Today I have asked Adam Sweeting, one of Britain’s most respected music press scribes ever! I don’t say such things lightly. But if you go check back he’s been everywhere, the weekly music rags and was one of the originals when Q Magazine started out back in the mid 80’s. I have several of his books he’s written and he alerted me to the The Arts Desk website for whom he pens articles. So with all that in mind I respect his slant on music though I don’t always agree with what he writes. That’s the beauty of music we can all debate it until the cows come home and I usually often do!
1. Just googling your name on the internet and it brings up a plethora articles or books assigned to you. Your national breakthrough came with working for the now defunct ‘Melody Maker’, a publication I used to read religiously every week in the late 70’s and 80’s. So how did they notice you? With your time working there, what gave you the most satisfaction? After sending in millions of reviews to various long-forgotten music papers, I got a few published (very reluctantly I always felt) by Tony Stewart in the NME. Then I went on holiday to New York – cheap flights had just been invented – and I heard that Blondie were recording an album there. I’d met Chris Stein when I’d worked for a home video magazine, and he was very into then-new video technology, so I thought maybe he’d do an interview about the album. I started telephoning Alan Edwards, their publicist in London, but it turned out the band were in fact recording in LA. Undeterred, my girlfriend Gill and I took off for the Golden State, even though we only had 1 credit card between us (hers) which was about to max out. Long story short, we tracked Blondie down to Sunset Sound Recorders (I think), and Chris Stein was good enough to give me a very comprehensive interview. Which I was always very grateful to him for, which he may not realise. Debbie Harry was a bit grumpy about a journalist door stepping their recording sessions, but she did apologise later. Anyway I took my scoop home, wrote it up, and sent it to the Melody Maker. They were immediately on the phone saying have you got any more where this came from? I hadn’t, but that started me off with them. What gave me most satisfaction? Taking the piss out of the NME in our jokey bit at the front of the paper.
2. The first book I bought of yours was ‘Simple Minds’, still in pristine condition might I add. Since then I have purchased the rest of the catalogue by your good self. Which book gives you the greatest pleasure? The most difficult one or one you’d wished you hadn’t started? Well I haven’t written many others! I wrote a little book about ‘Cover Versions‘ 4 or 5 years ago, which sold about 11 copies – maybe 8 actually – but I was rather pleased with it. It also got some nice reviews, which amazed me. It’s a great subject and I’d like to do something about it in more detail if anyone would let me. Publishers hope you’ve noted this!
3. Working at the MM you often interviewed many artists in your time, has there been an occasion when you’ve interviewed one, whom previously you’d slated their material? If so, what was the reaction by the artist? That has happened, but funnily enough most people kind of blank it out and pretend it never happened, which is just as well probably. I remember meeting Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke at somebody’s house, and he was quite hostile and saying something like “it’s lucky we’re not doing an interview, or else” – not sure why though, because I don’t think I’d written anything about him. It was probably your pal Steve Sutherland. I interviewed Gary and Martin Kemp when they were making that movie about the Krays, and I had written some gratuitously unpleasant things about Spandau Ballet, so I was a bit nervous. They were absolutely charming and good fun, which made me feel really bad. I’ve always found Jaz a scary sort of person.
4. You were also one of the original team when ‘Q magazine‘ was launched in the U.K. For me that was when music journalism grew up and they amassed what I regarded as the cream of the genre’s journalists. People looked to it and respected it’s reviews, often using constructive criticism rather than one weekly mags ‘let’s build them up then trash them’ ethos. How did you see Q at the time? Sadly today it doesn’t seem to hold the same authority as it once did. Yes, I think you’re right about the early Q. I liked it at the start because they did a lot of stuff on books and films as well as music and it was sort of intelligent and thoughtful, or we hoped so. It didn’t have that “weekly paper slag-off” mentality. Later they started reigning back on the non-music stuff and I think the magazine was the worse for it. My own favourite music paper era was NME in the Ian MacDonald / Tony Tyler period, where they had a great mix of erudition, humour, analysis and piss-taking. Yes have to agree with you about the NME at that time.
5. I often wonder about a review a journalist has done and then many years later looked back and thought actually I quite like that album now or vice versa. Have you ever been in that situation with a piece of work? If so, please tell. There are probably loads, but I can’t really think of specific ones. I did slag off Lou Reed‘s ‘The Blue Mask‘, which I still don’t especially like, but that review caused Lou to declare that he’d never be interviewed by me, and sure enough he hasn’t been. I doubt that you’ve lost any sleep over it though!
6. What I like about your work is that you’ve been lucky to have mixed with many genres of music, styles, fashions and decades. Which era of time gives you most pleasure to have been involved in? The Melody Maker years had a very intense camaraderie and a sense that we were on a mission to save what was, at the time, an ailing institution, so that was a good time. It was a job for a younger man though and I’m now an old git, so I’m enjoying being able to do some classical music and some pop/rock or whatever, and it’s been great to be able to do TV and films for theartsdesk. I also sometimes write for Motor Sport magazine, which gives me a real buzz because it’s completely outside what people expect me to do. “Adam Sweeting, pop music journalist” isn’t the epitaph I want. Oh we may see you one day on the Top Gear programme driving around the circuit then.
7. Which artist had you wished to have interviewed but sadly is no longer with us? Whom still around would you like to ask for an hour of their time too? Lowell George of Little Feat. Of living artists, I’ve only ever spoken to Willie Nelson very briefly, so he’d be a good one. Or Jimmy Page.
8. You’ve embraced the internet and very prolific on ‘The Arts Desk’, a website now I have in my favourites as it has opened my eyes to many wonderful things under the banner of ‘art’. What’s your views on governments trying to regulate the internet? Do you feel ‘art’ will be unaffected by this action? Don’t know about governments, who are totally clueless about all kinds of new technology and media. But what I do find worrying is the way a few colossal corporations threaten to dominate the supposedly free and wide open spaces of the net. People like Google, Amazon and Apple, who are steadily hoovering up all the information about everybody in the world. They have a lot of governments eating out of their hands. I shall not say too much about those companies as web pages have ears!
9. You have dabbled with television too with your company ‘VTVC’, how much of a challenge was that for you? What are your plans in that field for the forthcoming years if any? TV is hugely different from print or web journalism. It’s very labour intensive and time-consuming, and it’s a team effort where the writer is just one component in the mixture. It took me quite a while to get used to it, but then seeing the finished result is great. TV programmes also have a bit of a life after they’re initially broadcast, which is very gratifying. Yes I’m often re-watching old shows.
10. Out of all the bodies of work you have produced, which three pieces would like to be best remembered for and why? I always think fondly of my MM article when I went to Japan with the Stray Cats, and it was total ****ing mayhem. It was an extremely stressful experience but that made it a very good piece (I like to think). Our VTVC film about Pavarotti ‘The Last Tenor‘ will always be a big milestone for me. I was very sad when he died, and I still miss him being around because he was such a colourful and larger-than-life character. And I did a big profile of Robert Redford for the Guardian a few years ago, which was a thrill because I’d never interviewed a real Hollywood great before, and he’d been a legend when I was growing up and stuff.
Well I think you’ll have to agree that was an excellent read so once again many thanks to Adam Sweeting for giving me some of his time. If he ever writes his autobiography, I will purchase a copy. I do advise you to read his articles especially at the Arts Desk. He can also be found on Twitter!