Goodnight, sweethearts

 

A very sad day. The Word magazine, which I never called The Word magazine because I knew it when it was just Word magazine, has closed. The staff found out last night, just after “passing” the latest issue, Word 114, which when it comes out in a week or so, will be the last issue, also. The announcement by David Hepworth came this morning. It was a shock to us all, reader and contributor alike.

I’m kind of guessing I don’t need to spell out what was so unique and warm and special about what was, to all intents and purposes, a music mag but, to many other intents and purposes, was so much more than that. I suspect the crossover between the readers of this blog and the readers of Word is pretty substantial, and not just because I’ve written for the magazine since its inception, nine years ago.

It was launched, along with the independent publisher that published it, Development Hell, by people I’d known and worked under and alongside at what was once called Emap in the 1990s: David Hepworth and Jerry Perkins, with Mark Ellen as editor. Mark and another key launch figure Andrew Harrison had been my editors at Select when I first defected from the NME in 1993. Dave, an editorial director at Emap, subsequently interviewed me for my first job at Q. The four of us attended the same awards ceremonies, conferences and meetings for all of the five years I worked there. When they themselves defected, it was like coming home being asked to write for Word, which was their dream project. (For further crossover, gentleman scribe Paul Du Noyer had been there at the launch of Q and Mojo; “Seventies” Mike Johnson had worked as a sub at Q when I was editor; Jonathan Sellers, art editor, had been art director at Select when I was features editor; contributor Barry McIlheney had been all of our bosses, MD of Emap; contributor and creator of the always-excellent trivia page at the back, John Naughton, had been a key man at Q; other contributors with Emap form included Stuart Maconie, Jim Irvin, Mixmag‘s Joe Muggs and David Quantick. You can see why Word felt like a nine-year, post-grad PhD for so many of us.)

Thanks to its enviable address book, the mag was also able to get legends of the calibre of Charles Shaar Murray and Danny Baker regularly onto the page. And let us not overlook the writers and editors that Word magazine did not bring with them in the boot from the world of Emap, but who became in many ways even more vital to the constant turnover of ideas and wise prose, some staff, mostly freelancers: Rob Fitzpatrick, Jude Rogers, Kate Mossman, Matt Hall (now my boss at the Guardian, then the only man who could work a podcast), Nige Tassell, James Medd, Chris Bray, Graeme Thompson, Ali Caterall, and the mighty Fraser Lewry, an icon in his own way. Sorry if I’ve forgotten anybody.

I don’t have the first issue to hand, with Nick Cave on the cover, but I have a funny feeling I didn’t have anything in it. Certainly, a long piece about how to write for EastEnders was my maiden contribution. It was in 2004 that Mark gave me my own column, a TV review initially, called Telly Addict (hmmm, nice title), but this transmuted into a column about whatever was on my mind in late 2006, called Whatever. No one had ever given me a regular column before. It occasionally attracted criticism and ire in the letters pages and in the forums, but it’s better to be noticed than not. It was an education. (It taught me to keep some of my views to myself.)

Although Word was aimed at a demographic too old to worry about being cool but not old enough to kick the habit of loving and purchasing music old and new, it embraced technology (not least because of Andrew Harrison’s magpie instinct for such stuff), and its website and podcast helped to grow Word, or The Word, into a brand, a community, a way of life. It rewarded subscribers, stretched to an iPad edition, put on its own splendid gigs, carried a not-quite-but-almost-New-Yorker-esque amount of words, and – perhaps its most significant badge of honour, for me – put illustrations on the cover, some as sublimely beautiful as this one.

I was lucky enough to be part of the circle of trust, from which regular podcast guests were plucked, although if they hadn’t invited me up to Word Towers in Islington for a while, I had no qualms about asking to be invited. If you heard me shooting the merry breeze with Mark, and Dave, and Fraser, and Kate, it was generally because I’d emailed Dave and said, “Hey, if you’re short of a podcast guest … ” (I expect other regulars felt the same way.) But you didn’t have to work for the magazine to be in its club. The “Massive” were brain-picked from very early on, and often held shoulder-high and paraded around the place, whether as forumeers or gig regulars or providers of citizen copy. In many ways, Word had to stay small (or “niche”) to survive – a bit like 6 Music, which seemed to chime with the magazine’s attitude and plurality and launched at roughly the same time. But being small also means you’re vulnerable.

Development Hell survives. It publishes Mixmag, which is perhaps even more niche, but niche enough to attract niche advertisers and tick over. Long may it support the company, which remains essentially independent, and run by good people. The printed word? We all know it’s an endangered concept. But we don’t wish to see magazines we’ve grown to look forward to arriving on our doormats, and which we cherish, and fondle, and interact with, and rely upon for sustenance in an increasingly vanilla, pasteurised, market-led world, disappear from view.

As a writer, I think I might have possibly done some of my best writing for Word. If so, it’s because a) they gave their writers the freedom to stretch their legs, but not to overindulge and only to a clear brief, b) you were always sensitively but firmly edited (Mark may seem like a soft touch, and he kind of is, but he’ll also let you know if you’ve gone wrong, or created a cul-de-sac of solipsism, and has spiked at least one of my columns for this reason in the past), and c) you were mainly asked to review things you thought you might like. Since very little of what we all wrote was published online, it is for collectors of the magazines to look back on. I might publish a couple of my columns on this blog, just so they’re out there. But maybe not the one about squirrel racism, or the one about militant atheism. (I only wrote two covers stories for Word, pictured above, and they both made me feel inordinately proud, and a bit like a journalist again.)

