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 #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 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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Word #38

Issue 38

April 2006

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Cover star – Pet Shop Boys

Word shuffle

1) P140 – A page of book reviews, largely given over to Rob Fitzpatrick’s views on ‘Do I Come Here Often?’ by Henry Rollins. He’s not a fan. “Rarely, if ever, has the life of even such a reluctant rock and roll star seemed so crushingly depressing, so free of any kind of relief or humanity. Rollins is supremely focussed and has a well practised knack for a cutting put down (fans, other bands, groupies, tour managers, women in general beware), but his life is one endless plough of the same lonely, frustrated furrow.”

2) P27 – A 2 page feature on photos of Madonna from 1980. The pictures were taken by her boyfriend at the time, Dan Gilroy and show her looking like Pat Benatar in a Lycra jumpsuit or drumming in a Laura Ashley frock with the Breakfast Club.

3) P97 – A 2 page interview with Peter Ackroyd in one Dickens’ favourite watering-holes. “He (Ackroyd) was a precocious kid. At five he was reading newspapers. At seven, he realised he was gay. At nine, he wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. He won a scholarship to a private school in West London, and another scholarship to Cambridge where he got a double first in English and lost the vestiges of his London accent. After a spell at Yale, where he met his long-term partner, a dancer called Brian Kuhn (who died of AIDS in 1994) he came back to London and, at only 23, got a job as literary editor of The Spectator and published his first poems.”

4) P138 – DVD reviews of ‘Godzilla’ (“Godzilla is one giant lizard who needs to get back to his core brand message”) and ‘Ryan’s Daughter: Special Edition’ (“…audiences fed on ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Performance’ derided the overblown crescendo of violins that announces Rosy’s first kiss with Shaughnessy. A more considered viewing reveals the point of the fanfare: its brashness refers to Rosy’s callowness, and renders the silence of her later love scenes with Doryan all the more eloquent”).

5) P66 – From ‘Word To The Wise’ with Dara O’Briain. “We (the Irish) do charm and whimsy, whereas the English do cynicism, wordplay, surrelaism, sitcom, the whole lot. You have a broad collection of arrows in your bow, whereas we just smile and wink winsomely. And twinkle…I’ve been twinkling for years.”

Interesting – David Hepworth looks back at the records that were recalled, reworked and remastered for various reasons. “10, 000 Maniacs were so cross about the former Cat Stevens’s apparent ambivalence over the Salman Rushdie fatwa that they had their record company take his song ‘Peace Train’ off their record ‘In My Tribe’. In 1977 Roy Harper put out the album ‘Bullinamingvase’. One of the songs on this record, ‘Watford Gap’, made the grievous (and manifestly untrue) allegation that the hospitality at this legendary motorway stop amounted to little more than “a plate of grease and a load of crap”. The threat of legal action forced Harper to remove the offending tune from UK copies of the LP, though the same, neatly rhyming libel continued to be propagated overseas.”

Martin Freeman talks about his love of Motown and his Paul Weller obsession as a kid. “I never had the clothes though. For one thing, I was a very small child. My friend at school had a pork-pie hat and it looked like a Stetson on him. In my mind I looked like Jerry Dammers. In reality, I looked like Steptoe.”

Jude Rogers interviews Graham Coxon. “A few things point to his age. His new clothes and shoes are more classic English gentleman these days, he notes sartorially, the trousers “proper high-waisters” and he “doesn’t wear trainers anymore”. Then there’s the other stuff. The toy cars and helicopters, the crude blobby paintings, a small pair of pink wellies and a rocking reindeer with a backstage pass hanging off an antler. They belong to Pepper, Graham’s six-year-old daughter. Every other week she’s here and Dad does the school run.”

Neil Tennant is interviewed by Andrew Harrison. “People of our age now listen to pop music, and yes, pop has become more like films, where it’s possible for a man in his fifties to have a career in Hollywood as a serious actor, maybe. But sometimes, at the end of the day, I wonder if it’s only about sex. If you’re not selling sex, are you fucked, as it were? Does it all end when you’re too old to sell sex? I’m not disputing that Madonna is making great records but is she just selling sex as well?”

Rhys Ifans is a big fan of The Cramps, The Clash and Butthole Surfers.

Longer article

As swingorilliant Smash Hits finally goes down the dumper, Mark Ellen looks back.

For further reading try this comprehensive archive from Brian McCloskey or Sylvia Patterson’s ‘I’m Not With The Band’. And do watch the interview between Pete Burns and the Popworld presenters that Mark references at the end of the article.

 

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Word #36

Issue 36

February 2006

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Cover star – Johnny Cash

Word shuffle

1) P115 – Jim White’s review of the film ‘Jarhead’. “It’s an examination of how young men react under duress. Particularly the manner in which these soldiers, absorbing the imagery of movie warfare, see themselves as participating in a remake of their favourite films. The scene in which Gyllenhaal and his buddies relax during training by watching the helicopter scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’ is astonishing. Wound up into a frenzy of machismo by the brutality of their preparation, they are not shocked by Coppola’s anti-war epic, rather they sing along to Wagner and cheer as each Vietnamese village is blasted as if they are watching some grand sporting event.”

