Monday, 9 September 2013

Tarts, charts and boring ol’ farts
Flexipop! was born in November 1980 at the end of punk, in the middle of a ska revival and at the start of New Romance, all set against a backdrop of tarty charts teeming with tarty acts.

Consequently, Flexipop! was a tarty magazine. It was the first publication to have a flexi-disc featuring an exclusive track from a major chart act taped to the cover of each issue. Tarty or what?

My business partner and now celebrated novelist, Tim Lott, and I had both had enough of interviewing pop stars, in the traditional sense at least. It was becoming like any other job, a chore. Pop music had started to get up itself. It needed taking down a peg or two and, occasionally, ridiculed. Pop went poncey and that was never the plan. Sure, it was poncey back in the fifties and sixties, but it was poncey with soul and, besides, it was brand spanking new then. Eighties pop was developing a paunch and a receding hairline.

Bands were beginning to discover the new electronic gadgetry. Playing music was easier than ever before, a whole lot easier than the bass they expected Sid to master in ’77. Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ epitomised the techno boom. It would’ve cost a lot more to make that record three years before. It was good while it lasted but now it means nothing to me.  Like a nice meal you had once in a restaurant the name of which you can’t remember.

Punk had stuck some bollocks into a discofied, moribund music scene and paved the industry’s streets with gold. Record sales were up, the coffers were full. Let’s pump up the volume and paint the town red to match the gold. Let’s get as much shit out as possible and dress it up in as much MTV finery as we can afford. Video may have killed the radio star, but it created pop as visual art and took away its mystery. Now the song was imagined for you, someone else’s interpretation of it was in your head.

When you listened to the lyrics on a Beatles track as it danced on the turntable, you could see the disillusioned girl writing the early-morning letter to her parents in the kitchen before meeting a man in the motor trade; you could see Rocky Racoon falling back in his hotel room and Eleanor Rigby on her hands and knees and the bells on a hill and Kansas City and the USSR, see them all across the universe to Strawberry Fields forever. You could even smell Mr Kite’s benefit at Bishopsgate and feel the cold in that bleak Norwegian Wood bathroom.

MTV donated its organs to the music business and singlehandedly kept it alive and kicking for simple minds. Pop as visual art had given rise to a shitload of pretentiousness. Bands became either peacocks, running like girls down misty streets, or audacious cocks who chewed gum, smoked fags and embraced style over content.  The shit really was hitting the fans.

It was time for a slap down. It was time for Flexipop!.

Tim and I had absolutely no idea how to produce a magazine but that didn’t stop us producing a magazine that looked like it had been produced by someone who had no idea how to produce a magazine. Thank Christ it had an exclusive version of ‘On My Radio’ by the Selecter on the cover or it would’ve sold a great deal fewer than the 48,000 copies it finally shipped. We printed more than 140,000 on a sale or return basis, so, to our amateur eyes, it looked like a meagre return and we both arrived at the conclusion that, for the first time in our professional lives, we’d failed. Big-time.   

The magazine was essentially a dodgily printed 60p ad-free picture fest – black-and-white photo stories starring the Selecter, the Specials and Bad Manners plus colour specials on  UFO, the Jam’s current favourite songs (Paul’s top two are ‘Christine’ and ‘Happy House’ both by Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Madness lifelines.

We even organised a fashion spread with Annabella from Bow Wow Wow, and I do the shoot in a studio with Vivienne Westwood, who was odd and witty and knew exactly what she wanted. She’d designed the whole Annabella pirate look and it was a strong image.

The only real article in Flexipop! with ‘proper’ words was ‘Testament of Youth’, to be a regular feature, in which a star, Ian Gillan in this case, talked about their childhood.

When we discovered the level of returns, Tim and I decided to change some of the content although, to be honest, we didn’t need to worry too much. The exclusive flexi on Flexipop! issue two featured two tracks from the Jam − a new version of ‘Boy About Town’ and ‘Pop Art Poem’.  And the Jam were the biggest band in the land.

We cut the number of photo stories to a main one over three pages – Rat Van Winkle starring the Damned − and a day-in-the-lifestyle two-pager on Hazel O’Connor. Reluctantly, Tim and I both realised we needed to do interviews, so between us ‘did’ Adam Ant, Buster Bloodvessel and Andy McClusky from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

The second issue also featured private holiday snaps from the Police, Siouxsie in ‘Testament of Youth’ and Francis Rossi in ‘Welcome to the Working Week’, another new, self-explanatory, addition. To complement the flexi-disc with a feature, I spent a Sunday with the Jam and their girlfriends at Paul Weller’s house in Woking and end up getting pissed down his local pub.  

The result? We print 125,000 copies and sell 65,000. Now we’re getting there.

The magazine was designed by ex-Sounds man Dave Fudger, and he really started to understand it. Alas, other commitments meant he could only stick around for the first two issues.

Enter former Record Mirror cartoonist, the Dickensian Mark Manning, complete with a deep Bradford accent, a bulldog called Baxter, a ring at the end of his knob, a God-given talent for drawing caricatures and a desperate desire to become a rock star, which he eventually became for a twisty wee while.

Mark, who’d never designed a magazine before, joined an outfit that had never published a magazine before. It was the way of the world and sometimes it works.

 By Barry Cain

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