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Louder Than Words - Where Glastonbury Meets the Hay Literary Festival
We spoke to music journalist and Louder Than Words team member Simon A. Morrison about the forthcoming festival, the relationship between music and the written word, and raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers.
November 13th sees the welcome return of one of the UK's most unique festivals - Louder Than Words, a weekend long celebration of 'the enduring love affair between music and the written word'.
Held across various suites in Manchester's Palace Hotel, the festival welcomes appearances from some of the music world's most gifted wordsmiths, with the likes of The Jam's Rick Buckler, The Selecter's Pauline Black, Crass's Steve Ignorant, author Zoe How, and local folk hero Mike Harding embroiled in talks, discussions, debates and more.
Ahead of its eagerly awaited return, we caught up with celebrated journalist and Louder Than Words team member Simon A. Morrison to find out more about the festival as a whole, what this year has in store, and his years as a dance music journalist.
Hi Simon, thanks for chatting to us. Louder Than Words is a pretty unique concept, can you tell us a bit about how the festival came about, and what it's manifesto is if you will?
It's really the brainchild of Jill Adam, a keen music fan, and John Robb, the fabulous Manchester music writer and musician. It is a unique festival in that it’s the only one I’ve ever seen that examines that unique relationship between music and writing.
The two forms are usually to be found canoodling under the sheets but no festival has ever explored that relationship, whether it’s Guy Garvey talking about the inspiration behind his lyrics, or authors such as myself talking about their music books and biographies.
There is a little music, but really it’s about music lovers talking, whether in panels, Q&As or ‘in conversation’. It’s kind of the midpoint where Glastonbury meets the Hay Literary Festival.
Jill has a background in festivals but couldn’t find anyone doing anything like this, so two years ago she brought some people, myself included, together, in order to get the first festival off the ground. It was a fantastic event and it’s just built from there. The HQ is still The Palace Hotel in Manchester but this year there are also Louder events at The Albert Hall in London, and there are big things planned for 2016.
What have been some highlights from Louder Than Words over the past couple of years?
There is always too much to get around and properly see, but from a personal perspective I would mention the likes of Hugh Cornwell in the first year talking very candidly about life in The Stranglers and then finishing up by picking up his acoustic guitar and playing 'Golden Brown' to a very intimate room full of very happy people (below).
Last year, watching Edwyn Collins perform after only partially recovering from his stroke was really something. Guy Garvey was great as well. Christ there's so many... of course the spiritual guru of the festival is Wilko Johnson from Dr Feelgood.
We starting a Writing Award in his name, as he was widely thought to have been terminally ill. Not only did he make it to the first festival to personally give out the award, he made it to the second one too, and now seems to have completely recovered. Meeting Wilko was great.
I think it's those more intimate moments that you have at a festival like this that stick with you though. Last year I had breakfast in the hotel with the writers Mark Ellen and Barney Hoskyns, which provided for some great laughs, all over a fry up. Mr Ellen said he and Tony Blair do talk about reforming their university band Ugly Rumours.
Last year my team won John Robb's Music Quiz at the opening night party, which was very satisfying indeed. I think it's those moments that really stay with you. It's one thing hearing from your musical heroes - having a drink with them afterwards is even more unique.
What are you most looking forward to with this year’s edition? And what would you recommend as essential viewing for this year’s attendees?
Again there are mainly highlights - take a look through the programme and they come spilling out. As a Jam fan, I'm looking forward to Rick Buckler, but there are many other interesting ones - Pauline Black from The Selecter, Keith Levene from The Clash, Russell Senior from Pulp.
And then there’s the panels which look at metal, The Who, riot grrrl and the club scene, as well as lots of workshops for people who want to break into the music industry. It’s an invaluable opportunity to get up and close and personal with the people who live this stuff, 2/47.
You’ve built a career in journalism, specialising for many years on the clubbing side of things in Ibiza and indeed across the globe. What are your feelings on the state of clubbing in Britain at the moment? We read in the press about the supposed death of clubs, and then there’s been the explosion of EDM culture in recent years which has dramatically changed things, what’s your take on it all?
Yep, my career was built from the dancefloor up, for sure. I remember my English teacher telling me I should write about what I know and that lead to the obvious thought that…well, I go out a lot, I should write about that.
