For many years, Wednesday morning meant one thing above all else: NME day. From about the age of fourteen, until some point in my late twenties, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the latest copy to read about about the bands I loved, and what bands I felt I should (be seen to be) listening to. Somewhere, round about 2004-5, I think, when I was working in Fopp and doing teacher training, I slowly began to be more influenced by the emerging mp3 blogs (before I started to write one), and The Wire – which covered far more radical music. Plus working in a record shop as a till monkey, I was actually getting to hear a fair amount of stuff coming out, and not all of it ‘indie.’ That word itself has been the subject of much discussion, as we shall see.
The New Musical Express, to give it the full title it has had since 1952, is still a cornerstone of popular music in the UK. I mean popular in the sense of ‘music of the masses, rather than as a disdainful looking down my nose. I once told someone, at the age of twenty, I think, that my ambitions were to get a PhD in Philosophy, to have my picture taken with Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld and to appear on the front cover of NME. I suppose I may yet achieve the first two. As for the third, it symbolised a lot to me then: ‘cool’ in terms of the outsider perspective – or so it seemed, music that went against the grain and the mainstream.
The NME has survived as a weekly music magazine when others failed. The early nineties saw the folding of both Record Mirror and Sounds. Melody Maker folded in 2000, after the unsuccessful attempt to style it as a sort of ‘indie’ Smash Hits. Melody Maker had started in 1926, so had lasted seventy years plus. NME started in 1952, so has racked up fifty-seven years and counting.
In the last two months it has been announced that the editor for the last seven years, Conor McNicholas has gone to edit the BBC Top Gear magazine and his place is to be taken by Krissi Murrison. This is a good thing in so many ways.
McNicholas seemed to be so obssessed with branding, not just in terms of spreading the NME as a brand but also getting the NME linked with other brands. Hair gels seemed to be a favourite. Once upon a time – the eighties and much of the nineties, the paper was synonymous with socialism, even if it was owned by IPC. This seems out of sync with the tie-ins the paper seemed to be linked with over the last decade. Another fault I would have to pick is that the paper seemed to be becoming more like Heat magazine, and becoming more concerened with what indie bands were doing in the tabloids (we don’t care!) rather than promoting up and coming bands. ‘Indie’ now seems to be a word in the public domain -good -0but far too often, with dull bands that just produce dull guitar music. ‘Indie’ was synonymous with independent, meaning outside of the mainstream and less bound by constraints.
The paper’s range of music being covered also seemed to be getting progressively (ironic, that) narrower, so that it seemed to be focusing on run-of-the-mill indie bands more and more, and less on more diverse music. This list of Front covers shows that in the eighties there were clearly more essays, more features on politics, and a wider spread of music. 1987 saw Terence Trent D’arby (them massive) on the front cover twice!
To be honest, sometimes the readers have been at fault – in 1995, Elton John, East 17 and Rod Stewart all got covers, Cue disgruntled readers. The NME tried to broaden its’ range a few years later, putting Missy Elliott, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Destiny’s Child on the cover. the Godspeed cover was, infamously, the lowest selling issue ever. So soon, it got indier and indier, and more and more mainstream. The NME tour in January/February used to be synonymous with breaking new bands -Coldplay opened it in early 2000, and other bands who appeared included Franz Ferdinand, The Bluetones and The Coral. Then towards the last few years, it seemed that whiilst the tour still seemed like good value for money, the bands concerened were more established. It was typical of the paper, it didn’t want to take a risk.
I don’t know about you, but given that so many other music papers have gone in the last twenty years (see also Smash Hits, Select, Vox…) I hope that NME can stay the course. But I would like to see it cover a wider range of bands -the NME shouldn’t be just covering one type of music, like metal or dance magazines do. It would be good to see, y’know, the return of books and films being mentioned in there; more about other music and trying to encourage people to listen to other stuff. Sure I listen to a lot of indie, but as far as I’m concerned, this decade owes just as much to R’n’B and Hip-Hop as indie, if not more so. Reggae seems to feature far less, as does Hip-Hop.
With a female editor at the helm, maybe the paper will actually take a radical step forward and be what it should be: A paper about music, and the issues that connect with it. there have been occasional bold steps –the Beth Ditto cover for instance, but the paper should be doing more of these. More coverage of music outside the mainstream, and -dare I say it? – perhaps a few more black and female faces. Many would like to see that Ms Murrison has the vision to take the paper in a fresh direction, and not kertow to big-wig publishers and narrow-minded indie snobs.
As it mentions the NME…