Sunday, July 29, 2012

36 Rules For Bands - The Wit of Steely Dan

The second of two lists originally posted on the Steely Dan website in the 90s. Enjoy

1. Never start a trio with a married couple.
2. Your manager's not helping you. Fire him/her.
3. Before you sign a record deal, look up the word "recoupable" in the dictionary.
4. No one cares who you've opened for.
5. A string section does not make your songs sound any more "important".
6. If your band has gone through more than 4 bass players, it's time to break up.
7. When you talk on stage you are never funny.
8. If you sound like another band, don't act like you're unfamiliar with their music ("Oh does Rage Against The Machine also do rap-rock with political lyrics?")
9. Asking a crowd how they're doing is just amplified small talk. Don't do it.
10. Don't say your video's being played if it's only on the Austin Music Network.
11. When you sign to a major label, claim to have inked the best contract ever. Mention "artistic freedom" and "a guaranteed 3 record deal".
12. When you get dropped insist that it was the worst contract ever and you asked to be let go.
13.Never name a song after your band.
14. Never name your band after a song.
15. When a drummer brings in his own songs and asks to perform one of them, begin looking for a new drummer IMMEDIATELY.
16. Never enter a "battle of the bands" contest. If you do you're already a loser.
17. Learn to recognize scary word pairings: "rock opera", "white rapper", "blues jam", "swing band", "open mike", etc.
18. Drummers can take off their shirts or they can wear gloves, but not both.
19. Listen, either break it to your parents or we will; it's rock 'n' roll, not a soccer game. They've gotta stop coming to your shows.
20. It's not a "showcase". It's a gig that doesn't pay.
21. No one cares that you have a web site.
22. Getting a tattoo is like sewing platform shoes to your feet.
23. Don't hire a publicist.
24. Playing in San Marcos & Alpine doesn't mean you're on tour.
25. Don't join a cover band that plays Bush songs. In fact, don't join a cover band.
26. Although they come in different styles and colours, electric guitars all sound the same. Why do you keep changing them between songs?
27. Don't stop your set to ask that beers be brought up. That's what girlfriends/boyfriends are for.
28. If you use a smoke machine, your music sucks.
29. We can tell the difference between a professionally produced album cover and one you made with the iMac your mom got for Christmas.
30. Remember, if blues solos are so difficult, why can so many 16 year olds play them?
31. If you ever take a publicity photo, destroy it. You may never know where or when it will turn up.
32. Cut your hair, but do not shave your head.
33. Pierce your nose, but not your eyebrow.
34. Do not wear shorts onstage. Or a suit. Or a hat.
35. Rock oxymorons; "major label interest", "demo deal"," blues genius", "$500 guarantee", and "Fastball's second hit".
36. 3 things that are never coming back: a)gongs, b)headbands, and c)playing slide guitar with a beer bottle.

Expressions to avoid during a recording session

I was reminded of this list by a thread about Steely Dan on the Afterword Blog. When SD reformed in the 1990s, their website was an extension of Fagen and Becker's sardonic humour. This list appeared on the site, together with things like '36 Rules for Bands'. Anyone who has been in a band, or in a studio, should get a laugh or two out of this.

