“I Wonder Why?” By The Heart Throbs
Problems, they say, often come in threes , so here I give you three troublesome situations, I offer no solutions, but I do offer a possible explanation.
Problem 1. 6 Music : There are many people who subscribe to the view that the BBC’s digital radio station, 6 music, once a beacon of innovative broadcasting that illuminated the turbid sea of dreary corporate playlist radio, just isn’t cutting the mustard anymore. They feel the introduction of “personality DJ’s” (ironically devoid of any personality) has led to 6 music becoming just another radio station.
Problem 2. The NME: It has been said that “the NME”, once the UK ’s most respected and much loved musical journal, combining cutting edge music with stylish witty reviews is now little more than a vaguely alternative “Hello” style celebrity magazine, with music as its backdrop. Many actually believe it stopped being of any relevance some years ago.
Problem 3 . East Enders: The rumblings of discontent from regular viewers of popular UK soap East Enders are growing ever louder, like the presage to a great storm ! Fans feel that it has descended into overwrought farce, with storylines that lack wit, guile or direction. Furthermore, they feel that the inhabitants of Albert Square are little more than two dimensional stereotypes, a heartbeat away from donning pearly king and queen outfits before breaking out into an impromptu “Lambeth Walk” whilst discussing the dubious merits of the jellied eel.
I would certainly concur with all the above points, but what draws them all together under one umbrella? What maybe the reason for the perceived malaise affecting these holy trinities of British entertainment? The answer to both could quite possibly be found within this question …“Is it a coincidence that all the above mentioned vessels of entertainment have suffered a steady decline in quality since writer/journalist/broadcaster Andrew Collins left their employ?” I’ll let you chew that one over and draw your own conclusions…….but the truth is out there….
Andrew Collins, like Nanette Newman was born in Northampton . He started his journalistic career with the “NME”, back in the halcyon days, when they employed journalists whose articles people actually looked forward to reading (Steve Lamacq, Paul Morley, Stuart Maconie, Mary Ann Hobbs, Barbara Ellen et all). He went on to become editor of “Q” And “Empire” magazines and has since written for “The Guardian”, “The Express“, “The Telegraph”, and the “New Statesman” amongst others. He was one of the original presenters on BBC6 music, when it was good, when music mattered, before it became yet another variation on Radio 1 and Radio 2 complete with “wacky DJ’s” who have succeeded in making Smashie And Nicey appear purveyors of gimmick free broadcasting and citadels of common sense. Andrew has written scripts for Eastenders and Family Affairs as well as co-writing “Grass” with The Fast Show’s Simon Day, on top of this he has picked up a Royal Television Society Award and a Rose D’or for co-writing “Not Going Out” with Lee Mack.
Other TV and radio work included a fruitful partnership with his friend and fellow ex NME journalist, Stuart Maconie, winning a Sony Gold Award for Radio 1’s “Collins & Maconie’s Hit Parade” and receiving a Writers Guild nomination for Radio 5’s “Fantastic Voyage.” They also as presented “Collins and Maconie’s Movie Club” on ITV, however all things must pass and Stuart, convinced he was becoming “too southern” did a runner back oop North and has since formed a suitably gruff, salt of the earth, Northern partnership with Mark Radcliff ( not a sun dried tomato or Frappucchino in sight!) A distraught Andrew soon found a quantum of solace in the welcoming arms of comedian Richard Herring, with whom he now presents a popular weekly podcast.
He has also written three books “Where Did It All Go Right”, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now “ and “That’s Me In The Corner” as well as being Billy Bragg’s official biographer. Andrew is married (not to Richard Herring I hasten to add) and lives in London ; he is currently film editor for “The Radio Times, ” Tv Critic for “The Word” and regularly appears on both Radio and TV. He denies he is addicted to appearing on “talking head” style shows such as “I Love the Love Boat”, “Knightrider Changed My Life” and “-Hervé Villechaize; A Showbiz Giant. ” To all intents and purposes he appeared to have kicked this habit, but sadly a recent relapse saw Andrew airing his view‘s on the BBC’s “The Most Irritating People Of 2008”
We spoke to Andrew about his journalistic career, what he makes of the music industry today and asked for some sagacious advice on blogging
VP: You’ve said in your books that you didn’t exactly break into journalism more kind of fell into it …when was the moment when you thought to yourself …” Blimey I’m a music journalist?
