It is heartening to get so many Facebook likes for observing the last rites of NME, heartening because it reflects the affection with which the UK’s weekly press, be it New Musical Express or Melody Maker or any of the rest, are still held by those who used to read them. Then again, maybe it’s not that surprising really because – staggering as it seems today – in their heyday, when MM was top of the heap selling 200,000 copies a week, NME wasn’t that far behind, on 180,000 I think, Sounds third with 100,000 and the two also-rans, Disc & Music Echo and Record Mirror, on 50,000 each. That’s 580,000 music papers sold every week in this little island of ours, over 30 million a year, and you can be sure that they were read by many more than that as they were passed around in colleges, offices, clubs, pubs, maybe even doctors’ waiting rooms. There were so many readers that it stands to reason that many of them will this week mourn not just NME but the weekly music press culture that was unique to the UK. 

This mega-circulation era was around 1972, when MM was in its pomp, so much so that its publisher IPC Business Press was prepared to stump up for a staff member to live in New York (in an apartment paid for by them, inclusive of all utility and phone bills plus a living allowance exclusive of salary, same as foreign correspondents on the national press) and report back on what was happening in America, an expense that would cause bean-counters apoplexy today. Three of us got that wondrous gig, Roy Hollingworth, Michael Watts and myself, and I still believe it was the best job in the world in music journalism, better than any editorship, just absolute rock'n'roll nirvana regardless of the perks. MM’s success in the first half of the 1970s forged a bond between the staff that lasts to this day: Richard Williams, Chris Welch, Michael, Geoff Brown and myself meet for lunch about twice a year to relive old times, and most of us have been amongst the mourners at the funerals of those we have lost: Roy, our editor Ray Coleman, Carole Clerk and Rob Partridge. I liken it to having played together on a football team that long ago won the league title. 