During A Recording Session

1.     Ready, Freddie (pronounced red-eye fred-eye)
2.     Bingo, gringo
3.     Uno, Bruno
4.     The phones sound O.K. but I need more of myself
5.     We won't need a click
6.     I like what you're trying to do but not the way you're doing it
7.     An excellent first attempt
8.     Was that the sound you had on the demo?
9.     Make the click louder
10. That was a pretty good take for this time of night
11. If you want the tempo any brighter than that, we better wait for a sunny day
12. No dynamics? We're playing as loud as we can
13. I think that's a pretty good sounding take for what were getting paid..
14. That was great, let's do it again
15. Is that about as tight as you boys want to get it?
16. Is it possible the click is speeding up?
17. I'm at the point where I'm making dumb mistakes - before I was making much smarter mistakes
18. So many drummers, so little time
19. Why don't we do the double first and the lead will be easier to get once we've got the double
20. I never had this problem when I was being produced by Lenny and Russ
21. We got some things, we need some things
22. Fabulous
23. Punch in at the section
24. You can't make ice cream out of shit
25. You can't polish a turd
26. Just let your spirit soar
27. My spirit's already sore from the last thirty takes...
28. Close
29. Less is more
30. Less is Paul
31. Less is Brown
32. Less is less
33. That's the way I've been playing it all along
34. I just wish I could get a whole band that sounds as good as I do
35. This will be a great opportunity for me to show off my chop
36. Let's hear the bass, if you can call it that
37. Does your amp have an underdrive channel?
38. You can erase that one, I remember exactly what I played
39. We'll catch that in the mix
40. You guys can fix that in Soundtools, right?
41. I brought my kid along, he's never been in a recording studio before
42. My girlfriend sings great background vocals
43. I know a great drummer
44. You guys want to try some heroin?
45. Your girlfriend's been in the bathroom a long time
46. Please, man, stay away from my faxes, okay?
47. I'm not going to be any more dishonest with you than I am with Donald
48. I'd like a little more of a live feeling on this tune.
49. I also play eleven other instruments
50. Sorry I'm late, I just got through with my blood test (or CAT scan)
51. That vocal's not a keeper is it?
52. That's how I wrote it but that's not how I like to play it
53. I can't think of any improvements that won't make it worse
54. That ground loop is a trademark thing for me
55. That's the new old comp from today - I want to hear the new old comp from last Tuesday
56. That reverb would sound a lot better if it were coming out of a piece of MY GEAR
57. How bout we get rid of these 3M machines and get ourselves a frozen yogurt machine
58. Skunk called, he's on his way down
59. The frozen yogurt machine is broken
60. When was the last time we worked together? Tonight.

Automatic Man - cosmic funk prog anyone?

File this one under ‘Buried Treasure’.  In 1976 I bought an album called Automatic Man on hearing their single My Pearl  and in the knowledge that the band included one of my favourite drummers, Michael Shrieve, formerly of Santana. 

It’s an oddity for sure, with its mixture of funk, rock guitar and cosmic lyrics.  It still sounds good today though. Last year I heard one of the tracks played over the PA at a large festival, so I figure there must be a few people out there who think the same way.
How did  this cosmic funk prog band come to be?  When Mike Shrieve left Santana in 1975, he was keen to  develop a band project and so got together with guitarist  Pat Thrall and jazz keyboard player Todd Cochran, also known as Bayete.  Shrieve met Thrall when he  collaborated with Steve Winwood and the Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta on the ‘Go’ albums.  An established recording artist in the jazz field, Bayete had the songwriting skills, and it was his influence that would prove to be the greatest in terms of the band’s direction. The fourth member of the band was bassist Doni Harvey.

They were signed by Island Records and moved from San Francisco to London, recording at Olympic Studios in Barnes with engineer Keith Harwood.  The result was a collection of songs high on melody and set to a background of synthesiser swirls, wild guitar solos and with Shrieve’s dramatic flourishes propelling the whole thing.  The balance of the rock and funk elements was pitched just right, making the album accessible and appealing, potentially, to a wide audience.
The problems came when they tried to reproduce it live.  The band played in Europe and the US in 1976, but by all accounts they struggled to capture the magic of the album. Since much of its dynamic was due to the layered synth lines and the various effects applied to the guitar and drums, it’s easy to see how they might have found it hard to reproduce.

Expectations had been high though; the record was good and the album artwork had been expensive to produce, so Island were looking to recoup. But the single just scraped into the top 100 and the album failed to capture a wide enough audience.  The band, minus Shrieve, moved back to the US. Bayete and Thrall recruited a new rhythm section and recorded a second album, Visitors, which lacked the panache of the first album. Shrieve was the big name in the band and without his distinctive style, there was even less interest in the second album. Automatic Man disbanded in 1978.

