Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Dream Is Over

Plan B is dead.

As I understand it, the end had been coming for some time: as staffer kicking_k notes, the mag was largely subsidised by indie-label advertising, something which has been steadily dropping since the beginning of the recession - people have less money to spend on records and magazines, labels have less money to buy advertising, and a noble enterprise like the magazine suffers the consequences. In this kind of context, it was impossible to keep the magazine going at its current standard (monthly publishing, good, capacious writing, beautiful printing and illustrations, nationwide distribution).

I only wrote for Plan B beginning in September 2007, after I had been reading it for just under a year - around 21 issues, including the final number. I never did anything longer than a brief interview, but it was always a strange thrill to see my own words in print, alongside those of so many others who I admired. It was reading Plan B during the dark winter of 06/07 that re-awakened my knowledge of the power of music, that suggested a community existed beyond the parochial agonies of a southern English town (it always heartened me that the editor, Frances Morgan, came from Bishop's Stortford, a place even more obscure than Bournemouth) who cared about the things I cared about, that introduced me to much of the music that now means the most to me - which, even I didn't have the money to hear it, still fascinated me through the descriptions, the extrapolations in print - that was largely responsible for forming the way I interact with music. The magazine was partially responsible for helping me to my first breakthrough in writing fiction ("finding yr voice", as it's known), and for pushing me towards writing about music - something which lead, in turn, to my writing for them. They were the first place to allow a miscreant like me into print, and for that I'm very grateful. It's vastly to their credit that they would trust an untried 18-year-old to write for them - I blanche now to think of the shit I wrote during my time, but hopefully there was enough that contributed to the full mass of each issue. It was also through writing for them that I was introduced to a community of writers and fellow music fans who I'm very glad to know (among them a number of the writers whose work I admired when I first began reading): the likes of Louis Pattison, Frances Morgan, Joe Stannard, Petra Davis, Lauren Strain, kick, Jon Dale, Neil Kulkarni, Stewart Smith, Matt 'Guanoman' Evans. The magazine played, I suspect, a large part in convincing me to apply for a creative-writing course, and probably helped me to get into Warwick (music journalism always looks good on such an application form). I don't want to get all mushy about it, but it did change my life.

The people involved needn't be in the least humble about their achievement: I don't think it would be an overstatement to call it consistently the best national music magazine in the UK. Everything about it was correct: its presentation, its politics (DIY, post-Riot Grrrl feminism, empowerment), its intelligence in a market dominated by the wearied hackery of the dadrock mags (and I include the likes of Clash in that) and the brainless nihilism of Vice, Dazed and Confused, etc., its relentless neophilia and futurism, the surprise and sprawl of its writing (the sheer number of fresh and diverse voices gathered on its pages), the fact that it was OK with pop and Web 2.0, its wilfulness in championing any and all music that was interesting, regardless of genre ghettoisation, and re-injecting real opinion and passion into the music press (which one admired, even if one didn't agree with said opinions), its motivations - idealism, curiosity, righteous commitment, and sheer love of music. Because it seemed, unlike most other music-mags, to be written by music fans, for music fans. Its ethic was one of full instinctual and intellectual engagement with every aspect of culture (the book and film pages, and the columns, were as much of a delight as the music writing) reversing the increasing trivialisation music is now subjected to.

In this sense, it was a slight bit of a throwback. As Ned Raggett notes, along with its predecessor Careless Talk Costs Lives (although Plan B was very much the project of Frances Morgan, as opposed to CTCL, which was largely True's magazine) it was partially "
about comfort and retrospection, a reverence for print over the digital world", a resurrection of the spirit of the UK music press at its best - the late-70s/early-80s NME of Ian Penman, Paul Morley and (indeed) The Legend!, and the 90s Melody Maker of Simon Reynolds, Neil Kulkarni and (indeed) Everett True. (Hm.) And I am, frankly, convinced that it will go down in history as the equal of those zeniths, as the music magazine of the noughties. The sheer ambition, the gall of what it attempted to do - to create a national monthly magazine covering the most marginal and heterogeneous of music, with some of the best discourse to be found anywhere, printed to a beautiful standard - in today's music market was incredibly admirable, and enough to commit it to the music-press hall-of-fame.

Watching Twitter after the news slipped out, I was amazed at the sheer outpouring of sadness that followed (and amused that people thought it was the rapper who was dead). Then there were the blog-eulogies. It is, of course, not the end. What those responsible for the magazine go on to do will def. be worth watching for.

Long live Plan B.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Purchase On This World

A communique from Chris Hamilton-Emery, of Salt Publishing, who have recently been in dire financial straits. Due to the recent recession, the revocation of Arts Council grants, and in spite of implementing a raft of innovations ahead of the majority of UK poetry publishers, talk has been made of axing all forthcoming titles in 2009. Salt have been probably the most daring poetry publisher in the UK for the 10 years they've been operating, and have given the most thorough support to the British and international avant-garde - something attested to by their back catalogue, which contains substantial titles by John James, Tony Lopez, Denise Riley, Geraldine Monk, Allen Fisher, John Kinsella and Robert Sheppard, as well as work by more mainstream (and often brilliant) poets such as Jane Holland, Luke Kennard, Michael Hulse and Andrew Philip:


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International


2. Share this note on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Salt Publishing

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plug Tunin'

Sorry for the continued transmission interrupt. (Not that anyone cares, of course.) A combination of end-of-year work and exams have proceeded to put beat me senseless recently. Once the first exam is out of the way, intermittent posting will continue, but that won't be for at least another week.

