The reasons for putting this series of thoughts down on paper come from a “straw that breaks the camels back” moment. This particular straw was a conversation off air at a radio show with blues champion and radio presenter Ian O’Regan and the camel was to do with how my music writing is perceived by the wider public. It was the first time that we had met, though we were both familiar with each other’s work and he made the point that he had read a lot of my music reviews and that they were never anything but positive. Wouldn’t it be better to take a more critical approach? A very valid point. My initial and totally truthful response was that I write mostly for PR companies these days so by their very nature they are positive rather than critical, though I stop short of puff pieces and do try to analyse why the music is important rather than just sing its praises. But then like George Orwell said “journalism is printing what someone else does-not want printed everything else is public relations, ” and so it begs the question of what sort of writer I actually want to be.
That said trying to champion the cause of local music is often more of a public relation exercise than anything else. Often you are called to glorify music and events that are very ordinary, review for general consumption bands who think that they are The Velvet Underground when they are little more than Coldplay tracks that didn’t make the album. So there may be nothing wrong with trying to excite the punter enough for them to set aside their 6 for £7.99 lager, TV dinner and the latest happenings in the tawdry world of Geordie Shore (who as we all know was George Bernard’s northern cousin) and check out some live music, but is that all I want my writing to be.
There was a time when I did attempt more scathing reviews, phrases along the lines of “with vocals flatter than Norfolk” and “ a band so beige you could upholster the inside of a Ford Mondeo with it” were often dished out. I was soon to find that writing such lines from the ivory tower of a London music magazine was one thing, finding yourself sat in a bar with the people who received such words was not. I’m sure if you are a band locked into the endless routine of recording, touring, being reviewed etc. etc. you take bad press as all part of the game. When you are a guy who works in Carphone Warehouse and your metal band has received only one review ever, which was less than glowing and the guy who wrote it is sat three bar stools along from you, it’s a different can of worms and you are going to open it.
I had one rock band bassist threaten to burn my flat down with me in it, made all the more worrying that he knew I lived in a flat rather than a house at the time. I had friends of one promoter suggest that frequenting a venue I had criticised would probably result in me getting hurt, again a predominantly old school rock establishment. Maybe I just have this effect on the rock fraternity. So I slowly moved into more PR type pieces and avoided the controversy. Not that it has completely gone away. I write a local gig guide and make know bones about the fact that I favour original bands. I feel that tribute and cover bands already sell themselves. After all what can you say about a good Bon Jovi tribute act? They are so good that they sound just like Bon Jovi, though why you would want to escapes me. The minimum expectation and the maximum expectation of their act is virtually the same. Original bands, I feel, need selling to the public and so I tend to dedicate more space to trying to describe what they do. This has been misconstrued, often wilfully, to suggest I have some sort of grudge against non-original music. This isn’t the case; it’s just not for me. Do people attack me for preferring to read Iain Sinclair to Dan Brown? Do people square up to me for extolling the virtues of Cloud Atlas or On The Road over Harry Potter or Twilight? No, so why should it be the case with music? But should I point out that the town has two many cover bands playing the same unimaginative catalogue or that not everyone wants to see an Iron Maiden Tribute band every weekend and certain quarters act as if I have just publically pissed on a photograph of Jessica Ennis.
The problem is the “voice” you hear in my writing isn’t me. It’s a PR job, mainly, and I was thinking about this last night as I was wandering home from a gig with a couple of sweet sherry’s coursing through my veins. My Road to Damascus moment actually took place somewhere between Beckhampton Street and York Road, nowhere near Syria at all actually and probably for the best. After a few weeks re-reading the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Lester Bangs and the deconstructive, analytical and wonderfully challenging scripts of Stewart Lee (from which this piece gets it’s title) I realised that I need to find my own voice through my writing and this blog could be the outlet for the real me, as it were, or at least a different version of me.
So hopefully some of the stuff you read here in the future will be more critical, biting, hopefully funny and more in keeping with my actual thoughts of the world around me through lashings of sarcasm and irony but ultimately my own personal truth. Sounds like the start of a bumpy ride but as Napoleon said at the battle of Hastings…once more unto the beach dear friends…or something.