Mike Shrieve said: “I put a lot into Automatic Man. We had great players, Pat Thrall on guitar, Bayete - Todd Cochran, a genius on keyboards, David Rice on bass at first, then Doni Harvey. We rehearsed every single day at my house in San Francisco, I bought instruments for everybody, my girlfriend at the time, Maria Ysmael, cooked wonderful dinners every single night. We moved to London to do the record, which we were really excited about. We just couldn’t seem to get it together live, though. We had a falling out and the rest of the band moved to LA and made another record without me, and that was that.”

Todd Cochran's career continued to thrive as he wrote and performed with artists including Aretha Franklin and Peter Gabriel. Pat Thrall went on to work in the fusion field with musicians including Narada Michael Walden and Alphonso Johnson. He joined the Pat Travers Band and later worked with Glenn Hughes.
Doni Harvey continued to play sessions and for a time was a member of the fusion band Nova. I saw Nova play a support slot at the Hammersmith Odeon around 1978. Harvey obviously modelled himself on Jimi (right down to the spelling of his name – and see back cover photo of Automatic Man) and on this night he was pulling all the Jimi shapes and moves. It was remarkable but also faintly ridiculous.

In 2004, a remastered version of Automatic Man was released by Lemon. Tom Karr of Progressive World gave the disc a five star rating in his review:  "People have a strong desire, an urge, to categorize things, to put them in boxes. In the sense of Automatic Man fitting into a pre-conceived sub-genre of progressive rock, then no, they are not a prog band. But they are much, much more than any label given them could describe. This San Francisco band had strong elements of spacey synthesizer driven progressive. Definitely. They could just as well be described as a hard rocking funk band as well. Both are true. Neither is accurate. No group I can think of so defies categorization as does Automatic Man."

I’ll stick with Cosmic Funk Prog.

The track 'Geni-Geni' from the album Automatic Man, 1976

Friday, July 20, 2012

Classic vinyl album recommendations

As a complement to my blog on where to buy vinyl records*, here are some classic vinyl albums that really stand out as an audio experience. They were chosen by myself and members of the Word Massive. Feel free to add your own recommendations

Yes – The Yes Album  (Squire and Howe jump out of the speakers)
Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed  (original Decca pressings recommended)
Joni Mitchell – Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter  (brighter sounding than Hejira – an audio delight)
Stephen Stills - Manassas
Montrose – First album  (the raunch of Ronnie’s guitar comes across best on the vinyl)

Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced  (the brown 'Backtrack 10' was the very first version of AYE issued in the UK as stereo – it says mono on the sleeve – it is phenomenal)

Roy Harper - Stormcock  (original Harvest pressing)
Santana -Caravanserai
Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill  (original US pressing)
John Hiatt - Slow Turning
Troubadour - JJ Cale

Dr. John - Desitively Bonnaroo  (original ATCO pressing)
The Hissing of Summer Lawns - Joni Mitchell (astonishingly good sound reinforces what a tremendous musical achievement this was)
Michael Franks – The Art of Tea
Show Some Emotion - Joan Armatrading
Boston - first album – (again, the guitars just sound better on the vinyl – I have the half speed master version)

Todd Rundgren - A Wizard A True Star  (original US pressings, with the die-cut cover and 'Sterling RL' in the run-out groove)
Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws - Bruce Cockburn
Aretha Franklin - Get It Right  (produced by Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller's bass to the fore)
Average White Band - Soul Searching

The Who - Quadrophenia  (original Track pressing - 'I'm One' showing the band at their very peak)
Graceland - Paul Simon
Famous Blue Raincoat - Jennifer Warnes
Godbluff - Van der Graaf Generator
Pawn Hearts - Van der Graaf Generator

