"Mm," he said, and "ah", and "ha". Finally he looked up. "Theatre reviews?" he said. "We already have a theatre reviewer." "If they ever go on holiday ..." I mumbled. He got up, scraping back his wooden chair. "Erm, sorry." He extended his hand and I was half out the door when he added thoughtfully, "We haven't got anyone to review gigs, though." I revolved. "Gigs? I could do that." "Really?" "Sure." "Well ..." he said, "It's a page every week. Arrange your own tickets. Expenses - sometimes. Copy in a week on Friday."
Music, I thought to myself, as I tripped down the stairs. Well, why not? Everyone knows about music. At boarding school, we listened to Radio 1 like third-world prisoners checking out the World Service. In my first term at university our sedate girls' house had a party. We were all thumping along to Madness and Bryan Ferry when a contingent of lads appeared. One of them went straight to the stereo, removed our tape, chucked it aside and inserted one of his own, swivelling up the volume with one finger as though dialling 999. NER-NER-NER-NER-NER! Myooooom dahdahdahdah! it went. "What - is - that?" I said in awe, against the rising cries of "Oh really," "Bloody nerve". and "Who's he?". "It's Killing Joke," he snarled. Just as this new planet swam into my ken, however, the stunning racket abruptly ceased, Bryan crooned anew about "Angel Eyes", and the stranger's tape was coolly returned. "Here," he said. "You can borrow it if you like."
Two years after this Damascene conversion to all things indie my knowledge of music remained fitful and untheoretical. I was the only person in town who missed out on the new incarnation of Joy Division. "New Order - if you don't know who they are, don't bother to come" read the flyer. Cheeky upstarts. I didn't bother. My earliest gig notes featured comments like: "One on left - floppy fringe - not many strings on his guitar - bassist?? CHECK." I wrote that a Bradford band hailed from Manchester. I misrendered lyrics. I reviewed the audience, the bouncers and the queue at the door. Still LOP did not lose confidence. The only comment ever made about my copy was: "Could we have a bit more next week?" The typesetters frequently inserted spelling errors, but apart from that nothing was ever changed. My prose was more sacrosanct than Iris Murdoch's. Give over an entire page to bitter denunciation of a club for refusing to let me in free? Fine. A review in the form of a Platonic dialogue? OK, but can we have a bit more, please?
When all else failed I interviewed my friend John. He was in a band with Stuart the Cat Burglar, who spent most of the daylight hours prone and pretty with cold tea-bags on his eyes, and Cyrus, who ran away to Nevada to become an Orange Person. One day another friend, Teddy, approached me, waving a cassette. "You ought to listen to this," he said. "It's my flatmates, see, they're in this ba-" "Get outta here, Teddy," I bawled with the pompousness of one who had important musical agendas to set. "No, really, just give it a listen. They're amazing." I did. "Why are you wasting my time with this heavy metal crap, Teddy?" I said sternly. The band were the Sisters of Mercy. (This anecdote passed its sell-by date sometime in 1985, when "Tunnel of Love" was still in heavy rotation, along with "Blue Monday", in clubs all over the North.)
Some discoveries were proudly launched. I watched amazed, as a horde of fans piled out of their cross-Pennine coach with armfuls of gladioli, like Interflora coming to Dunsinane, and the lead singer bleated and wailed and flailed himself with the blooms and the floppy-fringed lead guitarist (see, I'd learnt something) looked on impassively. My rave review was headed in huge type: THE SIMTHS ARE COMING!
But I was learning all the time, particularly the precise moment at which to add, when blagging a free ticket, the words "Plus One". You had to ring up, order your tickets, spell your name four times, then hastily add "oh-and-plus-one-of-course" and put the phone down. When you arrived you had to say the paper's name three times and your own twice, present your "Press" card and endure several minutes of never-seen-her-before head-shaking from the proprietor and jovial cries of "Where can I press, love?" from the bouncers. This scene was enacted without deviation twice a week for over two years. The very last time I went down there I almost shed a nostalgic tear as we went through the same old ritual. "I won't be coming here any more," I said to one of the bouncers. "Yeah?" he said, gazing imperturbably over my head. All punters are grey at night.Reuse content