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Interview with legendary rock writer Mick Wall

Legendary rock scribe Mick Wall needs no introduction. He made a name for himself as the main writer for Kerrang! during the magazine’s golden-era in the 1980s. A former editor of Classic Rock, he has also worked extensively in TV and radio. His 1999 memoir Paranoid is one of the most wincingly honest books of its kind and his doorstop 2008 biography of Led Zeppelin, When Giants Walked The Earth, was immediately hailed as the definitive biography of the band. He has written over a dozen books, including classics on Ozzy, Iron Maiden and W. Axl Rose. His most recent tome, Appetite For Destruction, is a collection of some of his best work from the Kerrang! years, which was published by Orion in early 2010. His next major work – a no-holds-barred biography of Metallica – is published at the end of 2010. Mick’s website is

Interview by Neil Daniels (free extract from the book All Pens Blazing Vol. II)

Was being a rock writer a conscious decision for you or did you merely stumble upon it as a career?
I was eighteen, living in a hippy house, working in an employment agency (because they couldn’t find me a job) and dealing speed on the side, when I met Pete Makowski, then legendary Sounds scribe and renowned speed freak. I hadn’t read a music paper for years and thought what he did sucked, writing about gigs, like doing homework. Then he told me about his latest trip to America to be on the road with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the scales fell from my eyes.

In the early days were there any rock journalists’ that inspired your work?
Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Ian MacDonald, all the gang from the early-‘70s golden age of the NME. Then after I started writing for Sounds at nineteen (about punk) I worshipped at the pens of Giovanni Dadomo, Jane Suck, Tony Parsons, Julie Birchull (don’t know how to spell that), Lester Bangs, etc. My really big influence by the time I got to Kerrang! though (at twenty-five) was Hunter S. Thompson. Can’t read him now, loved him then. You can see it all over my early Kerrang! stuff.

What was it like writing for Sounds?
I had two goes at it. 1977–1979 and 1980–1981. Pretty bad the first time, though obviously exciting, in a when-will-I-be-famous sort of way. Geoff Barton, then Reviews Ed, asked me if I wrote with a dictionary by my side. I did and went very red-faced over it. And then editor Alan Lewis told me I wrote like an ex-NME writer, a mark of huge disapproval. That was when I knew I would never make it as a writer and gave up, got a job as a PR. The second time was better. I was suddenly doing cover stories and that’s when I really learned about this stuff, mainly thanks to Sandy Robertson, who I shared a flat (from hell) with. And also Alan Lewis, who believed in me for some reason.

Who were your peers at Sounds?
Jane Suck, Sandy Robertson, Pete Silverton, Vivian Goldman, Jon Savage. The Master was Giovanni Dadomo. Loved everything about Gio, could still quote you lines. Later, we became friends and I was in rock ‘n’ roll heaven. He bought me dinner at an Italian place in Notting Hill Gate once and it was better than any meal I ever had with the so-called ‘famous’ people.

What were your thoughts on Sounds’ demise?
Like going home to Ealing that time and seeing they had pulled down a load of shops and built a shopping centre. I was baffled, a little sad, but ultimately didn’t care. I didn’t live there anymore so it didn’t really matter.

How influential was Kerrang! during your years with the magazine?
It can’t be overstated. If you were Iron Maiden or whoever there simply was NOWHERE ELSE to go. NME thought you were morons, there was no MTV or internet, and no other metal mags (not even a Metal Hammer until 1986), and so it was Kerrang! or nothing. Consequently, there was a great camaraderie amongst mag and bands. And a lot of money lavished on us by record companies.

What did you make of the magazines that came after it like Metal Forces, Metal Hammer and RAW?
I thought they all sucked huge cock. I was offered the job as editor of the inaugural Metal Hammer in the UK in ‘86 but refused to even return the guy’s calls. Of course, later, down on my luck in ‘92, I did write for them, but by then I was ready to kill myself so who cared? Weirdly, today I think Hammer is the true heir of the Kerrang! I helped invent in the ‘80s. Funny, occasionally hard-hitting, really knows it’s stuff, and I’m thrilled to say I write for them occasionally. While the modern day Kerrang! seems to have lost its way, sadly…
What I didn't know then because I didn't actually read those mags was what a cracking job they were actually doing keeping real metal fans fed with info and news about bands that often hadn't even registered on our radar at Kerrang! yet. Metal Forces and Bernard Doe, Metal Mike at Aardshock, Ron Qunitana at Metal Mania –
these were major music fans that knew all about metal in ways I never did. What interested me were the stories more than the music. What those guys did though I couldn't do, and bless them for doing it. I often come across old copies of their magazines now when researching my books and am blown away at how far ahead of the game they were about all sorts of bands.

