In response to an earlier blog, a generous comment from Johnny Black resurrected the ghost of a magazine I thought I’d laid to rest some 29 years ago. This then prompted some rummaging around in dusty cardboard boxes for now yellowed copies of the troublesome little bugger that had briefly wrested control of the weekly music press away from the corporates and, uncoincidentally, provoked a nervous breakdown for yrs. trly. And reading them again filled me with an unexpected pride and the urge to record the genesis of what actually wasn’t such a bad little rag.
Back in the late ‘70s, some of Rock’s Back Pages’ more noble scribes wrote for NME and Melody Maker, both owned by the mighty IPC, and wage negotiations with their full-time staffers having deadlocked in early 1980, the company exhibited their consummate negotiating skills by locking them out of their offices, effectively ceasing publication. In those days much of my income came from the stuff I wrote every week for MM as a contracted freelancer, although I hadn’t been a party to the stymied negotiations and of course didn’t qualify for the NUJ’s strike pay as I wasn’t a union member (I’d tried to join, but had been refused… which is a whole ‘nother ball of wax).
As someone who’d cut my chops on the – to say the least – nonconformist underground press (as Music Editor of International Times) and more recently the maverick outfit spawned from the ashes of Oz magazine, namely Felix Dennis’s H. Bunch Assoc. of which I was also a director, my reaction both ideologically and financially was to seize IPC’s obduracy as an opportunity. It took a Thursday night drink with my fellow directors to convince them that we could launch a replacement for the absent NME and MM and get it out seven days later and, extraordinarily enough, we did.
Working out of already crowded offices just off Oxford Street where I was already nominally publisher of Which Bike?, a motorcycle magazine I’d launched two years earlier, we converted the basement into a studio-cum-newsroom the next day and effectively introduced a nightshift for the core staff of what would become New Music News. And most of them, like me, were refugees from the underground press, e.g. art director George Snow (Oz), production manager Dick Pountain (Ink and Black Dwarf) and senior contributor Miles (It).
Unsurprisingly perhaps, some of my MM and NME colleagues were happy to moonlight from their now non-existent jobs, although canny enough not to use their real bylines, and equally unsurprisingly, record companies were quite keen to shift ad. revenues into our coffers that would’ve otherwise gone into IPC’s.
Getting the new mag distributed to all the newsagents that hitherto stocked the established weeklies was a rather taller order for Moore-Harness, the distributors who’d also grown out of the underground press, but they pulled out as many of the stops as they had at their disposal (which involved an awful lot of drink buying). Meanwhile the atmosphere at Rathbone Place was an adrenalin- and possibly substance-fuelled reverie approaching frenzy. There was a very real sense that we were about to undermine the power of the big boys, just as we’d done with Personal Computer World (VNU) and Which Bike? (EMAP), and that piratical incentive made the ensuing 24/7 work schedule somehow worthwhile.
Initially NMN was a pretty scrappy affair with no clear policy other than a certain sardonic, often self-deprecating humour, e.g. the jokes that appeared at the bottom of every page such as ‘I thought hacks were cough sweets before I discovered NMN’, and the transposition of my borderline scurrilous ‘After Midnight’ column from MM into ‘Before Dawn’ in NMN, bylined The Thumbed Nose. Otherwise we just published what features, news and reviews I could get written at virtually no notice, although as the weeks went by and it became clear that IPC were standing (reasonably) firm, a little more planning and editorial discrimination kicked in.
Of course it could never last and as NMN’s circulation pushed 60,000 after nine issues, IPC realised that they were losing revenue and possibly reader loyalty to the bratty upstart, so they eventually settled with their NUJ journos. At that point I wanted to shut up shop, not least because many of our writers, advertisers, and of course readers would obviously abandon us in favour of a more certain future and also I was completely and utterly knackered. This led to a major showdown with Felix D. – always a daunting adversary in any debate, especially when he’s had a lot more sleep than you – who wanted it to carry on. In the event he won, I resigned, he bought out my interests in the company and knowing that I’d never write for Melody Maker again, I went off to L.A. to work for Slash magazine and the fledgling record company of the same name.
The late Giovanni Dadomo and others carried on with NMN for six more issues by which time I was ultimately vindicated commercially but in no way smug, for by then the newspaper had actually established a jaunty identity that had its competition not returned, might’ve carried it through to the digital age.