Lamenting the passing of the print edition of New Musical Express in a post on Just Backdated about a year ago, I dwelt on how this represented the final nail in the coffin of the UK’s once vibrant weekly music press, of which I was once a part. Its downfall was calamitous – in the early seventies over half a million music papers were bought across five separate titles every week, whereas by the time NME, the last one standing, became a freebie in 2015 it was selling just over 15,000 a week, so that’s a 97% fall. What I failed to stress was that apart from the sheer numbers that had now dwindled to zero, NME’s passing signalled the ultimate demise of a culture wherein gifted young writers had a big audience for whom they had free rein to write pretty much what they liked so long as it was tangentially connected to popular music or of interest to those who followed it.
         This omission on my part has been rectified by a 392-page book with the unwieldy title of A Hidden Landscape Once A Week: The Unruly Curiosity of the UK Music Press from the 1960s to the ‘80s by Those Who Were There, an anthology of essays and transcribed conversations edited by Mark Sinker. Its origins lie in a conference on the subject that he organised in 2015 at Birkbeck University, and contributors include Valerie Wilmer, Charles Shaar Murray, Richard Williams, Penny Reel, Jonh Ingham, Jon Savage, Cynthia Rose, Paul Morley, David Toop, Bob Stanley, Barney Hoskyns, Jonathon Green, Simon Frith, Paul Gilroy and many others.
         Published by Strange Attractor Press through a crowd funding initiative to which I contributed, the book’s focus is not so much on the music we all wrote about as on the ways in which the writers on the music press were was able to influence young minds. It was a slightly subversive, left-leaning and largely uncensored culture, an unrestricted pathway into the underground, and although on Melody Maker we tended to shy away from politics and radical ideas, NME dived right in, snatching the initiative by hiring writers whose views were fairly radical, who weren’t afraid to dismantle sacred cows and who were never less than entertaining to read. Management didn’t interfere because the papers were making pots of money, and the straight world was looking the other way.
         It was the same at Sounds, published between 1970 and 1991. Like NME they were a bit more extreme than MM in their tastes, but neither offered the comprehensive music coverage of MM which as well as rock and pop had pages devoted to jazz, folk and blues and, whether its readers wanted it or not, followed an unspoken rule that when an artist reached the charts for the first time we did a feature on them regardless of the kind of music they performed, even Clive Dunn and ‘Grandad’.
         The ebb and flow of the fortunes of the papers is a running theme of Hidden Landscapesat least until NME’s circulation overtook that of MM around 1974. Until 1972 NME lacked identity and, hard though it is to believe now, even faced closure. Its fortunes were revived by far-sighted editor Nick Logan who recruited writers like Murray, Nick Kent and Ian MacDonald and rapidly turned things around with an approach that leaned towards the ‘new journalism’ style from America, the work of writers like Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Terry Southern who often became part of the story they were writing.
         This wasn’t MM’s style. The truth is that, like Billy Bragg, we didn’t want to change the world. I just wanted to write about rock’n’roll and felt truly blessed to be able to do so for a living. And we worked pretty damned hard too. Although to the outsider it must have seemed like a dream job – getting paid to meet rock stars and go to gigs for free – we churned out feature after feature, interview after interview, review after review, every week of the year. Concerts took place at night so we worked nights and weekends. We had deadlines to hit. When I was MM’s news editor I was at my desk by eight on Monday mornings and was still at it 10 hours later, desperately scrabbling together music news stories to fill the first four or five pages of the paper.
         None of which has much to do with Hidden Landscapes… and in his introduction Sinker lays down his coordinates: “… this was… a remarkable and an unlikely cultural pocket developing largely unnoticed by the wider media, in which could be found valuable engagement with any number of off-mainstream projects: besides music, obviously, you discover films, fashion, street theatre, science fiction, poetry and vanguard art, radical politics and cultural theory – and hints, too, maybe, on how to access the sexual and pharmaceutical netherworlds.”
         This view of the music press doesn’t have much time for the present day glossy monthlies whose coverage of rock and pop is largely benign and often nostalgic, and which values facts and reminiscences over opinions and campaigning. That they prospered while the weeklies declined is a source of some frustration for many of those who contribute to Hidden Landscapes..., though Bob Stanley’s appraisal of Smash Hits is an even-handed account of the brightest pop magazine ever.  
