’d write it as I was a fan and occasionally I’d give myself a cover feature to write – not that often because it’s a bit naughty. I did the same for My Bloody Valentine when ‘Loveless’ came out. There was no argument so off I went to meet him with my tape recorder. We started the interview on foot, walking along the canal in Camden and ended up in the pub. He’s everything you want; a brilliant interviewee, he’s always got lots to talk about and he’s a great musician. We got on well and he identified me as a fan. When I got to Q, his next album came out and I put myself forward to write a piece, again as Features Editor. We did a series of epiphanies with the headline “Still Suitable For Miners” (I’ve copyrighted that pun!). It was about things that changed his life like joining the army or hearing Dylan for the first time. It was a good Q feature, an artist we all know about but maybe some things in there that we don’t know. He was about 39 at that point.

When I left Q and was cast into the world of freelance danger, my friend Ian Gittins at Virgin Books rang me up and asked if there was anyone I wanted to write a biography about. The two I said I’d like to do were The Cocteau Twins or Billy Bragg. I went to Billy first and he said, “It’s funny you should say that.” He was thinking it might be a good time to do it because he and his partner had had their son. He started thinking about mortality and handing things on. Lots of good writers had wanted to do his biography but he’d always said no up to then because they’d wanted to write about his political views. He said “You’ve written about me and not always just about my politics.” He was about to turn to turn 40 and selling a flat that he’d lived in while he was single so it felt like the right time in his life. I had the time and so I wrote it over the next six months. I met his family, went to his Mum’s house, visited Oundle where he’d formed Riff Raff in the Northamptonshire wilds and went to Dublin together where he was recording the album with Wilco. We were in this house that the record company had rented for him and it was full of members of Wilco. We slept in this little spare room together – separate beds – but that’s how close we got! I listened to the music he was referencing while I was writing it, things I hadn’t listened to before, lots of folk music, much more Dylan because he’d been a big influence on him and Jackson Browne.

I’m very proud of the book. It first came out in 1998 and every three or four years Virgin have been in touch and asked for an updated version with a new chapter. He deserves it and it says a lot about him that they want a current edition on the shelves. It’ll be the book’s 20th anniversary in 2018 and he’ll turn sixty soon so hopefully they’ll ask for another chapter. I put the same amount of care and attention into this as a Word or a Q feature. You have to be proud of something if you’re going to put it out as a book. It’s great that anyone is still putting books out. I’ve always been optimistic and I don’t think books will ever completely die really because they should have already. If vinyl can survive, books definitely can.


You can follow Andrew on Twitter – @AndrewCollins

The updated, 20th anniversary edition of ‘Still Suitable for Miners’ will be published by Virgin Books in May 2018

And see if you agree with the choices Andrew has made for his mp3 player on his entertaining 143 blog

Previous Word interviews: Jude Rogers , Mark Ellen , John Naughton , Paul Du Noyer , David Hepworth, Andrew Harrison

Word #50

Cover star – Joni Mitchell

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April 2007

Word shuffle

1) P129 – half page adverts for the soundtrack of Hot Fuzz (with “exclusive track from The Fratellis”) and A Tale of Two Cities by Mr. Husdon & The Library. They have a myspace page should you wish to know more.

2) P86– the 1st page of a 2 page Cat Power interview by Jude Rogers. “Two days before the Brit Awards, Best International Female Nominee Cat Power is in a bed in a Park Lane hotel, chain-smoking fags, squished up on pillows, sniffing wax dug from her ear with one hand and forgaing around in her knickers with the other. Later she’ll fart – waving a lighter around to hide the smell – and pee in front of me quite happily. All this while looking elegantly dishevelled, bambi eyes peering through her fringe, like she’s an arty ad in The Face.”

3) P95 – from Robin Eggar’s 5 page interview with Joni Mitchell. Robin asks why she hates critics so much.

“They hold you in your decade. You are supposed to stay neatly in your decade and then die. From my sixth album on they were dismissive while I knew I was still growing. It was an extraordinary rejection of good work. I know enough to know when I’m doing good work but fools were reviewing it. I’d see the crap they’d elevate. I don’t care for fame and fortune but the rejection of my later work was too extreme.”

4) P120 – from the album reviews section. The most column inches on this page are given to Saltbreakers by Laura Veirs. Robert Sandall writes that “Veirs is still recognisable as the daughter of a geologist mother and a marine biologist father whose idea of the perfect holiday was to go camping in the wildest parts of the wild. To listen to her 6th album is to be imaginatively transported into the world of a wide eyed, serious-minded child for whom the minute observation of dawn sunlight, starry skies, giant waves, black butterflies, and a vast array of other eco-phenomena, acts as a prism through which all of her emotions are expressed.”

5) P24 – Andrew Collins compares the past to the present and wonders if we’ve made progress. Among other things chat shows, record shops and the charts were better then. Pubs, salad and comedy are better now.

Interesting – The 20 best and worst pop fashion items as decreed by The Word. 3 of the worst are: David Bowie’s Union Jack tailcoat and goatee, circa ‘Earthling’ (“looks like some kind of right-wing Doctor Who”), The Style Council’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ period (“is there a less convincing Wodehousian aesthete than Merton Mick?”) and Mark Knopfler’s headband (“as bad as wearing a ponytail at the front – actually worse”). 3 of the best are: Devo’s flowerpot hats (“splendidly mad and the perfect millinery for a band that was three quarters cartoon anyway”), the codpiece worn by Larry Blackmon of Cameo (“crimson genital crash helmet still gives all who saw it the heebie-jeebies”) and Johnny Rotten’s bondage trousers (“these garish and impractical ‘perv-trews’ – as Smash Hits was wont to put it – put the wind right up grans, coppers, teachers and other DOOMED OLDIES. Will clothes ever terrify like this again?”)

