Happy birthday and God Save the NME
It’s a republican nightmare, but Britain’s fortunes are inexplicably linked with our Queen’s. Whether it’s Elizabethan New World exploration or Victorian industrialisation, Britain’s might requires reginae tactus. Yet never has the realm’s cultural wealth coincided with the Monarch, than with our Lizzie and pop music.
Today sees the diamond jubilee of our great institution the New Musical Express, making it merely a month younger than Queenie – in the same school year but forever the snotty nosed kid at the back of the class, pen knife in hand carving slogans into society’s English oak desk. While mainstream Britain was still humming Vera Lynn war tunes and standing for the national anthem when the wireless shut down, the NME gave the country big bands and suave exciting crooners.
While the post-war nation rebuilt itself, popular culture was born and the NME led the wave, introducing the charts, before going on to showcase jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, Merseybeat, folk and psychedelia. It was a roadmap for longhaired baby-boomers, plugged in and tuned out, while the Royals gazed over a swinging Sixties swaying with Union Flags.
As the Queen and NME entered their teens the bond was still strong, with The Beatles receiving MBE’s. But soon pop music’s rebellion would kick in – drug arrests for the fab four and The Rolling Stones, honours returned, and ‘the man’ derided. NME-led rock music was ignoring the status quo and would stay permanently on the outside.
Their separation peaked with the Silver Jubilee, like university friends who’ve fallen out in their mid-twenties. The Queen released plates and trinkets while NME goaded their snotty nose protégés the punks, cumulating in the ultimate two fingered treason- The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’.
The NME modelled itself as the entry level route into teenaged, anti-society Valhalla. It embraced Eighties alternative comedy, Billy Bragg’s Red Wedge, invented indie and gave the disenfranchised youth a voice. It wasn’t Smash Hits, Look In or Johnny Briggs, it gave light to the Cold War, before adopting rave and anti-Criminal Justice Act campaigns. Music was politicised and NME was Britain’s true flag.
By the end of the century, with QE2 and NME firmly middle-aged, a reunion was inevitable. Britpop made the Union Flag acceptable and Cool Britannia ruled the air waves. NME gave us Oasis, and The State lapped it up. Then, post-millennium, NME gave itself to capitalism, sponsorship and adverts.
So what is the NME? In truth it’s the prodigal uncle who disappears for a few years only to return with a new wife, surfing awards, and two passports, while you endured weekly family meals. It reinvents itself for new generations and changes with the times. If a scene’s boring, find a new one, if a second album’s poor, trash it, and NME is ruthless in executing its intolerance. If it wasn’t we’d still be reading about Al Martino and Yes.
There’s the timeless cliché of the NME ‘building them up, to knock ‘em down’ but isn’t this its job? It is meant to find bands for readers to get excited about, a role requiring space given up by already past-it bands. There are other publications peddling mediocre comments about releases, someone always likes an awful album, even if it’s just their mams, but the NME isn’t there to massage old musicians’ egos.
Rubbishing the NME is a full-time hobby for many over the age 25, purely because they don’t get it any more. The NME gifted them a cool record collection, and their self-worth has flourished to think they’re better than it. The truth is they’re just too old and the NME doesn’t even care. Although all excellent, Mojo, Q, Word and Uncut cater for the oldies and the blogs pander to the snobs, but the kids are reading about invigorating new music from a voice speaking directly to them.
I have a thirteen-year-old brother whose bedroom wall is covered in NME clippings, and I spent years DJing at a Leicester indie club, Mosh, which is decorated with NME covers. It’s this scrapbook connection which makes NME essential. A printed screenshot of Drowned In Sound doesn’t have the same impact. Besides, filling in Trevor Hungerford’s weekly crossword is a textural and physical pleasure.
Not everything’s great. Circulations are down, online competition is fiercely immediate – their own website merely being a news aggregating SEO traffic magnet, and it’s lost its bite (bring back the Brats), yet it regenerates itself for new audiences when all others have failed.
Its previous editorship caused NME’s comparative annus horribilis, but under Krissi Murison it’s become exciting again. It may not be relevant to you, but it’s essential to some and they’re who matter. The alternative to a monarch is an elected and biased politician; the NME’s alternative is unpaid amateurs. Neither is perfect but who would you trust?
Photo credit: Badgreeb RecordsTagged in: 60th, Birthday, jubilee, NME, Queen, sixtieth
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