Jimmy Reed - any of the Charly albums
The Stooges - Fun House
John Coltrane - Giant Steps
Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones
Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland  - 1983...never sounded better.
MC5 - High Time
Neil Young - Zuma
The Fabulous Thunderbirds - 1st LP
The Blue Nile - 'A Walk Across The Rooftops'
Aja - Steely Dan

Supertramp - Crime of the Century
Yes - Close to the Edge
King Crimson - In The Court of the Crimson King
Joe Jackson - Night and Day
Aimee Mann - Lost in Space
Rickie Lee Jones - The Magazine

Bat Out  of Hell - Meatloaf
Hot Rats - Frank Zappa
Penguin Eggs - Nic Jones
Black Sabbath – first album  (guitar is much less contained than on subsequent albums)
Deep Purple - In Rock nd Fireball (both Harvest pressings have the same crunchy guitar sound)Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell 
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath - new 180gram pressing. £8 at HMV.
Rainbow Rising - Rainbow

Led Zeppelin IV
Max Romeo - War Ina Babylon
‘Dynamite’ Reggae compilations
Doctor Alimantado –Best Dressed Chicken in Town

Bryter Layter - Nick Drake
Dare - Human League
First Take - Roberta Flack
Solid Air - John Martyn
The Man Machine - Kraftwerk
Thomas Dolby - The Flat Earth

Donald Fagen - The Nightfly, Kakakiriad
Steely Dan - Gaucho
Delbert McClinton - Keeper Of The Flame
Never Die Youn' - James Taylor -
Beck - Sea Change - The MFSL vinyl version

Nick Drake - Pink Moon.
Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson
Judee Sill – first album (the Four Men With Beards 180g version sounds just great)
Isaac Hayes - Black Moses
The Wailers - Catch a Fire
The Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
The Faces - Ooh La La

Monday, July 16, 2012

Green is good - in praise of Scritti Politti

There is a school of thought that much of the music made in the 1980s sounds awfully ‘of its time’ here and now, because it was created on the first wave of polyphonic synthesisers and drum machines. The sound of boom-boom-bap with EQ up the wazoo. Forget about the song, just make it sound big. As a drummer myself, I confess that I succumbed to the lure of the drum machine on one recording in 1984, because I thought it had to sound like ‘I Feel For You’ to pass muster with my peers. I was probably right at the time, but ever since then I have despised music made without ‘proper’ drums. With one exception - Scritti Politti.

I can honestly say I love just about everything Scritti have ever done. I thought The Sweetest Girl  should have been a massive hit in the early 80s. I can still remember the thrill of hearing Wood Beez  for the first time on Anne Nightingale’s Sunday night show in 1984. Green Gartside’s collaborations with Mos Def and Queen Latifah produced some highly convincing rap rock on Anomie & Bonhomie. And on all of his albums of the last thirty years, Green has produced several captivatingly beautiful love songs. Exhibit one: ‘Brushed with oil, dusted with powder’. It's a production job, for sure, but beautifully and soulfully executed.

They don’t play live much. Green is not the most relaxed performer and it would clearly be a struggle to recreate the sound of the records. But they do a remarkable job considering, in the few gigs they have played in recent years. Green's musical accomplice Rhodri Marsden is surrounded by laptops and keyboard kit he has painstakingly programmed with the original parts. And most remarkable of all, Green really does sing like that in real life; no studio trickery needed.

As luck would have it, while I was in London in December 2007, I saw Scritti were playing one show at the Luminaire, a small club on Kilburn High Road. It was two weeks before Christmas. Green, sporting a red check shirt and Grizzly Adams beard, had decided it would be a Christmas party. So he arranged for each band member to choose their favourite book to be sent out into the crowd as a ‘pass the parcel. When the music stopped, another layer of wrapping could be removed. They passed out mince pies.