         In the chapter called ‘The Engine Room’, writers talk about tradecraft and pressure from management to go easy when reviewing records released by labels that were big advertisers, demands that were invariably ignored. A bit of this sort of thing happened on MM and I well remember Island boss Chris Blackwell threatening to withdraw the label’s advertising in 1974 after I gave Traffic, a band I loved, a bad review after a sloppy show in New York. It didn’t happen. The thing was, unlike today, the weeklies exerted a powerful influence over taste: the record labels needed us more than we needed them, so after a bit of grumbling they always came back.
         At the first Louder Than Words Festival in 2014 I listened to a discussion, chaired by the then editor of NME, in which those on the panel, all writers much younger than myself, sought to dismantle ideas about the (supposed) ‘Golden Age of the Music Press’. They seemed to be promoting the concept that it was just as good now – in 2014 – as it was in the 1970s. I didn’t join in from the floor. I figured that if I did I’d sound like one of those TV sports commentators who begin sentences with ‘in my day’, and bang on about how much better it was then. Well, although it’s probably of interest only to those who remember the days when the combined circulation of the weekly music press really did exceed half a million, Hidden Landscapes… presents a watertight argument that it was.


DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In December 1972 I found myself in the US reporting for Melody Maker on a Deep Purple tour from Des Moines and Indianapolis, and in those days I was quite friendly with their guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who was fun to interview because he could be very indiscrete. Among the things he told me – and one that I didn’t report in MM – was that apart from the odd word about the night’s set in the dressing room immediately before a show he hadn’t once spoken to singer Ian Gillan on the entire tour thus far, and the group was four weeks into a six-week trip. He didn’t explain why but I gathered from hearsay that Gillan’s girlfriend, whom he had unwisely brought along for the ride, was reporting back to the WAGS at home on the after-hours behaviour of the other boys in the band. When I learned this I was surprised anyone talked to him at all.
         Coincidentally, the support act on this tour was Fleetwood Mac, at this time comprising Mick Fleetwood, John & Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Bob Weston and Dave Walker. They were going through a transitional period and it later transpired that the McVie’s marriage was in trouble through John’s drinking and that Weston was having an affair with Mick’s wife, Jenny Boyd, which very soon led to his dismissal. Three years later, of course, Fleetwood Mac would be joined by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham who opened up a whole new canvas for them.
         I was reminded of all this – the Blackmore/Gillan feud, John M’s boozing, Jenny and Bob’s fling – as I read Daisy Jones & The Six, an oral history-styled rock-band roman à clef novel in which the protagonists talk, in great detail and with disarming frankness, about their backgrounds, the formation of their group, its rise to fame and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that led to its dramatic dissolution.
         Set for the most part in 1970s California and loosely inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours and the romantic entanglements that beset the group while it was being recorded, it is chock full of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, and also a right old page turner; very realistic, albeit a bit OTT here and there, but that didn’t stop me finishing it in one six-hour sitting, which means it kept me interested and wanting desperately to know how it would all end.
         Daisy Jones is a spoilt brat from a rich Los Angeles family who don’t seem to care when their beautiful daughter becomes a Sunset Strip groupie. Having moved out at 15 and shacked up elsewhere, she returns home one morning to collect some clothes. When her father asks her if it was she who broke the coffee maker she replies, “Dad, I don’t even live here,” which neatly sums up her dysfunctional upbringing. Free-spirited, reckless, promiscuous and far too fond of drugs and drink, she discovers a latent talent for singing and songwriting, links up with The Six, makes powerful music and causes havoc.
         The Six, relocated from Pittsburgh to LA, are fronted by brothers Billy, married with kids, on vocals, and Graham, single, on guitar. An earlier guitarist was drafted and killed in Vietnam (a storyline nicked from Bruce Springsteen’s Castiles days*) and his place is taken by his moody brother Eddie who doesn’t like being told what to play by Graham or, especially, Billy. On keyboards is Karen, also beautiful, and much admired by Graham. On bass is Pete, silent and anonymous, and on drums is Warren who has a touch of the Keith Moon about him, in it for the birds and the booze but, like Karen and Pete, very good at his job.
         Daisy and The Six both record for the same record label and become managed by the same (gay) manager so it is only a matter of time before it is proposed that they join forces, a situation that doesn’t sit well with everyone in the camp but leads to enormous, stadium-filling, multi-platinum, success. So far so good but the presence of two beautiful girls in a group with five men, at least two of whom are hungry for love, leads to inevitable complications.
