I spent many years studying music, and basically kidding myself that it was my vocation: if I could practise full time for just a year, I would tell myself, I could get where I need to be. Well, I never did, but what I did get was extremely knowledgeable about music, and the ability to write lucid, fluent and stylish prose bizarrely seems to be built into me. It seems a bit silly that it took me so long to come around to the idea of writing about music: the stimulus for doing so eventually came from my friend Lizzi Wood, who, totally out of the blue, offered me some work writing for her excellent website Live Unsigned (and this despite the fact that I had terribly neglected our friendship, and had been out of touch for fifteen years). This was a watershed moment in my life (I’m writing with all of nine months’ hindsight!), although it was probably rather less significant in hers, and is something for which I will always feel a huge debt of gratitude.
That initial stimulus, and those first fumbling attempts to find the language with which to describe a band’s entire oeuvre, fairly and accurately, in around fifty words, quickly blossomed into a burning obsession with the business of making verbal responses to music, and all aspects thereof. Vocabulary, reader utility, musical value and meaning, critical theory, tone of voice, musical economics and politics are all things I’ve realised I can’t take for granted, and I’m attempting to work them all through by writing as much as possible about the greatest possible variety of music. Live Unsigned, with its focus on independent music, and the people it has brought me into contact with, has also provided me with an important ideological context for this work: I haven’t felt so politically motivated in years, but the limited theatre of the music ‘industry’ provides a time and a place in which political action and commentary feel worthwhile and effective. There’s a revolution going on. It won’t be televised, but my god, how it’s being tweeted!
My agendas in my music writing are:
- To favour the local, the unknown, the unsigned, the creative, the experimental, the progressive, the weird, the freak, the outcast and the stuff I love regardless of whether it fits any category or not.
- To treat popular music with the same respect usually reserved for classical music, by treating it as serious artistic endeavour, applying close musical analysis where time permits, and using the correct language to describe it, without shying away from musical terms, or patronising my readers by simplifying them.
- To always give everyone I review a fair crack of the whip, and to respect the fact that their music is their heartfelt, and lovingly developed project, giving it an impartial assessment, and constructive criticism, even if it sounds generic to me on first listening, and even if I’ve just reviewed half a dozen bands that sound similar. To always hunt for the unique in everything I hear, and if I really, truly can’t find anything good to say, to shut the f*** up.
- To write as well as I can, and to put as much effort into composing good prose as we all put into making good music.