Lauren Laverne writes about doing the 6 – 7 am slot on XFM. “At six in the morning I’m often exclusively broadcasting to people driving home from having affairs, the depressed, people who’ve cried themselves awake over store-card debts, milkmen and criminals. That’s my demographic . I genuinely love them and I care about them deeply.” Danny Baker helms the 4-5 pm slot on BBC Radio London. “I only play records that will cheer people up. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason as to what works. Whether it’s Joyce Grenfell or bleeding Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.”

Grenfell gets another mention in the DVD review pages (for Joyce Grenfell, The BBC Collection DVD) reviewed by Hazel Davis. “Grenfell had the ability to highlight mundane details pre-Alan Bennett and string them out to their awkward and embarrassing conclusions.She honed idiosyncrasies with a style both gentle and genteel.”

Andrew Collins loves The Wire. “The real test of your Wire-appreciation is whether or not you’re prepared to stand up and say it’s better than The Sopranos. I am. The Sopranos is operatic, playfully metatextual and Freudian; it invites analysis – and gets it. The Wire is plain-speaking, unmanicured and, due to its pace, a far subtler proposition.”

Longer article

Rob Fitzpatrick catches up with the recently reunited Pentangle.

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Word #49

Cover star – Amy Winehouse

March 2007


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Word shuffle

1) P23– the first page of short Tracey Thorn interview by Sylvia Patterson to coincide with the release of Out Of The Woods. Tracey describes the album as “bed-sit disco torch songs” and says that she will never sing live again due to stage-fright.

2) P43 – a full page advert for the Good, The Bad & The Queen which The Times calls “tear inducingly beautiful”

3) P72 – part of a 5 page feature on Tinariwen by Andy Gill. “In Gao we purchase our cheches, the turban headgear made from 3 metres of muslin wound around the head, vital protection from both sun and sand. The indigo one I select it, I’m told, the favoured colour of the Tuaregs – the blue dye that stains the face serves as sunblock, imparting the blueish-brown complexion that led to them becoming known as ‘the blue men’. I, on the other hand, just look like Papa Smurf.”

4) P10 – a double page spread on the news that The BRITs is going live again. “Ever since 1989, when that odd couple Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox had their lack of TV experience compounded by the incompetence of whoever was directing traffic backstage, the BRIT Awards have been recorded the night before broadcast. This inevitable surrender to the requirements of telly has had the sad effect of depriving the event of the giddy promise of disaster which makes it interesting.”

5) P29 – John Simm is interviewed by Andrew Harrison. “My main memory of 24 Hour Party People is being wasted all the time. If you weren’t on set, someone would come and sort you out. It was very real, shall we say, especially for the lads who were playing Happy Mondays. I don’t know why they’re not dead.”

Interesting – Sylvia Patterson spends some time with Amy Winehouse. “Amy is not your run-of-the-mill gel alright, more the blueprint for a Catherine Tate character called Pop Star In A Skip. A born caricature, she’s an erratic combination of Mae West, Liam Gallagher, Bez, Tracey Emin, Popeye The Sailor Man, a temperamental teenage goth and a lecherous East End barrow-boy to whom everyone is ‘darlin’.”

Graham Gouldman talk to Paul Du Noyer about 10cc. “If Strawberry Studios hadn’t existed I doubt we would have come together. We did two albums there with Neil Sedaka. Then we did an album with this guy called Ramases. He thought he was the reincarnation of Ramases II, but in fact he was a central heating salesman from Sheffield.”

Harry Hill is “…working on a concept album based on the International Top Trumps Society in the style of The War Of The Worlds. It details this game Top Trumps played by Hitler, Bruce Forsyth, Morrissey and Roland Rat. And watching is Helena Christiansen, for some reason. My voice narrates in the Richard Burton style. When Brucie crashes out (he claims his drinks were spiked) I’m asked to sit in. Then it goes into a song, Let Me Play My Top Recipe Top Trumps Cards. I’ve written it, and I’ve laid down all the narrations and recorded one of the songs, with Steve Brown, my musical director. They’re playing recipe card Top Trumps. So Hitler would play his Devilled Kidneys with Rice. And Forsyth would match with Boiled Egg or something.”

Ricki Lee Jones talks about her respect for Laura Nyro. “I loved and adored her. She had long black hair and pale purple lipstick and she played the piano by herself and would wail and put words together in a strange, poetic and super-feminine way with these Bernstein-Stravinsky intervals. In New York Tendaberry she wrote about characters in the city which made me really want to go there.”

Dorian Lynskey has a strange opening to an interview. “So what exactly is The Word?” inquires Bryan Ferry, sounding a little like a high court judge. “Is it in colour?”

Longer article

Andrew Harrison writes about musical nostalgia and the changes that the iPod has brought.

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Word #48

Cover star – Jim Morrison

Issue 48

February 2007

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Word shuffle

1) P44– the first of two letters pages. Chris Gittner from Deptford writes to complain about Bobby Gillespie. “Please can you not interview Bobby Gillespie ever again? I cannot bear his cooler-than-thou posturing. Of course Bobby; your favourite record of 2006 is a 1970 live album! Of course, after almost 30 years om tour buses you still watch Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia rather than Zoolander. Here is a 42 year-old man for whom every decision is based on the premise, well, what would Iggy Pop do? Would Iggy het his pies from Gregg’s or Somerfields? Would Iggy get SkyPlus? Would Iggy call his son Wolf or Fox?”