         I don’t want to give too much away but I found the story incredibly engaging, and the characters enormously attractive. Taylor Jenkins Reid has done her homework and somehow managed to accurately convey the tensions at work within bands, be they artistic, romantic or driven by envy, and the scenes in recording studios, on the road, at rehearsals and, especially, during writing sessions between Daisy and Billy, as the group’s composers, all ring true. She paces her story well, the oral structure of the book giving rise to judicious hindsight and occasionally poignant recollections. I felt that the success achieved immediately after Daisy joins the band was a bit too sudden – F Mac released nine albums before mega success beckoned, while Daisy releases one, The Six two and they put out one, the big one, together – but a slow build would have slackened the pace in a book wherein the author’s style is to keep her foot flat down on the accelerator throughout.
         The conceit, explained in a brief note at the beginning, is that the author is interviewing the members of the band, one of their wives, some of their entourage, a few friends and onlookers – including, amusingly, the concierge at the Continental Hyatt House – about 30 years after the group imploded. As a result there are opposing points of view and different people remember the same incident or situation contrarily, sometimes amusingly. Everyone is very candid, perhaps overly so when it comes to the sex and drugs, but just about everyone I encountered on the road back in the 1970s was at it one way or another, even if I didn’t report on that aspect of the rock world for MM.
         So I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in that world when it really was a bit of a free for all. Finally, I see from the internet that Daisy Jones & The Six is soon to become a 13-episode miniseries to be aired by Amazon video, backed by Reese Witherspoon amongst others. That comes as no surprise as the book does read a bit like a film script – and there’s a neat twist at the end that I won’t reveal here.


* I also detected a whiff of Bruce’s Born To Run autobiography here and there, and also perhaps Trampled Underfoot, Barney Hoskyns’ oral history of Led Zeppelin. 



Deterred by the price of tickets to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Stadium this summer (£300+), but encouraged by the price (£18), and proximity, of Fleetwood Bac at St John’s Church in Farncombe, near Godalming, Mrs C and I set off in atrocious weather last night to spend about three hours in their company.
         The church, and the gig really was in a church, not an adjoining parish hall, was packed, which might have caused its incumbent priest, had he been there, to cast a rueful glance at the crowd and offer a prayer to the almighty that ‘standing room only’ might also apply for matins on Sunday mornings. The behaviour of the congregation was decidedly unchurchlike, however, especially towards the end of a fairly generous two-and-a-half-hour set that included 24 songs from the F Mac canon, drawn largely from seventies Mac era but with a nod towards Peter Green’s Mac and Stevie Nicks solo catalogue.
         Fleetwood Bac boast on their website that they are the UK’s first and most authentic FM tribute show, endorsed by Mick Fleetwood himself and also Bob Brunning*, who played bass in a very early line-up and wrote a book about them, one edition of which, called Rumours And Lies, I published when overseeing Omnibus Press. To this end the Bac perform in character throughout their show, and their real identities remain concealed even on their website. So as well as looking and dressing the part, in monochrome outfits as per the covers of Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977), ‘Stevie’ becomes a slightly scatter-brained Californian airhead, ‘Christine’ a nicely-spoken, sensible English rose, ‘Lindsey’ a moody-looking study in concentration, ‘Mick’ a rather lugubrious ghoul, and ‘John’ a silent, anonymous workhorse. The girls’ appearance is accurate too, their hair-dos a perfect match, with ‘Stevie’ a tad on a curvy side and ‘Christine’ slim and poised, constantly flicking her blonde bangs aside in the manner of the real Ms McVie. ‘Lindsey’s’ hair, on the other hand, resembled a carelessly-barbered dreadlock wig and perhaps needs reconsidering, especially in view of Buckingham’s more mature latter-day look.
         There was no stage, only a drum riser a few inches off the ground, so the view from anywhere beyond the first few rows of seats – no pews – was poor and ‘Mick’ remained pretty much obscured throughout. ‘Lindsey’ played electric and acoustic guitars on the right, ‘Christine’ stood at a portable keyboard on the left with ‘John’ behind her and ‘Stevie’ sang and danced in the middle in front of ‘Mick’, her floor-length black outfit and shawls suggesting the mysteries of Ms Nicks’ enigmatic mindset.
