I blame Robert Zemeckis.
At the end of the monumental hit movie Back to the Future, as a joke, the time-travelling Delorean containing Doc Brown and Marty McFly alongside Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer, takes off and zooms into the year 2015. Doc utters the words “roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!” and the credits roll. The creators of the film never intended to make a sequel and ending the Back to the Future in this way created problems they’d struggle with once a sequel became inevitable, problems being the flying vehicle, and the presence of Marty’s girlfriend.
The second any film goes into the future, the makers are on a hiding to nothing because the majority of the future we see will be guess work. We are still waiting for a motorway in the sky and flying cars, for instance, but multi channel television screens are a thing, house security is pretty much where they said it would be and we had enough fun pubs in the nineties to show you the cafe 80’s looked positively prophetic.
One of the major plot points centres around a sports almanac Marty buys in an ‘antique’ store. In Hill Valley of 2015, books and magazines are considered artefacts of a bygone age. We watched that at the time and we thought it was funny.
Something hit me this week, and I cannot find it funny anymore. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s speculative stare towards the year 2015 from chairs planted firmly on a film set in the 1980’s hit home. From this week, Q Magazine is no more.
Q Magazine published the final issue on the 28th July. I have to be careful about this because we could venture into old man yells at cloud territory. So let’s be clear about things before we get too deep into the voulevants at the Q wake; Music journalism will continue, it has gone online and will continue to be available online, readers can happily scroll down their phones and get an experience from what they read. This is where we are. Television is streamed, books are on digital tablets, music is rented from a cloud owned by fruit and only the good die on the hill to collect, to hold and to keep any of it. All of those writers are talented and will be able to go elsewhere, perhaps if we are very lucky, new magazines will rise up from the ashes of the departed title. Maybe. Definitely maybe.
The final Q Magazine feels like the end of something. Something big. Pass me the plate of voulevants while we mourn its passing.
I’ve been in a relationship with writing since I can remember, I was never interested in playing football but I loved reading about the matches I watched. I loved reading how the writer turned the action I saw in person into paragraphs for the back page of a newspaper. I loved knowing what that manager said before his side played the one I supported, and I loved knowing what he said after his side played them. Those words were just as crucial to my experience as the action itself.
When I discovered the same happened in the music press, my world was complete.
In 1974 a music critic wrote a piece called “Growing Young With Rock and Roll” for The Real Paper, in which he exclaimed joyously “I saw my rock ‘n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else; I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,”
Just imagine reading that line, about a guy you’ve never heard of, it’s lightning in a bottle. If the writer does their job right then the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck stand up and more information must be found.
The writers and the sentences changed and the performers described within those sentences changed too but music journalism has long been a trusty ally in a reader’s journey to finding ‘their band’.
The critic in question in 1974 was Jon Landau, the man would eventually become Springsteen’s confidante, record producer and manager.
I was given the gift of Bruce Springsteen by my parents, and I watched his interviews religiously, I’m fairly sure if I had to reel off his 80’s interviews with David Hepworth, I could do it because I absorbed them. I needed to know what he thought about everything, I needed to know why he thought everything, and lyrically I could not get enough. The words he spoke about the words he sang were everything I needed. When the time came and I was old enough to go and see him in person live in concert, I knew what he thought about the music he was asking me to listen to.
While his words and his explanations in interviews were crucial to me, Springsteen himself has had a love hate relationship with written words about him.
Early in his career he was touted as the ‘next big thing’ and felt as though if he got on that particular rollercoaster it would throw him in uncomfortable directions at speed. When the momentous offer was made to him to appear on both Time and Newsweek in the same week he had misgivings about it, but in October 1975 the issues hit the streets. Their publication came hot on the heels of the release of his third album Born to Run, a masterpiece crafted by a musician who knew he had to come up with the goods following two underwhelming previous releases.
Newsweek said that Bruce had “exploded into a genuine pop-music phenomenon” and debated whether he would handle the spotlight. Time said he was “rock’s new sensation” and called him a “glorified gutter rat”. His bandmates seemed to be very confident that doing the interviews for both magazines and therefore being on the covers of both magazines would only yield positive results for all concerned. Bruce was nervous, feeling that the attention was too heavy. He wasn’t entirely wrong, in November 1975 when he arrived in England to play at the Hammersmith Odeon on the Born to Run tour he ripped down a lot of the posters and hated the proclamation that “finally London was ready for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band”.
Bruce wanted the music to speak for itself, and he was certain that coming to the birthplace of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones announced as the future of Rock n Roll wasn’t the best course of action.
