“You’ve writ­ten some pretty cut­ting things about Snow Pa­trol in the past. Why?”

When Ticket colum­nist Brian Boyd wrote some less than com­pli­men­tary ar­ti­cles about Snow Pa­trol, he wasn’t to know that a year or two later the band’s lead singer would be­come his ed­i­tor for a week. So we threw some ques­tions at the jour­nal­ist for a change

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

Brian, you were in Barcelona this week cov­er­ing the open­ing night of the U2 tour. Rock jour­nal­ism must be a glam­orous job

Ter­ri­bly. Get­ting up at 4am, lug­ging your travel bag over to the Stil­lor­gan Road, to wait an eter­nity for the Air­coach. Queues, de­lays, more queues, more de­lays. Arriving ex­hausted, ir­ri­tated, de­hy­drated and re­ally very narky in­deed for a gig and/or in­ter­view.

Get­ting shunted around by PR nazis with clip­boards, get­ting barked at by “per­sonal as­sis­tants” (for ask­ing the “wrong” ques­tion and/or not gen­u­flect­ing enough) then drag­ging your­self back to the air­port.

Spending hours tran­scrib­ing some barely de­ci­pher­able non­sense, try­ing to whip it into some leg­i­ble shape, ig­nor­ing phone calls and e-mails from ed­i­tor at base and gen­er­ally just wish­ing ev­ery­body would go away. Is it any won­der we drink so much? And yes, we do have to pay for it our­selves.

Have you ever been in a band? Or is it im­por­tant to be able to play mu­sic in or­der to write about it?

I play the record player – and I can’t even do that to any level of pro­fi­ciency. That’s like ask­ing a pa­per’s po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent if they first need to be a TD or a pa­per’s rugby cor­re­spon­dent if they ever scored a try for Ire­land. There are quite few ex-mu­si­cians (for “ex” read “failed”, ha ha) in the mu­sic jour­nal­ism ranks but that’s only be­cause they’re too lazy and use­less to ever get a real job. That’s a joke by the way.

What moral re­spon­si­bil­ity do you feel to the mu­si­cians you write about?

A good friend of mine is a mu­si­cian. He goes bal­lis­tic over his re­views, even the good ones: how they got this wrong, how they got that wrong, how the jour­nal­ist has (and I para­phrase here) no real idea about what he/she is writ­ing about.

You’re al­ways cog­nizant of the fact that you’re deal­ing with peo­ple’s cre­ativ­ity, their ca­reers and how they make a liv­ing. Hav­ing said that, if you’re in any way sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism then per­haps charg­ing peo­ple money to watch you per­form on a stage isn’t the right ca­reer op­tion for you.

But aren’t you mu­sic jour­nal­ists all in thrall to the record la­bels who fly you around the world to pro­mote their acts?

The only time a la­bel spends big on promo time is when they be­lieve the act in ques­tion is of the high­est qual­ity and will shift a few mil­lion records. There­fore, it’s usu­ally (but not al­ways) a good story. Plus la­bels try to match a jour­nal­ist with acts that would be in their pub­li­ca­tion’s nat­u­ral catch­ment area.

And if you write some­thing neg­a­tive – even if a la­bel has brought you to LA – are you pun­ished for that af­ter­wards?

The record com­pa­nies don’t pay my wages. I can­not make a bad mu­si­cian good by throw­ing nice words at him. You hear about th­ese things anec­do­tally but hon­estly, this has never hap­pened to me. I sup­pose if a record la­bel are get­ting ever-di­min­ish­ing re­turns from a jour­nal­ist, they just stop of­fer­ing that per­son in­ter­views with their acts. But then, wouldn’t you if you worked in the mar­ket­ing/PR world?

To be fair to the peo­ple I deal with in the la­bels, they are es­sen­tially bright and clued-in peo­ple. If you think crit­i­cise their acts, you should hear what some of

have to say about their charges.

Do you al­ways lis­ten to al­bums right through be­fore you re­view them? How many times?

Without be­ing po-faced about this, you have to give ev­ery­thing due con­sid­er­a­tion. Yes, lis­ten to it all the way through (there could be a killer track or two right at the very end) and lis­ten to it a good few times.

Per­son­ally, I re­ally dis­like do­ing those star rat­ings in­sist on for al­bum re­views. Are peo­ple too thick to un­der­stand the con­tent of the re­view? And you don’t get to pick out your “favourites” to re­view. You han­dle what has been re­leased that week.

The Ticket

Have you ever got a re­view com­pletely wrong – looked back and thought you had over-or un­der-praised an al­bum?

You make a snap de­ci­sion at the time – there’s no other way to do it. I sub­scribe to that “five-year rule” dic­tum – an al­bum’s real last­ing merit can be only be de­cided upon five years af­ter its release when all the promo hul­la­baloo and as­sorted non­sense has died down.

It’s amaz­ing how tepid and medi­ocre the re­views were at the time for now ac­cepted clas­sics such as The Stone Roses’ first al­bum. But isn’t that what they say about the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try in gen­eral: no­body knows noth­ing.

Have you ever writ­ten a neg­a­tive re­view just to stir con­tro­versy?

Good god, no. Not be­cause I’m in­trin­si­cally a fair-minded per­son (I’m not), but if it doesn’t come nat­u­rally, why con­trive it? I know peo­ple who do and it says more about them than the peo­ple they’re writ­ing about.

Have you ever been ver­bally abused or phys­i­cally at­tacked by a mu­si­cian for some­thing you have writ­ten?

It’s weird. Dublin be­ing such a vil­lage, you bump into the peo­ple you’ve writ­ten about while reach­ing for a pack of fish fin­gers in Tesco. In one em­bar­rass­ing per­sonal case, I sat be­side such a per­son for a very tense, word­less 40 min­utes in a doc­tor’s wait­ing room. But you do what you do.

What’s strange now is how, be­cause of the web, it’s all be­come in­ter­na­tional. A lot of de­mented fans and in­deed of­fi­cial fan clubs set up spe­cial alerts on their com­put­ers, so that when­ever a band’s name is men­tioned – in any pub­li­ca­tion world­wide – they’ll pick up on it, judge whether it’s suf­fi­ciently god-wor­ship­ping and if not, write in­cred­i­bly long and detailed e-mails (with foot­notes at­tached) to the jour­nal­ist in Dublin who merely shows them to his friends in the pub for a bit of light re­lief.

What’s the worst thing about mu­si­cians?

There’s a story I love (a true one) about a jour­nal­ist who was sent to in­ter­view some es­teemed pub­lic fig­ure about his just-pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. When he re­turned, the ed­i­tor asked him how he got on. The jour­nal­ist replied: “It was ter­ri­ble, all he did was talk about him­self.”

Yes, mu­si­cians are self-ob­sessed, solip­sis­tic, yada yada yada. That’s their job. Yours is to lis­ten.

Yes, they can be an ac­quired taste, but you do get used to them. Just be care­ful of the ol’ Stock­holm Syn­drome creep­ing in.

What’s the worst thing about mu­sic jour­nal­ists?

Un­re­li­able, er­ratic, psy­cho­log­i­cally dis­turbed, for­ever whinge­ing about one

Snow Pa­trol’s Nathan Con­nolly (left) and Gary Light­body rock the Nether­lands at PinkPop in Land­graaf

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