What most excites you about joining the teaching team at BIMM?
The ethos of the BIMM institution as a whole, where no one’s a career teacher who can tell you what the music industry was like 20 years ago – everyone’s in the thick of things right now. So far I’ve also enjoyed wandering the corridors hearing great music coming from behind every door. There’s a real buzz about the place.
Briefly discuss your experience?
My first journalism job was on the Arts desk of the Daily Telegraph, where I was hired as a researcher and phone answerer but was quickly asked to write about music, by virtue of being the youngest person there by some distance. When a colleague moved to the London Evening Standard, she hired me as their chief rock and pop critic. I’ve been interviewing musicians and reviewing gigs and albums for the Standard since 2002. In the meantime I’ve also freelanced for the likes of Q, the New Statesman and Mixmag, co-wrote a Rough Guides book called ‘The Best Music You’ve Never Heard’, and was a judge on the Mercury Music Prize panel for three years. As a lecturer, I taught on the Journalism undergraduate course at London Metropolitan University for two years and have also guested at other institutions.
Where did you train to become a journalist?
On an undergraduate English degree at Nottingham University, I spent more time working for the student newspaper than doing the course, and interviewed everyone from Orbital to the Backstreet Boys as an 18/19 year-old. From there I did a one-year Postgraduate Journalism course at City University in London, and got my first job the week I finished.
Is this your dream job?
The teaching or the journalism? Being able to mix the two is ideal – is “portfolio career” the fashionable expression? If you’d asked me when I was 15 what my dream job would be, definitely music journalist. But after so many years of that, trying to keep a room of young hotshots interested in a classroom offers a different kind of thrill.
What can the first year of BIMM Music Journalism students expect?
Well as I write, we’ve been here less than two months and one of them has already had a full page feature published in the Sun. The opportunities to be involved in the industry from the beginning are really remarkable. And the teachers are so active in the trade that the tales they tell are literally hot off the press.
What’s the best gig you have seen?
There are a few, as you might expect. Usually it involves seeing someone who is, or would go on to be, massive, in a small space. So The White Stripes early on at the Concorde 2 in Brighton, Arcade Fire in a church, Prince in the Electric Ballroom, and the Rolling Stones in the 2,000-capacity Astoria all spring to mind.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m about to name Natalie Prass’s glorious debut as my album of 2015 in print, or possibly Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell. Soak, Jamie xx, Leon Bridges and The Staves have also had a lot of airtime recently.
What’s the best gig or project you have worked on?
It’s not really a “project” but a couple of days after Amy Winehouse died I was asked to write a feature about her relationship with Camden, visiting the shrine that had suddenly appeared outside her house and the pubs that she used to haunt. I was proud of the quality of writing on a difficult subject with a very tight deadline.
Most memorable interview?
Again there are a few. I’ll go for Asgeir, who brought me out to Reykjavik, then drove me in his own car for hours through the sparse Icelandic countryside to visit his childhood home in the absolute back of beyond. I had lunch at the farm of his guitarist’s parents, met the sheep, then coffee and cake with his parents another few dozen miles into the wilderness. There was also a tiny gig in the remote church he used to sing in as a child. To spend that amount of time with someone and gain that much insight into their life, in these days of half-an-hour-in-a-hotel-room, was really special.
Can you remember any funny experience as a music journalist?
Ozzy Osbourne grabbed my hand, thrust it under his shirt and made me feel the metal plate that he’d had inserted after his quad-biking accident. I was taken on a private jet to an Ibiza hilltop to hear the second James Blunt album. Prince tweeted a link to my interview with Lianne La Havas, which is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being knighted. I interviewed Kinks legend Ray Davies on a park bench. And if I correctly understand the lyrics to the new single from grime rapper Stormzy, he’s mentioned the fact that I interviewed him in the Evening Standard in song.