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Interview with Harry Paterson
28 August 2012
Interview by Neil Daniels
Harry Paterson is a UK based freelance writer. He currently writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player Magazine, Powerplay and Midlands Rocks. Visit Harry's web site for more details.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Christ, Neil. How long have you got? I have very catholic tastes so my favourites would include jazzers like Freddie Hubbard, Harry James, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis. I’m obviously a big metal fan so Motorhead, Saxon, early Queensryche and early Metallica make the grade along with proggy acts like Floyd, Yes and Rush. I also have something of a musical sweet tooth so AOR acts like Journey, House of Lords, Jeff Scott Soto, W.E.T. and anything involving Steve Overland tick my boxes. The band that has had the biggest impact on me, though, is Marillion. I’ll never forget how I felt when, as a head-fucked, angst-ridden 16 year-old, I first heard Script For A Jester’s Tear. Mind-blowing doesn’t even come close. The Clash, Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers always light my fire, too. Oh, and talking of lighting fires, The Doors, as well. I never tire of Zeppelin, either. What else? Well, classical music was my first love and Mahler’s symphonies remain probably my most favourite music and his 2nd symphony would always be my first choice as desert island disc. Baroque opera, JSB and the great 20th century symphonists, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and Alan Petterrson are simply indispensible to me. In terms of individual musicians, I love Steve Rothery; a wonderfully emotive player with superb feel. Bruce Springsteen, both musically and politically, gets me on a gut level and, somewhat surprisingly, to many, I bet, is Marc Almond. He’s a man of peerless artistic integrity. He’s versatile, distinctive, hugely talented and criminally underrated. I also love Dave Sylvian and Joe Bonamassa is simply God.
When did you start writing about rock?
Probably about twenty years ago and then didn’t go near it for about fifteen years after that. I wrote mainly about classical music and a lot of political commentary for the left press instead. I fell back into rock metal journalism almost by accident. My wife, who’s a photographer, nagged me to go and see a local act at a nearby boozer so she could try out a new camera. The band that night, Toxic Federation (R.I.P.) so impressed me I was compelled to pen a review the very moment I got home. The rest, as the cliché has it, was history.
Who have your best interviews been with?
I’ve never had a bad one, actually, Neil. Richard Marx for Powerplay was brilliant. Intelligent, sensitive, friendly and articulate, I found him fascinating. Jeff Scott Soto for Midlands Rocks was something of a fan-boy moment for me and he didn’t disappoint. He’s had a varied and interesting career and what he said about the Journey sacking was quite moving. I really felt for him. A great guy and a superb musician. Slash’s bassist, Tod Kerns, for Classic Rock, was good, too. He couldn’t believe his luck in landing the gig and just radiated sheer, unashamed joy and enthusiasm. He made a refreshing change from the jaded too-cool-for-school standard-issue rock star.
And least favourite interviews?
Well, as I mentioned, I’ve not really had a bad one. Grace Jones’ bass player, Malcolm Joseph, who I did, so to speak, for Bass Guitar Magazine, was probably the most difficult. Not because he was an arse or anything, quite the reverse, actually; lovely fella. He’s just so naturally modest and self-effacing getting him to actually brag a little and talk about his achievements was a real chore. We got there in the end, though.
What are your thoughts on the current state of music magazines in the UK? (The Word recently folded.)
It’s a crying shame. The undoubted benefits of new technology and the internet can’t disguise the fact that the decline of print media is a tragedy. Having said that, I don’t think it compares at all favourably to its counterparts from the 70s and 80s. I recently read an issue of NME. Must’ve been twenty years or more since I’d seen it and it was dreadful. Bland, insipid, anodyne and every article seemed as though it was written by the same person. Zero character and crushingly boring. As for Kerrang! these days; oh very dear… I suppose, somewhat predictably, I’m going to view favourably those magazines for which I write but the fact is they do represent a minority of quality music journalism. Powerplay is remarkable for the sheer range and breadth of its coverage. If it’s rock or metal of any description chances are it’ll appear there at some point. The editor, Mark Hoaksey, has a welcomingly light touch and editorial interference is virtually unknown there. It’s probably unfair to single out any one of my colleagues there, at the expense of the others, but I particularly enjoy Marcus Jarvis; an excellent writer. Classic Rock still exerts a compelling pull. Mick Wall, Pete Makowski and Tommy Udo, to name just three, are always going to be worth the price of admission. Metal Hammer has some great writers and Jonanthan Selzer, for example, is utterly superb. A ferociously intelligent, distinctive and well-informed writer, I’d happily read his shopping list, frankly. The Dark Lord himself, Alex Milas, scribes a quality sentence and does a superb job at the editorial helm, very much leading from the front. Also, writing for Joel McIver at Bass Guitar Magazine is both a privilege and an honour. Let’s face it, Joel is a metal legend and his enthusiasm, knowledge and energy makes for a great magazine.
What do you think about the quality of writing online?
Mostly, it’s absolutely appalling. Cliché-ridden, hackneyed with spelling, grammar and syntax that make the eyes bleed. As with all things, though, there are exceptions. The Quietus is a delight, my Future Publishing buddy, Joe Daly, does great work at The Nervous Breakdown as does the genuinely awesome Dom Smith at Soundsphere Magazine. On an amateur level, Brian McGowan at Midlands Rocks is a great writer and is easily good enough to write professionally. Jason Guest, also of that parish, writes very entertainingly on the really dark stuff. I can’t stand virtually any band he likes but I always enjoy reading his manic, unrestrained and riotously over-the-top copy.