AC: When my first words appeared in the NME with my name at the end. Ironically, my first ever published review was of a film – the yachting thriller Masquerade, starring Rob Lowe. However, in the same issue of NME, dated 1 October 1988, my first ever album reviews also appeared, Blow by Butterfield 8 (featuring ex-members of Madness and the Higsons) and Indestructible by the Four Tops. On that Tuesday, when the big pile of new issues appeared with a thud inside the NME office, I thought to myself: blimey, I’m a music journalist. Everything changed in that instant. I was working three days a week as assistant to the Art Editor at NME, which was, in itself, a thrill beyond compare – to be laying out pages of my beloved music paper, meaning I was on the inside for the first time, but despite a credit in the masthead (Design Assistant: Andrew Collins), this was the first time something I’d written was in the public domain. A big step. I suppose the next milestone was interviewing a band, now-forgotten boy-girl Indie pop quartet the Heart Throbs, which was another thrill – turning up at the allotted time at their record company office (Rough Trade), meeting the band and repairing to a nearby pub garden to do the interview, which I recorded on a large ghetto blaster, as I didn’t yet own a portable hand-held tape machine. Quite embarrassing, looking back, although I don’t imagine I was the first to do so.
The band were really sweet about it and made no comment. I expect they were just glad to be interviewed by someone from the NME, however lowly and green he might be. You never forget these first toes dipped in the ocean.
VP: Truthfully, what was the first actual record you remember purchasing, as opposed to the first record you would have liked to have been seen to have bought?
AC: The first record that was mine was The Jungle Book soundtrack – it was a storybook, so you played the LP and read the story along with it, with songs interspersed. I loved it then, probably aged five or six, and still own it. (It was the first film I saw the cinema, so momentous all round.) The first pop single I requested Mum and Dad buy me when they went shopping was Blockbuster by The Sweet in 1973, which means I was eight years old. Glam rock was the first music I got into. I also loved Slade and Suzi Quatro and Alvin Stardust – Slade were the first poster I put up on my bedroom pinboard.
VP : 6 music was once a shining beacon of innovative broadcasting showcasing new music, however it was reported that the powers that be wanted to make it less “geeky,” and attract female listeners. Their tactic was to employ so-called “personality” DJs…Many believe the station has lost its way, what’s your take on it these days?
AC: The pressure upon 6 Music, gloriously absent when we first launched in 2003, was to increase listenership. This spelt the end for many of those early dreams, because to broaden your audience you must necessarily make yourself that bit more accessible, which means watering down the playlist and playing the same games played by established national music radio networks. I’m an idealist; I believe that the BBC should be able to produce something new and cater for an uncatered-for audience without the need to “grow”. Certainly, 6 Music’s first official audience figures were modest, but they didn’t take into account all the hits we were getting online – listening via PC was the most common route for a lot of our early adopters, who tuned in at their desks at work. Anecdotally, via emails and texts, it was clear that those who discovered 6 Music early on, and got involved with the programmes and presenters, had found something that they couldn’t get elsewhere. It was a little amateurish to begin with – anything but slick – but as time passed, the rough edges were smoothed off. The regular DJs, myself included, were told to ident the station more in links, to say less in links, to “trail ahead” in links, and thus much of the earlier, rambling personality was lost. We still found a way of making our daytime shows like clubs, but it became harder to do so with all the new pressures to increase traffic to the website, increase awareness of other programmes, talk up initiatives and promotions etc. I remember the turning point: a promotion called “Texting 1-2-3”, where, all day, presenters were encouraged to drive up text traffic using competitions and rolling incentives. It worked. I remember the figures coming in the next day and our bosses were delighted that we’d achieved what we set out to do, and hit those targets. Unfortunately, the competitions and constant “branding” on-air made for a dull day of radio, with all the shows sounding the same and less opportunity for just chatting to the listeners about “stuff.” I was initially encouraged to come up with email “talking points” that were about anything but music – to avoid accusations of male-orientated geekiness – and it was clear that a lot of female listeners were getting involved. But the encouragement for me to do this decreased as time went on. This kind of change seems inevitable. It made me a better DJ – slicker, more professional etc. – but working at 6 Music became more of a job, less of an adventure. I don’t blame anyone for this. If I’d been a listener during the first five years, I’d probably feel let down, though. The pressures come from way above those who actually run the network. They actually come from outside the BBC, which is under constant pressure to justify every new venture on spread sheets. I say what’s the point of having a BBC if it’s under commercial pressure?
VP: What was the last gig you went to?
AC: Not sure, as 2008 was the first year I didn’t go to a gig since 1981. I think it may have been Carter USM, their first reunion, at Brixton Academy in December 2007, which was a terrific night out for people in their thirties and forties who had enjoyed the duo’s early-90s heyday.
VP: Obviously the internet has changed the face of music completely since the days you worked for the major music papers. What’s your view on digital downloads, file sharing, social networking etc?
