Pat Long was an assistant editor of The New Musical Express and like many of my friends has had a love hate relationship with the magazine/newspaper for many years. This is timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the paper, but as Long explains, the paper has roots in a much darker place indeed, that being the lamentable scourge of the accordion music mania that gripped Britain in the 1930's. As tastes thankfully developed, the music coverage had to change too and `The Musical Express' took over `The Accordion Times' to cater to more modern tastes like Jazz and the Big Bands- and not before time if you ask me.
We move on to 1952 when the paper was taken over and re launched with the added `New' in the title and when it started covering rock and roll types who used hair product, wore strange clothes and used language that their parents could not quite get - how times have changed!
Long takes us on a spell binding journey through the life of NME and it is told through the people who wrote for it and their influences as much as trying to record what the paper was and is. The constant animosity with `Melody Maker', the drugs excess, that started almost from the start, the devastating effect that the changing fashion in `drug of choice' would have on the writers and pop stars and the love ins and fall outs with some notable names from music. The tit for tat stuff that went on. Nick Cave writing a song full of hate after a lack lustre review, death threats, the politics and the self delusional pretence that they were an underground paper, when they got their pay checks from the `media corporate whore' that is IPC . The extent of IPC's crimes can only fully be realised when you see some of the so called `magazines' they produce; we have `Golf Monthly', `Super Yacht World', `Woman and Home' and wait for it `Amateur Gardening', these are NMEs bed fellows.
The ups and downs are measured by the staff in terms of their `coolness' and being as big as the people they write about, but IPC sort of used sales figures in a pathetic attempt to inject some capitalist fervour into what we all felt was a left wing agitator mag, that also covered stuff by `Flowered Up' and `Dumpy's Rusty Nuts' and `The Slits'.
The fortunes of the paper act almost like a barometer for the state of the country, with the next big thing always being hotly anticipated and or created by the NME. So we go through the sixties hippydom, the nadir of taste that most prog rock brought us, to the exuberant glam of the seventies, that rumbled into disco. Then the break NME needed with punk, but the bubble burst soon after and despite taking on new talent like Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill, the curve died even when the NME was just in front of it.
There is some retelling of events that I was at like `Madstock' (Finsbury Park North London)and the Morrissey wears a Union Jack incident. Long doesn't mention that he cancelled the second day, which was a Sunday and the Smiths/Morrissey fan club all turned up on coaches from Manchester and they would not believe us (I was a steward) when we told them that `rock legends' - `The Farm' were playing instead (tragic and funny in equal measures). We also have grunge and the betrayal of Kurt Cobain and then move onto Brit pop. The book ends at the year 2000, with an epilogue bringing us up to date. Pat Long has done a labour of love; this is extremely well written and researched. More than that it is absolutely engrossing and very human. There are stories that will make you laugh (Swells' favourite band) and cry the tale of Nick Kent and stuff you knew nothing about, like Michael Winner once wrote for them.
I utterly loved this book and can only commend it in the highest terms, it helps if you loved the paper and or music or indeed music journalism, but what is great to see is it is grounded, mostly, in the real and ever changing world.