TThe following article originally appeared on ScotsPolitics, an online magazine dedicated to analysing the issues affecting Scotland today.
60 years of music journalism. The NME has a lot to celebrate and a lot to feel rather smug about, as its main competitors have been blown to oblivion after the beginning of the digital age. The NME marches on, stubbornly refusing to leave the shelves of Britain’s shrinking music sections.
But when looking over the NME’s history, it’s the ultimate Benjamin Button story – a magazine that started off as what could be a modern pastiche on British traditionalism and stuffiness, including articles on ‘Dixie Group vs Big Band’, to its reinvention as a literate, engaging publication with some of the finest writers of the era. Finally, to a bratty rag that promoted mediocre bands, then shot them down before they’ve even finished their first NME tour.
The history of the NME is one we should look back at and think about carefully. During its peak, British music writers were celebrated and figures of inspiration to the country’s music-lovers and the sales were there to prove this, with around a quarter of a million copies shifted a week in its heyday.
I remember buying the magazine every single week, taking in the words of people who hated the same bands as I did. It was only after discovering the writings of Nick Kent, Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Andrew Collins that I realized what a young fool I’d been – music writing was, and still is, an art that should be able to inspire the music lovers to share a sense of community and ideals, rather than just elicit childish giggles from high school kids. The thing that made the NME great was its ability to make music more than just what came from the stereo, whether it be helping promote the CND, quoting existential philosophers in a review or giving the leader of the opposition a platform to address the British people. Depressingly, I missed all of it.
In the documentary of the NME’s story: Inky Fingers – the NME Story, you can hear the motivations of what this magazine was supposed to be and the story itself is relevant to how things are run today. Owned by a large parent company, the NME completely disregarded the wishes of the people at the top and followed a philosophy that helped shape the birth of Punk and post-punk. It was rebellious and vital.
The fallout from allowing Neil Kinnock to grace the cover and his interview is what ensured that the magazine was taken down a more neutral path, as IPC decimated the writing and editing staff. Now it feels like the NME exists without a true belief that art, music and literature is more than the idea that ‘this is something that someone has done’. Music journalism should be part of a web that traces the different threads of people’s thinking and gives it a name, eventually turns it into a movement that can inspire, provoke, enrich our lives and help us to gain a new understanding of what it really is to value forms that are quite often abstract and subjective.
Sadly the NME has become another symbol of consumerism: apolitical and without the analysis that the times need – it now remains only a rolling news feed for music news, features articles that champion a new band every other day and blog posts that indulge in too much nostalgia.
So the NME has reached 60, and we should celebrate the fact that something has been able to adapt to the changing times, but we should also stop and think that because of these changes it has been compromised, and is now a neutered version of a magazine that was once a medium that helped to shape the very culture that we lived in. I hope it continues, but I also hope that it can find a real voice again.
Gavin Marshall is a web copywriter and English graduate from the University of Stirling. A native Glaswegian, he has written for music, film, and poetry magazines and is interested in politics from both Holyrood and Westminster. Political malcontent and disco infiltrator.