You were the most famous writer at Kerrang! so did you get away with doing things that other writers would not have been able to do?
Of course, otherwise what would have been the point? One memory from one day in 1984: I used to sit opposite Krusher, the designer, a great inspiration and friend to me in those days. We would have each day a bottle of Perrier on the desk between us – its contents emptied into the sink and replaced with either Tequila or, most often, Mescal, with the worm at the bottom. By lunchtime the bottle would be mostly gone. At which point we would go for ‘a drink’ at the pub across the street in Covent Garden. We would stand outside so people could wave at us from the office window if we were needed. No mobiles or text in those days. We would stay there drinking till gone three, then back to the office to ‘work’. Loud (LOUD) music on the stereo and finish that bottle of Mescal and eat that damn worm, half each, yum yum. Oh, and we would be sneaking off to smoke a joint now and again (obviously). I also forgot to mention we would also stop at the pub first thing on our way into the office each morning to have a couple of large shots of whiskey. He would yell “Rock!” and I would yell “Roll!” and down they would go in one. I should explain we lived in the same tower block in south London (Terror Tower we called it). Anyway... all normal. This one day though must have been near Xmas time cos there were lots of bottles of champagne in the office that various record company people had sent. About twelve, I think, sent to various people. We gathered them up, just he and I, opened them all, and drank them. We then threw every single Xmas card everyone had received and some of the bottles out the window while dancing and playing air guitar on the editor’s desk. I remember looking around at some point and realising we were the only two left in the office, everyone else had, er, gone home early. So we went home too, where we decided it was obviously right to go for ‘a drink’ after our long day at work. I hasten to stress, this is not an exaggeration. Example, it was around this time I awoke one afternoon to the phone ringing, only to be told some new artist called Bryan Adams was calling from Canada ready for his phone interview. I was furious with the record company girl, told her what for, and hung up. How dare they ring a day early! Then realised looking at the date in the newspaper that they weren’t a day early, that in fact I was a day late. I had gone to bed on the Tuesday night and not woken up till the Thursday afternoon when the phone rang. I suspected then I might have just the teensiest problem with my otherwise perfectly normal drinking habits.

Looking back at your writings for Kerrang! which pieces are you most proud of?
I just applaud myself for that whole era. I often wrote nonsense, I was often illiterate; I often had nothing to say and tried to disguise it with drug-induced blather. But I know I, personally, me, no one else, lifted it out of the mire of ‘normal’ metal journalism which it rightfully belonged in and turned it into something else. Made it funny, clever, and absolutely must-have-able. Once I started others followed. Dave Dickson was the first, a great writer who was the only one in the glory days who actually had something going on besides mini-me Mick Wall-isms. Dave could actually write. Dante Bonutto could also write and didn’t need me to show him how. The rest... like all those groups that followed Led Zeppelin, they all owed a debt to the master. People say that’s arrogant? People talk a lot of shit. Never pay attention to what ‘people’ say. Of course, there was more to Kerrang! than just the writing, though, and there we were all amazingly lucky, in that the team was exceptional, from Ross Halfin – not just the best rock photographer in the world but one of the best story-organisers and ideas-men – to the indefatigable and utterly mental Malcolm Dome, the gloomy but hilarious and often drunk and stoned and wonderful designer Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule, ‘ladiesman’ photographer Ray Palmer, and other not very writerly but hugely characteristic music critics such as Paul Suter, Xavier Russell, Derek Oliver and others, not least cartoonist, Ray Zell, who came up with Pandora Peroxide. Complete one-offs all.

