Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Spirit of the Fanzine

Our radio show is a product of the fanzine generation. Passionate, homespun, authentic and sometimes a bit seat of our pants. 

I was reminded of this last week when I went to a talk in Manchester with the force of nature that is John Robb.

As well as the front man for the band Goldblade, John is a clarion for music in Manchester arguably invented the term Britpop and was the first music writer in Europe to interview Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

At a talk in Manchester hosted by my friend James Torry from Doodledo he conveyed how just as enthusiastic now as he was then. His website called Louder Than War is an outlet for his first-rate music journalism. 

He started as a fanzine writer, as did me and Neil. 

I actually first met Neil when he was editing a magazine that started as a fanzine and became a gloriously smart menswear journal. Though I’ve had a decent career in journalism, my first baby steps on that journey weren’t an internship at a newspaper or a traineeship at the BBC, but on getting out a Letraset, a battered typewriter, some glue and a pair of scissors to cut bits out of newspapers and magazines to make a fanzine.

I’m probably the only winner of Private Equity Journalist of the Year (2006 and 2007) to have edited a fanzine.

It was 1982, I was 16, a bleach blonde haired sixth former with a bag full of attitude and riding that strange wave between punk and football lads, taking in a range of influences from music, politics, and the terraces.

I would pick up these crudely photocopied mad collections of random thoughts and ideas, usually sold outside gigs in Leeds or Manchester, but occasionally in record shops like Piccadilly in Manchester or Probe in Liverpool.

In Leeds I bought one called Molotov Comics, featuring lots of poetry and swearing, and was sold by a skinhead called Swells. Another was called Attack on Bzag which was enthusiastically marketed by a skinny lad with curly hair by the name of James Brown, who went on to be the editor of lads mag Loaded (when it was good).   

Over in Liverpool, I was absolutely mesmerised by The End, due to its sassy writing, its left-wing politics, and the crossover with football terrace fashion. That was produced by the lads that ended up forming a band called The Farm.

I was inspired to start my own. It was called Positive Feedback, it had some good bits in it, but I lacked the confidence and the contacts to really develop a distinctive style.

I grew up in Lancaster, we had a little bit of a music scene, partly because of the students at university and a decent club called the Sugarhouse which a fake student ID used to get me into most Saturdays.

We also had a brilliant record shop, Ear Ere, which as well as being a hive of great sounds they’d also support fanzines. People bought the first two issues and it was an important part of my origins story. 

Fanzines were part of a network, the underground, people who could help one another, and so I got a call at home one day from a guy in a band called the Membranes from Blackpool who wanted to know if I could help him get a gig in Morecambe or Lancaster. I couldn’t, but as is the way, I think I told him to try the lads at Ear Ere.

I recalled that conversation, that self-help, DIY attitude. I often get asked for career advice by students and young people. I can only tell my own truth, but in an era when there are social media, video, and blogging tools freely available the spirit of the fanzine lives on. You just have to use what’s available.   

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