2) P43 – the second page of a double-spread about the recently departed. Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records. “…Ahmet himself was not short of production and songwriting skills, writing Mess Around for Ray Charles under his backward pseudonym ‘A. Nugetre’, and producing Bobby Darin’s hits Splish Splash and Mack The Knife.”

3) P75 – part of a 10 page feature on punk. Jo Callis of The Revillos remembers the early days in the provinces. “You’d see guys with denim jackets that said Status Quo and The Clash, in felt tips, which was quite sweet. And you’d play out in the Borders of Scotlands and there’d be these guys apologising because they ‘didnae have the gear’ ; ‘We’re sorry, we cannae buy it in Castle Douglas.”

4) P40 – an anonymous sound engineer spills some secrets about live music. “Some sounds simply can’t be recreated on stage as they can in a studio. It’s rumoured that U2 have had a full studio underneath the stage since the late 80’s for this very reason. Otherwise, who plays the fast sequenced keyboard part and the keyboard pads on With Or Without You?”

5) P23 – Jarvis is interviewed by Craig McLean. “As far as I can make out, quite a few of the things the G8 promised to do they haven’t actually done…It’s that idea that you can change the system from within. They made a big thing of getting people like Bill Gates on board. It was very much saying, “We can make caring capitalism.” Well, like it says in the song (Running The World) ‘Fuck the morals, does it make any money?’ That is the thing with capitalism. If it makes a profit it’s good. If it doesn’t it’s not good. The way to make a profit is to produce things as cheaply as possible. And one way to produce stuff as cheaply as possible is to pay people fuck-all. That’s what used to happen in Great Britain. But now working class people – for want of a better word – are in a weird situation. They’re not the ones doing the dirty work, it’s people over in… Macau. The people who were traditionally called the working classes are now supposed to buy the stuff that’s made in Macau.”

Interesting – Rob Fitzpatrick interviews Adam & Joe and asks what will happen on TV in 2007. Adam answers “I’m thinking of a huge Samoan lesbian from Manchester called Julie who fronts a show called Have You Fucked My Mum? It’ll be the first show ever to have an expletive in the title that Channel 4 insist is printed without stars in the listings.”

Steve Yates reflects on hip hop’s annus horribilis of 2006. “The most popular rap singles of recent weeks have included such novelty items as Jibb’s Chain Hang Low, a track based on a nursery rhyme, and Webstar’s gimmicky YouTube phenomenon Chicken Noodle Soup. That crunching sound you hear may just be Greg Dyke doing the math on a possible Roland Rat revival.”

Joe Muggs speaks to John Martyn about touring Solid Air. “The wheelchair gets a bit impractical. Thank god my girlfriend is around to help me with all that. There’s no ploughing straight into the most dangerous pub we can find and then on to all-night joints now either – just a drink-up back at the hotel.”

Claudia Brucken writes about her favourite books and music. She likes “I love Patti Smith’s Horses – it’s so influential across so many ages. I first heard it in the early ’80s and was really struck by her punkiness and attitude as a woman. I love Rimbaud too – I think that’s a bit of Patti’s influence. A Season In Hell is really illuminating, it’s something I’ve gone back to over the years and, as my English has got better, I’ve noticed lots of new things in there. It’s just brilliant in the way it questions everything from art and morality to love. Everything conventional is everything odd is challenged and so you are made to really think.”


Longer article

David Hepworth looks back on our 50 year love affair with record shops.

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Word Interview #6 – Andrew Harrison

I meet Andrew in Sheffield, in the crowded bar at the Showroom cinema. There’s a break in proceedings at the Children’s Media Conference which he’d been attending so there are no free tables and the general hubbub makes it virtually impossible for us to hear each other. We retire to a rival coffee house across the road. To get Andrew into the right frame of mind for reminiscing, I produce issue 3 of Word. On page 3, there’s a small picture of him with Morrissey, taken when he interviewed him in LA.

AH and Moz

AH: 2003?! That makes me feel old. I remember that picture – I wish I’d worn a nicer jumper and had a better haircut. Morrissey’s house was disturbingly clean; I don’t think his kitchen had seen cooking of any kind. He had put up his usual set of pictures – West Ham United, Diana Dors, various East End criminals and ne’er-do-wells. It was an interesting visit.

So, where do you want to start?

I thought I’d begin by asking a standard David Hepworth question. What music was playing in your house when you were a kid?

My Dad was a Country & Western fan so that gave me not just a liking of Johnny Cash but also the stuff you’re not supposed to like, like John Denver. It’s seen as corny but it’s actually well put together, well written and very commercial. My Mum was never particularly interested in music although she was from Liverpool. I may have trotted out this anecdote in a Word podcast once.  Mum and her friend had got tickets to see Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor, a folk duo of the time, at the Cavern in ’62 or ’63. It was the era of the folk singer and they were really excited to see this duo. Anyway, it’s a really foggy night and this is Britain before motorways. So, they’re waiting and waiting at the club and somebody pops onto the stage and announces that because of the adverse weather conditions, Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor will not be appearing and it’s going to be The Beatles instead. Everyone went mad! “I’m sick of them, I’ve seen them before, this is a rip-off!” My mum’s mate said “This is a con, I’m going to get my money back!” She was furious at having to watch The Beatles against her will.