In the fullness of time the ‘gutter rat’ had nothing to worry about.
Though Bruce Springsteen rejected certain aspects of the written music media the fact remains those outside of the bubble were correct. Springsteen was rock ‘n’ roll’s future then as much as he is a guardian of its legacy now. As for David Hepworth, the man at the receiving end of all of Springsteen’s insight, he contributed to music magazines and launched amongst others, Q Magazine. What is past is prologue.
Music has to speak to the listener, if they don’t connect on some level to what they are hearing then it is game over. The other side of that coin is that when the music does speak to you and you claim the band or performer as yours, it’s a contract you sign with the artists hopefully, though not necessarily, for life.
“When you’re in love with a band and they then have their imperial moment, it’s the greatest thing”, this was Johnny Marr in Q345 (April, 2015) talking about T Rex and what the release of The Slider meant to him. He’d go on to talk about Bolan, The Slider, Metal Guru and his love for Bai Mudan tea, “the golden rock ‘n’ roll elixr” in Q from January 2016.
Mark Ronson says that “Two worlds bridged” when he first heard the Stone Roses’ Fools Gold. “In some ways DJing in hip hop clubs and playing records like Back in Black by AC/DC I was always thinking, ‘How can I bridge this? How can I make people see this has the same thing or at least make them flow together’.” (Q345, April 2015).
That’s how it happens. That’s how the lightning strikes you, That’s how everything can change. Someone randomly flicking through the Q Magazine they bought because whoever was on the cover, gets to hear about Fools Gold, because Mark Ronson says it was crucial to him becoming the artist he became. Roll up folks, come for the cover artist, stay for a Ronson mention and eventually listen to the downright religious Stone Roses’ debut album for the first time.
The magazine the reader holds in their hand is potentially a ticket to ride in any direction, the pages we flicked through and the words printed on them could change everything.
The Killers’ debut album Hot Fuss got a lot of people talking upon its release. All due praise should also be given to Kate Finnigan from Q216 (July 2004) when she wrote that “somewhere in a parallel universe Molly Ringwald is running down a high school corridor to the sound of The Killers and that is no bad thing”.
In the same issue Peter Kane writes what the ‘bad thing’ might look like. In his review for The Corrs album, Borrowed Heaven he writes that the music makes “soft rock savants Fleetwood Mac and Heart sound like card-carrying revolutionaries, that is not a good thing.” Heaven and Hell dissected on a plate for the reader’s consumption, in the same music publication. How very kind of Q Magazine that was.
I don’t know how many readers based their opinion of a particular album, on the opinion of the review writer in the magazine but it would be unfair to say that no-one did that. For some, they liked the music they liked and simply looked to Q to provide a bridge between their music and the image, and Q was on hand to provide that service. Nick Duerden wrote an early Courteeners piece in October 2008 (Q267) where he wrote about what he described as frontman Liam Fray’s Mancunian accent, Liam Gallagher ‘impersonation’ and Fray’s own opinion that he fronted a “fucking legendary band, mate” before concluding;
“What Q thinks but doesn’t say is that one of the best things about Alex Turner’s gift is that he doesn’t feel the need to crow about it. But then Alex Turner is from Sheffield and Liam Fray is from Manchester where self aggrandising self belief is practically mandatory.”
The Courteeners to this day have a congregation which they play to and a group of people stood outside the church wondering what all the fuss is about. There is a them against us, backs to the wall, bunker attitude with the band but it’s very very simple, either you like their music or you don’t.
The geographical argument is often thrown at them but it;s too lazy to imply they are a northern band for northerners, given that Fray soaks in influences from all over the UK and Europe (notably Paris). The Courteeners sell out, people go wherever they are playing, and their music speaks to people. By all available measures they are phenomenal, yet they are as dismissed as easily today as they were in the Q article in 2008. “We’re your band, we’re not theirs”, said Fray to the crowd at the Castlefield bowl in 2012, situation normal. Whether the stance was proactive from the band or reactive to pieces in magazines like Q, I don’t think we will know for sure but it’s a head scratcher if you want it to be.
A band’s invisibility in Manchester is nothing new, it’s something Tony Wilson battled when working with Joy Division. It’s something NME journalist Paul Morley and NME photographer Kevin Cummings constantly had to work against as Manchester based people working for a London based publication. The North West can act as a sort of Harry Potter-eqse cloak, hiding the work from the prying ears of that London crowd, until the noise from the North is deafening and cannot be dismissed.
