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Conversations and essays unearthing the many surprising worlds explored by the UK music-press from the 1960s-80s
Conversations and essays unearthing the many surprising worlds explored by the UK music-press from the 1960s-80s
234 backers pledged £9,838 to help bring this project to life.

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£9,838

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A HIDDEN LANDSCAPE ONCE A WEEK: how UK music-writing became a space for unruly curiosity, in the words of those who made it happen 

A handsome, high-quality paperback volume, with exclusive cover and illustrations by legendary comics artist Savage Pencilresident cartoonist and illustrator at The Wire: he wrote the Rock'n'Roll Zoo strip for Sounds in the 70s, and has created record sleeve art for The Fall, Sonic Youth, and many others. With dimensions 210mm x 148mm, and c.300pp long, the book will be laid out and printed by the excellent Strange Attractor Press, who also publish Savage Pencil's Trip or Squeek.

Mark Sinker — who devised this project and ran the conference that led to it — wrote for NME in the 80s and was editor of The Wire in the early 90s. He has been working in magazine editorial for three decades.  

A mock-up of the book's cover
A mock-up of the book's cover

 

Once upon a time — for a surprisingly long time— the UK music-press was a lot more than just the place to catch up with singles or album release news, with interviews with chart-topping figures and the antics of gobby rockstars. Week on week in its heyday — the mid 60s to the early 80s — a young reader could also go to it to find out about everything from comics to cult films to radical politics, as well as an extremely wide range of non-chart musics from all over the world. Hiding in plain sight, it was the communal improvisation of ways to process an unprecedented tumult from every quarter, of new sounds and dances, startling ideas and visions all battling for attention. It took place in such high-street titles as NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, Record Mirror, Echoes, Street Life, Let It Rock, Zigzag, Black Music; but it had fermented in the undergrounds — Oz, IT, Frendz, Ink — and a significant alt/free/listings press including Time Out, City Limits, the anti-racist agit-prop paper Temporary Hoarding, and the redoubtable feminist magazine Spare Rib. As well, from the mid-70s, there was a burgeoning underfelt of fanzines, notably Nick Kimberley and Penny Reel's legendary reggae zine Pressure Drop, plus Bam BalamSniffin’ Glue, Ripped and Torn, London’s Burning, London’s Outrage, Out There, and many many more. 

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As a networked subculture of rival weeklies, monthlies and fanzines, with a combined circulation of more than a million and a readership likely several times that, this was a focus for off-radar cultural and political play, for curiosity and serendipity, and dense with all manner of unexpected stuff you were unlikely to find side-by-side anywhere else on such a scale. A countercultural ideal had been inherited, partly from the 60s underground and the radical student uprisings, but also from the civil rights and other movements. This project will explore is what people felt the underground was — what it was for, a sense of its ideals, some stated (and squabbled over), many serenely unstated (these may be the most interesting). A momentum had been created, towards an imagined future: but what was this future? Who felt invited? Who were its stroppy discontents? Music-writing at its tangled best in this era was a conversation that musician, writer and reading fan all joined, as near-equals on the same page: a shared family quarrel, or perhaps a family of shared quarrels, an alternative cultural commons, a cheerful collective wrangling that echoes the crackles of dissent and tension in the songs it explores: the disputatiousness as well as the joy.

(Television was nowhere near so wide-ranging, and nor were newspapers, tabloid or broadsheet — and neither paid much useful attention to music. The internet, of course, wasn’t even a gleam in SkyNet’s sinister red eye back then…)

  • (Below: Val Wilmer, Penny Reel, Mark Sinker and Liz Naylor discuss what could be found in these papers that simply wasn't then accessible anywhere else)
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How did this come about? And who put it together? This book explores how this space came into existence, how it developed and where it went: its forebears, its ideals, its practical management and its latent potential; it looks at what was achieved, and who was left out. The idea began life as a symposium at Birkbeck College in 2015: UNDERGROUND | OVERGROUND: The Changing Politics of UK Music-Writing: 1968-85. This anthology is a companion volume to the conference, of memories and commentary, conversation and critique, combining extracts from the 2015 panels with informed and acute writing from those present when the counterculture crashed into the entertainment trade press in the late 60s, and from some of their successors. Contributors are drawn from the ranks of those who made all this possible — writers and editors, illustrators and photographers, a talented self-identified elect who married imagination and curiosity to uncover and explain the shape of the world as it really sometimes was, except no one but them (and the readers) knew this. Contributors will include: Val Wilmer, Richard Williams, Mark Williams, David Toop, Tony Stewart, Bob Stanley, Charles Shaar Murray, Jon Savage, Cynthia Rose, Edwin Pouncey, Penny Reel, Liz Naylor, Mark Pringle, Tony Palmer, Paul Morley, John (aka Jonh) Ingham, Barney Hoskyns, Jonathon Green, Beverly Glick (aka Betty Page), Simon Frith and Nigel Fountain. (For biographical details of panelists and essayists see further down the page)

  • (Below: curiosity, serendipity, community, the potential for exploration and validation) 
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These are the voices of this semi-secret world: some well enough known today, but others — just as important — who never quit the underground (or whatever we’d call it today); others who are these days rarely allowed onto the kinds of platform they once briefly had. Self-taught intellectuals, intense scholars of the little-known, the forgotten and the ridiculous; visionaries, crackpots, pedants and chancers, anyone looking for the freedom to explore all kinds of topics precisely because they weren’t being explored elsewhere, and others just looking to escape the scrappy margins towards the brights lights of fame. Some of this will be a glimpse at a world long lost — but there are lessons to learn also, about why people love to write and to read, and how to continue to create communities that serve them. 