There were three brothers in the house. The youngest, our Ian, has been news editor at Mojo for about 15 years and my other brother Stuart is a cartoonist and illustrator who develops licensed characters. He works on things like My Little Pony and works for The Beano.  So, there were three lads with rooms next to each other and the division of labour was that I bought the records, Ian, the youngest, bought 2000 AD and Stuart borrowed everything and never spent any money! I was completely entranced by The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Slade on Top Of The Pops. I remember seeing Brian Connolly snapping the mike stand over his knee and thinking ‘This is the most outrageous thing I’ve seen in my life. How can it be possible for someone to be allowed to destroy a piece of property on television? It must have cost £100 and he broke it over his knee!’ Then there was Noddy Holder’s mirrored top hat. The first album I got was a cassette of Sladest by Slade. In a terrible Rosebud moment I lost the tape but I found it on CD a few years ago and it still sounds amazing. Your tastes are fixed from early on, they never really change. I don’t like massively introspective, thoughtful music, although I do love the Pet Shop Boys. I just enjoy music that makes you want to jump around and go mad, I like excitement and bright, colourful insanity.

So, with music my first love was Slade and The Sweet. Then I went to secondary school in 1978. I’m no longer a little kid so I need something ‘cos I can’t play football and I can’t fight. I like music so I start picking up on the things that are happening. I always liked things that were dancey and not too ostentatiously deep so I got into bands like The Darts. My next phase began with seeing Madness on Top Of The Pops. I thought it was the biggest load of rubbish I’d seen in my life. ‘This isn’t proper music, just fairground noise while they’re jumping around and acting like idiots from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon’. A week later they were my favourite band and I’ve never looked back. I was all over Two Tone and everything that came after it. There’s this received wisdom that it was Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran that did the groundwork for rave and dance music in Britain. I don’t think that’s true at all, I think it was Madness and The Specials because that was the first time that loads of young men could go mad dancing rather than standing around and glaring while the girls danced. The New Romantic thing was quite elitist; if you didn’t have the right tea-towel round your neck you weren’t going to get into Le Beat Route. Two Tone wasn’t like that, everyone was allowed in.

The first gig I went to was The Beat, supported by The Belle Stars at the Royal Court in Liverpool. They were playing the Wha’appen? album and I was transfixed. The next gig was the second to last Specials concert around the time of Ghost Town.  With hindsight I can tell they were falling apart, they had a fist fight on stage. Terry Hall came to the front of the stage and told the sieg-heiling skinheads that if that was all they could do with their right arms they should go home and saw them off. It was really intense. So, it was Two Tone that really got me going.

I’d always wanted to write and even as a little kid I’d make little magazines. There used to be this fantastic kit you could get with an 8 page blank magazine and a load of Letraset you could peel off for your headlines. A few years ago we actually found the magazine I’d made in 1977 and it was a newspaper for the Galactic Empire in Star Wars with a front page exclusive interview with Darth Vader where he revealed his plans. Basically nothing has changed!

Only the Letraset has changed.

Exactly! I’m still doing I started to do when I was ten…it’s time to pull my finger out and find something better to do with my life at the age of fifty. Oddly it was both music and wanting to write that drove each other. I wanted to write because I had an uncle who was a journalist and I loved newspapers. I used to read the NME and then discovered Smash Hits and I was in awe of the language and the style of it. In my late teens and as a student I would have Smash Hits and Q on the go at the same time, which in some respects are opposite poles of writing about music but in other ways they are exactly the same because they share a private language and they’re driven by enthusiasm. The mockery that Smash Hits used to incur from the NME was completely misplaced because the journalism was rock solid. They would ask the questions that needed to be asked and then deliver the answers with quotation marks around them.  I loved the Wodehousian language that Tom Hibbert, Sylvia Patterson, Mark Ellen and Neil Tennant used. Talking of Neil, here’s a strange connection. The other thing I’ve always really been into is comics and in the mid-70s I used to get the Mighty World Of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and all the other British Marvel comics. As you do when you’re a kid, if I spotted a mistake I’d write in and address it to the editor, a Mr. Neil Tennant. “Dear Mr. Tennant, I think you’ll discover that The Thing’s underpants were the wrong colour on the front cover of the Mighty World Of Marvel this week.” Obviously this was before he was at Smash Hits. One of the things he co-created was Captain Britain Weekly written by Chris Claremont and weirdly a few years ago Captain Britain was mentioned on a Pet Shop Boys album. It’s all strangely connected! The guy that was editing the comics that were my favourite thing goes on to form my favourite band then makes references to the comics he produced.

So how and when did you get started in journalism? I found an old interview online you’d done with Paddy MacAloon from 1990.

Bloody hell – that was one of my earliest jobs on Select.  I’d always wanted to write and my distant uncle was a stringer for the Mirror and the Sunday Times and also did a lot of industrial oil journalism. He had an agency in Liverpool and when it became apparent that I was not fit to go and work in the butcher’s shop with my Dad, he said, “You can come and work summers with us if you like”- make cups of tea, type the invoices, that kind of thing. So I started doing summers with my uncle Lew in the press agency, in the Port Of Liverpool building, at the Pier Head. It’s the most beautiful building in the world. It’s got this circular atrium and inlaid in gold around it is ‘For those who go down to sea in ships’.  I’m convinced that Bill Drummond’s been in there because it’s referenced in KLF’s ‘The Fall Of Time’. I worked there and this was at the time of Derek Hatton so I was making the tea and answering the phone while Liverpool was going insane. Lew was covering it all and it could get quite hairy with violence at Labour Party meetings. We did the Port News newspaper for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board which meant I had to go and report on darts and snooker and things I didn’t have a clue about. I started reviewing bands for the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post. The Royal Court and the Empire were big on the touring circuit and basically no-one wanted to review gigs so I did it for £15 a pop. I’d get a free ticket and have to file my review in a weird stinking phone box, stuffing 2p pieces in. I’m pretty convinced that I was the first journalist to go into print on The La’s. I saw them at the Everyman Bistro in ’85 or ’86 and said they were great (which is possibly the one and only time I’ve been right about something). I wrote something like “It’s been such a long time since we listened to four lads in a cellar with a Beatles’ style of song writing.” Oddly enough I ran into John Power on the no. 73 bus a few weeks ago because he lives near me.

