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Interview: Mark Blake

Heroes...

Journalist Mark Blake has written for many leading UK rock mags including 'Metal Forces' (remember that mag!?), 'Kerrang!' and many more.

How did you become involved in the music business?

I had friends who played in part-time groups and another whose flatmate wrote for Sounds in the early '80s, so I was around that world ever since I was a teenager. After dicking around for a few years after college I got sick of working jobs I didn't want to do. I became aware that I spent most Thursday mornings, skiving off in the bogs, reading Sounds or Kerrang! So I decided to try my hand at something I wanted to do. I worked and travelled around America for six months and while I was out there saw a couple of bands. They weren't great, but I wrote a review for a now defunct heavy rock fanzine/magazine called Metal Forces. They took me on as a freelancer, but often forgot to pay me, and I've been winging it ever since.

Who have you enjoyed interviewing most and who was a complete nightmare(and why)?

Charlie Watts was a real gentleman. But some of the metal bands from the early 90s were idiotic fun, especially if you were in a hotel bar with them at 2am. I'm thinking Motley Crue. I wasn't very taken with Desmond Child, Bon Jovi's songwriter - but I couldn't say why in a public forum such as this.

What has been the highlight of your career in journalism and rock music?

Meeting Keith Richards and Robert Plant. Twice, I'm a big fan of the Stones and Led Zeppelin - and they were both good value. Though one was more lucid than the other. I also saw one of those men's penises, but I don't like to talk about it.

What has been your most embarassing moment in journalism? Did you ever get all the research wrong, and mix up the questions for (for example) Michael Bolton and Mick Bolton?

I've been spared anything too embarrassing. Though on my first press trip out of London, I turned up late for the coach and incurred the wrath of my older and more experienced music hack peers. Ask Malcolm Dome about it. Yngwie Malmsteen put the phone down on me once - but then that was more of a blessing.

Anyone you would love to meet/interview but you haven't as yet?

Having done a Zeppelin, a couple of Stones and a Beatle - I'd say no. But as I grew up in a denim jacket, with a bad mullet, running around going mad to heavy metal bands, I'd find any of those late 70s, early 80s rockers interesting. What's Phil Mogg's number?

How do you view the current UK rock scene?

It's stifled by the current two-strikes-and-you're-out policy of the major record companies. Few bands are given enough time to develop, like they were in the 70s and even 80s. But I do think that the upside of reality TV music shows - PopStars etc - is that they trigger a desire in a lot of the public to seek out an alternative. As such, people want to start their own bands to get away from manufactured stuff. Hence, the live music scene in the UK is much more buoyant at a grass-roots level than it was a few years ago. That has to be a good thing.

Any rock'n'roll tales to tell? Does Sharon Osbourne really have dog- shit all over the carpet, or is it the pretend plastic stuff they sell in joke shops?

I didn't see any dog shit. The house was spotless. I actually fancied her a bit. Though please don't tell anyone.

Who are your musical heroes and why?

Led Zeppelin, The Stones and then, further down the evolutionary scale, while growing up Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, and UFO. Of course, they're like the struggling third division football team who let you down most Saturdays but demonstrate blinding form once in a blue moon... marvellous, jumpers for goalposts, etc. Though I do think it's time for Schenker to retire and open a sports shop or pub or something. Maybe not a pub.

Do you approach reviews as a fan ie 'would I pay 15 for this CD?' or as a professional? (I only ask as many music magazines have reviewers who seem to dislike bands and yet review that band's latest cd!) Is it hard to review a band you know you dislike?

I always approach reviews that way. I've rarely reviewed a band I actively dislike, and I don't think it happens as much as people think it does. I find that some dedicated followers of bands can't bear any criticism of their heroes, so have a tendency to pounce on anything that's less than full marks. I'm the first to admit that most of my favourite bands have cocked up at some time or another. More than once, in fact.

Have you ever wanted to kill Valerie Potter or strangle her cats or anything like that?

Not at all. Valerie is a lovely woman and I'm sure she dispensed some sage advice to me when I was a struggling hack, drunk in a hotel bar in Workington, 12 years ago, after turning up late for that coach.

Has the Internet helped music magazines or helped kill many off? (Smaller printed fanzine magazines have tended to disappear with the Net's increasing use or they have turned into Internet-only fanzines)

I think it may have damaged fanzines, and with the speed of getting up-to-the-minute news it has made life tougher for weekly magazines. But then look at Kerrang! magazine, which is a weekly and is now selling more than ever. The net's handy, though, when ailing 70s-era rock bands decide to split up halfway through a tour. The whole world knows in an instant.

Any bright hopes for the future (bands/labels/venues)?

My mate's nephew's band, Bad Dog Biscuit Thief.

Interview © 2002 Jason Ritchie


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