Which rock magazines and websites to you regularly read?
As well as the aforementioned, Gramophone; still far-and-away the best classical music commentary in the world. Just started getting back into Q and I’m a devotee of both Mick Wall and Dave Ling’s respective blogs/diaries. Oh, and Metaltalk.net frequently gets the scoop on the big questions of the day. Rock’s Back Pages, if you can afford the sub, is an absolute treasure trove but be warned; once in there you’ll be there for hours.
Who are your favourite rock writers?
There are two styles of writers, very different from each other, and for totally different reasons, which really do it for me. In the first camp, Mick Wall is probably my favourite and certainly my single biggest influence. He’s a dear personal friend and I’ve found his advice and constructive criticism to be invaluable. For me, Mick is a real writer who just happens to work in the field of music journalism and commentary. His memoir Paranoid is easily the greatest book of its kind and makes Kent’s Apathy For The Devil read like Enid Blyton. Mick’s the Hunter S Thompson of rock and metal and represents a very noble school of music writing. Very much of the Gonzo tradition, I think any aspiring rock writer should read as much Mick Wall as they can get their hands on. Shit. I just ended that sentence with a preposition, didn’t I? I also loved Dave Dickinson’s work in the ‘80s and early ‘90s at Kerrang! and Raw, respectively. Sadly, he seems to have vanished from public view and that, in my opinion, is a real loss. Tommy Udo is another writer I enjoy immensely; spiky, contentious and utterly fearless in saying what he really thinks. Charles Shaar Murray is a living legend and, when he doesn’t disappear up his own arse, writes the most elegant and beautiful prose you’re likely to find. Pete Makowski, obviously, another living legend and his recent piece on Rory Gallagher’s six-album purple-patch for Classic Rock was vintage Pete. Superb stuff, that was. The other type of writers I enjoy, the very antithesis of Mick’s style, would include people like Joel McIver and Dave Ling. Both eschew the journalist-as-star approach and both are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the music. You know they never make a mistake, are very informative and you can rely utterly on the accuracy and veracity of their writing. Who else? I’ve already mentioned Selzer at Metal Hammer and Joe Daly so I’d add the wonderful Sylvie Simmons, Dante Bonutto and the absolute hero that is Morat.
Which books on music would you recommend?
When Giants Walked The Earth, Enter Night and Paranoid by Mick. The Truth About Metallica and To Live Is To Die by Joel. The Dirt obviously, and Seb Hunter’s brilliant Hell Bent For Leather. Marc Almond’s autobiography, Tainted Life, Bowie In Berlin by Thomas Jerome Seabrook, Shots From The Hip by Charles Shaar Murray and Miles Davis’ autobiography with Quincy Troupe. I could easily list a hundred more but these are essential for any student of the form.
What’s your music collection like (inc. LPS, CDs, books, etc)?
I sold all my vinyl very early on in my marriage as the choice between keeping it all or feeding the spawn became unavoidable. I still weep occasionally when I think of it. And when I look at my kids… These days I’ve got about 2000 albums and, with the exception of around 400 remaining CDs, is all backed up on an external hard drive in MP3 format and on my iPod. In terms of books, I’ve probably got around 1200 and they are largely concerned with music and politics with two or three hundred popular fiction and classic literature titles.
I need more, though. There is no such thing as too many books, only too many kids and not a big enough house.
Can you name some of the best gigs you’ve been to over the years?
Marillion at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall, pre-xmas ’84, will always be a landmark gig for me. Fish hauled me up on stage from the front row and I took the crowd through a rousing rendition of ‘Gizza Bun’ which old Marilli-heads will know instantly. They also played an early version of what would go on to become Misplaced Childhood. A very special night indeed. Same venue, a few years later, when Queensryche rolled into town and did Operation Mindcrime in its entirety on the Empire tour was amazing.
Again, sticking with Notts Royal Concert Hall, Iron Maiden on the Powerslave tour. An unreal gig. Joe Bonamassa at the Ice Arena, Nottingham again, was maybe the greatest gig I’ve ever seen and stayed with me for weeks afterwards. It was quite simply art of the very highest standard. He is a genius. Donington 1985, Marc Almond on the Twelve Years Of Tears tour and Alter Bridge at Rock City are a few more that spring immediately to mind.
David Bowie or Marc Bolan?
Bowie. No question. Absolutely no hesitation there at all.
Megadeth or Metallica?
I love the first four Metallica albums but I love Megadeth, too. If we’re looking at both band’s entire outputs, then Mustaine edges it, just, for me, as he’s more consistent but, equally, I don’t think he has anything in his repertoire that matches the first four Metallica albums.
What are you final thoughts on modern rock?
It’s very healthy. Unsigned is largely where it’s at for me. I see some incredible bands on a weekly basis and it’s nothing short of a tragedy some of them don’t have deals. Captain Horizon is one of the greatest bands I’ve ever heard and I don’t say that lightly. A Thousand Enemies, who recently triumphed at Bloodstock, are a stadium-quality act already and Fahran, too, while not yet the finished article, have great potential if they can hit on the direction in which they need to proceed. Dakesis are also a lot of fun and JD and The FDCs are nothing less than excellent, too. There is a huge swathe of great bands out there, struggling along on shoe-string budgets and doing it for nothing more than the love of music. Personally, if I ever become ruler of the world, I’ll make it compulsory for every man, women and child to go and see an unsigned band once every week and buy some merch.