In 1974 Melody Maker advertised in Time Out for 'highly opinionated' writers under 21 with a good knowledge of music. A 22-year-old Welshman called Allan Jones replied with a scathing letter about the magazine's coverage, signing off with: 'Melody Maker needs a bullet up its arse. I'm the gun – pull the trigger".
Despite, or perhaps because of, his criticism, Jones was taken on as a reporter. It was the first step on a 30-year journey in music journalism that has taken him around the world interviewing some of the world's best – and worst – bands, to where he is now: editor of IPC Media's music and films monthly magazine Uncut. Earlier this month, the magazine celebrated its 10-year anniversary at the company's new, futuristic Blue Fin Building on London's South Bank.
Jones rose to editor of Melody Maker in 1984, a position he held until Uncut's launch in May 1997, giving first front covers to acts such as The Smiths, REM, the Stone Roses and Pearl Jam.
But in the Nineties, Jones grew tired of the 'laddish'culture of Britpop and sought a way to write about the music – and films – that he was interested in.
'The idea for Uncut came from my own disenchantment about what I was doing with Melody Maker,'he says. 'There was a publishing initiative to make the audience younger; I was getting older and they wanted to take the readers further away from me. It seemed like an impassable bridge.'
Even though it was the fastest magazine launch in IPC's history – launched within seven weeks – the magazine had a far from certain future. Jones originally designed Uncut as a film magazine, but just before the final dummy was completed, two other monthly film magazines were launched: Total Film and Neon. Jones says the IPC publishing team 'lost their nerve'in the face of perceived competition, and the idea was shelved.
Dejected, Jones went home for the weekend and redesigned Uncut as a music and film monthly. 'It seemed obvious to me,' he says. 'There is a shared culture between the two. I thought it would be great to have Scorsese and the Stones in the same magazine. It seemed like a rich mix suddenly."
Jones worked around the clock for five days to make a 148-page dummy, and IPC editorial director Alan Lewis, expecting to find Jones 'moping around the office", 'got very excited'after seeing it, rushed the pages to the group editor, took another dummy to the company board, and seven weeks later the first issue of Uncut was published.
'We didn't have staff, we didn't have offices, we had nothing,' says Jones. But he quickly managed to poach staff, past and present, from Melody Maker, which merged with NME in 2000.
Uncut gathered a loyal audience thanks to its championing of acts associated with a burgeoning 'Americana' scene – Ryan Adams and Lamb?chop among them – and put on sales thanks to a free 15-track cover-mount CD compiled by Jones, something it still offers each month.
After a radical redesign last year, complete with a changed masthead and a new focus on the magazine's website – with blogs by Jones and deputy editor John Mulvey – Uncut now sells more than 90,000 a month.
I grumpily didn't get on with Britpop and I wanted a magazine that reflected my more mature interests without being a fusty, archival tome.
I was in Nashville in 1996, doing a feature on Lambchop, a 15-piece country soul band. They made fantastic music but it was the antithesis of what was happening in Britain at the time, Britpop, which was loud and garish, and they were very subtle even to the point of silence. Even as I was talking to them and writing this really good story on a unique band, I thought 'how is this going to play with [Welsh rock band] 60ft Dolls fans?"
I thought it was time to think of a new context for the kind of music that I like. My first thought after 20 years on a music magazine was to launch a film magazine. We had had a very successful movies section in Melody Maker, edited by Michael Bonner [now Uncut features editor]. It struck me that IPC Media had never had a film magazine in its portfolio, which seemed odd given the success of Empire.
The Sixties and Seventies are where the stories are. You don't get that kind of access anymore.
There was never overt pressure on us to put modern bands on the cover. The proposition was that we would tell great stories and whoever had a good story, we would do. People say 'you only have Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones on the cover", but we've only had Dylan on the front five times in 10 years, which doesn't seem excessive to me.
The greatest stories tend to be from the Sixties and Seventies because the shape of the music business has changed so much. We were able to draw on a lot of personal experience – a lot of writers who had been on the road with the bands.
One of the early features was something I did on my experiences on the Clash's first American tour in February 1979.
I had written about it [for Melody Maker] and been unable to get a lot of stuff into the original piece. That's a classic example of something that wouldn't happen these days – I'd known [Joe] Strummer since art school, I'd known him in the 101'ers before the Clash. I just turned up in Cleveland and said 'Hi guys", they said, 'Hi, you all right? We're off to Washington tomorrow, are you coming?'And that was it, I was part of the tour.
There were no press officers, there was no barrier there or orchestrated PR thing. You don't get that informal access anymore; that used to be the norm.
We consciously wanted to make our reviews section very contemporary. We championed people like [US singer-songwriter] Ryan Adams and the whole Americana thing which we became synonymous with. That helped give us a real identity.
There's always that burning desire to turn people on to things you've just heard. One of the strengths of Uncut is that our readers trust us.
