A hundred years ago, or in real time, in 2000, to celebrate 10 years of The Evening Session on Radio 1, BBC Publishing commissioned a book from me; a rough ride through the life of a skinny Essex teenager, who worked his passage from local papers, via the NME to Radio 1’s feted halls.
Going Deaf For A Living was (and is again!) a sort of part autobiography, part mish-mash of anecdotes and theories. Amazingly, it sold pretty well when it came out. Well enough, that the BBC were going to print another run. But then, what has happened to a hundred bands, happened to me and the book.
Much like a group who’s supportive A&R manager leaves their label – to be replaced by new blood with a point to prove (a sort of aspirational Grim Reaper, with a glass walled office) – the person who’d signed my book off left for pastures new. The New Boss wasn’t the same as the old boss. And the reprint never happened. They did a new Bob Harris book instead (or was it Johnnie Walker? It was someone with a better story to tell anyway).
And that was that. Sporadically I’d talk about writing a second volume – although never had enough time. So instead, a few years back, I took some of the stories from the original book and built a One Man Show around them.
Then an odd thing happened. Well, maybe not that odd, come to think of it, but at the end of the gigs, some of the lovely people who turned up started saying things like: “You know what you should do. You should write a book.”
ME: “I have.”
THEM: “Really? Oh, where can I get it?”
ME: “Um…you sort of can’t. I think there’s some copies on EBay.”
Which was true. Over the past decade I’ve seen copies on sale for anything from a measly £1 to an eye-watering 70 quid.
So we started thinking about ways of trying to republish the book. And then something genuinely weird happened. The wonderful Gillian Porter from Hall Or Nothing PR – who had handled press for the Going Deaf For A Living tours – bumped into a man from Omnibus Publishing at some do or other and mentioned the book.
She consequently (and very kindly) organised a meeting just before Christmas 2018 with said man; the equally nice David Barraclough. David agreed to take a copy of the old book and read it to see if it might be something they were interesting in doing.
That’s the not weird bit by the way.
Post Christmas Barraclough invited me to Omnibus’ offices.
We sat opposite each other and I enquired what he had thought.
“I had to stop reading and put it down after the first page,” he said.
My heart sank a little. The opening page and a bit are about how, on May 26th 1981, me and Graham Diss, who I sat next to in History at school, went to see The Undertones at the Ipswich Gaumont. We got there ridiculously early, so we could wait outside the stage door just in case the band came out and Graham could get his bag of record sleeves signed. (note: because this is in the book, I’m not going to spoil the plot here, except to say that at least one of them did venture out of the stage door with unexpected consequences).
At this point, while I was gathering my disappointment into my bag, ready to leave, Barraclough reached under his desk and then (surprisingly) handed across a 7 inch copy of Jona Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry.”
“Have a look at that,” he said. “See what’s written on it.”
There was nothing on the front. I flipped it over. On the lip of the single sleeve, written in pencil, were two words: Graham Diss.
I stared at them. It was definitely Graham’s handwriting. But how….
“Graham was my best friend at University. We used to edit the student paper together.”
I think I might have been holding onto my chair at this point.
“When he died, he left me all his seven inch singles. So some of the records you’ve written about in the book…I’ve got them at home.”
I’m not a big believer in fate (which I probably should be; I seem to have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time a lot in my life), but sitting there, pondering what a small world we live in, I was starting to change my mind. I was also a bit freaked out to be honest.
But that’s how it happened.
David gave me some advice on what to change to bring the tome up to date and off I went.
And now a year and a half later, Going Deaf For A Living is being published again. TODAY! There’s an entirely new intro and a new ending (obviously the original book ended in 2000 – this time I’ve taken the story up to the start of 2003, when The Evening Session ended and I began a show on BBC 6Music). There’s a bunch of new pictures as well.
The rest of it is pretty much the same: it explores our relationship with music and the people who make it; it touches on how scenes evolve and collapse; how bands so often let us down (and the ways in which they let us down); and it loosely tells my story from school in Essex to hapless music biz ‘tastemaker’, with stories of my encounters along the way with – among others – the Manic Street Preachers, Nirvana, Blur, Elastica, Oasis, Fatboy Slim and The Strokes.
I could quote some reviews here (good and bad) but I fondly remember a chap at a gig some years ago coming over and telling me: “I got your book Steve. It was a very easy read.”
A bastard to write, but easy to read.
And in bookshops now. I thank you.