On his last album, ‘White Bread Black Beer’ Green showed he didn’t need the production genius of Arif Mardin to craft music of depth and imagination. He obviously has a store of great music still to release as he played quite a few of them at the Luminaire. He admits to finding it hard to finish songs, so we just have to wait patiently to hear what’s next from the sweet voiced Mr. Gartside.
 Scritti Politti - 'The Sweetest Girl', live at the Luminaire club in December 2007. 
I also filmed them playing 'Merry Christmas Baby', and 'Robin Hood' from the White Bread Black Beer  album. Click on the 'My Videos' button to view them.

This post originally appeared on The Word magazine blog on 16 January 2010. I have re-posted it today in honour of the final shut down of that blog. The conversation continues at a new site   www.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Genesis on tour in 1975 - Peter Gabriel quits

What does a rock singer who has dressed up as a sunflower and a creature with unfeasibly large testicles do for his next trick? If you’re Peter Gabriel, you “walk right out of the machinery” and don’t look back.

The story of Gabriel’s shock departure from Genesis played out during the 1975 Lamb Lies Down On Broadway  tour. Tensions had built up in the band owing to the fact that their singer was undeniably the star of the show and, as a result, got all the credit. Gabriel, with his funny stories and costumes, the English whimsy of his between song flights of fantasy, had gained Genesis recognition in the music press, allowing them to play to bigger audiences.
But that recognition for Gabriel created resentment among the band, who felt their contribution was being overlooked. Keyboard player Tony Banks explained it this way: “After a while the make-up and props became a blessing and a curse. There can be some bad feeling when the lead singer hogs all the attention. It can be quite hard to take for the rest of the group.”

The problem for Genesis was that they were musically ambitious and competitive but they were a publicist's nightmare; t
he most demonstrably un-rockstar like group you could imagine. Guitarist Steve Hackett was still sitting down on stage at this point. The NME's Max Bell joined the group on the European tour. He wrote that, in person Gabriel was shy and stumbled over his words. But on stage: “he strides the boards like Sir Henry Irving, an acting colossus with the audience in the palm of his hand. Ironically, he unwinds only in performance, bolting straight out of that shell.”   In Europe, their box-office success was up there with The Stones and Led Zeppelin. But commercially Genesis were still in the second division.  By this stage in their career, onto their sixth album, a double, replete with expensive cover art by Hipgnosis and a fantasy narrative penned by Gabriel, they might have expected to break out of their cult status and become a mega prog act like Pink Floyd and Yes. But they remained under appreciated at home and only truly massive in certain parts of Europe. The more this went on, the more their frustration spilled over.  Hackett told Max Bell, “We’ve played to half a million people on this European tour and we’re still bloody making it”.

‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ is the story of a New York street punk named Rael and his fantastic journey of discovery. Gabriel described it as “A series of events that could happen to somebody who doesn’t even know his sub-conscious exists”. Tony Banks had apparently come up with an alternative concept that was closer to the style of their previous albums. The decision to go with Gabriel’s idea was the beginning of the end in many ways. Gabriel said, “I felt Genesis were becoming stuck in a formula and needed to come right down to earth. When the band had accepted the idea of a single story album, we went through the routine of voting on each proposal. This was bullshit on my part, as I had already decided there was only one story I was going to develop.”

Genesis at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, January 1975
In spite of their not having achieved the same degree of success as their prog peers, Genesis had great belief in themselves. They didn’t consider it a risk to play a complete double album of unfamiliar material in their live show. Their confidence was justified because, especially on the west coast of America and in Europe, Genesis already had a loyal following. If you listen to the live version of ‘The Lamb’ recorded at the Shrine Auditorium in LA, there is a strong sense that Genesis were among friends. But it was Gabriel the fans had come to see. 

The story of The Lamb, such as it is, is not that easy to follow. During the live shows, Gabriel would provide the audience with short descriptions of how the story would unfold.  Musically, the Lamb is probably the band’s most diverse work, and Phil Collins is on record as saying it was the most fun to play, because of its complexity.  The record also contains, especially on the first two sides, some great songs. Like most double albums there are indulgent passages but overall, if you can buy into the concept, the record is absorbing and well produced.

