Return to Glastonbury’s past

Glastonbury Festival in 1993 was one of the very first I went to and lives in the memory as it was in the last years before the TV cameras and celebrities poured onsite often like cold sick, and the festival lost the chaotic element where one could literally turn a corner to walk into any sort of show you could imagine. Or possibly get mugged if you took a wrong turn after dark. It was that type of place back then. This does mean that it is incredibly hard to get footage of bands let alone anything else from these years but stuff does come up and here’s a load of footage of bands including Porno for Pyros who seems to be filmed near from where I was standing.

In fact the same channel is a bit of a goldmine with footage of the Beastie Boys from Glastonbury in 1994.

And that quite glorious Pretenders set from the NME Stage in 1994 also.

I love old footage like this as although it is rough, it manages to capture something and this is needed as we all get older. However the absolute discovery is Tao Jones, at the 1997 Phoenix Festival. Never heard of them? That’s because it was David Bowie performing under another name and yeah, it’d catch people out. People like myself who didn’t realise he was playing the dance tent so like hundreds of other legged it across site in order to try to get in what was by now, a pretty crammed tent.

So enjoy, and do so before these videos get possibly taken down.




Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part three: Public Image Ltd

A small group of people are sitting in a bar in a hotel in Manchester during the last UKCAC in 1998.For 30 years in the UK there’s been at least one annual large comic convention somewhere in the country, but at this movement there’s nothing planned for 1999 and the only people who seem to care are the half dozen or so people sitting nursing their drinks on a Sunday afternoon. A comment splits the onrushing gloom…

”How about we tag onto a Babylon 5 convention?”

It is at this point the British comic convention hits its lowest point. But lets go back to part two and the end of the 1980’s. Comics are everywhere. Alan Moore and Robert Crumb get name-checked on pop songs. Channel 4, BBC Two and the broadsheet papers start taking an interest in the growing and developing medium. Books like Watchmen and Maus are compared with the best of modern traditional literature. Conventions and marts are bursting with attendees. Shops are opening up at a dramatic rate as the direct market grows to accommodate this new, excitingly engaged audience who have a thirst for every genre from superheroes to SF, to horror, indeed, anything seems the limit as 1990 comes.

The British comic convention grows too. There’s now a Glasgow Comic Art Convention to complement the London based one, and smaller conventions and marts are all over the UK.

Comic publishers start springing up with the most successful being Image Comics who arrive on the scene in 1992 publishing a dynamic, if somewhat intellectually thin, set of superhero/adventure comics that cater to the growing speculator market.

Image were a speculators wet dream.Comics that came out one week would increase in value the week later by nonsensical amounts, so potentially you could make 1000% more than you paid for a comic. So companies started making comics ‘more collectable’ with special and variant covers at the expense of any sort of quality. The ‘Imagefication’ of mainstream comics brought the speculator into comics in droves and as more and more product was pumped out to be valued instantly higher than it should be. A bubble was forming that couldn’t last.

In the meantime the British comics convention was at its peak. More and more one day events were springing up from Gloucester to Cardiff to Newcastle to Belfast and of course, UKCAC and GLASCAC were running along nicely.

Then the bubble burst.

The industry couldn’t cope with the amount of product being pumped out and in fact, the industry was in a slow decline from around 93, but by 1996 the comics industry was in an awful place. Companies were going out of business, and Marvel (who were pushing out million selling comics at the start of the decade) hit a hard decline that saw them nearly going out of existence. Comic conventions and marts also suffered as the speculators moved onto whatever else they did which meant retailers had boxes of unsold copies of comics with special/variant covers and nobody to buy them.

In 1998, UKCAC moved from London to Manchester, while the Glasgow conventions were now long gone. For those of us who were there it was a fun event, but the feeling it was a wake hung around which leads us back to a bunch of us sitting in the bar contemplating latching onto a Babylon 5 convention in order to keep the idea of a large British comic convention alive.

Other ideas did come to the fore, including one which involved organising a show in Nottingham as London was too prohibitive in terms of cost. Things looked bleak as shops closed weekly while the marts in London and elsewhere were a struggle to turn a profit if you were a retailer but some light was at the end of the tunnel for the British comic convention.

1999 wasn’t just the last year of the old millennium, it was also in many ways the beginning of where we are today with the modern comic convention and it all started in Bristol.

A few words about the Comics Scene article about Toxic!

Comics Scene is a new magazine about the medium and history of comics.

Launched at last week’s Edinburgh Comic Con, the magazine is an oddity. An analogue product in the digital age, but for old and new fans of comics Comics Scene provides some fantastic articles on the history of comics. One of those articles is written by John McShane about Toxic!, the sadly aborted attempted to launch a serious competitor to 2000AD.

John is restricted by space, and in his second part John’ll be going into a wee bit more detail, but it’s a sort of parallel story to my blogs on the history of Neptune Distribution. In John’s article he speaks of of Geoff, Neptune’s MD, formed the crew that became Trident Comics, which at that time printed work from Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Michael Moorcock, Paul Grist and a number of established creators not to mention creators who would soon become established like Mark Millar.

