READ ALL ABOUT IT

My back pages. It all started with Sound International, then Noise! and Sounds; The Hit, Underground, OffBeat, Jocks, RAW, Kerrang! Select, Q, MOJO, Mixmag, Ultrakill, Kingsize, many fanzines and a multitude of one-shots.

Damn, just realised I’ve been doing this for years, here’s some of the original Happenstance magazines I did many centuries ago, a pastime that led me to meet The Dillards who, quite plainly, didn’t understand what the magazine was all about…
Fresh faced with The Dillards at the Cambridge Folk Festival
Further Happenstancing – it was all Howe Gelb’s fault
That Dillards’ issue plus more multi-part pieces
Mid 2022 with a story about the third summer of love…

THREE SUMMERS: TRIPS, ULTRAVIOLENCE AND THE LOVE FREQUENCY: THIS IS A LOW

I see it. History unravelled in flashbacks…

That’s me in July 1969, watching the Stones in the park, Hyde Park to be precise. Mick Jagger releasing butterflies from a cardboard box; white butterflies most of which have expired in the heat to become a non-reactive mulch. Jagger flicks his wrist, fly, fly, fly, he commands.

It’s a gesture for peace; it’s the day after Brian Jones, recently sacked from the band, was found drowned in his outdoor swimming pool. He never saw the butterflies. It’s the first summer of love when free concerts just happened and BST in Hyde Park was just a marketing man’s mad idea of how the future world should enjoy music – buy the T shirt! A tote bag, all that stuff. There’s a golden circle, man.

Now, I’m in a queue of traffic, a huge jam on the freeway in upstate New York, gridlocked. There are too many people here and no music. And no food. And rain. It’s still 1969, August to be exact, and an alternative nation has descended on Max Yasgur’s farm – it’s the summer of love Stateside, the Woodstock Festival. There are no toilets, there are naked people. The tannoy says; “Don’t eat the brown acid.” Peace and love prevails.

Meanwhile, in the early morning darkness of August 11, 1969, just west of Dong Ha, in Quang Tri Province, a series of explosions jarred awake the men of the US army artillery base at Thon Vinh Dai. A small number of Viet Cong insurgents had quietly reached the perimeter fence of the base and from there began lobbing mortar shells inside, aiming primarily for howitzer batteries.

I’m not really there. It’s all on the news. I’m actually in the north of England listening to Pick Of The Pops on the radio; Zager And Evans are singing ‘In The Year 2525’, a cautionary tale about the future. Hey, they cajole, if we don’t something about the state of the world we’re all screwed…

In the year 3535,

Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today

Now, it’s 1970 and I’m watching the Woodstock film in all its split screen glory, a year after the event. News doesn’t travel fast. It’s Glastonbury without the fence, a sea of people not able to hear the bands, a pre health and safety debacle with a tail back as far as the eye can see and Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead holding a joint aloft, sticking it to the man, too stoned, we learn years later, to actually perform. It’s a year after LSD has stopped being legal in the States – tell it like it is Jerry.

Now it’s 1971 and I’m back in the same cinema watching the film that all the local newspapers said that young people shouldn’t watch. That’s me looking nervous, I haven’t told my mum where I am. I’m impressionable, mesmerised by A Clockwork Orange. Here, there is no love in the heart of the city, the summer of love is long gone. Ultraviolence, the Korova milk bar, cod pieces, Beethoven, and there’s a new meaning for Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing In The Rain’.

“What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again.”

In this northern enclave people are wearing Prince Of Wales checked trousers and carrying hammers up their sleeve, tooled up, ready for action. They have read the book Skinhead, there is no love for Ludwig Van. The film’s director withdraws it from circulation.

Time clicks on. The Vietnam War officially ends in 1975. Drugs change – everything changes. In the UK, the Summer Of Love isn’t even a memory, in the past two years we’ve endured power cuts and the three day week; the poor are getting poorer. Enter punk rock and that’s me again, screen printing T-shirts and record sleeves, sticking it to the man, like Jerry, fuelled by blueys, three for a pound at the Music Machine. I’m in London now. Yeah. Music is angry, we put up with Thatcher, The Falklands, and eventually world famine and Band Aid. Drugs are an escape and they make the world go faster have no punctuation in sentences and now I’m at the Marquee and Lemmy is trying to sell me some speed and we’re not sleeping and Crass are shouting, shouting, shouting.

Do they owe us a living, course they do, course they do.

Meanwhile in laboratories around the world the use of MDMA and its psychotherapeutic values are back on the agenda.