         They opened up with ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and it was immediately apparent that the Bac’s mimicking skills were of a high order. The girls’ vocals were spot-on, the backing let down only by the drums which lacked the snap of the real Mac and sounded at times a bit like someone hitting a biscuit tin, a flaw I put down to the building’s acoustics or inadequate miking. The bass was sturdy and very deep, the guitar on point, if a little shrill at times, and the keyboard wash as good as the real thing. ‘Dreams’ followed, then ‘Say You Love Me’, both executed with due diligence, and then it was time to dig deeper for ‘Albatross’ and ‘Oh Well Part 1’. The former was blemished by the guitar tone, with far too much piercing treble tarnishing Peter Green’s stately, subtle masterpiece, but the latter was executed well and better suited to the occasion. A few older punters even joined in, not giving the answer you wanted me to.
         These excursions into the depths of Fleetwood Mac gave individual members opportunities to scurry off stage but unlike other tribute acts I’ve seen there were no changes of costumes, apart from ‘Stevie’s’ shawls, and she was up next to float pleasantly through ‘Sarah’ before ‘Christine’ took over for ‘Little Lies’ and a solo turn on ‘Songbird’, definitely a highlight of the evening. “This is the time when everybody leaves the band,” she announced to a few wry chuckles, and her rendition was just as lovely as Ms McVie, prompting some tuneful singing along and far and away the biggest ovation of the evening thus far. Not to be outdone ‘Stevie’ returned with ‘Lyndsey’ picking acoustic for ‘Landslide’, perfectly capturing the rasp that Ms Nicks has developed over the years.
         The girls left the boys to themselves for a blues trio-style ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, but although the crowd appreciated ‘Lindsay’s’ blues rock workout, his soloing lacked the delicacy of Peter Green’s understated approach. Then again, to duplicate the mastery of Green’s unique talent – instinctively knowing that what you leave out is an important as what you play – has eluded many guitarists whose CV far exceeds playing in a tribute act. The first half closed with ‘Rooms On Fire’, a hit for Stevie alone in 1989 and the first of two solo Nicks songs played – the other was ‘Edge Of 17’ – followed by a spot-on ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
         After an overlong interval Fleetwood Bac returned with ‘Big Love’, the ending of which, on record at least, seems suspiciously inappropriate for a place of worship, but the Bac tempered it somewhat, perhaps wary of wrath from above. It seemed to me as if ‘Lindsey’s’ vocal mike needed upping a bit, a fault that persisted throughout the second half. At times his vocals were barely audible, especially compared to the girls. ‘7 Wonders’ was followed by another excursion into the past, ‘The Green Manalishi’, those portentous chords and a rave-up solo drawing appreciative applause from the blokes in the audience.
         The contrast between the two Fleetwood Macs – and I date the shift to the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks – enable Fleetwood Bac to switch moods abruptly, so the lilting ‘Gypsy’, like ‘Sarah’ earlier in the set, seemed like another band entirely. Again ‘Stevie’ sang perfectly, as did ‘Christine’ on the cheerful ‘Everywhere’ and the rather melancholy ‘Oh Daddy’, a sequence I would have swopped around in the light of what followed.
         What did follow was the ebullient home stretch. ‘Don’t Stop’ was a crowd-pleasing singalong, everyone standing now; ‘Tusk’ a rhythmic incitement to dance with a drum solo that was, thankfully, brief; and ‘The Chain’ a moody slow-starter with the Formula One bass riff rumbling from somewhere in the crypt and damnation descending as the congregation sang about keeping us together.
         The encores, inevitably, were ‘Rhiannon’, with Stevie suitably witchy in her black top hat, and ‘Go Your Own Way’, again a bit spoiled by ‘Lindsey’s’ vocals being largely unheard but once the girls joined in all was well. If the band’s enthusiasm and the crowd’s devil-may-care community singing reduced this finale to a bit of a mish-mash at this point it didn’t really matter – by the end no one gave a monkeys whether it was the Bac or the Mac, which is how it should be.

A picture from their website, not last night's gig

         As I wrote in a post in 2014 about a David Bowie tribute show, there are some in my line of work who take a rather condescending view of tribute acts but I am not among them. Most of those who gathered at St John’s Church in Farncombe last night are unlikely ever to see the real Fleetwood Mac, or even afford to, but the pleasure they all took from this show nullifies any derision that purists might feel towards what is, after all, a shameless but nevertheless skilful facsimile. I take the view that Fleetwood Bac and their ilk are not only giving people a good time but keeping the genuine article’s music before the public and serving to remind them of the depth of their catalogue, in this case Peter Green’s FM included, and that can only be a good thing.

* Bob Brunning, with whom I became friendly through publishing his book, died in 2011.