Aged 22, I joined the staff of Melody Maker on the first Monday in May, 1970, and during the course of the day spoke on the telephone to Ginger Baker, who told me about his new group Airforce. To have spoken to a man widely regarded as the most skilled drummer in rock on my first day there seemed like a good start.
offices at that time were on the second floor of a large, institutional,
six-storey building on the north side of Fleet Street whose doors, back and
front, were manned by overweight security men in uniforms and peaked caps. Many
other magazines published by IPC Business Press occupied the same premises,
among them several football and farming magazines, as well as such fascinating
titles as Laundry & Dry Cleaning
News, Naval Architecture Monthly
and Cage Birds Weekly, whose bow-tie
wearing editor we affectionately referred to as ‘Joey’. Next to Melody Maker
was Cycling Monthly*
and two doors along was Disc & Music Echo.
was about to enter its golden age, when the circulation would rise to over
200,000 a week, the offices were decidedly underwhelming; dimly lit with a
scuffed parquet floor, dented bottle-green filing cabinets, old wooden desks,
rickety chairs and black manual typewriters of questionable vintage. The phones
were also black and made from heavy bacolyte and the walls were covered in a
random assortment of torn and faded posters. Richard Williams, the assistant
editor, had written out some Dylan lyrics and stuck them to the walls. I sat
opposite a sign that read: ‘You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the
wind blows’ and to my right were the words ‘Don’t follow leaders, watch the
parking meters’. Behind Richard’s chair were pictures of Italian footballers.
I soon discovered that Richard had been hired by MM editor Ray Coleman the previous year in preference to myself as we were both among those who answered the same job advert in the classified ads at the back of the paper. When another opening arose about six months later Ray decided not to advertise again and had called me in March to see if I was still interested. I certainly was, and I still feel quite flattered that I was evidently only second on the shortlist behind Richard.
The vacant desk that I assumed was next to that occupied by
Welch, a cheerful, curly-haired fellow whose Melody Maker features and singles
reviews I had been reading for years. Next to him was the urbane, middle-aged
Laurie Henshaw, the news editor and reputedly something of a ladies man, and in
the corner opposite Laurie sat Max Jones, the much respected jazz critic who
wore a dark blue skullcap and spent much of his day at El Vino’s, the Fleet
Street wine bar opposite the building. Max was forever complaining about
something or other, usually a problem with his expenses or the lack of parking
facilities or how a ped (his word for pedestrian) had somehow inconvenienced
him on his drive to work. Although jazz was his speciality he liked rock music
too, at least some of it, and could discuss it intelligently. For this reason
he was the first member of my parents’ generation that I met – and one of the
very few from that generation that I would ever meet – that I could relate to
as if he was a member of my own generation.
That first Monday at Melody Maker was very busy, it being news day – the day when the magazine’s news pages were filled. Under the supervision of Laurie Henshaw I was assigned to write various short news stories, some of them re-written from press hand-outs, others from information garnered on the telephone.
was busy putting together the Raver column, MM’s
gossip page, which often featured the adventures and opinions of Jiving K.
Boots, a fictitious rock star from his home territory of Catford.
At various times during the day I felt like pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Here I was, on the staff of Melody Maker,
most distinguished rock and pop paper, the magazine that I’d rushed out and
bought every Wednesday for years. I’m not quite sure how I expected the offices
of MM to be, but it certainly wasn’t
like this. This was too ordinary, the offices too drab, the staff too
matter-of-fact, the situation too mundane. At the end of the day I was
wondering if I’d wake up the next morning and be back at Slough Magistrates
Court, once again reporting on the justice meted out to those who drove
carelessly on the M4. Britain
“Tell me Eric old boy [Hayes always, but always, called everybody ‘old boy’], there’s a reader from
here... writes in and wants to know what sort of guitar you use these days?”
I was not so much bemused by the fact that Chris Hayes was evidently talking to Eric Clapton (at 10.30 in the morning!), as much as the casual manner in which he addressed him.
“Fender Stratocaster, old boy? How do you spell that? S... T... R... A ...T... O... C... A... S... T... E... R. Thanks. And what sort of amp do you use these days?”
? Does that have
two Ls?” Marshall
Another call. “Pete, old boy, there’s a reader from
Brighton wants to know what sort of wah-wah you use.”
(This to Pete Townshend.)
“What, you don’t use a wah-wah?”
“But how do you spell wah-wah anyway? W… A… H W… A… H. Sounds bloody silly to me old boy. Best of luck with that Tommy business.”
And so it went on, with Chris Hayes talking on the phone to the great and not so great. He became quite exasperated when a PR person refused to immediately connect him with the rock star to whom he wished to speak – “Well, can’t you wake him up?” – though the depth of his telephone book largely precluded the need for PRs anyway. Occasionally his conversations would stray off the point and I came to realise that he was a chronic hypochondriac, and that an innocent ‘How are you?’ could bring forth from Chris a detailed account of all illnesses, aches and pains and minor accidents he’d suffered during the previous 12 months or, if you were really unlucky, a deeply pessimistic forecast of his health prospects for the foreseeable future. For me this was even more surreal than the previous day. For almost two hours the office was occupied solely by he and I, and me with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do but listen to him on the phone and read back issues of the paper.
Eventually Max Jones rolled up. “Couldn’t park my bloody car anywhere,” he muttered. “What are you doing here?”
“I started work here yesterday.”
“Well, no-one comes in on Tuesdays.”
I soon learned that Tuesday was
day. Editor Ray Coleman, chief sub-editor Allan Lewis, his assistant and Laurie
Henshaw all spent Tuesdays in Colchester where
M M was printed. The rest of the staff
stayed at home ‘doing research’, which meant listening to records or reviewing
them, or simply catching up on sleep. The staff actually reconvened on
Wednesdays at noon when we gathered for the weekly editorial conference,
chaired by Ray. For an hour those present, which included the magazine’s chief
photographer, the denim-clad, rake-thin and rather impish Barrie Wentzell,
discussed what to include in the following week’s issue. Welch, as ever, was
assigned the singles reviews, someone was delegated to do ‘Blind Date’ during
which a musician was played singles ‘blind’ and had to guess who’d recorded it
and comment, concert tickets were dispensed and potential interviews discussed.
The meeting concluded, we dispersed to the nearest pub, the Red Lion in Red
Lion Alley, which 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 in a small Chinese restaurant. My new acquaintance invariably ordered
a ’glass of dry white wine and a small piece of cheese’. Barrie
* The staff of Cycling Monthly once complained that we in the MM office made too much noise. Our Editor, Ray Coleman,
informed them that we needed to listen to music for
research, reviews and inspiration. He added: “We won’t complain if you lot
cycle up and down the corridors testing new bikes!”