Metal Hammer (UK)
TOMMY UDO 1960-2019
Last month, we were saddened to learn that veteran writer and Metal Hammer alumnus Tommy Udo had passed away at the age of 59. We pay tribute to a man who made an indelible impact on all he worked with
An instinctive journalist
with a carefully cultivated enigmatic charisma, Allan Mclachlan was everything he didn’t appear to be.
Many close colleagues didn’t even know his real name wasn’t Tommy
Udo. He had a reputation for being gruff, aggressive and confrontational. His hilarious Facebook persona was similar, full of irreverent ranting fury and biting satire aimed at vacuous meme-led inanity.
Allan spent the late 70s studying politics at Strathclyde University and cut his teeth as a journalist in the
West Scotland area on arts and culture magazines. He moved to London in the late 80s and, entirely appropriately, started his life-long love affair with the metropolitan district as Music Editor on City Limits magazine. A devoted father to Bill and Tom, of whom he was immensely proud, Allan was an unashamed enthusiast for London’s rich culture and history. He would take his lads to his favourite parts of the city, from the BFI to their favourite food joints. He was a member of Southwark Mysteries and The Greenwich Historical Society. He organised narrated tours around South East London and took parties of kids mudlarking on the Thames shoreline at Deptford.
Following a brief period as News Editor on Sounds, Allan went freelance and then scored the high-profile gig of News Editor at NME. Quickly making his mark, he adopted the nom de plume Tommy Udo. He named himself after the protagonist played by Richard Widmark in the pioneering 1947 film noir, Kiss Of Death.
Tommy moved onto the NME’S website before XFM online and his eventual longer-term tenure on Metal Hammer and associated magazines. He wrote biographies of Nine Inch Nails and Charles Manson. A devotee of
Asian cinema, Tommy was an expert on ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano and co-wrote an English language biography on the Japanese actor and director. His passion and expert knowledge of cinema even saw him break into TV at one point, co-presenting Channel 4’s Film Night.
Following his Metal Hammer tenure, he returned to freelance work and finally moved into financial journalism. His Facebook bio could become his memorial inscription: “underpaid and undervalued”.
Working on Metal Hammer, Tommy embraced a younger generation of journalists. In the role of elder statesman, he was looked up to by a team who valued and held onto his advice – from basic journalism tips to the baffling importance of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew on contemporary rock. A riddle wrapped up in an enigma, operating somewhere between Colonel Kurtz and Obi Wan Kenobi, he was fond of creating debate, although everyone knew his unchecked fury.
But that was limited to phone calls and never directed at his colleagues. He also wasn’t shy of a laugh or two: Metal Hammer photographer John Mcmurtrie recalls a press trip where Tommy convinced a certain Dave Grohl that Devin Townsend was the son of The Who legend, Pete. “We were laughing all the way to the gig,” says John. “To this day, I still have no idea whether Dave Grohl knows it isn’t true!”
Facebook friends and previous colleagues have all paid tribute. Tommy was never a senior manager, but his influence, teaching, homilies and lessons – in both life and career – were as valuable and motivational as any mentor or boss could hope to inspire. In the words of Metal Hammer colleague Katie Parsons, Tommy was “wise yet never patronising, teaching but not lecturing, outspoken but not a wanker. Sarcastic, dry and blunt – but kind, fragile and caring”.
“Tommy was a force of nature both in the room and on the page – ferocious, funny and the smartest man in the room,” adds former Hammer Editor-inchief, Alexander Milas. “As a young Features Ed just getting my legs under the desk, he was a man to look up to with a talent for writing and an instinct for the underground you could only admire.”
With an enormous breadth of knowledge across music, cinema, literature and politics, Tommy’s hard-boiled yet urgent and engrossing prose spoke for itself. But despite the vagaries of fashion associated with rock’s golden years, Tommy never followed tribalism. That, his hatred of nostalgia, and his steadfast refusal to be coerced by fashion or hype fed his incredibly prophetic knack for discovering new music far ahead of everyone else.
He appreciated art regardless of stripe. The two albums he was listening to around the time of his death were Skinny Puppy’s Bites and Norman Fucking Rockwell!, the new album by Lana Del Rey. Tommy’s writing was at its peak when it focused on the music, not the trend. And especially when it defied categorisation.
Always wary of dogmatism, every individual issue was tackled on its own merits rather than as a paradigm or ideology that governed an overall world view. As a communist in his youth, Tommy had realised that ideology in itself was flawed; things were far more complex than ideologies could deliver answers for. And he knew that hero worship made us lazy.