We must raise a glass to this great institution. It’s like a library has closed, as I wrote on the Word forum this morning (and where a condolence book is expanding faster than Prince William’s bald patch), but a library where you knew all the staff and they knew you, and where there was a bar, and live music, and a quiz, and you never got charged if you brought a book back late, as long as you were prepared to sit down and have a constructive and tangential dialogue about it over a pint.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Goodnight, sweethearts

  1. I’ve bought Word since the first issue and am deeply saddened by its passing. You’ve pretty much said it all, Andrew, however I’d like to add that Word magazine, podcast and website was such a warm, friendly place where literate and discerning music lovers could congregate. They introduced me to so many new singers and bands that I otherwise would probably not have found, entertained me with some of the best music discussion podcasts around and the only question that remains is Where The **** Do I Go Now For Intelligent Music Journalism? Really, there are NO other options.

    RIP The Word

  2. Very sad news.

    The only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to. It will be sorely missed.

    Nicely written fitting tribute Andrew.

  3. Yes, very saddened as a subscriber since the first ish. Where else can you find that level of writing covering just about everything I’m interested in?

    The only thing currently coming close is the new look Q, which has broadened out to be a jolly good read. No surprise there’s an ex-Word staffer behind it.

  4. Lovely piece, Andrew. Echoes much of how I feel about it’s sad demise.

    What’s worse, as far as I can tell, is that the Word team did so much right and still ended up adrift.

    The use of podcasts, gigs, online forum indvidually wasn’t revolutionary, but put together, they felt genuinely fresh – giving the Massive so many ways to engage and epitomising the 21st century brand.

    The memory of the fallout from your squirrel column is one of many entertaining memories (although probably not for you) I have of its nine-year lifespan.

    Word will be fondly remembered by everyone who came into contact with her.

  5. Nice obituary, Andrew. I tell you what, it may only be a magazine, but I wanted to cry when I read this morning that it was shutting up shop. Word lived in my bathroom – if this is too much detail, I apologise – and reading a few pages a day, on throne or in bath, it was more or less a daily companion. It’s going to be a big gap to fill. I’m really, really gutted… I hope they’re all getting some sense of fulfillment from the number of times they must have read that today, at least…

  6. Desperately sad news Andrew, I’m so sorry to see this magazine go. Like so many others, this was my only magazine subscription and I really felt like I belonged there, like the articles had been written for me. Yours is, as already said, a lovely obituary, but I wish with all my heart that it wasn’t necessary. But the guys responsible for Word are clever, creative folks and I’m sure they will bring us something to latch on to again.

  7. Dreadful news. Word was the only magazine that both entertained and infuriated me. I couldn’t stand the illustrated covers, although that Dylan one was better than most. I also found the tone a bit too smug, but I loved the fact that it followed its instincts and wasn’t afraid to give its writers plenty of room to maneouvre. I am surprised it didn’t close sooner, though. I think there was an assumption at Word that there that were more people in the world like them than there actually are. It’s very easy to believe that when you mix all day with other music journalists, PRs, musicians etc. I think a lot of music magazines suffer from the same delusion. It’s like you’re in a giant bubble, and the people around you are all like you. Then when you go outside and talk to ‘real’ people you discover that most of them don’t give a shit about the things you do. They just buy the occasional CD, watch TV and don’t bother with papers anymore “only the Metro”. They don’t want or need to know everything about the bands they might like, and they might quite happily like them for one album before moving on to the next thing, and then forgetting about it just as quickly. That, sadly, is most people. Word’s lovely clique was just that – a clique. I know as I was part of it. But I also know how small that clique was.

  8. Like so many others, I’m still coming to terms with the news about The Word and hoping that it simply isn’t true. Thank you for your wonderful contributions Andrew, I’ve been a long time admirer of your writing and I used to love your regular Word column. The one about Property Programmes and Sarah Beeney from a few years ago was my absolute favourite.

    I’ve had a number of affairs with music magazines over the years: A giddy teenage crush with Smash Hits until 1987, a short, torrid fling with the NME at university, a long-term cohabitation with Q and, of course, my eventual marriage to The Word. Like my real marriage, finding the Word was like coming home and having your hopes come true. Everything I ever wanted and needed was in those pages and today’s news has hurt me like an unexpected petition for divorce. I do hope that the team can find a new outlet for their talent. I for one would be willing to pay a tenner each month for an online issue and a podcast.

  9. I don’t really have sufficient words to describe how I feel today, but luckily one of my favourite Word contributors did it for me. Thanks, Andrew.

    It’d be lovely if you could make it down to the next Mingle to raise a glass. We are the Massive. We will never go out of business. And it’s all thanks to The Word.

  10. I have shed a tear. I have read every issue and although I have other subscriptions, they’re to running and literary mags. This was the only music/popular culture magazine I have ever found which addressed me and my interests, and had books and films etc. of interest too.

    Lately, I’ve been inordinately proud to read interviews that I’ve transcribed for Jude and Rob appearing in article form, and I will really miss this aspect – so Word has touched my personal and professional life through its whole life.

    Thank you for this lovely obituary and best wishes to all who sailed in her (to mix a metaphor)

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