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.