I did a lot of reviews and had a full year of working near the white-hot beating heart of the news. It meant I had a lot of cuttings I could show when I went to Leeds University, which I chose because they had a cracking student paper. I did a little bit for the NME and for Smash Hits when I was there. I had a news splash in the NME in 1988. Do you remember Steve Albini’s band Rapeman and the controversy around their gig in Leeds which ended up being played off campus? I took a chance and rang James Brown at the NME and they took that story. I really wanted to go and see Frankie Goes To Hollywood at GMEX so I rang the Smash Hits office and offered to do it. Barry McIlheney, the editor picked up the phone and agreed to it. He said he wanted about 400 words and I think I filed 3,000! They ran it and it was so exciting. The feedback he gave me was that I clearly liked writing using inverted commas and I understood the Smash Hits lingo.

I then edited the student paper for a year.  There was a weirdly good crop of people when I was there; Andy Pemberton, future editor at Q magazine, Jay Rayner, who was the editor of the paper before me and others who later went on to work for the BBC and The Guardian. I think a lot of people had the same idea as me which was to study politics, not a particularly onerous course, then spend your free time working on a really good paper. I was so lucky really; a few weeks before my finals, an advert appeared in The Guardian’s Media section for a magazine looking for staff to write about pop culture and pop music. It was Tony Stewart launching Select. I applied and a few weeks later, on the Monday after I finished my finals, I was on a plane to San Francisco to do a piece on UB40! I’d always loved them, I’d been in their fan club at one point. When I look back it’s incredible. It’s so hard now for anyone without independent means to make it in journalism. Then it was an open door with people shoving you through.  Select was clearly a ‘post Q’ magazine because Spotlight Publications who had Sounds, Kerrang! and Record Mirror saw how well Q had been doing – and Q was amazing, it had exceeded what anyone thought you could get out of a music magazine.  They wanted their own version but as the journalists were already working on Q, they used Sounds writers and new people, which is why they got me on board.  The story of Select is quite a funny one because it launched against Q and it couldn’t get the big stories. In the CD goldrush, the people that could actually sell shiploads would be in Q and in the early days Select were putting people like Boy George and Matt Johnson on the cover but they weren’t box-office enough to shift the magazine in the quantities that were required. The strange upshot was that whole group of magazines were bought by EMAP and they closed Sounds and Record Mirror. Kerrang! and Select went to EMAP. We’d had a year of rivalry and suddenly they were our new bosses, some people were in tears! The first time I met Mark Ellen was at the Q offices where we’d been taken to meet the management and we were holed up in a room.  I was stamping on a copy of Q in a rage, “These fuckers, these bastards, these are the ones we’ve been fighting!” and in walks Mark (adopts cheerful and enthusiastic voice) “Hello everybody! Oh, you’re stamping on Q – hilarious!” Anybody else would have fired me on the spot but Mark could see the humour in it. He may regret it, perhaps he should have fired me, I don’t know! So, basically, with a few comings and goings, I became features editor and then editor of Select. EMAP’s vision of it was ‘junior Q’ and the writers’ vision was that it should be less like Q and more like Smash Hits for students. It coincided firstly with the arrival of Nirvana and then with the arrival of Brit Pop which was absolute petrol for us, we could run on that forever. There were so many larger than life characters that it didn’t really matter if they were selling many records, you’d get a great read out of an interview with Saint Etienne or Jarvis Cocker.

You were involved from the start of Word. How did you become involved?

I’d been at EMAP for about four years and left to go to America to be music editor at Details. I met my wife there, came back, edited Mixmag, edited Q for a while, various things. EMAP was going through terrible turmoil – they’d got rid of Mark and Dave and got in people who ran radio stations who didn’t care about or know how to run magazines. The two of them and Jerry Perkins were setting this thing up – they approached me and asked if I was interested in coming over. They said “You won’t be the editor, this is going to be a small thing – but here are all the things you won’t have to do.” It was a list all the things I hated doing, like having meetings with people who didn’t read magazines and so on. I went and it was a tiny operation, no picture editor, no sub editors. A PR rang up Mark once and said “Get your PA to sort it out” and he almost fell off the chair laughing! It was the world’s best turned-out fanzine. Obviously we tried to sell as many copies as we could but fundamentally we wrote about the things we were interested in. There were basically three editors in the room, me, Mark and Dave, alongside Jude Rogers who was really, really smart plus Paul Du Noyer, another editor, for the first twenty issues. It meant there was a lot of experience in the room and some high volume conversations about various things but it meant that when something went in, it was something that the writer absolutely cared about. Early on when we were finding our feet, we did try a few nakedly commercial covers like the Travis and Dido covers. They didn’t work.

Oh, the Dido cover – that’s gone down in Word legend!

