LOUDER THAN WORDS - Opening address

This was my opening address at the Louder That Words Festival last night.

For the second year running Omnibus Press is pleased and proud to be involved with Louder Than Words. Although our logo appears all over the programme and everywhere, this is a bit misleading as we don’t actually do very much apart from have a few meetings with Jill and nod in agreement at her suggestions. All the hard work is done by Jill, John Robb and Simon Morrison, so thanks to them for putting it all together and to Emily Marsden for recruiting the volunteer team.
          Last year Omnibus came on board a bit late so none of us were able to take much part in the panels but this year my colleague David Barraclough is holding a series of what we’ve called publishing surgeries where he will advise would-be authors on whether or not their proposals are any good or not, and prescribe appropriate drugs on the NHS. Meanwhile, I’m involved with three events tomorrow, all of which are advertised in the programme if you want to be elsewhere at the time.
          For all of us in the profession of music writing, young or old, 2015 will go down as the year in which the last of our weekly music papers left standing, NME, went free. I don’t know about anybody else but whenever I’m handed a free newspaper or magazine at railway stations I tend to assume it’s probably rubbish, so for someone like me, who learned his trade in an era when the five music papers in the UK sold over half a million copies between them every week, this is nothing short of tragic.
          And that vibrant, incredibly successful culture of weekly rock papers that existed in my days on Melody Maker was something uniquely British too. It didn’t happen in America – Rolling Stone was fortnightly – or anywhere else where rock music was alive and well. Now this uniquely British phenomenon has simply disappeared, gone completely, killed off by the internet.
          I’m sad about this not just because these were MUSIC weeklies. I’m sad because of the opportunities lost for aspiring music writers like I was when I was 22. This wonderful UK music press offered openings for writers to hone their skills. I know the world thought we were all a bunch of drunken liggers and layabouts who snorted cocaine with rock stars but we actually had to work bloody hard on these weeklies. We had to do our interviews and transcribe them and write them up and hand our copy over to the subs very quickly. We had to review concerts – sometimes more than one a night – and write them up quickly. We had albums galore to listen to and write about. As MM’s news editor I had four or five pages to fill every Monday for three straight years. As MM’s US Editor nights and days and weekends all blurred together into one seven-day time period in which I had to get a fat bundle of typed A4 sheets and photos off by courier to London every Thursday afternoon.
          All this taught us skills and disciplines that I don’t think you can learn anywhere else these days, not on weeklies like NME, MM, Sounds, Disc and Record Mirror anyway. Working on these great magazines gave young writers the chance to write what they wanted, develop a style and learn their craft. And now it’s gone – and it’s fucking heartbreaking. Speaking for myself, the seven years I spent on the staff of Melody Maker were quite simply the best years of my life, filled with encounters that seem scarcely credible in 2015. I made many friends that are still friends, some here this weekend, some I get together with now and then to reminisce about old times like old soldiers. Of course there was a friendly, occasionally hostile, rivalry between pack leaders NME and Melody Maker in those days but I for one was heartbroken when I was handed my free NME last month, and I’ve no doubt a few of these friends I’m taking about were too.
          But enough of all this teary nostalgia. We’re here to have a great weekend of talk about what my dear departed old friend Derek Taylor, one of the great writers and certainly the greatest PR man who ever lived, called the industry of human happiness. I hope everybody has a great weekend, discovers something new and takes away some fond memories and maybe even a new book from Louder Than Words 2015.


Ian Gordon Craig said...

I am in total agreement.

But I remember what "the music press" meant in my pre-Beatles "childhood"; when Adam Faith's favourite colour, or Bobby Vee's preference for blondes or Brunettes, or the dates of Billy Fury's summer season at Yarmouth, could occupy entire pages. Not to mention double page “giant pull-out posters” of Frank Ifield. (Who?) I know I’ve probably alluded to this before, but I think the demise of the music press is in direct relation to the way the music industry is once again the domain of investors and entrepreneurs. Simon Cowell is another word for Larry Parnes. Louis Walsh (as did Stock, Aiken & Waterman), brags about the amount of number 1s his acts have achieved, it seemingly not important they were all cover versions. So my point is this, how could the music press survive after the music died?

The glory days of the music press were surely the 1970s / 80s, and it’s an interesting chicken-and-egg debate as to whether we could have had Joy Division (& similar) without the NME / Melody Maker, or the NME / Melody Maker without Joy Division (& similar). Whatever the case, the writing and photography in the music press at that time was of such a standard it surely helped inspire subsequent musicians to join the ranks.

I confess to being a little more cynical when successive journalists through the Indie years effused profusely about early gigs by Jesus and Mary Chain, Manic St Preachers, Libertines, (& similar), each desperate to discover the next Syd Barrett, and wanting to be what Paul Morley was to Ian Curtis. But maybe it all became a bit irrelevant anyway when the Indie acts were swallowed up by the Majors, which must in turn surely influence what is and what isn’t said to music journalists?

Today we live in a world where Adele and Amy Winehouse went to Fame School (although the latter clearly missed the PR lessons), and where Jake Pegg has a co-writer. Pop music is no longer born of suburban bedrooms, or the front porch of a Liverpool semi. It is spawned by reality TV shows. An intimate link with a creative music press is no longer a part of the journey towards a Christmas Number 1, and a lucrative teenage career designed to span no longer than its teenage audience takes to reach 18 years of age. If I attempt to read the NME on-line I don’t get printer’s ink on my fingers, instead my computer just screams at the amount of classified ads which strive to pop-up across its screen.

It’s all a bit sad, but I fear “the dream is over”.

Ian Gordon Craig said...

PS: Duly RTd on Twitter.

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