Assignment one: gig report for the NME

Their
first piece is in and the judges have decided which of the unfortunate
Press Cadets gets it in the neck. Editor Ian Reeves explains who it was
and why

HAVING NERVOUSLY SENT the 10
Press Cadets on their way to a gig at The Scala in King’s Cross, I was
very reassured by the quality of work they returned with. In reaching a
decision of which eight to put forward for round two, I set great store
by the views of Alex Needham, the NME deputy editor who had set the
brief.

Alex said: “Overall, I thought the standard was high and I was
impressed at the diversity of the entries. Nearly everyone had strong,
original opinions and a distinctive voice. It was good to see that a
few people went the extra mile and got some post-gig comments from the
lead singer.”

We both agreed that the strongest pair of entries for this task came from Lou Thomas and Les Floyd.

“Lou
had a great turn of phrase (“here to revere”) and a wonderfully speedy
style that managed to convey the excitement of the gig. He also knew
his onions to an impressive degree, making appropriate, but not
obvious, comparisons to other bands.”

Alex said. He thought
that Les’ review had “real flashes of inspiration… I wasn’t always sure
what he meant, but there was something really vivid and original about
it.”

The high standard meant that it was going to be a tough call
on which two to eliminate, so the decision ultimately came down to
relatively minor points.

Some cadets were marked down for not
providing the band’s set list, which Alex had asked for in the brief,
and a couple also made factual errors – the lead singer’s football
scarf was Southport, not Stockport or Southend.

Our final
selection boiled down to four candidates, although we didn’t quite
agree on which two wouldn’t make it. Will and Elaine were penalised for
lapses into blandness and use of cliché. Alex felt that Zoe Smith’s
entry – which contained “pretentious allusions to Proust and the
fountain at the Bellagio” – betrayed a lack of understanding of
the NME audience, although I was less concerned about this.

But
in the end, the two to be spiked were Tim Weissberg and Gareth Gore.
Gareth fell victim to a late rewrite of his standfirst and intro, both
of which ended up with grammatical errors, and Alex felt he pulled his
punches when it came to the review: “He seemed to be slagging the band,
but then finished it with the words ‘home win’, Glenda Slagg style.”
Tim, it was felt, didn’t so much review the gig as report what
happened. His was more of a news report than an opinionated review that
was asked for.

So, any last words?

Gareth:
“I’m not taking it too badly. I’m more into international affairs,
foreign news and analysis than music writing, so in a way it was no
surprise. This was not something I was used to doing.”

Tim: “I’m disappointed, but pleased I got this far.

Plus,
I’ve just been offered a job as editorial assistant with The Publishing
Agency.”Les Floyd Just when you start to wonder if Cliff’s backstage,
directing the band in bringing church back to the masses, the
pseudo-bell peeling gives way to a gutthumping assault of drum and
bass, and only the Botox-riddled fail to grin from ear to ear. After
the relative calm between sets, Dogs’ high-energy opener hits you like
a chilled plastic glass of lager thrown from the back of the crowd (and
Johnny smiles, calling for a towel when an incoming beerbomb bounces
off his chest).

Lou Thomas

From the moment the resolutely unmuzzled Johnny Cooke and his
equally rabid bandmates bound on stage, it’s clear Dogs do not have any
casual fans.

Impeccably fringed frontman Johnny is nothing less than an urchin
idol to the Dogs devotees, and tonight they are here to revere. From
the second Dogs appear until they crash to a halt with a version of The
Jam’s “‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street”, which owes more to the The
Buzzcocks than Weller, nothing less than adulation, screaming,
climaxing and speaking in tongues will do.

William Payne

Bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash were synonymous with the
football culture of the early ’80s, and although tonight’s crowd is a
little more sophisticated than you’d have found at an England away game
of that era, football seems to be a popular theme for the evening’s
festivities.

“This was like a home match,” pants vocalist Johnny Cooke, drenched
in sweat after the gig, and keen to keep the football theme going,
“it’s brilliant to come back home and perform in front of people who
really give a shit.”

Elaine Okyere

The football-obsessed Dogs fans won free tickets to the tour to be
filmed for the video of the band’s next single “Tarred and Feathered”.
The crowd’s mix of jeans and football shirts makes it look like Cup
Final day, with singer Johnny leading the way with a Stockport County
scarf around his neck.

Two years ago the Dogs were playing in their bedrooms, but with two
Top 40 singles and a growing legion of fans, tonight’s gig at the
London’s Scala is a long way from home. Starting off with the riotous
“London Bridge”, the Dogs didn’t need an introduction and from the
crowd’s reaction the band’s opening didn’t disappoint.

Zoe Smith

London-based band Dogs are fast defining themselves as the Punk Rock
Rat Pack. A crazy concept perhaps, but their high-octane blend of
ferocious energy and the innate ability to work a crowd like nobody’s
business set them apart.

Yet if their entrance was good, the finale is sublime. After a
rousing performance of “‘A’ Bomb on Wardour Street” the band exit to a
spectacular water show that would put the fountain at the Bellagio to
shame. Except the jets of water fall from the bottles of water
cascading from the ceilings.

Elizabeth Pountney

Kicking off with the brutal “London Bridge” – “not Stamford Bridge,
right?” guitarist Rikki Mehta judders frenetically while an impassioned
Cooke eyeballs the crowd, pumping his chest, climaxing with a pained
request to “take me home”.