Melody Maker said of The Lamb: “For some fans it was a disappointment; more calculating in its surrealism and lacking the stealth and subtlety of earlier works. The music took on greater effect in their live appearances, but the show became more and more difficult to bring off to full effect. Nevertheless they performed the work brilliantly in Paris in March and not quite so well in London a few weeks later.”
The NME's Max Bell on the road with Genesis, March 1975
Max Bell’s NME article from March 1975 offers some insight to the troubled minds of the members of Genesis at this time. In their interview, Gabriel defended Genesis against what he perceived as a prejudice by rock journalists, particularly the NME. He agreed with Bell’s suggestion that the more popular a band becomes, the more likely the press are to pull them down: “I’m surprised to hear anyone from the NME say that because it’s definitely true; The NME is the only place where we didn’t get good reviews last time. It’s obvious to me there is a lot more to music criticism than criticising music. The elevation of rock journalists to superstars proves that.”

Haven’t Genesis always laid themselves open to allegations of pretension, asked Bell. “We’re easy to put down," replied Gabriel. “You can say the characters are far-fetched, the music is over-ornate and that we’re riding on my costume success. There, I’ve done it for you.”

But Bell gave the band credit for delivering a powerful show: “Anyone who still holds the precious opinion that Genesis ain’t a rock band has their head well buried.”  He observed, though, that “the rest of the group have grown increasingly pissed off at Peter getting the lion’s share of the publicity. But while they grumble in private, they’re too reserved to force the issue.” Steve Hackett told Bell: “It annoys me when people think Peter did everything. On the last album he wrote less of the music than us.”
Gabriel as the Slipperman. Phil Collins provides vocal support
This unhappy situation in the band was compounded by the technical problems they encountered putting on The Lamb show. It was an elaborate production with three large projection screens and several costume changes for Gabriel, some of which prevented him from singing clearly. Banks says “Frankly speaking, it was a bit of a disaster. The album wasn’t a big seller and the tour was dogged by equipment problems. We were trying to put on an amazing show on a tiny budget and there were many, many nights when things went wrong.”  Budgets were clearly very tight because although Genesis toured The Lamb in the US, Europe and the UK, not one of the shows was filmed. The only footage that exists is a few very short clips filmed from the audience.

Max Bell concluded his NME piece by suggesting that Genesis will not compromise their art. “For a brief moment Gabriel-as-Rael and Rael-as-Gabriel coalesce into one person speaking with a common voice: “I’ll tell you something. We’re not going to be a band to sit still. We’ll self-destruct before we stop running.”
We now know that much of the behind the scenes unrest stemmed from Gabriel’s desire to pursue projects outside the band. He had been approached by William Friedkin, director of 'The Exorcist' and 'The French Connection', after Friedkin had read the sleevenotes to the Genesis Live  album. The two agreed to try working on some scripts. The band saw this as a lack of commitment from Gabriel and were adamant that if he wanted to go and work with Freidkin, that he should leave the band. Gabriel, for his part, as the only member of the band who was married at that time, also wanted to spend more time with his family.
The Melody Maker front page, August 16th 1975
The rift never healed and in August 1975, rumours circulated that Gabriel had quit Genesis. The MM ran a front page headline and a few days later it was confirmed. In the following week’s MM Phil Collins said, “We were not stunned by Pete’s departure, because we had known about it for quite a while. We are going to carry on and we’ve been rehearsing for three weeks for the new album. It was Peter’s decision and I can only emphasise that we are carrying on as if nothing happened.”

Later on Collins would say their initial reaction was to rubbish Gabriel’s contribution to the band. They were stung into action by his leaving and were clearly determined to show the world that Genesis was more than just their singer. From Gabriel’s point of view, it must have been chastening to see how, almost immediately, his former bandmates produced a commercially successful album, A Trick of the Tail, and by focusing on the music, showed that there was indeed more to Genesis than funny costumes and weird stories.