MDMA allows ordinary defenses against communication and closeness to relax, and permits those involved in its effects to deal with substantive issues. . . . The implications for using this agent in the therapeutic setting are enormous. (Kueny, 1980: 8, 16)

The second summer of love is looming. The availability of Ecstasy opens the door, an explosion of affection and “caring” ignites everywhere. In warehouses, open fields, anywhere. At spontaneous parties two likely lads create the “vibe”. It’s a pre club scene union where a stoner with an arty vision is co-joined to a bloke with a bag of money and a shooter. Two guys driving away with the loot, while the warehouse throbs and sirens wail in the background. They’re parked up just over there with too much money to count. They hold the notes in place between two house bricks and estimate the middle; Tweedle Dee takes his half, “Love you, man.”

Oh, that’s me again, missing the second summer of love! I’m not in the car park, can’t find the acid house. I’m not mad about Baggy, not foreseeing the clubbing excess of the Hacienda, I’m over on the other side of Manchester watching Slayer at the Apollo near City’s old stadium – Maine Road. “Don’t stop the car,” says the band’s agent, “it’s too dangerous around here.” There is no love in the heart of this city. Backstage, Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, the band’s head bobbing twin guitarists chortle as they watch The Simpsons on a video they’ve brought with them. They’re high on life. On the radio, at the stage door, REM sing ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’.

“And I feel fine.”

I never raved. I never took Ecstasy. I always held the summers of love, one or two, at arm’s length. Instead, I went to Hawaii with Megadeth. It’s 1991. That’s me looking pink, my white northern extremeties not coping with the heat. I’m sitting by the pool in our hotel waiting for Dave Mustaine, the band’s leader and former Metallica man, to emerge. He’s on a program where he does everything in 15-minute cycles, a clock-aided attempt to come off heroin. Eventually he’s led out and sits opposite, the band have been on tour in Japan and are heading back to the States, two shows in Honolulu and then, relax. The talk is small and meandering until he leans over and confides: “I’ve invented a new chord.” A new chord? “A new chord, man.”

Now, it’s now and I get a text asking me to write something about the third summer of love. I ponder the past (see above) and realise, it’s all drug-related, these music scenes that happen. The drug of choice leads to the sound of the day; Lemmy’s breakneck metal, Acid House’s perspiring big square little square jerky hand movements, Lou Reed’s ‘Waiting For The Man’, Wigan Casino’s speed wrap and backflips, the Dead’s four-hour jams, prog rock’s downers, Hawkwind’s mushrooms, Mandy’s, Mitsubishi’s.

In the back of my mind, someone is talking about The Rebel’s Apothecary, a book about medicinal mushrooms, not to be confused with mind-altering magic mushrooms, that have been shown to help keep the immune system in balance. Now, that’s me again, in a pub in South London. Maybe it’s 1974. Or five. As an experiment, we boiled some magic mushrooms and are consuming them in batches of seven (who knows?). Now I have super hearing and I can listen in to a conversation on the other side of the room, crystal clear, every word.

“There’s a bomb in the Tower Of London.”

Ouch. Now, it’s now again and I’m listening to a piece of music I’ve downloaded. It’s described as a “deeply freaky piece of queasy, uneasy listening from Roman Hiele (music) and Clodagh Kinsella (text). By turns funny, unsettling, and borderline terrifying, this is ambient music gone through the looking glass. There’s little more beyond a deadpan delivery of an arch, creepy piece of writing about the third summer of love and a looping musical motif that tilts off its axis to become more discordant and dread, but it still hits you like strange chemicals.”

In the dialogue on this opus it’s revealed that “experts have confirmed that the love frequency can increase cell viability by 20% and that it can decrease the toxic effects of ethanol by a percentage that may be unfathomable. To this I raised a glass of ethanol.

“Over the following weeks, the neo hippies did aqua aerobics amid superbly exotic but long extinct fish; they were growing more and more excited as the heavenly vibrations grew greater and greater; they were singing songs not of love but of hate.”

It is uneasy listening for uneasy people. Be warned the comedown from this summer of love is a hangover with its clock ticking. As Turnstile pontificated on their ‘Wild Wrld’ from ‘Glow On’:

Oh, you better hide, outside it’s a mad scene
Stepping on each other with all eyes up on the big screen
Running like we got somewhere to go
Every high is followed with a low, low, low, low

Old School zinery
Mercurial Times #2 at Rough Trade shops June 2021
Pages from Mercurial Times issue one – via Rough Trade shops (May 2021)

Show Me The Money – feature for the July issue of Gigwise magazine

Back in the 1970s it was so easy. Charts on Sunday, three music papers on Wednesday (including a column by John Peel in Sounds), Top Of The Pops on Thursday and out on Friday and Saturday and then; begin again.

