fuelled his burning ambition to write about rock music
with a series of interviews with rockstars

And then, after writing books about Judas Priest, Rob Plant,
Bon Jovi and others, he was fired up to write about... writers!

grilled Neil about his latest book

and about some of the other irons he has in the fire


Hi Neil
, how did you get into writing for music magazines? Which journalists inspired you, and how easy or tough a business it is to break into? 
Well, I’d say at first there weren’t any writers in music journalism that inspired me. I started writing simply because I like rock music and wanted to express my thoughts (which all serious rock fans have!!) Of course, the deeper I got into it and the older I’ve got, I’ve grown to really like the writings of Mick Wall, Martin Popoff, Geoff Barton, Dave Ling and most of the Classic Rock scribes, as well as writers from the ‘80s like Dave Reynolds, Derek Oliver and Paul Suter who don’t really write as much as they should these days. That’s a real shame.
I think Dave Thompson is an excellent music scholar and his books are fantastic – I have just received copies of his bios of The Sweet and Sparks. How he writes so much is beyond me! Something like five books a year and they’re never below par in terms of quality. There are so many other writers I admire; many of them covered in my bumper collection All Pens Blazing and its forthcoming sequel.
As for getting into this writing lark I started writing for websites such as musicOMH and then went onto printed fanzines like Fireworks and Powerplay – both of which I still write for – and then I contributed bits to Rock Sound, Record Collector and the Guardian newspaper. Around the time of the Judas Priest reunion I had an idea of writing a bio. I had no idea how to get published or even how to write a book but I loved the band’s music and thought that with the reunion it was a commercial idea, so I’d have a good chance of getting signed. Joel McIver got me in touch with Omnibus and months later the contract was signed. I’ve done six books since then and have been published by four other publishers. I’ve recently hooked up with an agent who has secured me the best book deal I’ve had so far, so I’m in a positive frame of mind. I’m already working on my next idea with him. I go for the Dave Thompson school of thought: he publishers with major houses, indie ones, online and POD. It works. Just keeping working... build up a name.

All Pens Blazing contains 65 of the interviews you've conducted with writers over the years. Who's in this collection, and how did you arrive at the choice of which writers to include in the book?

Too many names to mention here, but a good selection of writers from the eighties who don’t really write anymore as well as seasoned scribes and younger writers too, so Dave Reynolds, Paul Suter, Geoff Barton, Martin Popoff, Joel McIver, Dave Dickson, Dave Ling, Dave Lewis, Dante Bonutto, Malcolm Dome, John Tucker, Matthias Mader, Jerry Ewing and many more. The idea started when I began posting interviews I’d done with writers on my website and had some email conversations with Martin Popoff about self-publishing a collection of writer’s interviews.
To market the book, I wanted to stay in one genre so obviously rock and metal rather than, fiction, non fiction, etc, which I covered on my site. Only a handful of interviews that were posted on my site are included in the book so I’m not ripping people off by making money from a book which you can read online for free – that’s why the book is so dense.
I looked around for the best deal and had it published through the POD company AuthorsOnline. I haven’t broken even yet but I’m getting there!
The hardest part is promotion and of course, I don’t have a publisher with a warehouse full of review copies to help me – I had to buy the books myself and then post them to reviewers. Not of all of them reviewed the book, I hasten to add. It took me only six months to complete the book... not years. The hardest part was the production and formatting the text, etc. But since then I’ve done another POD book and have one more in the works so I know what I’m doing now.

How's Volume 2 coming along?
It’s almost done. I’m just waiting on a couple of interviews and an intro from Mick Wall who has also done an excellent interview. Again, there will be around 65 writers included. When the first book came out some people emailed me and said “you missed out... this writer and that” - so here they are in Volume 2. Admittedly there are still some names that eluded me for whatever reasons, so maybe there’ll be a volume 3 - but not yet. I want to go back to the first one and redesign and format it so both books make a neat, similarly themed pair. If a third one does happen it’ll be a mini library of rock writer interviews like the Paris Review!

Your books about Judas Priest, Bon Jovi and Robert Plant have all received very good reviews, with many comments being about the amount of research that's gone into them. Is the depth of your research intentional at the outset, and do the hours spent on it add to your enjoyment of writing the book - or make the job harder?

Yeah, sure. I always like to read a bio with detailed appendices, you know, a timeline, discography, etc., and my books have lots of facts for the geeks! I tend to do something like a timeline to begin with and when I get bored of writing the narrative or researching I’ll go off and compile the discography. I have never done anything from beginning to end, always bits here and there before completion. Though only a few copies have been sent out of my Linkin Park book, it did get some of the best reviews I’ve had. When they decide to release their next album I’m sure there’ll be heavier promotion for the book. I’ve tried to make my books appeal to the casual fan as well as the serious hardcore enthusiast.