Did you enjoy being a “TV and radio personality” fronting your own rock shows?
Not to begin with, it terrified me. Then I got into it and really grew into the role. By the end of my Monsters Of Rock show on Sky in 1988 we had to employ a girl to work three days a week just answering the mail. I used to get insane stuff sent me. A lot of porno pix from groupies, which of course I loved, along with straight out propositions which I was too scaredy cat to follow up. But mainly amazing letters and posters and drawings and works of blood-spattered art from genuine rock fans who enjoyed the comedy and fun of the show too. They were my people and I loved them. I still enjoy presenting now but not in the same way, not even nearly.

During your time with Ozzy Osbourne can you recall any “typical” Ozzy moments?
Too many to mention. I know it sounds lame, but you’ve asked so many questions here I’m knackered now, and the truth is the best way to answer this one is to say read the books – Diary Of A Madman; Paranoid; Osbournes Confidential; and my latest Appetite For Destruction – they all have some of the best Ozzy moments in them.

What do you remember about writing Diary Of A Madman – The Official Biography Of Ozzy Osbourne?
Doing it in three weeks fuelled by dope, beer and laughs. It was me and Garry Bushell originally. He was doing the first half of the book, I was doing the second. Then when the publishers got the two halves they liked mine better, sacked him, and got me to rewrite the first half. I also remember being ripped off for the money. When the Daily Star paid £20,000 to run a three-day serialisation, guess how much my cut was? Zero. 0. Nowt about owt. Fuckers.

What were your thoughts when you first heard the Gunners track ‘Get In The Ring’?
Weariness. I knew it was coming, had been told, etc. The only twister for me was that by the time it came out, September 1991, I had already decided to leave Kerrang! to manage what I thought was going to be the “New Def Leppard”. (They were called Cat People.) But I hadn’t told anybody yet because I wanted to wait for the band to sign the record deal I was sorting for them with EMI first before I made the announcement. By the time it was official a couple of months later it was rather a damp squib and consequently people (many people) assumed I was sacked from Kerrang!, and that it was because of the song. None of which is true. So it was a mess but really I didn’t care. As Sharon Osbourne put it over lunch one day, “Silly fucker [Axl] has just made you the most famous rock journalist in the world. If he hated you so much he should have just ignored you.” Sharon knows best. As a result of the song, my book The Most Dangerous Band In The World came out all over the world and brought me enough dough to live on for about two years. Thanks, Axy. And of course, people (hello!) still ask me about it, TV shows, film companies, mags and newspapers, it just won’t die. When Chinese Democracy came out I did twenty-eight interviews in one week with TV, radio, print outlets, web stuff, from all over the world. The funny part is, it wasn’t even the first time an artist wrote about me in a song. That honour goes to Gary Numan, who put my name in the title track of Replicas in 1979. I had given his first album a bad review so he got his own back on me on the next album, which went to Number One. The line goes: “So I turned to the crowd and said, do you know Mr Wall? / And the crowd all turned away...”’ That’s telling me, Gary!

What was Axl Rose like behind closed doors so to speak?
Exactly as you imagine, only smaller. Good fun company when he was in a good mood and you were doing something he wanted. Like a spoiled brat when he wasn’t and you weren’t. Joking aside, the guy has serious problems. We haven’t seen the end of that story and it’s going to get worse, much worse, before it gets better, if it ever does. I think we’re talking Michael Jackson level bad ends here. Me, I wish him all the love in the world.

You’ve written quite a bit about Bon Jovi, including a famous piece for Kerrang!, which is included in your collection Appetite For Destruction. What’s your opinion of Bon Jovi in the noughties?

Can you tell me a couple of tales from your time working in PR?
Paranoid is the book to read for those. But let’s put it like this: it was the late ‘70s and I fucked the head chick to get the job, I used to tape grams of coke to the inside of albums to get good reviews (it ALWAYS worked) and I lived in a pad in Hampstead with a garden so big the neighbours asked if they could hold their annual summer fete there. Happy days. Until it turned me into a junkie and I ended up in a burger bar washing dishes. But that’s another story...

What’s the best way of summing up the period you spent living in LA in the 1990s?
Bliss. Get up, jog to the gym, train, walk back. Shower, eat a huge healthy breakfast, smoke weed and drink tea and water all day while bashing out deathly prose and/or swanning off in shorts and cut down T-shirt to interview some rock star. Eat a big late lunch of salad and fries, then in the evenings, more weed and wine and the occasional visit from a Playboy model (Miss September 1988) or other mini-skirted hottie that thought my accent was amazing or my deep-blue-eyes or whatever the fuck. Then, on a good night, lie in my bed alone watching Arsenio Hall do his talk show on TV. I kept waiting for it all to end, unable to handle the sheer good luck. In the end I got tired of waiting and lit the fuse myself. And have regretted it many times since.