Yes, nailed to the shelves, shipped gold, came back platinum and all the other favourite clichés. What worked was Nick Cave, Jack White or Tom Waits. The breakthrough was Jeff Buckley because we thought ‘he’s dead, there are no new records out, there isn’t a particular anniversary’ but it was an interesting story and it sold well. It was the oddities and the unusual things that did well, rather than trying to follow what was happening in the album charts. In a weird way it led to lessons from Heat magazine. Heat became successful when it stopped trying to get access to celebrities and with one or two exceptions we stopped too. Jim  Irvin, a great writer, wrote a brilliant review of one of Coldplay’s  albums asking the question ‘Is this genuinely felt emotional music or is it a simulacrum?’ Writers at competing magazines were thinking ‘Ha ha, you’ll never get that Coldplay cover story now because you didn’t give it a 5 star review’. We were thinking that not only did we not want the interview, it wouldn’t have done us any good if we had. What people wanted from our magazine wasn’t Coldplay – they could get that in Q – and Q do a fine job of that. What they wanted was something like the longer piece I did on Morrissey, where you go deeper and don’t just talk about the obvious and superficial things. People liked that level of depth and examination. Also it was a basic mathematical calculation of effort and opportunity for us. A copy of most magazines at that time might have about five hundred things from an eight page feature down to a short review and its efforts would be divided accordingly. We decided to just do 100 things instead and put more concentrated effort and thought into it. It’s as easy to brief an 8000 word feature as it is to brief a 1500 word feature  – and for a Word reader 8000 words is better than 1500 if it’s about the right thing. It was a brilliant culmination of about twenty five years’ worth of magazine craft. It never sold in vast numbers and it wasn’t for everybody but it was influential and people recognised it was good. There were news stories on the BBC when it closed – that didn’t happen to poor old Select.

Do you think it was the last of its kind?

I think the fanzine aspect of it is what’s gone today which isn’t really acknowledged anymore. NME had its own humour as did Smash Hits and then Q, they all had a club aspect. Mojo and Q are both very good magazines and I think Q in particular is doing a great job in onerous circumstances. The thing that everyone in the industry knows is that you could be producing the best writing since Vanity Fair in its heyday or knocking the stuffing out of The New Yorker and it won’t matter because that’s not where things are at the moment, you’re in the wrong place. It’s immensely frustrating for those of us who love doing this.

I really miss writing punning headlines because that was one of my few talents. You can’t do it anymore because they now have to say what they’re about in a few words, like an EPG for the telly. once did a Led Zeppelin story with the tag ‘The Hoarse Foremen Of The Apocalypse’. My favourite one just appeared in my mind to go with a New Order piece – ‘The Hook, The Chief, The Wife and The Drummer’. The readers loved it. We put Morrissey on the cover of Select around 1994 and he insisted on being photographed with a bunch of boxers so we tagged it ‘Hand In Glove’.

The thing about magazines that doesn’t apply to digital is that you are gently led towards things that you didn’t know you were looking for. In digital, if you didn’t already know you were looking for it, it’s very hard to push someone towards something. The good thing about now is that my media diet is to get up, have a cup of tea , have a look at Facebook and see what interesting stories from around the world my well-read friends are sharing – it might be a story from a German pop site, something on NPR, or something from the guy that’s digitised the whole of Select, which is very touching. You don’t have that that kind of editorial voice, holding your hand anymore, tiptoeing through the rock’n’roll tulips.

What are your favourite memories of Word?

It was simultaneously great fun and tremendous effort. I was really proud of doing the first big piece on how the iPod was going to change the way we listen to music. It wasn’t my idea, it was Mark or Dave who said ‘You should do this because you’re the one rattling round with your bloody iPod going on about it all the time.” That went down very well. Quotes from my interview with Morrissey often pop up, particularly:

Interviewer: Did you hear t.A.T.u’s version of ‘How Soon Is Now’?

Morrissey: Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don’t know much about them.

Interviewer: They’re the teenage Russian lesbians.

Morrissey: Well, aren’t we all?

Reader, I was that interviewer!

I managed to force – by being a pain and being tiresome – to get a lot of comics and science fiction culture into the magazine. It wasn’t really Mark or Dave’s interest but it was kind of the coming thing with the return of Doctor Who and the Marvel movies. Those articles always did well. The nice thing about Word was that the box of what it was interested in was drawn very broadly. No-one ever said ‘Well, that’s very interesting but this is a music magazine so you can’t do it.’ The attitude was that if it was an interesting piece it didn’t matter if it was about sport, or cocaine in the music business or award ceremonies. We did a lot about the Second World War too as our readers were of that age. It was good  to have people like Charles Shaar Murray write about non-rock’n’roll things. I love reading him when he’s talking about Bowie and rock’s rich tapestry but it’s a lovely surprise when he writes about comic books, Buffy or sci-fi. Even if you weren’t interested in the subject matter you’d give it a go because he’s a great journalist. With Word you knew you had very good writers whose names were calling cards and they would get people to read about things they would not ordinarily read about.

What else? The podcasts were always a massive laugh.

That leads us neatly into your podcast, Bigmouth. You’ve been doing for about a year now?

That’s right and I produce another one we’ve recently launched called Remainiacs which is doing really well. The walls came closing in on Word towards the end of the noughties. We’d had the recession, advertising was changing, digital was sucking up all the money and so they had to downsize and I was made redundant. I freelanced for a while then edited Q again for about a year. That was a strange episode. It was good to work with some great writers but it was a very different kettle of fish. I’d been freelancing for The Guardian, Esquire and The New Statesman. I’d stayed in touch with Matt Hall who had produced the Word’s podcasts and we talked about whether there was anything we could do, was there anything missing. We felt there weren’t any particularly interesting podcasts applying the critical and journalistic abilities of a classic magazine to what’s around now.  The idea was to basically make Radio Four’s Front Row but not be boring. With the best will in the world it’s very worthy, and this may be me being a Philistine, but there’s always something about sculpture on it! The kind of stuff that was in Word and is in Bigmouth is disparaged as middlebrow but I prefer to think of it as things that people are more interested in. I love Slate Political Gabfest and we thought ‘what if this wasn’t about American politics but covered films, books and music’? So it’s me and Matt and a rotating group of journalists – not celebrities. It’s people with opinions and nothing to sell. It’s always interesting because it’s a podcast so you don’t need any fake objectivity, you can be entirely subjective. You don’t have to observe any of the niceties of broadcasting, you can swear and you can talk for as long as you like. It’s great fun to do and though the audience is modest, it’s growing. The great thing about the format is that people don’t listen by mistake. The shows are actively listened to and you can repay the listeners by not patronising or short-changing them.