Anyway, just a short note to plug SPLAT, the Warwick Student Arts Festival, which will be running from Sunday to Thursday of the last week of term, 21st-25th June. In particular, I urge everyone to make efforts to attend the following events:

Purple Ballads - 3.00PM on Thursday 25th @ The Music Centre Ensemble Room - split between recitals of Chopin and Liszt by pianist Florian Mitrea (currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music) and readings by the poet, Warwick creative-writing student and enthusiast of Gothic literature Maria Cohut.

WORDS with A.L. Kennedy - 8.00PM on Monday 22nd - a stand-up set by the best (and most mordantly funny) novelist and short-story writer currently operating in Britain (and Warwick Writing Programme Associate Professor).

The Real Inspector Hound - 12.00PM on Tuesday 23rd - a production of the Tom Stoppard play by Warwick students, many recruited from the Writing Programme (so you know it will be fine. Yes!)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - 2PM on Tuesday @ the CAPITAL Centre Studio - another student production, of the Edward Albee play.

Workshop of the World - 1.00PM on Wednesday @ The CAPITAL Centre Writers' Room - a poetry workshop investigating the relationship between the art-form and the natural world, run by the Carcanet and Bloodaxe poet David Morley (who has been known for achieving remarkable results even with rank amateurs).

Inferno - 1PM on Thursday 24th @ The CAPITAL Centre Studio - a version of part of the first volume of the Divine Comedy, using the techniques of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, masterminded by first-year Creative Writing student Josh Roche.

Howling - 4PM, Thursday @ The CAPITAL Centre Studio - a minimal play written by the extremely accomplished second-year Creative Writing student Becci Fearnley, concerning wolves, wilderness and survival.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


The new issue of Plan B is out today, and it happens to contain a review by me of the new Current 93 album, Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain (which I urge all readers, Stewart Home's hatred notwithstanding, to buy, preferably from the label itself). I'm actually rather proud of it, and the editing seems to have improved what was initially a very impressionistic and sloppy piece of work. Good. More importantly, there are cover features by Lauren Strain - who can make even the rather tedious Grizzly Bear sound good - and Joseph Stannard, on the various maverick strains of US Black Metal (Xasthur, Fauna, Wolves In The Throne Room, etc.) Available from all good retailers.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Some belated thoughts on the new Laureate appointment. Carol Ann (a.k.a. "Carry On") Duffy is a curious figure, at least for me. She's always lurked in the background as someone 'famous', without my knowing exactly why. Then again, the adjective 'famous' doesn't have quite the same meaning when applied to a poet as to anyone else. I never studied her, at GCSE or A-Level, and hadn't come into contact with her work until I encountered Bloodaxe's Staying Alive anthology a couple of years ago. I had to kind of be told that she was 'famous', and accept it as more-or-less truth. Admittedly, the large number of books written and edited by her that my local (chain) bookstores sold (I say 'large', but these things are very relative where poetry is involved) gave some indication that she had a popular audience, but she still felt private, to me at least, a piece of personal knowledge. She's also one of those poets whose entire style looms large in contemporary poetry, whether we really know it or not. Thinking the other day about the kind of poets who had an influence on the work I've been writing, Duffy was nowhere to be seen - I hadn't read a lot of her work, she wasn't someone whose books I'd hoarded. And yet, re-reading 'Prayer', I recognised exactly my own cadence, the same tense formality. I had, for all that time, thought that 'Prayer', which always creates a tingle when I read it, was something that belonged to me, in a certain sense; it turns out to be "her most famous poem", apparently. And there is the paradox: a poet of decidedly private concerns, connecting with a large (and popular) audience. I know, of course, that's there's a certain lack of street-cred in liking Duffy - her identification with the apparent reaction against experimental poetics in the 80s and 90s (the 'new formalism', and 'new generation', whose work is not, as far as I'm concerned, to be spat on a priori), and sometimes 'traditional' concerns (human relationships, domestic life, death, spirituality - but also, lest we forget, press manipulation, sociopathic conditions, the oppressive grip of patriarchy), don't exactly imbue her with 'edginess'. But, then, I couldn't especially give a fuck. I like her work, and if any y'all motherfuckers have a problem with that, you can... go do something very unpleasant. It shouldn't, either, be forgotten that she is the first female Laureate in a post often associated with the most stuffily conformist macho types (Hughes, Tennyson, Day-Lewis), and, furthermore, the first openly gay Laureate. Oh, and she's from Glasgow, which is another point for her in my book. What she will do for poetry in this country is another question - even the Poet Laureate can't reasonably change the reading habits of an entire country's population. But if positive shifts are going to occur, I imagine it is Duffy, if anyone, will make them happen.