By the time the US job ended, in 1977, MM’s crown had slipped and NME was top dog, deservedly so under the editorship of Nick Logan with Charlie Murray, Nick Kent, Ian MacDonald and the rest carrying the torch that I like to think we had lit earlier in the decade. Nevertheless the combined circulation of the music weeklies, now joined by Kerrang! (surviving still) was still around half a million a week. (Any rivalry was strictly corporate. We were on friendly terms with the writers from other papers and one NME writer and I were ‘an item’ for a while.) This culture of weekly music magazines was exclusive to the UK; no other country saw anything like it. There were no national music weeklies to cater to fans in the US, only Lisa Robinson’s breathless New York weekly Rock Scene, dry weekly music business publications like Billboard and Cashbox and biweekly Rolling Stone. Elsewhere in Europe some countries boasted a single weekly or monthly paper, and in Australia there was Go-Set which syndicated articles from MM, as did one in Sweden. Only the UK had such a thriving weekly music press, and the competition between the titles was what kept us lively and on our toes.
It was an era way before computers or even commercial radio. Televised pop consisted only of Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Acts had fan clubs that circulated newsletters but the only way to find out what your favourite act was up to, if they were going to release a new single or album or go out on tour, or if they were splitting up or changing personnel, was to read the music press. With those acts like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, who demurred from appearing on TV or using photographs of themselves on their album sleeves, the only way to found out what they actually looked like was to go and see them, not always an option, or look at the photographs of them in the music press. 
Even though I lost touch with the ups and downs of the fortunes of NME and MM during the eighties I continued to read them. I began to think that NME was becoming too political for its own good, losing its way amidst an editorial policy that promoted left-wing ideology over music. I agreed with the ideology – it was the Thatcher era after all – but felt music magazines should cover music and political magazines politics. Meanwhile, MM seemed desperate to outdo A&R men by finding the next big thing before they did, which was admirable enough but resulted in a few sub-par acts appearing on the front page and being hailed as saviours when they were anything but. Both papers tended to ignore the really popular acts, the ones that were selling out arenas, because they were insufficiently hip in the eyes of their staff, and this had a detrimental effect on their circulation, giving rise to monthly magazines that treated musicians on the wrong side of 30 with more respect, in some cases probably more than they deserved. All of this coincided with the CD era in which music became a soundtrack to a certain lifestyle in which the participants didn’t care that much about the musicians whose user-friendly little silver discs they played as background music to dinner parties or in their cars and as a result weren’t much interested in reading about them. Then came the internet. 
In the meantime I began to suspect, wrongly as it turned out, that the generation of young MM writers after my own might not welcome the company of those who’d gone before. I felt they might be envious of the largesse we’d enjoyed (that US job, the fairly outrageous record industry hospitality), that they might feel we had been too benign towards the acts compared to their more confrontational approach, and that they wouldn’t want to listen to any ‘in my day’ litanies so redolent of sports commentators who were once players themselves. Happily, this assumption was proved wrong after I commissioned a 90s-era MM writer to write a book for Omnibus Press and was invited to his wedding. Assuming that no one would be discourteous to me if I was accompanied by a 12-year-old girl I took my daughter Olivia along, but there I was, surrounded by the MM generation I thought might snub me, all of them eager to hear about the days when we sold 200,000 copies a week. 
Now, that golden era of the weekly music press is a distant memory. As for myself, back in 1977, after seven years on MM I knew my time was up. When I turned 30 I thought I was too old to continue – which sounds ridiculous now – but I got out because I felt I couldn’t sustain the required enthusiasm in my writing. I wanted to try something else in music, which I did. Many years passed until, three years ago, I launched this blog at the suggestion of that same daughter. A few years earlier, aged 19, she’d worn a rare Keith Moon t-shirt of mine to a party and was surrounded by boys her own age wanting to know where she got it. When she explained that her dad used to know him and that he had been associated with The Who professionally, she was pestered with questions about me to the point where she wished she’d never worn the damn t-shirt. When Olivia told me this I figured it was time to start a blog and when, with her encouragement, I did so I rediscovered that same enthusiasm for writing about music and musicians that I had in the early seventies, though I’m not sure how long it’ll last. 
But I digress. The loss of NME on top of all the rest is the final nail in the coffin of a culture that I mourn deeply because I was lucky enough to play a small role in it, and that makes me doubly sad.


MARK E. SMITH – A Couple of Encounters

As is well known, Mark E. Smith was a loveable yet cantankerous old rogue. I was never a Fall fan but I had two encounters with him over the years, the first in person, the second concerning legal issues that after the event seemed all too typical of the ramshackle way he conducted his business affairs.
In 1988 I commissioned a book on The Fall from an author called Brian Edge, a fan who lived in Wales. It was called Paintwork: A Portrait Of The Fall, and was in no way authorised by Smith or anyone else. It was only 96 pages long, illustrated throughout, and is long out of print, though ‘used’ copies can be bought on Amazon for about £20 now, with ‘new’ ones on sale for over £100, which probably reflects their rarity value.

Soon after its publication Smith contacted me at Omnibus, not to harangue me for publishing an unauthorised book, as might be expected, but to tell me he’d read it, quite liked it, and would be interested in buying copies at a wholesale price to sell at his gigs. This was unusual, a first in fact. Omnibus specialised in ‘unauthorised’ books. Most acts couldn’t care less, a few sent lawyers’ letters claiming breach of copyright that we swatted away like flies, but none offered to buy unauthorised books to resell to make a profit. 
‘Fine,’ I told Mark. ‘Why don’t you come by the office next time you’re in London? We’ll work something out.’
‘Great,’ he said in his croaky Mancunian accent. ‘Next Thursday. Three o’clock?’
‘OK. See you then.’
This was a mistake on my part. I should have scheduled the meeting for the morning, before the pubs opened. He arrived at our offices stinking of beer and cigarettes, no doubt having spent at least two hours in a pub. He had about him the air of a rough sleeper who’d spent the previous night dossed down on someone’s floor in the same clothes he was wearing for our meeting. His hair was uncombed. He wasn’t a vain man, I decided, certainly not your typical rock star. He was fairly drunk too, but not belligerent, though I was afraid his mood might change if the meeting didn’t go the way he hoped. I offered him a cup of tea.
‘You haven’t got any beer have you?’
Mark wanted 100 books. I offered to sell them to him at half price, the same sort of discount that bookshops demand. He wanted a bigger discount. Since sales weren’t really my department I said I’d have to consult the sales manager before I could agree. He nodded and for a moment I thought he was going to fall asleep. 
‘It’s not a bad book,’ he said, waking up. ‘Let me know.’
Then he lurched off, probably back to the pub.
A day or two later I contacted his office – he’d given me a number – and told someone on the other end of the phone we would sell them to him at 55% discount. We never heard back.