The idea for Remainiacs came when Matt told me about a great podcast launched since Trump came into the White House called Pod Save America with three ex-Obama staffers talking about politics. They don’t have to give the other side of the argument, it’s unfettered. Obviously Brexit has been driving us mad for the last year so Matt suggested we do a similar thing with that. Dorian Lynskey is one of the presenters, I write the scripts and source the guests and Matt does the audio. It’s gone crazy – the election episode has had over 20, 000 listeners, which is what Word used to sell – and we’re in the iTunes Top 10. There’s no brand or anything behind us and we think we may have a business on our hands. The best aspect about podcasts is that they retain the thing that good magazines had, they’re a club. I always thought magazines were the original social media, a shared language and the idea that this is where people like us gather. I don’t think that a lot of magazine publishers get that. They think that if you can just get the right components like an article on whoever’s headlining at Reading or you can get an exclusive interview with Chris Martin about Gwyneth Paltrow, that’s enough. But that’s not what it’s about.

I agree, it should be about the relationship with the reader.

I always used to look forward to getting Smash Hits because I felt like I was part of a universe and it changed who I was. Mixmag was like that too, a universe unto itself. A couple of times I tried to mainstream it a little bit by putting acts on the front that sold records. It didn’t work at all! What did work was choosing the DJs or artists who exemplified that life, who lived for clubbing and nothing else. The world of Mixmag has at one end a gurning idiot with his top off, whose body is 60% chemicals and at the other end is a bald, trainspotter guy, going through the record racks. Everyone is somewhere on that continuum. That understanding of the audience has largely evaporated from magazines – look at the NME now for an example.

The biggest problem that publishing has at the moment is big publishing. It’s large companies. You have to finance a big office building, a load of executives on high salaries and some market analysts. It was the same in the record business in the ‘70s and ‘80s,the running was made by some lucky, creative and inspired people who managed to light upon the right things, made things happen and made the companies a lot of money. Then other companies see the money being made and the business suits and marketing people flood in. They’re always much more skilled at navigating corporate structures than the creative people. The creatives are side-lined so they leave and you end up with a content provider rather than something with a heart and soul like Smash Hits or the old NME. No-one really mentions it anymore but Sounds had some great writers too who were really funny and it had a real esprit de corps.  I’m old enough to have seen it happen to the music business and magazines and I wonder if it will happen to the digital business too. That inspired oddness that produced things like Facebook and Apple. I think it’s already happened to Apple; Steve Jobs is dead and they’ve lost their mojo. There’s a great story about him and the iPhone prototype. They worked for about a year at great cost to build this prototype and present it to him. They hand it over and Jobs says “It’s too big”. They reply “We can’t possibly make it any smaller. We’ve made it as small as we can, there’s no more space.” He tells them to give it to him, he walks over to the fishtank and drops it in. As the bubbles come out, he says “There’s your space, make it smaller!” He drops a multi-million dollar prototype into the water just to make a point. The reason I bring that up is that in big publishing, because it’s full of people who like to make grand statements, you’ll always hear people singing the praises of ‘crazy mavericks’ like Steve Jobs or Malcolm McClaren. Every creative retreat you go to they’ll tell you about these ‘crazy mavericks’ and how brilliant they are. In reality these people wouldn’t go anyway near a fucking maverick! They talk the talk but they don’t take one step of the walk.

What other magazines do you enjoy these days?

I read Private Eye obviously. To be honest I don’t read many magazines now, partly because I’m 50 and a lot of my interests aren’t covered and also because you can get great journalism for free on the internet. I know that makes me a massive hypocrite, I should be paying for it but … I find that the discovery aspect that magazines used to provide, ‘Here’s a 5 star album you need to listen to it’ has gone because ‘try before you buy’ is available to everybody. In fact in most cases people often listen twice on Spotify and then forget about it – which is sad because it means music has become ephemeral.

There were so many magazines in the ‘90s that they felt they had to give 4 star reviews in case they didn’t get the interview and that destroys the whole idea. I don’t think people have properly understood that when you are selling reviews of records, you’re not just selling that, you’re also selling something that was entertainment in itself. I can remember bits of reviews I’ve read far better than the records they were writing about. Like David Quantick writing in Q, reviewing a B*Witched album and wondering what the asterisk stood for. Is it a rude word? Is the real name of the band B-Fuck-Witched? I also remember him describing someone like Jim Kerr as ‘the destitute man’s Bono’. Michele Kirsch wrote an old-school music press kicking which began ‘What’s going through Sinead O’Connor’s head as she has her morning shave?’ The final line was ‘We do not want what we have not got to listen to.’ The great, mad, genius Tom Hibbert had to review the Phil Collins Hip-Hop tribute album. It was supposed to be a 400 word page lead but after 150 words he wrote ‘At this point I realised that I have nothing further to say about a record that contains the following songs…’ and then gave the tracklist! That’s what I mean about album reviews being entertainment in themselves. I’ll never forgive Mark and Dave for inventing star-ratings, the rotters! That wrecked everything. We never had them in Word because they knew what would happen. It turned everything into thumbs up, thumbs down, computer says no. How many utterly forgettable albums are given 4 out of 5 these days? It’s meaningless, it’s like school sports day, everyone has to have a prize. I used to scan Q for the 1 star reviews because I knew they’d be funny. When I was at Q there were certain prominent records that had respectable reviews of 3 stars meaning they were perfectly good. There were ructions, complaints and anger that they’d not had 4 stars and not been described as amazing. I once thought we should suggest ‘A fair price for this record would be…’ 27p or £100! Or they should pay you – which seems fair if somewhat Thatcherite and mercantile. I like what Entertainment Weekly do, they give school grades, from A+ to E.

