Thursday, 29 July 2010
HEAVY SOUL! ISSUE 1
Is there a need for fanzines or are they simply a quaint throwback to pre-internet days? My hunch is like elsewhere in the publishing game it’s increasingly difficult to sell what people can get quicker, easier, and cost-free elsewhere so any fanzine will need to offer something different. Beat Scene, covering the beat generation, is a good example where I can’t think of an internet equivalent covering the ground it does in reviews, articles and interviews. Their website supports the magazine without duplicating it, making the printed version essential.
Throwing its 26 stapled A4 pages into the almost empty ring is Heavy Soul! - “A fanzine for today’s sussed generation”. One might call it a modzine. It has a big target on the cover and a random picture of Steve Marriott as clues. It costs £2.99 and another £1.50 postage and includes a free four track EP. The editor wrote on the Modculture forum he was “trying to get back to that authentic 80s/90s style of zine. Amateurish but readable”. I’d gladly take an enthusiastic amateur over a weary professional but thinking back to old zines of yore I wonder which ones acted as inspiration.
The best ones, even twenty five years later, stick in my memory. Extraordinary Sensations was a trailblazer both for content and opinion, Go-Go did an astonishing job in producing a monthly issue that pushed the generally accepted musical boundaries of the young moddybods, The In-Crowd was a blinking eyesore but covered every tin pot band in laudable detail, The Right Track made me laugh, and the production values and unique attitude of Hipster were outstanding. Then there were heaps of other simple cut and paste jobbies, now forgotten, that although crap at least had an undeniable passion in them. They were all very amateurish (bar Hipster) but did their best and acted as little central hubs of communication.
Does any of this apply to Heavy Soul!, you may ask. The fact I’ve built up to the answer suggests not and although I’m loathe to be too critical if I don’t offer some, hopefully constructive, balance no-one will and all you’ll read is “brilliant fanzine” comments on Modculture, when clearly it isn’t. It doesn’t come close to touching any of those attributes mentioned above and more importantly it stirs little passion or enthusiasm in its subject. Fanzines should be a labour of love, this looks like an ugly child born begrudging out of need. That need? For Rowed Out Records to offload its unsold stock.
One strong selling point is “our friends at Rowed Out Records have kindly donated one of their first and now collectable EPs”. Those “friends” feature quite a lot. Lots of advertising, promotional gumph and even a record review of “another storming release on the productive Rowed Out label”. Because, it seems, they are one and the same and Heavy Soul! is a convenient way to shift those “collectable” EPs (four current bands) that have been gathering dust for three years. I say “it seems” because the fanzine, incredibly, includes no contact details whatsoever. No name, no address, not even an e-mail. Who’d produce a mag and not put their name to it? Who’d not want people to get in touch? Bit weird. No editorial or introduction either. Odd. I’ve no problem with Rowed Out producing a fanzine; it makes good business sense, just no need to be so damn disingenuous and underhand about it. It could actually work well tying the two together. I’ve no idea how many copies they sell of their singles (low hundreds max) and I’ve never bought one before but would be more inclined to buy a fanzine with a free record than buy a single on its own and vice versa.
But, of course, that fanzine needs to have something to read in it (and something to say) and I’ve probably spent longer writing this review than any of the articles here. Heavy Soul! doesn’t say anything. It is mostly pages of filler, stolen filler at that. Two pages for Randy Cozens’ Mod Top 100. Oh Lordy, how many times has that been published over the last 31 years? It’s not relevant now, merely an old curio, mildly interesting, and yet it’s cut and pasted straight from a Modculture feature less than a year ago. Another page for DJ playlists, again lifted (uncredited) from Modculture a matter of weeks ago. Two pages about Pauline Boty. That’s more interesting, and it’s well written – it should be; it first appeared in the The Guardian. What about northern soul cover ups? The list is so ancient it’s totally pointless and looks suspiciously like something pinched from northern soul fanzine Soulful Kinda Music. Want a Slim Harpo discography? Use the internet. I’m paying for what I’ve read already here. Have I got mug written on my forehead? It’s lazy and insulting. A tick though, finally, for the review and photos of the recent Welcome To Dreamsville Mod Rally - a new piece (I think, I hope, I pray) by Keith Jones that gives a good sense of what the event was like. Hallelujah. More please. There are some single “reviews” but they’re so flimsy they read like adverts (bet they are) rather than genuine reviews. There’s a page plug for a Rowed Out band. Why not interview them instead? Write a feature? Fuck’s sake.
It isn’t 1985, 1995, or even 2005 any longer. It’s 2010 and the bar has been raised – by technology, by experience, by demand - things should be measured against that, especially if you’re charging increasingly hard earned money. Today’s “sussed generation” surely deserve better.
Heavy Soul! is available via eBay.
Modculture is available here.