* * *

In 2008 Omnibus published a far more substantial book on Mark and The Fall, written with his co-operation by Mick Middles, the well-known chronicler of Manchester’s music scene. I thought this would be the nearest thing to an autobiography and therefore a thoroughly worthwhile project. I think it was Mick that called me to say that Mark was up for it. I did a deal with Mick and I guess Mick did a deal with Mark, the details of which were none of my business, though I assumed that Mick would lob some of the advance Mark’s way in return for interviews. 
        The contract for the book contained the usual clause to the effect that the author warranted that the contents were his or her own copyright and, because the book would contain some lyrics, I made a point of confirming that Mark did in fact own the copyrights of the lyrics in the book. Via Mick Mark said he did, and the book contained a credit which read: All lyrics used by permission. © Mark E. Smith. Cog Sinister. All rights reserved. Another clause prohibited the authors from writing and/or causing to be published a similar book within five years. 

This book, titled simply The Fall and credited to Mark E. Smith and Mick Middles, was a more substantial affair than the previous book but is cheaper to buy on Amazon now, probably because it has remained in print until only very recently. It wasn’t quite the Mark E. Smith autobiography I was hoping for. I sensed that the time Mick spent with Mark didn’t really bring forth the material that Mick hoped. But it wasn’t a bad effort, and was certainly the nearest thing to an authorised Fall book thus far published. It’s done pretty well too, as evidenced by the fact that it remained in print for almost a decade. 
Of course, something was bound to go wrong. About a month after its publication a music publisher based in Manchester got in touch to say that he owned the copyright to Mark’s lyrics as printed in the book and wanted, I think, £5,000, or else he’d sue us for breach of copyright. In normal circumstances, ie had we cleared copyright before going to press, the use of the lyrics would have cost us about £500. The publisher knew this and so did I. 
‘But we have a warranty from Mark E. Smith saying he owns the copyrights,’ I said.
‘He sold them to me for [undisclosed cash sum] a few years ago. He was skint at the time.’
‘Well, you’d better sort this out with him.’
The conversation went no further and the issue was not resolved. I got the distinct impression that the transaction whereby this publisher acquired the rights to Mark E. Smith’s songs took place in a pub, was a cash deal and that some of the cash was spent over the bar that same night. This is conjecture on my part, of course. Clearly the publisher took the view that Omnibus Press and its parent company Music Sales were far more likely to have £5,000 in the bank than Mark E. Smith, and he was probably right. We got a lawyers’ letter a week or two later but we wriggled out of it because it transpired we had a print music deal with that self-same publisher and claimed we therefore had the right to print lyrics controlled by them. No you don’t, they said. Yes we do, we said. We never heard from them again.
But it wasn’t quite over. Early the following year Penguin published The Renegade: The Lives & Tales of Mark E. Smith, credited solely to Smith on the cover though in reality it was ghost-written by Austin Collings. This was the book that I had hoped to publish, a no-holes barred autobiography that, of course, Smith wasn’t supposed to write because of the agreement with Omnibus Press that Mick Middles had signed. Or so I thought. Of course I rang up Penguin and pointed this out. Whoever I spoke to in their editorial department laughed heartily. Their book had been in production for some considerable time, probably commissioned before ours, which meant that Smith wasn’t supposed to co-operate with Mick Middles on our book in the first place. Furthermore, I got the distinct impression that Penguin had experienced some peculiarities in their dealings with Mark as well, which might have explained why their book came out after ours. 
As I write, The Renegade sits at the top of Amazon’s Rock Book Chart. 
Loveable rogue indeed. RIP. 