CONTENTS

—Essay: Val Wilmer on writing for black magazines in the early 60s

Discussion extract 1: Writing and photographing radical black music in the 60s and 70s (Val Wilmer with Richard Williams)

Discussion extract 2: The trades meet the underground (Charles Shaar Murray, Richard Williams, Mark Williams)

Essay: Mark Williams on how the the record industry funded the underground papers, and went on to subsume them 

Essay: Mark Pringle on being 13 in 1969, reading Oz and Melody Maker

Discussion extract 3: Writing about rock in the 60s: mainstream vs underground (Tony Palmer, Jonathon Green, Mark Pringle)

Essay: Jon Savage on the vital magazines that fell out of history

Discussion extract 4: Rhetorics of outsider style; strange worlds in your newsagents every week (Barney Hoskyns, Paul Morley, Jonh Ingham) 

Essay: Simon Frith on editing as a collective and collaborative activity, a polemical and counter-romantic corrective to the myth of the rock writer

Discussion extract 5: The encroachment of professionalisation on the playpen, management pressures on editorial (Beverley Glick aka Betty Page, Cynthia Rose, Tony Stewart) 

Essay: Beverley Glick: “Responding to the new pop ecology at the inkies; how the move to colour printing created a gender divide" 

Essay:  Cynthia Rose: “Ten Things I learned at NME and what they might teach you”

Discuss extract 6: Was punk an affirmation of underground values or a challenge? (Nigel Fountain, Liz Naylor, Edwin Pouncey) 

Essay: Liz Naylor the sex politics of music as covered in Spare Rib

Discussion extract 7: The changing make-up of bohemia — Who was reading? (Cynthia Rose, Paul Gilroy, Penny Reel, Simon Frith)

Essay: Penny Reel on 57 years of listening to ska

Plus further essays still in the pipeline, by David Toop, Bob Stanley, Cindy Stern, Tony Stewart, Paul Morley, Jonh Ingham, Beverley Glick, Paul Gilroy and others in discussion… 

Select extracts from panels at last year's conference will form a key part of this book, alongside essays and commentary from various participants
Select extracts from panels at last year's conference will form a key part of this book, alongside essays and commentary from various participants

 

CONTRIBUTOR BIOGRAPHIES (panels and essays):

Val Wilmer: writer-photographer since 1960, author of As Serious as Your Life, a history of Black free music, contributor to Jazz Journal, Melody Maker, Down Beat, Spare Rib and The Wire.

Richard Williams: contributor to Melody Maker (from 60s, becoming editor late 70s), arts and sports journalist, in 2015 artistic director of the Berlin Jazz Festival. thebluemoment.com

Mark Williams: music editor at IT, contributor in the 70s to Melody Maker, Rolling Stone, Slash, founder of New Music News, Bike and other motorcycle magazines. markswill.wordpress.com

David Toop: author, musician, editor-contributor in the 70s at Musics, Collusion, columnist in the 80s for The Face, long-time contributor to The Wire. Recently published: Into The Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation And The Dream Of Freedom: Before 1970 davidtoopblog.com

Tony Stewart: deputy editor of NME (70s/80s), editor of Sounds, creator/launch editor of Select, managing editor of Rage, till recently assistant editor/columnist Daily Mirror www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/tony-stewart

Bob Stanley:  Author for Faber of the recent Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, performer in St Etienne. http://croydonmunicipal.com/

Jon Savage: Contributor to Sounds, Melody Maker, The Face, author of England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and last year's 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded. http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/jon-savage

Cynthia Rose, contributor to NME (1981-86) and CREEM (US), deputy editor of The Wire, producer MTV Europe; books on music, design, art. www.muchacreative.paris

Penny Reel: on production at IT (60s/70s), writer on reggae and early rock’n’roll for Let It Rock, NME, Black Echoes, Select. www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/penny-reel 

Mark Pringle: former Hothouse guitarist and chief archivist at Rock's Backpages www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/mark-pringle

Edwin Pouncey: cartoonist and writer at Sounds, Forced Exposure and The Wire, artist-author of Trip or Squeek’s Big Amplifier www.savagepencil.com/bio 

Tony Palmer: rock critic at The Observer (1967-74), ‘Notes from the Underground’ column at The Spectator (1969-74), film-maker including acclaimed TV series All You Need Is Love www.tonypalmer.org