The inkies (NME, Sounds and Melody Maker sold around 100,000 copies each back then) championed punk, new wave, new romantic, post-punk, electronica, goth, fraggle, anything. But the arrival of i-D and The Face in the early ‘80s signalled a change; music suddenly wasn’t just about music, it was much more than that. The late Nik Kamen disrobing in a launderette to Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ in 1985 brought music to TV and the launch of MTV Europe a couple of years later changed our understanding of what music could offer and in many cases what songs were actually about. The major record labels spent millions on videos which they gave to MTV for free to promote their record sales which were dwindling. Go figure.

The ‘90s brought us Kurt’s suicide, the MTV Europe Awards on the site of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the KLF burning a million pounds, and the realisation that Prince’s promised 1999 party was invite only. The music business spiralled towards YIIK (the fear that all computers might shut down when time ticked into the year 2000) with the belief that its importance was never in question (after all it had fed the world thanks to Live Aid – although political instability and mismanagement as described in Adam Curtis’s recent Can’t Get You Out Of My Head series suggests another outcome).

Twenty years ago, in 2001 – which was hardly the space odyssey that Stanley Kubrick had depicted, and even further from Major Tom’s oddity as described by David Bowie – the music industry was desperate to think outside of the box, to deliver new ways of selling songs and “their” artists who had increasingly become controlled by elements outside of their jurisdiction. Earth needed new revenue streams but the traditional music industry/record labels wer about to see its revenue severely reduced over the next ten years as sales were cut in half.

Top Of The Pops was fine but to really shift units, you had to aim to get on Terry Wogan on Radio 2 and secure Friday Night With Jonathan Ross. And, if all went well, get papped in the red tops while avoiding too much hate in the fledgling website Popbitch that began to unpick the very stitches that held the industry together.

While Manic Street Preachers flew a battalion of journalists to Cuba and played for Fidel Castro (Nicky Wire: “I hope it isn’t too loud for you”, Fidel: “Nothing is louder than war.”), chart toppers So Solid Crew were dropped by their label after a gang shooting (just after their label boss had bought a car for each member of “da” crew for reaching number one). At the same time, Damon Albarn dispensed with the expensive costs of live performance and created a cartoon band with Tank Girl author Jamie Hewlett. Gorillaz debut would sell a million albums but cost even more to take on tour. While the industry still smarted at their deal with Apple over iTunes – a long running gripe that had been exacerbated following their failure to monetise their relationship with MTV – the iPod was launched and Saturday nights were taken up with Pop Idol and a gladiatorial showdown between Will Young and Gareth Gates.

It was a new decade but the same old story for the music industry. How could they best make money out of music when not only the goalposts were shifting, but the pitch was about to become even more uneven. To clarify, in short, the major labels signed acts and released music. It was high volume and lots of unsuccessful acts died by the sword and were dropped, successful ones shared costs and hopefully got a pay out if sales boomed “once their advance had been recouped”. The band’s songwriters were signed to publishers who collected from the label every time a record was pressed and from broadcasters every time it was played on the radio or TV, in films, or whatever. And the band’s live agent booked them gigs and took a percentage of the fee. The record label didn’t get a cut of the publishing or live revenue but they did pay an advance and would pay “tour support” if that band were promoting a release. As a sweetener, the band could sell merchandise at shows and any money from that was theirs. Keep up, we’ll be asking questions.

Traditionally, that’s how it worked but with so many potential new revenue streams emerging, the major labels decided to offer 360 contracts where, for the advance they offered, artists would give a percentage of everything to the label. Of course, many bands couldn’t survive without an initial advance but hackles were up. Managers (who took a percentage) and lawyers (who took a percentage in many cases) were against it.

The music industry was becoming an even more confusing inter-related world and it was only going to get worse. Now there were musicals to consider (in 2002 We Will Rock You, written by Ben Elton and using the music of Queen opened at the Dominion in London, ka-ching for the songwriters) and TV shows (The Osbournes launched on MTV – ka-ching for the Osbournes) and radio (Kerrang! Radio launched in the Midlands and on Freeview, a year after Kerrang! TV, a brand extension of a magazine, different but vaguely the same – like a Mars Bar ice cream – who’d have thought it possible? Ka-ching for Kerrang!).

It was all a long way from John and Paul writing ‘She Loves You’ in Auntie Mimi’s back bedroom. Music was ubiquitous and in some cases it was being used to underline political viewpoints (the UK received nil points in the Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia in 2003 following the Iraq War), and major artists began to distance themselves from traditional methods of working (in 2004 Elton John started the lengthy Red Piano residency in Las Vegas, while George Michael announced that all future albums would be released online with all money going to charity).