2) P63 – final page of a 4 page article on the appeal of Arctic Monkeys by Andrew Collins. “Try this from B-side ‘Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts’: ‘Have you heard what she’s been doing?/Never did it for me/He picks her up at the school gates/At 20 past 3/She’s been with all the boys/But never went very far/She wagged English and Science/Just to go in his car.’

The magic for me, is in the use of the word ‘wagged’ – a colloquialism that takes me right back to a time when The Undertones were my favourite band; another bunch of urchins in affordable jeans who made the heart somersault with songs about chocolate and girls. Alex Turner is a poet. He may not have Morrissey’s jaw, or indeed his wilfully effeminate style, and he hails from the wrong side of the Pennines for George Formby, but he clearly attended the same school as both.”

3) P12 – a 2 page photograph of the Sex Pistols on stage in February 1976. Johnny Rotten crouches down with a tin of Heineken, looking out into the smiling faces of the small crowd.

4) P65 – the 2nd of 4 pages about the longevity of espionage tales by Christopher Bray. “The spy novel faces the same pitfalls as the real-life spy. If language and race prevent the CIA from infiltrating Osama’s crew, how is a novel about such infiltrations going to satisfy our need amid what Ian Fleming once called our ‘fantasies of the bang-bang kiss-kiss variety’, for that ballast of realism all the best spy stories are weighted by?”

5) P104 – album reviews of Beck’s ‘Guerolito’ (“at its best a supremely funky and surreal companion to the original album”), The Blue Aeroplanes’ ‘Swagger’ (“the remaster gives even more sparkle to an already blindingly good album”) and ‘Sound Mirrors’ by Coldcut (“like Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days’, the mood is broadly dystopian; paranoia stalks the obliquely menacing ‘Boogie Man’ and the clanking camera shutters of ‘Just For A Kick’).”

Interesting – Word writers argue the case for the 30 best and worst cover versions in existence. In the worst category they place Michael Ball’s ‘Life On Mars’ (“There was always a bit of Vegas in Bowie…but never this much”) and Cilla’s ‘Work Is A Four Letter Word’ as covered by The Smiths (“By some miles the worst Smiths recording”) but top – or bottom – spot goes to Rod Stewart’s interpretation of ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ (“Rod turns ‘let’s ‘ave it’ into ‘I’ve ‘ad it’ in one fell swoop”).

For the best they offer us ‘Common People’ by William Shatner (“Captain Kirk’s hamtastic spoken version is oddly appropriate for this piece of modern Sondheim”), ‘All Apologies’ by Kathryn Williams (“William’s chamber-folk reading reveals the sweetness in Cobain’s melodies, making the song’s mystery still more mysterious”) and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by Sita (“dancefloor stormer done in delicate acoustic style”). The cream of the crop is Fiona Apple’s ‘Across The Universe’ (“genuinely, no messing, it’s better than the original”).

In the ‘Word Of Mouth’ section, Beck talks about his early experiences in London. “I first came one winter when I’d dropped out of high school with $200 to my name. I was sleeping on a friend’s father’s floor, and I’d wander around the city in the day, but it got too cold, so I just lived in cinemas to keep warm. Early on, I saw a Luis Bunuel triple bill, one of which, ‘The Phantom Of Liberty’ had such an effect on me.”

Joaquin Phoenix loves the Fab Four – “I have to say The Beatles, without a doubt, are the greatest band ever”, whereas Siobhan Fahey prefers “people like Goldfrapp and Peaches – sexy, visual, slightly saucy stuff that’s great to hear and watch”. Chas Smash from Madness speaks up for MC Skinnyman’s ‘Council Estate Of The Mind’ – “It’s street but with real social import, a feeling of what it’s like to live on an estate; the only way out is being a bad boy.”

Trent Reznor discusses Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ and admits that, at first he “…had no use for Cash’s rendition. ‘I listened to it’, he told me shortly after his death, and it just seemed incredibly strange and wrong to me to hear that voice with my song…I thought, “Here’s this thing that I wrote in a moment of frailty, and now Johnny Cash is singing it.” It kind of freaked me out.’ But, as it did for so many other people, Romanek’s video made Cash’s reading of the song more visceral – and undeniable – for Reznor. ‘I felt honoured to be a part of it.”

Julian Cope has learnt not to resist a gimmick. “The gimmick in rock is important. Absolutely! Look at Morrissey with his hearing aid or Jimmy Page with his violin bow. It’s a way to achieve transformation – because if you can allude to something then you can reach that thing. I feel I’ve really nailed the gimmick – I’ve had the telescoping transporter mike stand, the turtleshell and the dog jacket with three paws – to name but three.”

Longer article

John Ingham  looks back at the problems with last year’s Apple/Motorola music handset.

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