AC: I am in my forties. I have reached an age where, pathologically, you become convinced that everything was better when you were young. I’m afraid it’s impossible to convince someone under 25 that it was better when you had to seek music out and spend hours in record shops flicking through racks of vinyl records, unable to hear the more obscure ones without listening to John Peel under the bedclothes, or even buying a single based upon the rave review in that week’s NME, never having even heard it. I’m sure every generation is doomed to this kind of nostalgia for how it was. That said, I download music, and have quickly grown used to being able to hear anything I want, whenever I want, as long as I’m at my laptop. I do resent the way that downloading has made the album irrelevant – it’s now all about individual tracks, and there’s no longer a sense of running orders, and certainly no sense of side one and side two, which used to mean a hell of a lot. Vinyl was heavy and bulky to transport and it got damaged very easily, but it was what I grew up with. It was ace. But I don’t play my vinyl records any more, and I sold most of my collection about three years ago because it took up too much space. I do think it’s sad that when “In Rainbows” came out, none of us who paid for it actually ended up with anything to hold, but it was an exciting day nonetheless, which suggests that the power of music will outlive whatever the latest delivery method is. As for social networking, I’m afraid I disapprove of it. I was on MySpace for a year or so, amassing “friends”, but when I cancelled my page I felt such a lightness of being, it was clear that I’d never go back there again. I do not despise anyone who has a Facebook page; I just choose not to have one. I do genuinely think that we are breeding an entire generation of kids who can’t communicate in real life, which is tragic. I use the internet. It does not use me. And it does not substitute actual networking, which used to be called talking.
VP: What do you make of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross kafuffle? An over reaction whipped up by the media or a well deserved dressing down?
AC: An overreaction to a chain of bad decisions. There is always a danger when “talent” (to use the showbiz jargon for people in front of the camera) is constantly praised, pampered and overpaid – it imbues a special kind of power, a sort of implied indestructibility, the kind that can lead to megalomania. This seems to have happened to Brand and Ross, both talented but perhaps let off the leash too many times by those who should be managing them. The phone messages to Sachs were childish and crass – no worse than that when listened to in isolation – but they spoke of arrogance and a lack of comedic judgment, which was compounded by the failure of a number of levels of management to stem the offence. Yes, the Daily Mail and other media outlets with an axe to grind about the BBC and the license fee whipped it up into a daft frenzy, and no, I don’t think Lesley Douglas should have had to resign – any more than Peter Fincham should have had to resign over Crowngate, or Greg Dyke over Hutton – but you either let your stars do whatever the hell they like, or you rein them in. Ross has been reined in. Brand doesn’t need a Radio 2 show anyway, and pre-recorded it so often as to not really be a radio show in the Radio 2 sense. If it had gone out live, it could almost have been forgiven, but it was pre-recorded, and could have been edited or dropped. I will always defend the BBC and the licence fee – on points, the country – and the world – would be the poorer without them.
VP: Are you still as inspired by music as you were when you were younger, what have you been listening to this year?
AC: Nowhere near as inspired in 2008. I found most music average and forgettable. Most albums didn’t hold up as albums, and were merely a handful of decent tracks padded out to album length with filler. Even albums I liked initially held little appeal three months later. Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid and Adele’s 19 were the only two albums I heard that actually qualify as actual, decent albums. Possibly Nick Cave ’s. I hope it’s me, and not the actual state of modern music. I hope modern music isn’t as disappointing as I think it is.
VP: Of the many interviews you mention in your last book “TMITC”, there were some rather uncomfortable (but hilarious) situations such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Christina Ricci, and Sofia Coppolla, but who would you say were your favourite interviewees?
AC: Kevin Costner – the only Hollywood star to send his PR out of the room when they came in to wind the interview up because he was enjoying the conversation. Mark E Smith, with whom I got drunk in the bar of London’s National Film Theatre for my first ever NME cover story in 1990 – a long-standing hero and one of the best interviewees, if you catch him in the right state of mind, in British rock. Billy Bragg is still my all-time favourite: I interviewed him for hours and hours and hours over the course of writing his official biography, and it never once stopped being stimulating and entertaining. I would now count him as a friend – that doesn’t happen very often in the world of journalism, and you’d be a fool to think that it did.
VP: What are you up to at the moment? Any more books in the pipeline?
AC: Books are not lucrative, unless you have a runaway bestseller or sell the film rights. I’d love to write a novel, but nobody seems especially keen to let me. I’m in the process of trying to get a sitcom commissioned by the BBC. I will say no more, for fear of bringing bad juju upon it. I’m pinning quite a lot on that one. It’s the sort of thing that could take up six months of my life if it were green-lit, so a yes or no would affect the rest of my working year.
VP: As there are numerous music blogs on the net, what advice would you give to bloggers on how to attract a readership?
AC: Don’t try to attract a readership. Try too hard and it will be perfectly obvious. The beautiful thing about blogs is that they are organic. Don’t start one for the wrong reasons. And don’t aim to be controversial. Say what you think, not what you think will get your noticed. Then sit back and see what happens.