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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just do it yourself

Media: Here's one I made earlier...

ONE AFTERNOON when I was 17, Gary Marx, the lead guitarist from the Sisters of Mercy, came round my squalid bedroom and answered some questions about his band for my fanzine, Attack on Bzag!.

The Sisters were a great local group, a class apart from most other bands in Leeds at the time. They had just released "Body Electric" on the CNT label and it wouldn't be long before they started having alternative hits on their own Merciful Release label and then became the European kings of Goth. The singer, Andrew "Spiggy" Eldritch, was an enigma of sorts - he wore sunglasses in winter in Yorkshire and sang like Scott Walker down a drain. He later moved from Headingley to Hamburg which seemed about right.

Nothing significant happened at the interview. Gary said he couldn't believe I had the cheek to get him to come to me rather than the other way round, but he came thinking my mum might have made some cake. Tough luck - I no longer lived with my mum and I was about as hungry as he was.

I typed up the article and it appeared on a single sheet in the fourth issue of the fanzine. I didn't have any pictures of the band, so I just cut their logo out of a music press advert and stuck it right next to a silhouette of some First World War British soldiers. The article was little more than a review. To produce the fanzine cost me about pounds 40 for 400. I hand-printed them on a Roneo Gestetner machine which had correction fluids that could keep you going long after the printing had finished. It was, by my own estimation, the last issue before Bzag! actually began to stand out from the busy underground fanzine crowd. I remember all this because some Sisters of Mercy fan has just paid pounds 62 for a copy of this issue on eBay. I only wish I'd been the vendor.


A fortnight ago someone told me some of my fanzines and those of my contemporaries were for sale on eBay. I had a look and tried to buy the aforementioned Sisters issue, as it had a rare pink photocopied cover. Each time I bid, a counter bid appeared from a "Mr Spiggy" - not the man himself - until the price hit pounds 24. At this point I decided that despite having gone on to sell more than 40 million magazines for pounds 3 at a time, I probably couldn't compete with the spending power of a determined Sisters fan. A week later eBay told me the auction finished at pounds 62. I can only assume Mr Spiggy had duelled to the death with another member of the Sisterhood.

The British fanzine scene of the mid Eighties was an excitable and productive time. Members of The Farm (back in the charts now with "Altogether Now") produced the first football culture mag, The End; Newcastle gave us the truly unique Viz; an anarchist hippie from Stoke Newington produced VAGUE (imagine Vogue produced by the Prada Meinhof gang). Radio One's Steve Lamacq and I used to run fanzine stalls with a mad chef called Richard at all Ken Livingstone's GLC free festivals. Selling the fanzines was our destiny, our means to exist. These disposable pamphlets full of fanatical rants about the "scene" in Greenock, Harlow or Hull, were badly printed and collated by hand - and we had the paper cuts and ink under the nails to prove it. It was the closest I ever came to hard work.

To think that people are now spending pounds 62 on a 20p booklet is bizarre, especially when they are only interested in a single page. I'd like to flatter myself that they're after my early work but it's the music they want. A few years ago I gave half my collection away to a guy from Scotland who wanted them for his college course or something, but I couldn't let go of the hardcore. Thirty years on they sit tattered and torn in a concertina folder in my office, opinionated missives with fantastic names like Kill Your Pet Puppy, Slow Dazzle, Rox, Molotov Comics and Cool Notes. At the time they were our tickets out, now they're just snapshots of a forgotten underground, reminders of a life before e-mail and websites.

Occasionally I find an old unopened envelope with 20p stuck to a bit of card and a request for a copy of Attack on Bzag!. And I dig one out and post it because a fanzine seller never runs out of stock. Had our Sisters of Mercy fanatic considered that, it would have saved him pounds 61.80, and he wouldn't have needed PayPal.

Copyright 2004 Independent Newspapers UK Limited


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