One of the things Comics Scene provides a platform for it to put these seemingly small, but actually huge bits of comics history not just in context but giving it the spotlight they deserve. And this deserves it because to put it bluntly this period of time didn’t just change the UK comics scene to the extent where fresh talent poured into the industry like at no other time in my lifetime, but it changed how the direct market itself changed in the UK.

I won’t embellish what John writes about in this first issue too much (I’ll save that for when John’s articles are over as chatting with John has dug up some more stories of the time, as has a chat with Titan’s Mike Lake), because as said, there’s more to come but this different perspective is good because it shows the scale of what was going on at a time when comics were seemingly never going to stop growing. Sadly the speculator boom of the 90’s did that in as did too many publishers that promised much but produced work which was poor or was fantastic, but the publisher died before their time and this ultimately is the story of Toxic!. 

I’d recommend Comics Scene. Yes, it is a magazine but there’s something nice and tactile about picking something up in your hands and reading it that doesn’t come from a blog or vlog. So go search it out now and give it your support.


Marvelman: Lost Hero of the Golden Age

Marvelman is a character who has a complex publishing history, which is to be mild, a massive bloody understatement. Created by Mick Anglo in the 1950′ and brought back from the dead in the 1980’s by Alan Moore and then continued in a story written by Neil Gaiman in a story which still hasn’t been completed some 35 plus since it started.

This is a YouTube documentary that tries to cram this complexity into a mere 16 minutes. It isn’t perfect but it is worth watching for the attempt to do this in as short a time as possible while still giving it some sort of justice. It strikes me that if anyone ever wanted to make a drama about the comics industry, then the story of Marvelman lies begging to be made…

RIP for the NME

After 66 years, the New Musical Express, the NME, is dead. Well, the print edition is finally dead but it will continue as a pretty awful online site that uses the name to maintain some level of brand recognition for something that to be honest should have been dragged round the back of the bins and shot in the early years of the 21st century. Though they did make Conor McNicholas editor and that kind of had the same effect.

Although McNicolas’s run as editor was to be as nice as possible, fucking awful as the paper descended into something that Heat readers would have found not to be intellectually challenging, he was fortunate to be around during what is now really a bright time for music with new American bands complementing European bands but the standard of writing in the NME by 2002 was teeth-grindingly poor. By 2005 it was unreadable and I stopped buying it after 20 years or so.

In 1985 I was 18 and was dabbling in buying the weekly music papers with a Sounds here and a Melody Maker there, but NME kept winning out over the other two because on the whole, it was better written & anyhow, I couldn’t be arsed with Heavy Metal which seemed to be the focus of the other papers. Plus the NME was openly political at a time when that was the only thing to be.

So began a habit that stretched two centuries as the NME helped develop my musical tastes as it alerted me of stuff I’d never otherwise have heard about. Which for folk born in the internet era must be a thing to try to grasp that knowledge of new music was so hard to come by as in those days it was the NME, John Peel, the odd local radio show, The Tube and whatever scraps leaked on TV.

In short, the NME was the Bible for many of us as it helped shape youth movements small and large for decades.

Everyone has a Golden Age of the paper, and for me, it’s the late 80’s spilling up to the Britpop years. Music, culture and politics all collided with the end of the 80’s giving us HIp Hop and Acid House, which gave us a well needed shot in the arm and pushed Indie music into doing wonderful, glorious things.

For a few years everything the NME showcased was turning to gold.

And in the early 90’s, the period tedious Britpop documentaries skim over as not being very interesting, the NME helped point out the fact it was an interesting time as multiple genres, and acts from anywhere could make it.

During all this time the one constant was the writing of Steven Wells who would regularly outshine colleagues who later went on to have very large mainstream success, but Wells would remain to show how a paper like NME needed someone like him who’d call something, or someone, exactly what he thought. However the paper was changing as it started jumping on the bandwagon of what came to be known as Britpop.

I cared little for the Blur versus Oasis fiasco of 1995. As it seemed false, as indeed it was a construct of record companies and the NME itself to essentially make money. Once that was over, Britpop died and a diverse vibrant UK music scene had been made dull in the NME’s image as it tried to remain relevant as it approached the 21st century and the looming threat of this new thingy called the ”internet”.

But I was reading the paper more so out of habit. Sure, sometimes it hit gold  but the sense was that the 21st century brought it decline as articles would be 300 or so words attached to big pictures.

Then around 2005, after that year’s Glastonbury, I bought the review issue. Read it. Put it in a box and I’ve never bought an issue since. Sure, I’ve read it be it on a train, or in a pub or club as a copy someone had left behind but five minutes reading at best. Back in the 80’s I’d take an hour, sometimes two or three if it was a Christmas double issue, to wade through it.

And now in 2018 it dies as a print publication. The website is dreadful, and there’s dozens of great sites that cover new music, but this all said there’s something terribly sad about the NME finally ending. If it’d been done right it could have still been here to lead new generations, but it becomes history and memories and that I suppose is all we have left in the end.