One of your projects in the pipeline is a 'fictional'(?) book about an 80s hair metal band. Spill the rocknroll beans, who's it really about......?
Well, it’s not based on any one specific band, and I can say that for sure. It’s basically a bunch of stories I’ve heard over the years from people I know and things I’ve read about being in a band and I tried to make a book out of it told from the point of view of a lead singer. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet actually. It may have to be another POD book because rock novels are not exactly commercial unless you’re Nick Hornby.

As a journalist/author interviewing other journalists and authors, do you come up against any barriers in getting them to share their thoughts with you?  If so, how do you get around that?
The thing is, I don’t really consider myself to be a journalist. I’m a fan that writes. I don’t even do this full time – I have a day job. I don’t have any journalistic traits at all and simply speak to the artists like normal people and see where I go from there. I’ve interviewed some pretty big rock stars but nobody seriously big like Jimmy Page or Ozzy Osbourne.

Has anything you've written ever come back to haunt you?
No. And that’s probably because the publications I write extensively for perhaps don’t have massive exposure. Sure, I’ve had emails from fans of the artists I’ve written books about – some of them congratulatory and some of them not. I’d say a few Bon Jovi fans wrote to me saying I got the colour of JBJ’s boxers wrong, etc but I can live with that. Seriously though, I’m not knocking what it means to be a fan but Bon Jovi fans can get really freaky with their dedication.


We can't talk about heavy metal without mentioning the recent death of Ronnie Jame Dio. Fans and fellow musicians are mourning him with an outpouring of tributes like I don't think I've seen before for anyone in the music business Tell us your thoughts about Ronnie and his contribution to all things music.
I interviewed him once and that was when he came to the UK the last time to tour with his solo band as he was taking a break from his Heaven & Hell duties.
I went down to London from the North West of England to watch his gig at the Astoria and it was awesome.
I interviewed him on the phone and he was such a cool guy: funny, humble, and not pretentious. It was a real lose to rock and metal. He was quite simply the most brilliant singer in the business and maybe now more people will realise that.
I can’t help but look back and think that though he made a big impression in Rainbow and Black Sabbath and some of his solo stuff he was still hugely underrated.

Who have been your favourite people to interview, and why?
Simply because they have so many great stories and when I spoke to them they were really great guys, I’d say Sammy Hagar, Nikki Sixx, Biff Byford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Jeff Waters, Don Dokken, the late Kevin DuBrow and of course Ronnie James Dio. It’s those who have been around the block as it were and have nothing left to prove that give the best interviews.

And the most difficult to interview - and why?
I’ve only ever had difficult interviews when the phone line has been poor, or accents have clashed, so it’s rather the situation than the interviewee. I’ve heard horror stories from certain writers who have interviewed some really big names and some wannabes and that’s enough to put you off but thankfully for me, so far, I’ve done ok...

You also have a background in film studies. How did your career migrate from that into what you're doing now?
Going to Uni and studying film made me lose my passion for film and I shifted towards music. When I finished Uni, of course, my love of films grew back and I’m a serious film buff now with just as many DVDs as CDs. There was a module on the course on writing about film for the media and I enjoyed it. When I left Uni I decided to try my hand at writing about music and as I said before it progressed from there...

Which five films mean the most to you, and why?
This changes all the time but recently, I’m thinking a lot about the films I liked as a kid so for simply nostalgic reasons I’m going to say, Empire Strikes Back, Goonies, Superman: The Movie, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and also, The Terminator. I’m a huge sci-fi/fantasy/horror fan which is why this question is tough. There are too many films that I like. And books too! There’s a section of my website called Interviews With Writers which started the whole All Pens Blazing thing. It’s not specifically music. I love reading sci-fi and horror to and so there are interviews with Kim Newman, Ramsey Campbell and Roz Kaveney. Soon, I’ll be adding interviews with comic book writer John Reppion, screenwriter and former 2000AD editor David Bishop, SF scribe David Langford and some more music writers.

One section of All Pens Blazing offers 'advice for wannabe rock scribes'. What is the best advice you could give to anyone who aspires to a career as a music journalist?
I’m not trying to be negative here though it sounds like I am, but the best advice is not to bother! In fact, only pursue it if you don’t want any money from it. If you’re thinking of building a career and making a lot of cash – forget it! Only about 50 writers work full time and they either get big advances or two major features in the big magazines per month or they’re lucky enough to have a staff job. Advances for the most part are very small and not enough to live off, which is why a lot of music writers produce three books a year at least. It shocked me when I started but I don’t intend to go full time and struggle to pay my bills.


Get Ready To Roll - 8th June 2010


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