We have DJ Fuzzyfelt to thank for today's story... A couple of months ago, I was resting as I do, by day, when up popped a message from DJFuzz with an image of something I had erased entirely from memory, my few years as a teen in Leamington Spa, where I worked with a bunch of people who all went on to way better things, writing a short lived fanzine, Leamington's Love Letter. Documentarian Alan Rider, in his new book, Tales from the Ghost Town, the story of the Coventry Punk fanzine Revolution (Fourth Dimension Books), had collected amongst thousands of others, several editions of Leamington's Love Letter fanzine and discussed the zine in his book. The shock for me, the realisation that I have spent my entire life just doing the same things over and over again, is very painful, and so I sit here.
Whatever, that's my problem, one of them, the 99 Others...hmmmm, haha! I reached out to Alan who had edited his own far better known fanzine back then, Adventures in Reality - instead of numbered editions, they were catalogued with a letter, issue J, featuring Bauhaus, Flux of Pink Indians and more, is pictured below. Alan spoke about his lifelong dedication to this beautiful indie press underground art form and why it needed his excellent book.
OUTSIDELEFT: I have to say, this book kind of came as a surprise. After so long! Quite niche, an important book and an importantly weird book nonetheless, and in many respects, not weird at all, maybe kind of conservative, redolent of an episode of Stuart Maconie's Freak Show, for fanzine fiends of a very narrow moment in time… As you can tell it is probably way easier for you to explain your reasoning and rhyming behind Tales from The Ghost Town?
ALAN RIDER: I guess it will appeal to a narrow bunch of people, but the idea behind doing this book was that this was a pretty unique time in the UK and in Coventry in particular, and creativity sprang up quickly and spontaneously. The urge to create is universal, and this example just happened to be from Coventry, but talks to anyone. These fanzines were all unique and different and a true art form, but are also 40 years old and fragile, so have to be captured now or it will be too late. So the book is not for fanzine freaks only, but for anyone interested in where creativity comes from and what you can do with that.
OL: So many of these zines seem to celebrate the wholly uncommercial side of the music scene, determinedly racially unmixed, a time before Dammers changed everything…
AR: The ones featured in the book date from 1979-85 so are definitely post Specials and Two Tone. Race wasn't an issue for post punk fanzines in Coventry. All forms of music and culture featured, and the uncommerciality of them is their most appealing trait. The commercial music press existed and this was an alternative to that, so was naturally non-commercial in its outlook. Like Outside Left now, no one was in it to make a fortune. They did it because they could. Because it was there to do. Because they cared.
OL: Are you a collector, have you collected fanzines more broadly or anything else? Your book put me in mind a whole lot of Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop Bad Pop book… The humble beginnings with no real idea how to rule the universe…
AR: I do have a massive collection of fanzines, but that's my background too so I have an abiding interest. No one producing a fanzine back then thought of it as being anything more than it was, or existing beyond the next issue. Ruling the universe would have been nice, but wasn't on the agenda. There was a naivety for sure, but that's seen now as being a quality that makes them stand out in an overly slick and over produced world where even zines are glossy Riso printed affairs trying to look like professional publications. There are zine writers groups where people post seeking advice on 'how' to do a zine. If you even need to ask that question your head is in the wrong place.
OL: I Am reminded of the Morrissey line, “all those people all of those lives where are they now…” Have you kept in touch with any fanzine writers from way back?
AR: Yes I'm still in touch with a lot of them, and got back in touch with even more in the course of putting the book together. They are good people and many are still creating so its good to keep in touch as we share a common set of roots.
OL: Coventry just enjoyed a middling year as the UK City of Culture. The OL highlights were The 2-Tone exhibit, Harry Styles, The Pop Group… Tales from The Ghost Town feels like of a piece with such an event. Were you featured? Did you have a role? What comes of these things anyway? The cultural festival of the commonwealth games is that anymore than an opportunity for the same faces to transfer public funds to private enterprises?
AR: I did a few events such as a panel for Coventry University Zine week, an outside exhibition of sleeves of my fanzine Adventures in Reality, and most recently a new exhibition on Coventry youth culture held at the Herbert Museum & Art Gallery which features Adventures in Reality. Whether the City of Culture really changed people's fundamental impressions of Coventry I doubt. It will always be Two Tone Town for anyone from outside of Coventry and the City of Culture focused mainly on that aspect which isn't anything new. These things are bureaucratic nightmares anyway, designed to exclude independents by swamping them with application forms and approval committees.
OL: Is it admirable or sad that the fanzine culture is so DIY, no arts council grants back then for those guys. Me, I was well even kind of used as an example of a working class person involved in the arts, to get more funding for the guys with the arts education.
AR: Fanzine culture has to be DIY. Once it becomes part of the approved landscape it loses its power. The whole point in a fanzine is that you need no ones permission and can say anything you like, however you want to express it.
OL: How has your career evolved, are you still living in the West Midlands, do you feel those fanzine days have any role in informing your subsequent life and career. Of course, I always maintain that my sorry sad life would be so much better had I never set ears on anarchy in the UK...
AR: I live in Norfolk now, having moved from London. I haven't lived in Coventry or the West Midlands since 1985. I've always said that doing a fanzine changed my attitude forever and for many ex editors interviewed for the book it was the start of a journey that they are still on. Pretty much all of them are successful and happy with their lives, aside from one who ended up a train spotter in a bedsit. There is always one! Personally I am very, very, glad to have produced Adventures in Reality and for it to be held up in high regard now.
OL: The legions of fanzine writers, where do you say it began? With Sniffin’ Glue? Or maybe something from the 60s like OZ - were fanzines a development of independent presses or something else, what? I think definitely led to the creation of all of those football fanzines… Is there a line to be drawn to the often beautifully made independently published magazines (amongst the few interesting periodicals left in print) that exist today? What do I know, not much, how about you, hazard an opinion?
AR: Fanzines proper started way back in 1930 but I would say that Sniffin' Glue was a real turning point and certainly football fanzines owe a lot to that. They are part of that same DIY tradition. Those producing them knew little of the history of independent print, and cared even less. They just did it anyway. Aside from that, the only line to be drawn between modern 'zines' and magazines and post punk fanzines is that they are self produced. In all other aspects they are not the same thing at all. Too slick. Too Art School.
OL: What are your favorite bands that came out of that fanzine era, that maybe the zines themselves drew your attention to?
AR: I love anything that was odd and would not stand a chance of getting picked up now. Virgin Prunes, Birthday Party, Lydia Lunch, Delta 5, SPK, Test Department. Stuff which was confrontational like the Au Pairs, or Gang of Four. I was never that fond of bands like the Fall. They tried too hard for me. Everyone loves Joy Division though. It's impossible not to.
OL: Now you’re established on the world stage, or at least in Coventry, as a cultural anthropologist - what’s next for you, invitation onto Sky Arts? A doc like Stewart Lee’s King Rocker...? What?
AR: I'd describe myself as more of an Archaeologist, digging up the bones of the fanzine past to display under glass! I'm doing a book on Third Mind records as that's an interesting story, and have an album of new soundtrack music coming out, chiselled from the cliff of vintage synths I have here, but I just wait for people to offer me fame and fortune, or at least an interview or podcast. I'd happily go onto Sky Arts if they asked me (what do you know?) but I might just be too disrespectful of Pseuds and bullshit for their late night panel discussions!
Tales from the Ghost Town is available from the Fourth Dimension, right here