DEEP PURPLE, November 1970

I am at present engaged in revising my 1983 biography of Deep Purple for publication in a different format later this year. Here's a story from the book that I decided to expand, all 100% true.
        It is late 1970 and Deep Purple are enjoying their first taste of genuine success. 

Touring continued for the remainder of the year, with trips to France, Scandinavia and Germany slotted in between UK shows that included universities and seaside towns. The French trip, which I covered for Melody Maker, was hastily rearranged to exclude a club where fire had recently broken out with tragic results, and a prestigious show at the Paris Olympia on November 1 was followed by an impromptu performance at the Gibus Club whose enterprising owner had somewhat cheekily advertised an appearance by Deep Purple that hadn’t been agreed, let alone contracted. 
The club’s manager met with a furious John Coletta backstage at the Olympia but Purple’s manager, unwilling to disappoint scores of French fans, was backed into a corner. The group didn’t seem to mind, though, and free food and drink was provided for the whole Purple entourage in exchange for a short set that comprised old rock’n’roll 12-bar songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Lucille’ that were simple to play. Though the club was packed, it is doubtful whether the increased attendance compensated for the unlimited supply of beer, wine and champagne, not to mention fillet mignon, that was consumed by a party numbering a dozen or more. 
After the feast Ritchie and I left the Gibus to check out the Rock’n’Roll Circus, the Paris rock club that would become notorious as the place where Jim Morrison was last seen alive. We finally left the club in the early hours, by which time we had become attached to a couple of agreeable French girls but much to our frustration the night porter at L’Opera, the hotel where we were staying, refused to allow us to bring them up to our rooms. Livid, Ritchie stormed back outside, with me and the girls in pursuit, and together we hatched a plot to ensure that he, at least, would not spend the night alone. I agreed to abandon my girl, a bit reluctantly to be sure, and while he returned to the lobby and distracted the porter I was to sneak back inside with his girl and meet him on the first floor where he would reassume his courtship of her. 
I recall the tearful farewell to my girl on the steps of the hotel and my poor attempts to explain to her in French why we were not destined to spend the night in each other’s arms. ‘Un autre temps peut-etre,’ I said dismally as she went off to find a cab. 
The night’s fun and games were not over. As it happened the porter saw me and Ritchie’s mademoiselle sprinting through the lobby and, although I met Ritchie as planned on the first floor and ‘handed’ the girl over, a few minutes later the phone rang in my room. It was the night porter. In vain did I deny having a girl there but he came up to look for himself and when he couldn’t find her he demanded to know where she was. A confrontation ensued, not helped by my bad French.
‘Ou se trouve la fille?’ he yelled, looking under the bed and opening the wardrobe door.
‘Quelle fille?’ I responded, smirking.
‘La jeune fille qui arrive avec vous il ya quelques minutes,’ he replied, going into the bathroom. 
‘Il n’y a pas de fille ici,’ I said. ‘Recherche toi-meme. Il n’y a personne.’
He looked like he was staying put until she emerged from somewhere or other so as a last resort to get him out of my room I suggested he try Mr Coletta’s room down the corridor. Unlike him, I knew full well that Mr Coletta had taken a girlfriend, a Playboy Bunny as I recall, over to Paris for the weekend and had, of course, booked a double room for he and her.
        John wasn’t best pleased to be disturbed in the middle of the night by the night porter, or so I gathered in the morning. Ritchie, whose girl remained undiscovered, was highly amused by the whole business and for my sacrifice I earned his undying gratitude, or so I thought.



