Here's a great mag you've never heard of...
...so says James Brown of 'Socialism' - the last word in louche, eclectic, convention-busting journalism
Monday 19 February 2007
Declaring a fondness for gambling, drinking and every subject under the sun isn't alien to most journalists. There are, however, very few who manage to turn these hobbies into something worth reading. To this end I'd like to introduce you to a magazine called Socialism. I doubt you will have heard of it, as it appears sporadically, looks like a fanzine, has no cover price, prints only about 25,000 copies, and appears to be paid for by a small but hip record company called Heavenly. It is, however, a very good read.
Inheriting the qualities that made must-reads of The Idler and the Beastie Boys' publication Grand Royal, Socialism manages to combine the passion of a fanzine with a standard of writing that could easily grace more established publications. It is edited by Robin Turner of Heavenly Records (the Magic Numbers and the Doves are their bigger acts) and NME writer Paul Moody, a personable throwback to the days when rock journalists lived in the back of a limo and delivered copy in crayon on opened-up fag packets. Like a lot of good ideas, and even more bad ones, the one for Socialism was cooked up in a pub.
"The first issue came out in spring 2004," explain Moody and Turner, "the day after some crap music awards ceremony that we'd gatecrashed. The two of us and Ted Kessler [currently at Q magazine] sat nursing Bloody Marys wondering why all other magazines/supplements said, to quote Morrissey, 'nothing to me about my life'. We wanted a magazine that talked about the lives of Colombian drug runners, that interviewed Arthur C Clarke in his Sri Lankan hideaway, and quizzed Vincent Gallo on Chloë Sevigny's blow-job technique in The Brown Bunny. We've since covered two of those. We're taking straws on who's going to Colombia. We wanted a magazine that wrote about the kinds of things people actually talk about. We decided it had to be free - post-internet, that seemed like the only way. It is completely baffling to us that people still equate free media with a lack of quality journalism."
Socialism has gone on to attract a variety of contributors including modern bohemian stalwarts Bill Drummond, Stuart Home, Jon Savage and Jeremy Dellar, plus anyone else who has wandered through the Heavenly office or bars. The record company has a string of branded bars called the Heavenly Social, from where the magazine takes its name. "It's all done from the back table of The Social, Little Portland Street, W1 off one laptop, right in front of the biggest office drinks cabinet you've ever seen," says Moody. "Initially I'd finish an NME interview and then ask whether the subject would mind answering a few non-music related questions for Socialism. Then the trouble would be getting them to stop talking. Since word has got around, everyone from Ian Brown to Nicky Wire to Bill Drummond and Paul Weller has got in touch with ideas for features."
Having few advertisers to offend (they're mostly music and drinks ads) and no corporate parent company gives the magazine as much editorial freedom as the law of libel allows. The current issue is entitled the Rural Issue and features an unlikely tribute to Otis Ferry, a top 10 of Yorkshiremen through the ages and various columns about the joy/hell of living in the country.
In addition to this they have had interviews with musicians Graham Coxon and Mani from Primal Scream, artist Stella Vine and comedians Mitchell and Webb and The Mighty Boosh. It is, however, when they really venture off-road that the magazine is at its best. Their Rough Pub Guide is classic inner-city reporting; their best TV bars list is impeccable (No 7 The Winchester in Minder), and Robin Gibson's gambling column moves Jeffrey Bernard's old territory into the modern age.
"Jeffrey Bernard is a definite influence," says Turner. "I used to watch him get wheeled down from his flat to the Coach and Horses every day; this was after he'd had his leg off. You couldn't help marvel at someone who was quite so single-minded in the pursuit of happiness, revelling in the poetry of afternoon drinking. Other inspirations - Oz, Rolling Stone, The Believer, Cigar Aficionado, Boy's Own, Private Eye, Jack - anything that seemed to come about without a focus group. All the great magazines have a built-in philosophy. It's staggering how few great ones there actually are."
It would be wrong to suggest that Moody is no longer in love with his day job. "I imagined music journalism to be flying around the world drinking champagne and talking to rock stars and that's exactly how it's turned out. Highlights? Probably going to three continents in one day with Def Leppard, visiting Bob Marley's house in Jamaica with Ian Brown and having Pete Doherty tell me I was the best-dressed journalist he'd ever met." That, however, says more about Doherty's frame of mind than Moody's wardrobe.
When Socialism's founders are asked to name their favourite feature, one that is cited is "when our food correspondent [Neil Thomson] invented 'The Petrol Station Diet'. Breakfast was a packet of Skittles in chocolate milk!" Socialism's only downfall, if it has one, is that it isn't produced more frequently. They are not without ambition, though.
"We're constantly aiming to make Vanity Fair on a Sniffin' Glue-sized budget," says Turner. "We are looking to go bi-monthly and a spin-off magazine called The Socialite begins this summer." That means there will be 50,000 copies distributed outside gigs and in the 200 best drinking establishments across London.
If Socialism sounds like your thing then the places to hunt it down are the Social bars (in London, Nottingham, Bristol), the Rough Trade music shops and art colleges such as St Martins and Goldsmiths in London. You can also get it in a few selected pubs across the capital (The Boogaloo in Highgate, The Foundry, Old Blue Last and The Griffin in Old Street to name but three). And if you're really keen you can get it by mail order, through the boys' website (www. socialismmagazine.com). That will cost you a couple of quid, mind, to cover postage.
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