Tales of a Fanzine Writer….

Hahaha this is going to an OK boomer moment, but I realise that today’s music bloggers really have no concept of what grass roots music writing was like pre internet. I was there in the 1980’s, at the tale end of the era of the original punk fanzine and our little fanzine stuttered to volume 3 before the contributors got to absolutely hate each other’s guts, and it all fell apart in bitter acrimony. Spinal Tap.

Imagine a time of no internet, no mobile phone, indeed no house phone just a phone box 5 minutes away that ate your pennies really fast. I’m not talking just for a few hours, a whole day, a few days I’m talking none of that easy connectivity ever. How do you share the good news about your favourite bands? How do you get an excuse to chat with the cool kids?

To prepare

You get together with a few mates and publish a hard copy fanzine. There’s 24 sides of A4 to fill. That’s a lot of reviews. You need a little portable typewriter as your uni submissions were hand written.

You need a camera or two to take some 35mil film. Film is expensive so perhaps 3 shots and hope the band come out on the photos. You have to wait till the fanzine is about worded up then you have a full film or two to get printed up. Fingers crossed.

The fanzine printing ain’t cheap but you have a friend who had an older brother who will print at the end of an official line at a cheaper price. You quickly realise colour means the colour of the paper your are printing on.

Minimum 300 copies, it’s gonna take about a weeks worth of spending money and you gotta hope you sell the fanzine else it ain’t great. We work out the cost of the magazine and quickly realise this is a labour of love. At the price of an NME music paper we will lose just a little bit of cash if we sell them all.

You trog around a few independent goth/ punk shops hoping they might put in an advert or even sell the magazines. We get a hair dressers and a second hand clothes shop, then there’s a couple of local record shops and Jumbo’s in Leeds and a shop that looks a bit crap in Affliks Palace in Manchester. Hahaha the tromp around the shops takes about 10 days to fit it, and then when the fanzine is printed you go back round twice; to drop off the mags then a few weeks later to pick up the cash (hopefully). The shops look kindly upon we skinny scruffy types and agree not to charge us, and we reduce the cost of the adverts. All in all with the 3 trips to Leeds and Manchester we will about recoup the train fare on the adverts. Ho hum.

Content

We have a couple of poets in the team. They are great for filling in awkward gaps on the printed page. There’s a girl who was brought up a Catholic but hated God. All her poems are basically about how fu3ed up her life is and how she blames god for it. I’m the other poet, I write about my box (room) in which I’m either happy in bed with someone, happy and stoned, sad and lonely and bored, sad and verging on suicidal. Perfect condition for a few poems.

A random selection of differently sized poems are our current content. We have a mate who wants to contribute. He loves those violent shouty oi band skinhead type bands. He’s really into hard violent things like guns, knives, nazi imagery (although he is not racist) and he draws these strange violent, aggressive cartoon characters who have scars and muscles and knives.

He’s the best artist of us all, so he draws a typically aggressive cartoon character and gothic Germanic typeface logo for the fanzine. I hate it. No I absolutely fking hate it with a passion, but there’s nothing better. I recall a few weeks previously he stabbed someone in the back of their hand with a 6 inch Bowie Knife during a very drunken game of dare, that required an emergency hospital trip. I smile widely, give him a hug and tell him it’s perfect.

It takes a while to do anything because our gang had a habit of meeting up Wednesday lunch. The fit kids spent the afternoon playing football or squash, the cool kids spent it getting drunk and smoking spliffs in the Student Union, where we would decide what we were doing for the weekend, who would meet where and roughly when (our social life was planned a few days in advance) and also what we were doing for the fanzine. Things went slow in those days.

First interviews

Eventually we have some gigs. It’s a bit tricky to organise interviews. There’s no online or easy contact channels. We see New Model Army who were pretty hot commodities in those days and manage to see the bassist at the gig, and to ask if at the next gig we can interview them. He tells us to turn up beforehand and it should be OK. A lot would depend on who else wanted to interview them and we were well down in the pecking order.

Bands in those days didn’t have to be approachable. It was all about record sales in those pre streaming days and the gigs were a bit of a loss leader. A band in those days could release a slow burner which was loved by the indie crowd, never trouble the charts and shift 80,000 copies a year. Not enough for a swimming pool but certainly enough to scrape a living from for a young band in a cheap rented house.