I was commissioned to write this intro to a book entitled Bob Dylan: I Was There which will be published later this year. It's a much extended re-write of a previous post about Dylan.

I existed in a hermetically sealed world when I worked as Melody Maker’s American Editor, based in New York, between 1973 and 1977. I was going to gigs three or four nights a week, writing all hours of the day, mixing only with fellow music writers, musicians and industry types. I didn’t really know anyone outside the music industry apart from the neighbour I’d see collecting her mail or the man at the newsagents where I picked up yesterday’s British newspaper. In 1975 I didn’t think much about the fuel crisis, the Irish Troubles or even the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. World affairs didn’t concern me. I dwelt on where The Who were headed after the loss of momentum in 1974, or what David Bowie would look like the next time I saw him, or who was going to replace Mick Taylor in the Stones.
It came as something of a shock, therefore, when one day in early November the phone rang in my 78th Street apartment and the girl at the IPC office whose task it was to relay telex messages from London informed me that editor Ray Coleman wanted me to cover the ‘Bob Die Lon’ tour.
          “Who?” I asked. 
          “Bob Die Lon.”
          “Bob who?”
          “Die Lon.”
          “Never heard of him.”
          So immersed was I in the world of rock that it never occurred to me in my wildest dreams than an American not much younger than myself could be so unfamiliar with Bob Dylan as to be unable to pronounce his name correctly, as if it rhymed with ‘nylon’. To me this was like being unable to count to ten, or recite the alphabet. Never having heard Dylan’s name pronounced in this way before, I was genuinely mystified as to the identity of the artist whose tour Ray wanted me to cover.
          “Can you spell the name for me?” I asked.
          “Oh, you mean Dylan,” I responded incredulously, pronouncing it correctly.
          “Oh, that’s how you say it,” she replied. “Who is he?”
          “Well,” I began, amazed that this young woman had never even heard of Bob Dylan, “he’s a singer and songwriter, probably the most famous popular musician to emerge in America since Elvis Presley. He’s written some of the greatest and most famous songs of the last ten years and influenced just about everyone from The Beatles onwards. His lyrics are legendary…”
          “Is he any good?” she interrupted.