I was also phenomenally fortunate to move from London to Manchester to start university at the end of 1989, which was ground zero for MADchester and the whole music and club scene. So I went to the Hacienda at some hazy stage at the end of the 1980s and in some ways I don’t think I ever really made it home.
I had two columns for DJMag: 'Around The World in 80 Clubs' took me everywhere from Moscow to Marrakech, Brazil to Beijing, and ‘Dispatches From The Wrong Side’ which was my chance to indulge my gonzo spirit… gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Moscow, going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. All the fun stuff.
That column ran for eight years and I was extremely proud that the best stories were collected together and published as ‘Discombobulated’ by Headpress in 2010 (below).
I got to step onto the dancefloor in all four corners of the globe, as well as running Ministry on Ibiza magazine, for two summers. As to where we’re at now… I have to be careful here because I don’t go out like I used to so I don’t want to start proselytizing about the state of the UK club scene, without being full connected.
But I do teach teenagers at my university so I feel in some way connected through them. There is a scene, of course, and Ibiza hasn't exactly sunk into the Med. I’m not sure the music is so ground breaking, or that there is a coherent scene, in the subcultural 1980s and 1990s sense, but there will always be grooves and always be dancefloors. That’s going nowhere. And New Order’s new album is their best since 1989’s 'Technique'.
I guess my take on it is that there are still kicks to be had, no doubt, but perhaps not on every corner, like before. EDM sucks, though.
Louder Than Words tackles more of the rock-oriented end of the spectrum, what attracted you to working with the festival - and why is a festival like this important to the UK?
Certainly it's more six strings than two decks but there is all sorts of music is covered, from punk to metal to rave to two tone. Of course all of us who truly love music love all sorts of music. And my key love, of course, is the relationship of words to music – how people use words to describe the music that moves them, so the festival always had an immediate and obvious appeal to me, personally.
I met Jill, and John Robb, and it knew immediately that it was where I wanted to be. In fact I remember a very precise moment, at the first festival in 2013, being amongst all these musicians, and music writers, right in the heart of my favourite city in the world, and really feeling I was absolutely in the place where I should be.
That relationship – between music and the written word – it’s a precarious business and it needs to be cherished. We live in a digital world where that relationship is sometimes compromised, cheapened. That is why Louder Than words is so special.
You’ll be hosting your own talk as well on 'Club Culture: The Discotext', what can we look forward to from that?
Of course I’m looking forward – as always - to the club culture panel, which is the one I curate myself, as the club scene is what occupied something like a quarter of a century of my own life. We’ve previously had the likes of Luke Bainbridge (Shaun Ryder’s ghost writer), the blogger Jonty Skrufff, the editor of the Disco Biscuits story collection Sarah Champion and the DJ Graeme Park.
This time I have been lucky to secure a range of club culture writers and academics, from the current editor of Mixmag through to not one but TWO professors – Martin James and Hillegonda Rietveld, who is ex-Factory Records. We will kick around all aspects of club culture and writing about club culture, as well as that very slippery skill of actually writing about it.
I also want to discuss the idea of studying the club scene on the university campus. I plan to graduate as Dr Disco in the not-too-distant future.
And finally, for any budding music journalists out there, those maybe starting out at Uni or others toiling away in the sector, what advice would you give to help make a success of it, or at least stamp their mark in what is a very competitive market?
Well I run the Music Journalism degree at the University of Chester so I guess I would say… come and study with me for three years and let's work together!
Haha! Nice plug.
Beyond that I would add that it's a case of building up a portfolio of work, whether that be formed of clippings you have done for free papers, for websites, for the university newspaper, or even your own blog of music reviews.
Keep that portfolio going, keep building it up and when you feel you have enough good material, start calling the magazines and websites you want to write for and use that portfolio as your business card. That’s what worked for me. It was pre-internet but I wrote for free magazines, including The Big Issue, which led to DJMag and that was the start of a global career.
Bottom line… just start writing. For anyone, anywhere, to hone your skills. And read. Find the writers you like, in the publications you love, and read and support them. Music journalism is not SEO copywriting. It is a skill, an art form, a career.