For his part, Gabriel took time out before carefully re-emerging with the first of four albums called Peter Gabriel. The music was distinctly different from Genesis; edgier and, especially on albums 3 and 4, more experimental. His only nod to his old band was the lyric for Solsbury Hill (see below) his first solo single in 1977.  Playing his first shows in the US with the new band in April 1977, Gabriel wore a grey track suit.
To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
Til I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
The live footage that exists of the The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway shows in 1975 is largely taken from a show in Bern, Switzerland. This clip is of 'Counting Out Time'

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Word is dead. Long live The Word Massive!

The times they are a-changing, and nowhere moreso than in the world of publishing, where the battleground for readership and advertising is moving under our feet. Content is king and scale is crucial, as was shown this week when The Word, an independently published music magazine, was forced to close having seen its advertising revenue fall through the floor.  Loyal readers cried 'how could this happen?', but the harsh reality is that, for advertising buyers, it's all about the numbers and The Word's readership number wasn't big enough.
It seems you can't be a niche consumer publisher anymore. The Word's problem was it was appealing to a particular demographic, the middle-aged music fan, and there just weren't enough of them to sustain a healthy readership of interest to advertisers. The Word's Editor Mark Ellen said, "If you work in magazines with the market behind you, as I did in the 1980s and 1990s you have more success than you deserve. Smash Hits turned out like The Spice Girls, and Q magazine like U2, and Mojo like REM and Select like Happy Mondays. But I think The Word will be fondly regarded as some sort of Nick Drake entity: much loved, but by a smaller but utterly devoted number of people. And I'm very happy with that. We made the magazine we wanted to make until there wasn't enough money to do that any more, and that's the right time to quit."
It is unusual to find a magazine that makes such an intimate connection with its readers. Commercial reality is all the more harsh then, when it becomes clear that such a cosy relationship is unsustainable. With less money to spend, advertisers have to be more selective in their choice of media, added to which the web has revolutionised our consumption of - well - everything! The example of what happened to the music business after Napster and now with Spotify has been mirrored in the world of newspapers and magazines. In short, when people can access such a huge amount of news and feature material for free, they are less willing to pay for other content, however much they might like it. As The Word  publisher David Hepworth says, "The speed with which this news spread (via the web and twitter) and became an event in which people could happily participate, and the "disintermediation", to use a jargon word, of the traditional news outlets was a live demonstration of the same forces which mean you can't publish magazines, or indeed anything, the way you once did."

A by-product of The Word's website blog has been the emergence of a small but close-knit group known as The Word Massive. Internet chat platforms are often unruly and hostile, with bad language and personal abuse thrown about even among people with a mutual interest.  What makes The Word's blog so special is that, while the rules of engagement are clear, a robust discussion can take place with hardly any bad language and only very rarely any necessity for the moderator to step in. The site polices itself and as a result, people are willing to share their intelligence but also their vulnerability and ignorance, without fear of being ridiculed.

The Massive includes some of the most friendly and articulate people you could wish to meet in cyberspace.  They have created such a sense of community that regional meetings are a now a regular monthly event. Drinks are bought, cake is made, CDs, DVDs and books are swapped and staff from the magazine mingle amongst their loyal readers. Indeed, the loyalty of The Word's readers was such that the publishers organised a regular series of live concerts at which the magazine's readers formed the core of the audience. On one special day in the summer of 2011, we were treated to a Thames river cruise where Neil Finn performed and took part in one of the magazine's revered podcasts. They even raised Tower Bridge just for us!
I have been a member of this group for nigh-on 4 years and have attended several of their gatherings. The sense of belonging is such that the demise of the print magazine will not deter us from banding together elsewhere. Indeed, within hours of the closure announcement, a new web forum had been set up, ready to commence when The Word  blog shuts down.
The Word 'Massive'
lives on - we are stardust, we are golden...
While it still survives, you can visit the Word blog at: and you can read David Hepworth's blog which is linked to on the right of this page.