Ignorance of Bob Dylan was not a crime in itself in those days though it would certainly have counted against me when that same Ray Coleman had interviewed me for a job at the start of 1970. In the event Ray was telexing me – this was long before the fax, let alone e-mails – to ensure that I covered Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review, then about to begin up in New England, though unbeknownst to him I’d already made plans to head there with my pal Bob Gruen, New York’s most streetwise rock photographer. (My recollections of one of the opening shows – at Springfield, Massachusetts on November 6 – can be found elsewhere in this book, as can my report of a Dylan show with The Band at New York’s Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1974.)
          Dylan was a favourite of all of us at Melody Maker. On my first day at the paper, in the first week of May, 1970, I sat at a desk in full sight of where Richard Williams, the assistant editor, had written out some Dylan lyrics and stuck them to the walls. Opposite me was 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’. I well remember how when Richard received an advance copy of George Harrison’s triple Concert For Bangla Desh LP in December of the following year the first thing he did was put on side five, very loud. When George announced, “I’d like to bring on a friend of us all, Mister Bob Dylan,” all of us stopped what we were doing and gathered around the office record player. The delirious, earsplitting ovation that preceded ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ was a glorious, unqualified vindication of how we all felt about the direction our lives had taken.
More than the songs of any of his contemporaries, those of Bob Dylan – and the way he conducted his career – reflected the increasing maturity that popular music had discovered in the sixties, that sense of endless possibility in which worldly insight, societal influence and creative expression combined to elevate it way above the ‘Moon in June’ approach of the past. With the musicians who played on Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde and, later, the members of The Band, Dylan had discovered musical foils that framed his work in a perfect synthesis of poetry and rock’n’roll, but it was much more than mere instrumental virtuosity that we recognized, more a journey into deeper realms of art, literacy and culture that gave momentum to our mission to let the rest of the world know about it. Perhaps we were a bit idealistic or even na├»ve, but I like to think that all of us on the paper in those days felt we were part of something bigger than simply ‘show biz’ or ‘entertainment’, and that Dylan – along with Lennon, Townshend and Bowie – represented the best of the new world to which we were committed.
          Unfortunately it was the old world that greeted Bob Dylan when he made an early appearance at Melody Maker’s offices in 1962. In November of that year, by an odd coincidence the same month that ‘Love Me Do’, The Beatles’ first single, inched its way up to number 17 the charts, 21-year-old Bob paid a visit to London, his first trip outside of the US, to appear in a radio play for the BBC. The play, the recording of which has long since been wiped, and the visit itself remain a footnote in Dylan’s career but while in London he visited and sang at various folk clubs, hung out at Dobells, the specialist record shop in Charing Cross Road, smoked plenty of dope and got drunk in Soho’s pubs. He stayed for almost six weeks, initially at the posh Mayfair Hotel in Berkeley Square, where his smoking habits upset the management, subsequently moving to the more accommodating Cumberland near Marble Arch. He befriended Martin Carthy, who encouraged his wayward, untutored genius, and may even have checked out Peter Cook’s Establishment Club on Greek Street, the cradle of the UK’s satire movement that was lurking, ready to pounce on Harold Macmillan’s complacent Tory government. 
          He also visited Melody Maker’s offices, probably on the recommendation of US jazz critic Nat Hentoff who wrote the sleeve notes for Dylan’s second LP, Freewheelin’, and was an MM stringer. Hentoff was a pal of Max Jones, MM’s revered jazz writer, and it was Jones that Dylan sought out when he arrived at the offices at 161 Fleet Street. The doorman, concluding the scruffy-looking Dylan to be up to no good, denied him entry at first and it wasn’t until Max was summoned that the issue was resolved. Max proceeded to interview the young Dylan, thus securing his first ever press coverage in the UK.
          So, in closing, it gives me great pleasure to report that not only is Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan a genius of enormous distinction in his chosen field but that he never forgets a kindness, as I discovered for myself backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden in June of 1975. What I remember most about this concert is not Charlie’s drumming, which as usual was exemplary, nor even the giant inflatable cock that appeared on stage and fomented so much distress in the God-fearing states down south, but being introduced to Bob, my only close encounter with the great man.
          My friend Peter Rudge, then tour managing the Stones, had given me a couple of backstage passes and among those lingering in the corridor that led to the dressing rooms was Dylan himself, carrying a large pitcher of red wine from which he was drinking copiously. It was one of those big round flagons with a ring on the neck through which you could insert a finger to raise it to your mouth, perfect for situations when glasses are unavailable. He looked much the same as he did on stage at the Rolling Thunder Review shows later that same year, without the white face make-up of course, his hair a mess of unkempt curls, in jeans and a black leather jacket, someone perhaps slightly dangerous to know. Most doormen, like the one in Fleet Street in 1962, would have thought twice about admitting him to whatever premises they were safeguarding. 
Moments after clocking Bob I spotted Peter Rudge. 
“Is that Bob Dylan?” I asked, unnecessarily.
“Can you introduce me?”
Peter, whose staff I would join in 1977, gave me a wry look, then grinned.   “OK.”
We walked over to where Bob was standing and Peter tapped him on the shoulder, interrupting a conversation he was having with a pretty, dark-haired girl in a scarlet dress.
          “Bob,” said Peter, “this is Chris Charlesworth from Melody Maker.”
          Bob looked at me and squinted. He did not offer a hand to shake. I was pretty sure he was drunk.
          Melody Maker,” he slurred. “How’s Max Jones?”
          “Max is fine,” I replied. “I’ll tell him you asked after him.”
          “You do that,” said Dylan. Then he turned away and resumed the conversation he was having before I intruded.
          Come to think of it I’d have preferred to talk to the pretty girl in the scarlet dress too.