Who the hell is Stuart Maconie?
No, I hadn't heard of him either before reading this book. According to the
front cover, he's apparently the "best thing to come out of Wigan since the
A58 to Bolton".
Despite spending the first eighteen years of my life in Bolton,
I don't recall ever making the short trip down the A58 to Wigan. There's
nothing in Maconie's book to make me regret that, but there's plenty to like
about the story he tells; growing up in a fairly typical northern working class
environment, then embarking on a rather untypical occupation as a music
journalist for the New Musical Express (NME).
My own distant recollections of the NME are that it was mostly a pile of wank.
Much of the writing was reminiscent of the crap prose that graces a typical
sixth-form magazine, with overblown metaphors and too clever in-jokes. Many of
the album and gig reviews seemed to be an exercise in proving the writer's
self-worth, overloaded with youthful cynicism and rarely conveying any genuine
sense of the music or personalities under review.
Perhaps Maconie didn't write those particular reviews, or maybe his
sensibilities have changed over the years, because this book isn't afflicted
by any of that. Instead Maconie brings a self-effacing humor and honesty to
bear, whether he's describing a hotel room interview with Nile Rodgers or
mistakenly interviewing the wrong band instead of The Bluebells after a
But what comes through more strongly than his sharp humor is Maconie's enduring
affection and obsession with the most basic essences of the music that he
likes. It's not that he picks apart every note or word that a band produces;
instead he focuses on the whole that – when great bands are at the top
of their game – is always much more than the sum of their parts.
Of course, it helps that Maconie seems to like much of the same stuff I do.
To date he's the only person I've encountered who lauds the Happy Mondays
and also claims that Wichita Lineman is the best pop song ever composed. (I'm
not sure I'd go quite that far, though it's sufficiently good to have made me
add a Glenn Campbell recording to my collection.)
Maconie's description of the energy, circumstance and style of the
Happy Mondays is both accurate and memorable: 'a style that is best described
as crackhead Mountain Rescue Team or Mujahadeen Rod, Jane and Freddy'. In
addition to the Mondays, he tips his hat to most of the Manchester scene that
played out at the end of the eighties – most notably the Stone
Roses – but perceptively downplays the commercial juggernaut of Oasis
that arrived in the mid-nineties.
Maconie is circumspect about music journalism's place in the larger
scheme of things, but defends his craft to the hilt. 'It is the daftest, most
innocent, maybe the most honourable branch of journalism'. On the strength
of this book at least, that might be a reasonable claim; he's damn good at it.