MM staff, 1972; back: Richard Williams, Ray Coleman, Allan Lewis;
front: Michael Watts, CC, Chris Welch, Mark Plummer. Pic by Barrie Wentzell.
After the purposeless Tuesday, the staff of Melody Maker reassembled in the office on Wednesday morning. Copies of that week’s paper, hot off the press from Colchester, awaited us and were scrutinised eagerly. I was probably the first to arrive, not yet realising that the 10am start was, in fact, hypothetical, and that MM writers came and went as required, not as dictated by a clock. I would soon come to realise that in joining MM I had converted to a timetable far removed from the daily grind of everyday commuters and, in this respect, it set the tone of my existence for the next decade and sometime beyond
At noon we all went up in the lift to a higher floor where the IPC boardroom was located and took our places around a big rectangular
table for the weekly editorial conference, chaired by editor Ray Coleman.
Present were all the staff I met on Monday, now joined by the magazine’s chief photographer, the denim-clad, rake-thin and rather impish Barrie Wentzell, whom I was meeting for the first time. (Very soon we would be joined by Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth – who both arrived on the same Monday, three weeks after me – and Mark Plummer.) Ray brought the meeting to order and there followed an intense discussion, lasting approximately one hour, about what to include in the following week’s paper. As the new boy, I kept my own counsel. But this was more like it, I thought.
Barrie Wentzell and CC. Pic by Jill Furmanovsky.
Chris Welch, as ever, was assigned the singles reviews, and there was a conversation about who might take part in ‘Blind Date’, a regular feature in which a musician was played singles ‘blind’ and had to guess who’d recorded them and comment. Someone – it might have been me – was delegated to expedite this. Potential interviews were discussed, along with the impending arrival of foreign, usually American, musicians and the benefits of interviewing them. Max Jones informed us all how he intended to fill the jazz and blues pages.
Ideas were solicited for wide-ranging features – subjects like ‘The Future Of Festivals’, ‘The Musicians’ Union and Rock’ or ‘Jazz At The Crossroads’ (a perennial favourite) – that might require several interviews, or ‘thought pieces’ where some member of the staff had a bone to pick on some aspect of music, or broadcasting, or the price of records or tickets for gigs. The year I joined I recall writing a feature on the growth of bootleg records, and being asked to spend a day working behind the counter of a record shop in Shepherds Bush.
Allan Lewis, the chief-sub, ran down any items held over from the previous week that could be included, and made a regular entreaty to everyone to hand in their features promptly. It invariably fell on deaf ears.
Ray or Richard Williams dispensed concert tickets to those delegated to review certain shows, an occasionally vexed issue should there occur a particularly attractive prospect that several members of the staff wished to attend. On the matter of LP reviews, I learned that Richard supervised the distribution of LPs and kept a tally in a small exercise book, every so often chasing us up if we’d hung on to an LP for what he considered too long yet failed to submit a review. This was never an issue with major acts, of course, but it happened all the time with B-listers.
The meeting concluded, we dispersed to the MM pub, the Red Lion in Red Lion Alley, adjacent to the Golden Egg next door to 161 Fleet Street. The pub was run by a huge gay man called Wally who was always dressed in a black Russian tunic, and where lunches were long and liquid, unless they were taken upstairs where, oddly, there was a small Chinese restaurant. My new friend Barrie invariably ordered a ’glass of dry white wine and a small piece of cheese’.
After lunch everyone returned to the office and began making phone calls, following up whatever had been decided at the meeting. Only on Wednesday afternoons and Mondays was the office as occupied and active as this.
When I left at the end of the day, on my way to Waterloo I noticed that MM was on sale at newsstands on the Aldwych, alongside the Evening Standard and Evening News. It wouldn’t hit newsagents’ shops until the following morning so these were the earliest on sale anywhere in the country, and MM’s presence alongside the big selling London evening papers seemed to me to reflect not just its status as an arbiter of taste but the huge importance of rock and pop in youth culture. It also communicated to me that I’d done the right thing in joining MM’s staff at the beginning of this week. Onwards and upwards…