And with that final scholarly flourish, Andrew departs for London.

AH with mags


If you were a fan of Word magazine and don’t already subscribe and listen to Bigmouth then you really should. Remainiacs is equally excellent and acts as a treehouse of respite for those on the Remain side of the Brexit fence. You can follow Andrew on Twitter here @Nndroid 

Finally, if you enjoy this blog and want to give a little something back, on the 24th September 2017, I’m running my first (and probably last) marathon for charity. If you can spare a few pounds for a deserving local charity it would be much appreciated. Thank you.   https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gavin-hogg4


Previous Word interviews: Jude Rogers , Mark Ellen , John Naughton , Paul Du Noyer , David Hepworth


Word #47

Cover star – various 2006 types

Issue 47

January 2007

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Word shuffle

1) P77– the actor Ashley Jensen is interviewed about her last 12 months. “It was funny, everyone was like, ‘Ooh! It’s her first job (‘Extras’)! She’s come from nowhere!’ I’ve been a jobbing actress since about 1990. I’ve done lots of little bits of BBC telly, this police series, ‘City Central’, two series of ‘Roughnecks’, ‘Twenty Thousand Acres Of Sky’. Because I’m Scottish, I’m a bit ‘Ooh, this is just one job, I’m not sure if I’ll get another job, if I get another episode of ‘Casualty’ that’d be quite nice’, and when you do, it is nice but our heads don’t blow up or anything.”

2) P91 – part of a double-spread by readers and writers on the best live experiences of 2006.Paul Du Noyer chooses Deaf School at The Picket, Liverpool (“Uproarious reunion of the Great Lost 70’s Band plus special guest Suggs”), David Quantick enjoyed New Order at Wembley (“45 minutes of Joy Division, 45 minutes of New Order and an epic encore, all hammered out at deafening volume in the world’s biggest sauna – stadium music so good that U2 should be crying into their solid gold wallets”) and Andrew Moorhouse selects Thad Cockerill and Caitlin Cary in Newcastle (“Couldn’t have seen Gram and Emmylou but I guess this was pretty close”).

3) P115 – a page of adverts for Josh Ritter’s ‘Girl In The War’, Keith James tour of ‘The songs of Nick Drake’ and for the “Album Of The Winter”, ‘Sologne’ by Loney Dear (“Eccentric wall-of-pop sound – The Sun” and “Sort of really fantastic – Billboard”).

4) P15 – second page of David Hepworth’s ‘Facetime’ piece with Neil Finn.

DH: “Interesting that the branch of the entertainment industry which should be the most ephemeral (playing live) actually tuns out to have the greatest longevity.

NF: I think most people have to figure some stuff in their mid-life. Having been very famous when they were young, they have a bit of sorting out to do. It’s not very pretty for a while but, if they can get through that unscathed, the talent is still there, I think. Live music is really popular still, far more trustworthy and reliable than any other form of communication to me. If people turn up to see you live than you’re totally worthy, it’s not just nostalgia. Live music is bigger than it’s ever been. Record sales are the ephemeral thing now.”

5) P85 – Word’s writers round up some of their favourite albums of the year. Andrew Collins chooses Plan B’s ‘Who Needs Actions When You Got Words’ (“Plan B was too intense to break the charts”), Paul Du Noyer selects ‘Back To Basics’ by Christina Aguilera (“one CD of brutally produced American pop and one CD of whimsical retro-sexual pastiche. I only like the latter”), Steve Yates goes with ‘Silent Shout’ by The Knife (“If you buy just one Swedish brother-sister electro goth duo…”) and Joe Muggs picks Burial’s eponymous debut (“All the elegance, delicacy and melancholy of Massive Attack, Leftfield or Aphex Twin, but with 21st-century pirate radio crackle”).

Interesting – Peter Robinson writes about MySpace and its effect on the music business. “It’s also worth noting that there is no proved correlation between the volume of an act’s MySpace friends and any resulting chart success. Take singer Imogen Heap who, at the time of writing, has just shy of a quarter of a million MySpace friends, but who couldn’t get her single into the Top 40 earlier this year. And there are another internet phenomena, like those which spring from YouTube. OK Go’s infamous ‘treadmill video’ was a huge word of mouth hit for example. The single got to no. 36.”

Andrew Collins defends Emo. “Save us from a generation who say, ‘I like a bit of everything really’. Eclecticism, of both taste and trouser, comes with age. Let’s live a little first. Worry a few cinema commissionaires.”

Dorian Lynskey reviews Flavour Flav’s eponymous album. “It is disheartening to see the hypeman of a band once as life-changingly great as Public Enemy hosting a VH1 relaity show in which he vets potential suitors while sporting a viking helmet. But you can’t really blame Flav. While Chuck D has matured into hip hop’s sombre elder statesman, there can’t be many employment opportunities for a 47-year-old which require wearing a big clock and shouting ‘Yeah boyee!'”

From the Word of Mouth section we learn that Belinda Carlisle admires David Icke. (“People knock him, but I think his stuff on the New World Order and Big Brother is great, though he loses people with the reptilian shape-shifters stuff.”) and that in the ’70s, Christopher Lee was invited by Bowie to record a song with him (“we tried and tried but we could not find a song that was suitable”).

Longer article

Rob Fitzpatrick takes stock of YouTube, the relatively new internet video site.

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