Around the same time MySpace had made it possible for new bands to sell themselves online while old rock dinosaurs re-united for a variety of reasons: Pink Floyd (for Live 8), Cream (allegedly to fund an ailing Ginger Baker), Spice Girls (money?) and Led Zeppelin (to celebrate the life of the late Atlantic Records supremo Ahmet Ertegun). To add further layers to this chaos theory burrowing through music’s tattered business model, Johnny Rotten starred in an ad for butter while Susan Boyle became a worldwide sensation when her video for ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was seen over 200 million times on YouTube following her success on Britain’s Got Talent. It was fast becoming a game of extremes, as evidenced by the vinyl comeback which was initially powered by the indie labels as bands had realised their percentage from a vinyl album was far greater than that of a CD.

The demise of the music press and the arrival of a host of music websites had moved the baton for advised choice into new territory. Algorithms suggested what tracks you might like and music proprietors were everywhere from Amazon to Tesco. The Metacritic site amalgamated many a review but invariably it was someone you’d never heard of from somewhere you’d never heard of that became the source of that five star review that you now trusted.

As Facebook hit a major milestone of 350 million users in 2009 the power to click and go resulted in Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ topping the charts at Christmas, a precursor to a new decade being ushered in where (by 2018) the online community had successfully named a polar exploration vessel Boaty McBoatface. The last ten years have seen global success for Adele, a proliferation of hauntological movie biopics, from Andy Serkis in Sex And Drugs And Rock ‘n’ Roll (2010) to A Star Is Born featuring Lady Gaga (2018) and Elton’s Rocketman (2019). Our understanding of music as an entertainment medium has changed dramatically. No-one is buying one single a week from WH Smith any more. The UK industry declined by 4.8% in 2010 to a value of £3.8bn, but by 2020 it was worth £5.2bn with £1bn of that coming from digital music and £1.5bn from the live market, an area decimated by the pandemic, as highlighted when Nadine Shah revealed in the Guardian earlier this year that she was unable to pay her rent due to the loss of live revenue.

And so to Spotify: Still hurt and frankly not enamoured with that MTV deal and wary of their relationship with Apple, the music industry kept streaming on a low burner to begin with then realised that it was going to be big news so invested in it themselves. This time they were ahead of the game.

“Gone are the days of Top 40, it’s now the Top 43,000” claimed Spotify last year – referring to the fact that the streaming service’s ‘top tier’ of artists – those accounting for the top 10% of its streams – now number more than 43,000, compared to 30,000 a year before.

What does that mean in the big scheme of things? asked MusicAlly.

“The real thing is that there are more relationships being formed to more artists,” said Spotify founder Daniel Ek (before attempting to take over Arsenal football club).

This is something that might just worry the labels – another person carving another bean out of “their” band, although, as NME reported, David Joseph, the chairman and chief executive of Universal Music, told the government inquiry about streaming that artists were “very happy with the investment, very happy with advances” they currently receive, which prompted immediate interruption from the SNP MP John Nicolson.

“I think you’re living in cloud cuckoo land here if you really believe that,” said Nicolson, reported The Guardian.

So, Radiohead complained; and Kate Nash complained; everyone complained. The jury is still out on streaming as the proliferation of potential cash sources continues to grow, but their complexity is fast becoming a minefield that, to some extent, if your company is run by the business analysts, limits creativity.

Over at Beggars Banquet, the parent company that oversees XL, 4AD, Rough Trade, Matador, etc, founder Martin Mills sees his company’s attention to detail (and indeed artists) as key: “We don’t want to be a huge business and we don’t aim to make huge profits, though we don’t mind it if we do. We just aim to put out great music and do it well. And we’ll continue to grow as our artists do.”

Makes sense but they do have Adele if anything goes wrong. it’s not easy. Most labels are public companies with a duty to shareholders, so it’s a tough balancing act between investors and the creative arts that supply the saleable commodity. With the demise of EMI in the past ten years, the big three (Warner, Universal and Sony) have been juggling in an ever-changing medium judged by millions rather than a gaggle of unkempt journalists who invariably never made it themselves. At a time when AI content in the style of Eminem at Coachella in 2018 has become yet another potential medium to be explored, the question is, who owns what? Who can monetise it best? What are the brand offshoots from that experience? With so many new acts, do we really need old acts blown up to the size of a tower block? And when will that virtual festival featuring Tupac, Jimi and Kurt actually happen?

We wait with bated breath at the merchandise stand.

Dave Henderson, 2021

Still going nowhere fast
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