Q Magazine has ceased to be. In the ongoing avalanche of Covid 19 change – the dearth of foreign travel, the handshake, live gigs, seeing your mother – it is but a ripple. But it is a significant ripple. It marks the end of the ‘music in print’ era. There are some stragglers still drawing breath but the Big Fellah is gone. The headstone will read: British Music Print Media: 1952 – 2020. RIP.
I came to the music press, like so many others, via a big brother, or to be accurate, a big brother-in-law. He slipped me an NME the way less wholesome siblings might have slipped you a first cigarette or beer. “Read this,” he said, eyeing me up to be sure I was ready for it. It felt as if he’d given me Playboy. My eyes were agog!
This was pre-punk and post Beatles and apart from Bowie, early Roxy and Dylan, it wasn’t really that great. But I was transfixed. As soon as I was old enough I would, every Thursday, get the bus into town after school to buy it the minute it arrived in Ireland. This gave me about two hours to memorise it before Top of The Pops.
I was reading a pile of old NMEs in bed the night I first heard ‘Pretty Vacant’ by the Sex Pistols on the radio. It wasn’t announced but by the chorus I was standing, staring in awe at the radio. My life was never the same after that, I formed a band within weeks and in the months ahead the NME changed too, suddenly embracing punk after a slow start.
This was NME’s golden era. It was the days of Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Nick Kent and Paul Morley. The writing was often incendiary and was utterly irreverent. A review of Shakatak (an English Jazz- funk band! Need I say more) simply read ‘Lack attack’. I lived from issue to issue. It defined me. It would spill from my school bag, an immediate statement of who and what I was.
Most music papers, the NME included, had started out more as industry papers. It was the NME’s inclusion of the first music chart (1952) that started to draw in the broader fan, interested solely in how their favourite act was faring. But by the Sixties, as youth took control of writing its own songs, the interest in reading about it exploded.
In the US in particular, weighty, intelligent, music-based magazines appeared like Rolling Stone and Village Voice. These were broad based reads, covering film, books and politics, but music was at their core. Music, then seen as revolutionary in itself -espousing peace, free love and drug use- defined these magazines as part of the counter culture.
I followed the NME through Punk, to Post Punk and into the arrival of the indie music scene. I stood in awe as U2 graced its cover. I stuck with it through grunge but like many found it a harder read as time went on. It lost its cool. And then post Live Aid, as the music world realised people still like older bands, despite what the NME might say, Q arrived.
Q was the brain child of Mark Ellen and David Hepworth and moved seamlessly to fill a gap for a relatively non-critical, glossy, easy read about bands you loved.
The record companies loved it and as we continued to replace our old vinyl albums with new CDs it boomed, as did CD sales. Shakatak here might get three pages.
It wasn’t what we fought the punk wars for, but it, and later Uncut and Mojo were often great reads Its demise is part of a much bigger picture: the falloff in album sales, the advent of streaming, the closure of record shops, the decline of the record company and the print media in general.
You can enjoy music and everything to do with it without paying for it. You no longer need to take a bus into Advance Records to ask Frank what he’s got that’s good, no matter how pleasurable that might be.
So where to now and will it be any craic? I have long since migrated online for most my music needs. Pitchfork is good, probably the internet’s most influential source. In rock terms its more Young Fine Gael than Iggy Pop’s dressing room during the Sixties, but such is life. It has never reviewed Shakatak, so it can’t be all bad.
I picked up the last Q. Amazingly it is a Best Of. Somehow that says it all!