Liz Naylor: late 70s co-editor Manchester’s City Fun, contributor to NME and MM (early 80s), writer, promoter, publicist, DJ, label boss, agitator 

Charles Shaar Murray: teenage contributor to Oz (the "schoolkids" issue which led to a notorious court case), NME (70s/80s), author of Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and Post-war Pop and more charlesshaarmurray.com

Paul Morley: staffer at NME 70s/80s, co-founder ZTT Records, author of Ask: The Chatter of Pop, Nothing, and Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/paul-morley

John (aka Jonh) Ingham: contributor to CREEM, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Sounds during punk (first person to interview the Sex Pistols), founded BOMP with Greg Shaw jonh-ingham.blogspot.co.uk

Barney Hoskyns: NME 70s/80s, biographer of The Band and Tom Waits, author of histories of L.A. music, founder and editor of the archive website Rock’s Backpages www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/barney-hoskyns

Jonathon Green: chronicler of the underground, historian of slang, author of Days in the Life, wrote for Friends, IT and Rolling Stone UK jonathongreen.co.uk 

Beverley Glick: wrote as Betty Page for Sounds in late 70s/early 80s, editor of Record Mirror in late 80s. Likely inventor of the term ‘New Romantics’ beverleyglick.com

Paul Gilroy: Professor of American and English Literature at King's College London, author, contributor to The Wire and City Limits in the 80s. www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/english/people/academic/gilroy.aspx

Simon Frith: Tovey Chair of Music at University of Edinburgh, author; wrote for Let It Rock, CREEM, Melody Maker, the Sunday Times, and the Village Voice www.eca.ed.ac.uk/reid-school-of-music/simon-frith 

Nigel Fountain: worked at Idiot International in 1970, contributed to Oz and Let it Rock, worked on Street Life in the 70s. With John Fordham co-edited City Limits in the 80s; author of the history Underground: The London Alternative Press, 1966-74. 

THANKS ARE DUE TO: Savage Pencil for his illustrations, Val Wilmer, Penny Reel and Liz Naylor for letting us into their homes to film them, Psyche Thompson for camerawork, make-up and wise advice, Birkbeck for staging the conference last year (special mention to Esther Leslie, Joe Brooker and everyone who chaired a panel), Rock's Back Pages for invaluable help with contacts, Mark Pilkington at Strange Attractor, Ed Baxter at Resonance Radio, Katie Grocott Murdoch for help with the lettering on the cover, Tim Hopkins for his small-press expertise, everyone who came to the conference (on stage and in the audience), and all friends and colleagues for their input in recent months. Let's make this happen! 

Risks and challenges

Risks:

A: cost overrun, via underpricing of any elements of the project. Quotes were sought in May and June 2016: some will be subject to seasonal variation, but the production, printing and editing fees are agreed and fixed.

In the event of hitting our funding target exactly, the following elements will need to be covered costs-wise:
1: Production of book inc.editing and layout (£1000, price agreed)
2: Printing 1000 copies (£2000, price agreed)
3: Cover and illustrations (£500, price agreed)
4: Editing & admin (£500, price agreed
5: Contributor costs (c.£2500, fixed per contributor)*
6: Kickstarter costs (£900)**
7: Postage (c.£350)***
8: Packaging: 200 padded envelopes (£50)****
9: Rewards: 50 Flashdrives (£300)
10: Rewards: 5 x printing blocks for postcards, coasters, beermats (£75) 11: Rewards: exclusive 3 fanzine package, 20 copies each (£70)
12: Rewards: party costs inc.venue hire and catering (£750)
13: Contingencies (£500 -- unused to be divided among contributors)

*Full contents still to be decided editorially: this allows for c.15 essays
**Kickstarter's cut is a precise proportion relating to number of pledgers and funding achieved. If we raise more, their cut rises in proportion
***Exact postage will depend on proportion of physical books being sent outside the UK. Postage rates have been set to reflect this in the rewards
****Packaging for all physical books being sent out as rewards, plus any extra physical rewards. (The 3-fanzine package will be sent out under separate cover.)

In the event that funding significantly exceeds our targets, some of these numbers will have to be shifted upwards. But intelligent margins have been left; by the time more physical books or packaging or flashdrives are required as rewards, we will easily have raised enough to cover same. (Even if we raise three times the projected target, we will have enough books in this first printing to cover all possible rewards. Books not supplied as rewards will be on sale at select outlets.)

B: delivery of contents. Inevitably, essays and other editorial content not yet written or created will be subject to a degree of change between now and the finalised book. The transcripts from the panels at the conference already exist: these will not be changing. Everyone involved in the creation of this book, from editor and publisher to the many contributors, has years of experience behind them — and this will be reflected in the high quality of the resultant volume.

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    Pledgers at this level will receive ALL ABOVE plus a limited edition reprint EITHER of PRESSURE DROP (Nick Kimberley and Penny Reel's legendary 70s reggae fanzine), OR of Paul Morley's OUT THERE, the publication which led to his hiring by NME in 1976. Both are otherwise unavailable. Please specify which you would like.

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Funding period

- (30 days)