Oasis were a band that created such a noise, a rumbling deafening noise which took them from the dole office to the summit of the mountain as the best band in Britain.
“I stood at Knebworth and watched Oasis, I turned to Alan McGee and said ‘This is it, the battle has been won’. It seemed that throughout that time in the 80’s when we were putting on bands in little clubs or doing fanzines or flexi discs, just trying to get an article on a small band in the music press – everything that had been done was finalised at Knebworth. Here was the greatest band in the world, the biggest band in the world, and for once the biggest band in the world was the best band in the world.”
James Brown, editor, Loaded Magazine.
Oasis were a perfect example of image meeting product. As important as Cigarettes and Alcohol, and Supersonic were to a nation of young people at the time, knowing who Oasis were behind all that was equally as vital. The Gallagher brothers faced accusations of being too opinionated, self confident, arrogant and brash and they did not care, when they hit back they did so in stereo. After all, had anyone else just written Live Forever? No, they had not.
Noel Gallagher later saId he welcomed the spotlight and the platform to be able to tell everyone how good his band was after the release of Definitely Maybe, because he knew how good the next batch of songs were. Knowing you have Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back in Anger, and Champagne Supernova in your back pocket would give anyone the confidence, when they said they were good enough to take the crown, they spoke the truth.
Following the demise of Oasis Noel and Liam continued to provide must-read copy for any journalist that sat down with them. A lot of the time the source of quotable gold came from the strained or non existent relationship between the pair of them. Noel has been definitive on the subject of getting the band back together, “not even for starving children” (Q316, November 2012), certainly doesn’t straddle any fences or leave wiggle room. In March 2015 he told Q “there’s only so many times you can say no!” and “Michael Eavis (Glastonbury festival chief) hasn’t got enough money”.
This is a hill Noel Gallagher will have to continually die upon, despite the fact that both he and Liam have successful solo careers, in December 2017 (Q379) Noel said he had “no unfinished buisness” with Oasis, adding “we did it, we fucking did it and then some, it’s done.”
By the time you are reading this, the final issue of Q Magazine will have been published and the world of music press will look different. Youngsters finding music might not do so flicking through actual physical pages in an actual print and paper magazine. They will still have ‘their’ people though, they will still thirst for the opinions of their people, they will still find idols in the world and hear their message. The vehicle that message takes towards the fans has changed, but the wheel doesn’t stop spinning.
Q Magazine, once of this parish, leaves behind a lot of inspired people; those inspired to write, inspired to rock, inspired to create. I hope the next generation of fanatics find something as crucial to them as Q was to us. As I sit and look at the piles and piles of music magazines I went though to write this love letter, I do wonder what my nephew will make of it all. He is three years old. One day he will inherit all of it; every LP, every CD, every disc and every magazine and he’ll look at me like I’m mad for keeping it all and I’ll sit him down and tell him that he lives about then minutes from the site of a legendary Joy Division concert that collapsed into a riot.
Noel Gallagher has similar musings.
“I do wonder what my five year old lad’s relationship to music is going to be. When they’re reading the will out – “And I bequeath to you, Donovan, 14,000 vinyl records” which Gallagher confirms will include “the La’s 10 inch that was deleted on the day it was bought.”
“Sell it, not arsed. Fuck that, it’s taking up room” is what Noel imagines his son’s response to be. (Q316)
I didn’t want to shake my fist at a cloud, I didn’t want to tell the ‘younguns’ to get off my lawn and leave me to watch my stories. But the pages of that magazine and others like it, they were my stories. I was as desperate for the interview I’d read in the build up to an album as I was for the music I’d listen to once the album was released. Noel, Liam, Iggy, David, Bruce, Johnny, looking down at me like the face of God from the Newsagent shelf made my absolute day.
My nephew will be able to find digital copies of every word Q ever published about anything, instantly. If a band plays a song in Gulgong, Australia he’ll know within seconds, and I’ll be in the background shaking my fist at a cloud because he’s not turning the pages of a magazine he’s holding in his hands.
And just like that I realise I’m old Marty McFly, from 1985, stumbling wide eyed around ‘the future’ of 2015 as some kid looks clueless at a shoot em up arcade game with a gun. Marty is of course a crack shot and flawlessly demonstrates how to play the game, before putting the gun in the console’s holster.
The kid doesn’t look impressed.
“You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy!”
I blame Robert Zemeckis.
For Aydan, Che and those who yell at clouds, wherever you may be.
© 2020. Simon Andrew Moult / Moultymedia.