After cocksure banter with the fans over Cooke’s Southport scarf
(“half my family live there, but I support Man U… yeah, ‘cos I grew up
in Cambridge”) comes the rockier, stompier “It’s Not Right” and the
first of many lagered-up Dogs devotees is hustled out by a heavy, his
trajectory followed by Cooke’s amused gaze.

Gareth Gore

The Dogs’ homecoming at Scala on Thursday shows a band struggling to
find their own way to swim against the tide of London’s long music tide.

As always, when the local star comes home to roost things aren’t
quite the same, and the Scala gig wasn’t really a good indication of
some of the exciting sounds from “Turn Against This Land” – not that
the crowd minded. Home win.

Benjamin Leach

On stage, it’s rock at its angriest and sweatiest. The songs are
fast and catchy, and the lyrics are sharp and memorable – not quite up
to scratch with the annoying claim of their website that the band are
‘lyrically dazzling, like Morrissey in a Weller headlock’ – but barked
out with ferocity and verve.

Tim Weissberg

The response to “London Bridge” is duly noted by the band. So much
so that Cooke has to re-think his intro for the next song, “It’s Not
Right”. “I usually say something witty like ‘… that’s not right’ (he
gestures to nothing in particular over the audience).

But this is alright.” He means the atmosphere in the Scala and he’s understating to say the least.

Rachel Williams

Until they stormed the stage music fans had barely bothered to clap
their hands, but as lead Dog Johnny Cooke barked they turned into
“fucking animals”.

The stream of revellers crowd surfing at the King’s Cross venue was
faster than the flow of beer into plastic cups. When the cameras
started rolling for new single “Tarred and Feathered”, the vocalist was
fondled like a puppy by Dog lovers in the front row.

Press Cadet profiles – the eight that remain in the running 2005

Elaine Okyere

Age: 22 Career history: Completed the postgraduate diploma in
magazine journalism at City University, London, this summer and has had
work placements at Young People Now, Sugar and Take a Break.

How did you find the first assignment? I’m not a big fan of rock
music, so I found the task quite difficult. It was hard to talk about
the band in the context of their genre. Although, surprisingly, I
really enjoyed the band’s performance and I am now a fan of the Dogs.

Benjamin Leach

Age: 25 Career history: Founder and editor of Fast Like Squirrel online. Now trainee reporter at the Elmbridge Guardian.

How did you find the first assignment?

Enjoyable. It was
interesting getting to know the other people in the competition. There
was little competition and that we shared ideas rather than arrogantly
guarding them. Writing for the NME was difficult because it has such a
specific audience – an audience with which I have little in common.

I know little about the indie rock scene, so tried to compensate for that in other ways.

Elizabeth Pountney

Age: 24 Career history: Various PA/assistant work at GQ, The Guardian and The Sunday Times.

Currently fashion news editor on Clash, freelancing for Hooker and Condé Nast Traveller.

How did you find the first assignment?

I
thought the first task was challenging and well thought out. Going out
and reporting on a story, rather than just commenting on something from
home, meant that we could bring first-hand experience to the piece. It
also meant that the judges could see how we would respond to pressure
and how we could adapt our writing styles; very clever.

I
thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the gig, not only because writing in NME
style was fun and interesting, but because I felt genuine enthusiasm
for the band.

Rachel Williams

Age: 20 Career history: Trainee reporter, Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. NCTJ pre-entry.

How did you find the first assignment?

I found it fine. It was quite easy to talk about the stage presence because the band was so electric.

It’s not really my type of music, but I found it easy to adapt to that NME style of writing.

William Payne

Age: 23 Career history: Work experience at Racing Post and the
Mirror, worked for BBC Match of the Day for six months and in the
sports library.

How did you find the first assignment? It was different to anything
I had done before, but I felt it came fairly naturally. I love music,
so it was the kind of story I would like to cover again at some point
in my career. The aspect of the task I found the hardest was keeping to
the constraints of the word count. I studied history at university, so
my natural urge is to be very descriptive. There was a lot of material
that I wanted to include, but couldn’t, which I found frustrating.

Zoe Smith

Age: 25 Career history: One year in Milan, Italy, as an interpreter
and research assistant for Fazi Editore and freelance work for Rolling
Stone. Intern on The Observer. BA in journalism and social sciences.

How did you find the first assignment? The Dogs gig was an
interesting assignment. As you can’t easily Google the band we had no
choice but to use our creative skills and write an opinionated review,
which was cool.

Lou Thomas

Age: 25 Career history: BA in journalism with sociology, City University.

How did you find the first assignment?

I found the first task
fairly easy, but scary. I live for music, have read NME for years and
edited my uni mag’s music section for two years. If I couldn’t write a
reasonable gig review, I’d have been ashamed of myself.

Les Floyd

Age: 31 Career history: Currently freelancing for News & Star,
Carlisle, and writing a blog for the paper on my experiences in
recovery from depression, alcoholism and agoraphobia.

How did you find the first assignment? I’ve suffered from
agoraphobia in the past, so I have a residual lack of confidence in
social situations and particularly crowded venues. So, the task of
reviewing Dogs at the heaving King’s Cross Scala was a worry at the
start of the night. I was lucky, though, since the rest of the Press
Cadets – particularly Zoe, Gareth and Lou – were chatty, friendly and
put me quickly at ease, meaning I could enjoy the music and the task at
hand.

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