“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
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.
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