Ok, here goes for the first time in many, many years. It’s like this, see…
I first dabbled in ‘zineage way back in the early 1980s; there are no doubt those amongst you who did not experience this time. It feels like explaining ancient history – there was no internet, no mobile phones, no facebooking; publishing your twisted views required either a black pen and some A4 white paper, or, if you were very tech-savvy,a typewriter. Desk Top Publishing [which, although at the time was a hyper-modern computerised art form, is now something else that makes kids turn up their noses and go ‘Whaaat?’, rather like showing them vinyl records…] was something I would progress on to but not for a long time. No, in those early days it was cut and paste using scissors and Pritt stick, then haul the whole flapping, inky lot off to the local Prontaprint [or, if you were very lucky, the local anarchist printing syndicate, but only if you lived in the big city, and were prepared to have every precious word examined under the Political Correctness microscope…].
Yes, photocopying was the order of the day until your circulation got big enough to justify printing [horrendously expensive initially, because a ‘plate’ had to be made up for each A4 side, although big print runs would then start to justify the initial outlay]. The day the copiers rang and told you it was all ready was a heady thrill. Lugging a used A4 paper box back home filled with printed pages, me and my fellow shitworkers would sit in the front room of a scruffy house in Huddersfield, cassette tapes of poorly compiled hardcore tracks blasting in the background while rapidly warming cans of Skol 1080 sat on the mouldy carpet. The ‘economy’ tariff at the print shop would rarely encompass the collation and stapling of pages, so each fanzine would have to be assembled lovingly by hand. Staplers, almost invariably liberated from the office stationery cupboard by the one buddy who had a job, were suddenly objects of the greatest importance and could make or break you the evening before a gig. Inevitably, surveying our work the following morning, we would wonder at how the alignment of the sheets and the quality of the stapling could go so wrong in such a short time, after only a few beers.
And then, the big day in fanzine editor land. Lugging ripped carrier bags [let us be clear – thin, cheapo blue and white striped ones] from the local Asian shop, filled to bursting with fresh fanzines, we would head off the the local venue [which was often the Top Spot Snooker Club], where we would then attempt to play the queue outside, if there was such a thing. Of course, should you choose a U2 gig to go and sell your wares, then a queue would be an inevitability – however with our choice of band, the appeal would generally be more selective. Thus, the imperative was to get inside before everybody had spent that week’s Giro on beer or cider, and try and ply 25 pence from them for a copy of our finest.
I think the biggest print run that we ever did was about 500 – by the later end of the 1980s, I had moved to ‘Uddersfield and become a student at the local poly. My two co-workers were also resident locally [and eventually in the same disappointing house], so we had by this time befriended [or ‘got something on’…..blackmail is always a better business tool…] the ‘Comms Officer’ at the Student Union. This scruffy character, inevitably bearded, lavish of ego and surrounded by adoring ladies, was the individual who bore the responsibility of printing the flyers for all the concerts promoted by the Student Union, as well as various revolutionary pamphlets denouncing Thatcher and her minions as required – these were political times. This non-committal, lazy character would then require various drinks bought and other ego-stroking in order to get your publication printed on the Student Union printing press….yes, a proper printing press, as opposed to those low budget high street print shops. It was, as I remember, never a good idea to ask too frequently after the progress of your printing – he would inevitably get arsey and say something like ‘I’ve got 2,000 Socialist Worker Party placards to print for the anti nuclear demo on Saturday, ok?’. But eventually, and quite without any kind of notification, I would find a pile of finished fanzines stacked inside the Student Union reception desk and carry them away excitedly.
There was, however, a little bit of glamour involved in being a fanzine writer. Only a little, I would add; but there were occasions when we managed to get into gigs on the cheap, and we eventually managed to get on the mailing list for a few decent record labels, in return for a sycophantic review of their substandard products. My favourite of these was an imprint of one of the big labels – I forget which one – called ‘In Effect Records’ – who claimed to hail from New Yoik. I received a letter [and that was the other thing – waiting for the post was an endlessly exciting activity, in case you got a demo tape or a letter from a reader!] one day from the label’s publicity officer – which began, and I kid you not – “YO! Zine Dude!”. Considering for a moment that the writer of this anonymously typed missive was almost certainly a coke-snorting, shiny suited, red-framed glasses wearing music industry yuppie from America, this frank approach left us all stunned, and though we would not admit it, maybe a little impressed. There followed for about 12 months a series of thick cardboard parcels of new releases by said label, mostly early New York Hardcore stuff such as Madball and Agnostic Front, which I appropriated quietly from my friends until the label clearly had an internal audit and it was realised that young Patrick Bateman had been sending out free records to a bunch of drunken wasters from freezing Yorkshire, at which point their largesse ceased abruptly.
Our burgeoning success at tapping into free music meant that the ‘Reviews’ section of Rip it Up blossomed like some ugly, mutated fungus. A typical session would go something like this: four guys sat in Peter’s bedroom, with a small, cheap tape deck. Cans of cheap, strong lager of the type beloved by tramps would circulate. On a good day, a small vial of amyl nitrate would also be passing slowly around the room. Things that should never have been put between Rizlas were put between Rizlas and inhaled deeply. And the opinions would flow as the music began and the hopeful contenders strutted their stuff. Put downs, in the manner of the traditional ‘Hit or Miss’ format, would issue forth, bolstered by the certainty of fools. “Sounds like a grown man crying” was hurled casually at a Heresy 7 incher. “This makes me want to shit myself” would be reserved for a track which particularly impressed. And somehow, we remembered it all [sometimes we taped our sessions – I wish we still had them], and transcribed it lovingly the next day.
Yes, my fanzine days were fun times, and I look forward to seeing how it translates to the modern world, although of course the amyl nitrate doesn’t come out any more, and the lager is of a slightly better quality.