I started writing about the people rather than the music, whereas someone like [the NME's] Nick Kent would write about a band only if they were really, really cool.
When I went for the Melody Maker interview I suspected that when you went in the office it would be quite rock'n'roll. But there was this guy, the editor, Ray Coleman, in a purple suit, a yellow shirt and paisley tie, the room reeking of some weird aftershave.
They offered me the job and I took it with both hands, but I had the distinct feeling they would rumble me in weeks. I went to the editor and said: 'I'll write about anybody and anything, I don't mind".
I never had prejudice about who I was writing about. It went from Uriah Heep to Bryan Ferry, Leonard Cohen and Showaddywaddy. I might not like their music but they were great blokes to be with.
I remember saying, 'If Empire is a Spielberg production, we'll be the Scorsese".
I wanted Uncut to have a lot of black and white photography to help give it almost a documentary feel. It would be a flickering grainy black and white film. I wanted people to have a really good read. I thought that if we could write well enough and dramatically enough they would have to go through the rest of the magazine. The strength of narrative and of illustrations would carry it through.
I think I did the longest feature on the Stones at Altamont; it just kept getting longer and longer.
By the third or fourth issue we were on the shelves with Rugby World and Tractor Weekly.
In the beginning we went through a troubled period – one thing we hadn't thought of with the dual editorial bias of music and films was where we would be on the shelves. We found we were being moved around so people couldn't find us.
Elvis Costello was on the first cover so we were with the music magazines and Q, but the next month the cover was Steve McQueen so we were with Sight and Sound and Empire. Scientific research now proves that people go to the part of the shop where they expect you to be, they don't look around for it. We needed to be in one place and it made sense for us to be music-led rather than movie-led.
It's only 10 years ago but it almost seems like the Dark Ages.
Us telling readers what's good on YouTube this month is no different from what we've always done. We reviewed records and pointed people towards that; we're just pointing them to something else now.
We have to take into account what is happening in music. It's available now in ways that we couldn't have even imagined when we started. It's like when we started using computers – I could barely turn the thing on. I used a stripped-down Adler typewriter which I'd used for 20 years and they had to prise it out of my hands.
The idea of rock 'n' roll in a muddy field just doesn't appeal to me.
I never go to Glastonbury. The last time I went was in 1981 when they put up the Pyramid stage. I was a bit of a veteran festival-goer in my day; I went to some of the most horrendous events known to man, where you are up to your neck in mud.
Lou Reed gave me a 20-minute torrent of abuse.
People often say it must be disappointing to meet your heroes because they don't live up to the legend, but I don't think I've ever been disappointed with them really. The most exciting thing at that time was my time with Lou Reed. My editor Mick Watts said: 'Do you still want to interview Lou Reed?'I obviously said: 'Yes, I'd love to". He said: 'Good, get in a cab, he's waiting for you at the record company".
I used to write out notebooks full of questions before interviews. For my first interview with Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep I was up for two nights solid preparing.
The journalist who went in before me to interview Reed came out after five minutes ashen-faced. He'd been completely dismissed. I went in and was treated to a torrent of hilarious abuse – Reed went from my appearance to the tape recorder I was using. He was trying to unnerve me completely so I'd run from the building screaming. I was inviting him to do more – I thought, 'if he never says another word I've got a great, great story".
Mark Chapman read my Todd Rundgren article and then shot John Lennon.
A couple of days after my feature on Todd Rundgren came out (see Learning Curve, right), Coleman came into the office absolutely beaming, saying 'I take it all back about the Rundgren feature". Lennon had read it and wrote us a letter – personal correspondence! – so we did a 'Lennon reads Maker'type headline, and all was forgiven.
Unfortunately, it was the article that Mark Chapman [who shot Lennon in 1980] read and went bonkers over because he was a big Rundgren fan. It's often quoted as the article that set Chapman off on his murderous run.
But I was there!
I always thought it was better to become part of the story. I was shameless – I never had any doubts about putting myself in the centre of the piece. Everyone always tells you, 'never write 'I did this', 'I was thereâ€¦'.'I thought this is where the readers would like to be, on the tour bus with the Clash chatting to Bo Diddley. You can't do it in a rampantly egotistical way; I always used to undermine it by being self-deprecating or making an idiot of myself.
I did embrace with some gusto the entire rock 'n' roll lifestyle. I was always turning up late, or coming in from some all-night lunatic party.
When Richard Williams took over as editor he had a very cerebral approach to music. He said 'You're disruptive, but I like your writing. I'm sending you out on the road for two years, you can go anywhere you like.'So it was, over two years, almost solidly. I would go off somewhere, come back at the weekend, do a tonne of speed, a fridge full of beers, write it up, hand it in to Williams and then he'd give me tickets to fly off somewhere else.
I didn't use a tape recorder. I got better stuff from just hanging around, talking to people. If you can't remember what someone says, it's not a good quote.