Your semi-autobiographical book Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories has been recognised as a classic in non-fiction rock books. What was your experience writing it?
Nervous to begin with. Like, is anyone really interested in this shit? Then it gradually picked up speed as I got into it. There were certain lines that made me laugh so hard as I was writing them I literally fell off the chair. In the end it took me three months to write the first chapter; took me three days to write the last. I would love to write more like it but it’s a question of money. When I wrote Paranoid I was on the dole and living alone and freaked out in hell. Twelve years on, I am married with three small kids, a huge mortgage and mounting debts and I can only do the stuff that pays the best. But in the last couple of years I have been very (VERY) lucky in that my publisher is an amazing guy named Malcolm who actually gets my work, so maybe one day there will be more along the lines of Paranoid.

You were editor of Classic Rock from 1998 to 2004. What was the initial reaction towards the magazine from fellow scribes and rock fans?
Rock fans applauded. Fellow scribes were hugely sceptical. Record companies largely ignored it. Iron Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood got it totally, instantly and was very supportive, as were one or two others. It was uphill every step of the way though.
Jerry Ewing is the editor who founded Classic Rock. He came up with the idea, the name of the mag and planned the very first all-important issue. All of us who subsequently worked for the magazine owe him a huge debt of gratitude, most of all myself who took over the editorial running of the mag from issue two.

How proud are you of the magazine’s continued success?
I am very proud, in the same way as I am proud of what I did for Kerrang!. But like Kerrang!, its present success is not something I can take credit for, nor something I think many others truly realise how much I played a part in. All of which is just how these things go. I live for tomorrow.

What was your daily routine as editor of CR?
That’s a book yet to be written.

What was it like collaborating with Iron Maiden on Run To The Hills: The Authorised Biography Of Iron Maiden?
Very good indeed. They were all hugely open and honest, especially Steve Harris, who has always been a gentleman and who I respect and admire very much. One of my favourite books.

Your Led Zeppelin biography When Giants Walked The Earth was instantly hailed as the definitive account of the band. Given the sheer amount of information available how did you go about researching the book?
In a nutshell: my own interviews with the band conducted over many, many years, plus new interviews conducted with as many as would speak to me for the record, plus my experiences (brief but insightful) of working with Peter Grant, Jason Bonham and Richard Cole from years past too. Plus huge amounts of reading all the other stuff out there, and thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s the most important part of any serious book. It’s not enough to put the pieces of the jigsaw together you have to interpret the finished picture too.

Do you have any regrets?
Tons. Mostly what you might call ‘mismanagement’. Of myself. By me.

In a nutshell, what has been the highlight(s) of your career so far?
My wife and kids. Followed by Paranoid, followed by When Giants Walked The Earth, followed by my John Peel biography, followed by the Kerrang! years. The Classic Rock years are a highlight too – turning a glorified fanzine into a proper monthly best-seller requires brains and cajones, my friend – but I have very few good memories of them because I was in such a bad place personally at the time.

Your next book is on Metallica. When did you first come across their music?
Blame it on Xavier Russell, back in the early Kerrang! days. I was living rough at the time, sleeping on couches and floors, toting around a portable typewriter and a plastic carrier bag full of my possessions. This one night I ended up back at X’s. He gave me Wild Turkey and a squash racket, then put on ‘Creeping Death’ and the two of us stood there riffing out on our squash rackets to it. I thought I was tripping, the music was so immense. He also introduced me to Molly Hatchet properly that night. I was very ill the next day.


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Antonia said:

"a squash racket, then put on ‘Creeping Death’ and..." Great! I am Metallica fan too, i would say really hardcore one. I can play guitar too i mean the real guitar not the 'squash' one. You can get the real squash racket here I hope you can produce biographies of them according to their new 2017 release album. That is because after a long time, their style of music now are related to Creeping Death sound or Ride The Lightning album.
May 09, 2017
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