So we are a bit nervous for our first interview. Lead singer Justin looks a bit ferocious and is known for his outspoken views. Is he going to wipe the floor with us? We arrive early, very early, with old tape recorder in hand. We hope the battery will last. The band are lovely, really chatty and give us a scoop. They have signed to EMI! Of course a scoop isn’t much value if you cant publish for another 6 weeks but hey ho. The New Musical Express beat us to the scoop that following Thursday.

We particularly get on with Joolz Justin’s partner who is a punk poet from Bradford. She contributes a poem to add to our collection, blowing all ours out of the water. She sits by the merch stall later and accepts our jackets, sweaty t-shirts and cheap portable old tape recorder as we introduce our pale skinny flesh to the mosh pit. Poor Joolz, it was a role she was to play at about half a dozen subsequent gigs for us while we followed the Army around the north.

First knock back

New Model Army are support to Sisters Of Mercy. We know of lead singer Andy Eldritch through an ex girlfriend but he has a reputation and we decide not to interview him. One of his team approaches us early doors, very polite but tells us Andy won’t be interviewed. We say that’s fine. A bit later the guy returns and says he’s nervous we might approach Andy and he will be very annoyed if we do. Again we say that’s fine we understand. Andy has done his sound check after a bit of bother; he won’t come on for the check if the venue doesn’t put on the dry ice and the lights. The venue grumble at the waste of money but oblige after a bit. Eldritch is down at the foot at the stage pacing around in his sun glasses in the gloom, looking a bit agitated and darting the occasional look at us. We assure the manager a third time we wont approach or speak with him even if we bump into him at the toilets or outside with a cig.

The first band, The Skeletal Family (who we have arranged to interview at a forthcoming gig) are about the start when the manager approaches us for a fourth time. We are about to swear that we haven’t even looked at Eldritch when he says; “he’s asked me to come over, he wants to know why you don’t want to interview him?”. We explain politely that we were just starting out and amazed to be interviewing New Model Army. The truth is that none of us were particularly into Sisters of Mercy but why kick a man when he’s down.

And on it goes….

So after our first interview we are off. I recall Helen McCookerybook from The Chefs who was lovely and a bit like our mum, Pauline Black from the Selector who spoke with a bizarre American accent until one of our party reminded her she was from Coventry, Nenah Cherry who is without doubt the most beautiful woman I have ever shared a can of red stripe with and a generous and really nice soul, the March Violets (who were a bit grumpy, and some of the band split a few days later) and John Otway (the less I say about that bloke the better, but never have I witnessed a greater difference between public image and the reality, in my life).

Eventually we have enough content, and after waiting in a queue at the printers for a fortnight, we can finally pick up our labour of love. It looks pretty shite. We have to staple the pages together. One page is printed upside down. The ink ran out for a few of the pages and given the tight budget, we write over the missing words in pen. But we are buzzing and set to writing to a few of the big publications with a copy of our work and set to distribute our works. We put a small ad in the NME and we are delighted when we get a reserved thumbs up from them in their weekly fanzine review slot. That sells us about 54 extra copies across the UK, and 1 in Italy.

We sell out; whoo hoo, we lose about a fiver each on our venture and are elated. We are music journalists. We are publishers. We sell adverts. We distribute and sell magazines.

The decline and fall

Of course the problem comes with the commitment for episode 2. We get a bit slack. We do an interview without the camera or the tape machine and are unprepared. It’s a car crash, and I was mashed and speeding off my face on top. We start bickering about each other about pulling our weight and doing stuff. Episode 2 comes out with half the ho hum content we pulled from Episode 1, more gig reviews, more record reviews. It sells again. Phew.

Midway through episode 3 about 8 months later from the excitement of the start, someone who has used the fanzine to chat up women (‘I can get you to see all the bands’) has a go at me when I’m completely slaughtered. I wake up the following lunchtime knowing what I said to him was horrible, but not quite remembering it (or wanting to). We don’t really speak again without sniping. I see him about 20 years later; he is now an actor (I’ve seen him in a bank advert) and trainer. I go over and say something nice to him, just to show I’ve got over it. He looks me up and down and stalks off; clearly 20 years is not long enough. I now wish I knew what it was that I’d said… it might be useful again.

The group kind of dissipates after that. The Wednesday afternoon catch up and planning for the weekend splinters. I leave the fanzine with episode 3 about complete. To be fair it’s back on form, but I haven’t contributed much. It goes out, but think it loses money. It ends.

Chris R

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