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
grilled Neil about his latest book
and about some of the other irons he has in
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?
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
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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!
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?
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
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......?
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.
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?
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
anything you've written ever come back to haunt
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
the most difficult to interview - and why?
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
also have a background in film studies. How did
your career migrate from that into what you're
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
five films mean the most to you, and why?
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.
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?
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