Radio 4 last night broadcast a talk show called Yesterday’s Papers: The End of the Music Press which made rather depressing listening for me and probably heaps of others for whom the UK music press was once culturally vital. Among those taking part were my old friend Richard Williams, who was the assistant editor at Melody Maker for the first three of my seven years on the paper, the always amusing Danny Baker, and Mark Ellen and David Hepworth who were both involved with launching and/or editing of Smash Hits, Q and Mojo for the publishers EMAP.
The UK music press shaped my life, of course, and I was lucky enough to be part of it when it was at its height, when – according to the announcer – some 250,000 music papers were sold every week (a figure I would dispute, I think it was nearer 500,000). In those days there was MM, NME, Sounds, Disc & Music Echo and Record Mirror, but now the only one left standing is NME, which sells 14,000 a week. It is a tragic, catastrophic decline and the day will soon come when we don’t have a weekly music press at all.
The tone of the show, however, was not so much to lament the demise of the music press as to suggest that its successor, the internet, does it better nowadays, which may well be true if you know where to look but the internet is so vast that it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, at least as far as I am concerned.
David Hepworth spoke nostalgically of the joy to be had on Thursday mornings when the music press arrived in the newsagents and the pop fan could hand over his sixpence to get all the pop news that was available only through this medium. I know the feeling. In Skipton after The Beatles arrived in 1963 I’d buy NME every Thursday, switching to MM around 1967 because it took it more seriously. The programme then moved through the decades, charting the changes and reasons for the decline. In truth, I felt it skimmed the surface, taking a rather superficial look at a subject that, to me, is quite profound – well I, of all people, would think that wouldn’t I?
Towards the end Richard Williams commented on how much freedom the writers on Melody Maker had to write about what they wanted. He was right. MM covered everything in those days, from the most banal pop to the most avant-garde free jazz, and everything in between. If we felt strongly about something, anything almost, we could write about it. Nowadays Richard has a terrific blog called The Blue Moment and, he noted, he has exactly the same freedom to write about what he wants on that.
I suppose I could say the same about Just Backdated. But, fun though it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to attending the weekly MM editorial at noon every Wednesday and deciding how we would fill next week’s paper, and seeing that paper piled high on newsstands around London a week later.
Here’s a link to the Radio 4 show.