Saturday, October 03, 2009

In a parallel universe

I used to write about music, film, arts and fashion. Seriously. I was the editor of a fashion magazine in Australia (sic) for six months. I fell into business journalism by necessity for a job, rather than a calculated career diversion. But I've always essentially been a sociologist. What I do is basically tell stories about people, the links they make with other people and why they do what they do.

Back in the day - in Perth, Western Australia, where I peddled the music and fashion thing - the pop star interviews were tightly controlled by PRs and were often pretty flimsy. The Proclaimers flounced out of my phone interview because the previous hack offended them. One band wore their shades indoors, but I had turned up to interview them still drunk from the night before and it was a bit of a fiasco. Ben Elton was lovely. I could go on. I do sometimes wonder what may have happened if I'd thrown myself into music journalism instead, but not with any regrets.

Yesterday, for reasons far too complicated to explain, I interviewed a lad called Phil Etheridge from Birmingham indie band The Twang. He was good fun. He was very passionate, knew his music, but was a bit angry and introduced me to a new word I'd never heard before, which wasn't even in Urban Dictionary (though it might be now, ahem). The context was "slagged it off". (I've since heard Danny Dyer and Nick Love use the same phrase on the DVD track of violent vigilante flick, Outlaw).

I enjoyed our conversation, appreciated his honesty (and swearing) and got a decent piece out of it, mainly about Birmingham. Anyway, I had barely had time to listen to 4 tracks by the time we spoke. I read the press release for the tour, did a ten minute Google search and asked the anoraks in the office about them. I have to say I liked his music and reckon they would be a good live band. They've been compared to the Happy Mondays (which I can't see at all) but they are melodic and doff a bit of a cap to The Streets, Cast, Shed Seven and early Charlatans (showing my age here). But I've now filed a two page spread based on nothing at all really.

But much as I enjoyed the nostalgic novelty of dabbling in music journalism after all this time, there was a sadness about it. And a relief it's not a world I inhabit. For a start the interview was a nightmare to sort out. Once I'd got his mobile number it only took three calls to get through. But Phil only answered the phone because he was lost and thought I was someone who could direct him to the dressing room at the venue in Derby. There are different PR people for different parts of their lives - tour, CD, local, national and Phil had no recollection of being told I was ringing him. But, to be fair, he was great value.

He was sore about "some cock end of a journalist" which revealed that rather seedy and virulent nastiness in music journalism. In business you tend to pick your targets: scoundrels and crooks. In music and film there is such a jealous back channel going on. So much building up and over hype, then a massive backlash of spite. Phil is feeling this now. I'm not qualified after one listen to dismiss this man's album or praise it. It may catch on, I may add it to my pile of "never quite got into that" music (The Coral, Beth Orton, Saint Etienne). But what I could never do is put my name to a hastily cobbled together review that utterly dismisses the efforts of these lads - over a year or more - to record an album, play it in front of appreciative festival audiences and then to go on tour. I think I made the correct career turn in 1989.

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