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Amy Raphael is a writer and critic best known for her seminal 1995 music book Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock, alongside biographies on filmmakers Danny Boyle and Mike Leigh. With stints at The Face, NME and The Guardian, her journalistic career began in 1985 when she started writing for SCAN. The next year, she became Arts and Entertainments Editor, and was interviewing Mark E. Smith, David Gedge and went backstage at Glastonbury.
Hi Amy! How did you get involved with SCAN?
Oh it’s so long ago! I started off writing when I was at school and made a music fanzine. I always had these rows with my mum about going to university; she said that was what people did, but I was desperate to work for the NME (a much more important magazine then than it is now!) and didn’t think it was necessary.
I came round to the idea, and when I got to Lancaster in 1985 SCAN very much felt like an open door; they were very keen and welcoming. Back in those days, if you said you wanted to be a journalist to your sixth form careers advisor then they would laugh at you. They thought it was a joke. I was a complete lone wolf in that sense.
What was the best part of being involved with SCAN?
Because I was so enthusiastic and desperate to go to gigs, I couldn’t believe you could actually go for free and interview bands, it was incredible. I started off interviewing The Fall and Gary Glitter (but let’s not talk about that!). It was so different back then – after my interviews I became pen pals with David Gedge and Mark E. Smith, who sent me weird collages with all these random letters on. Who knows what goes on in that man’s head!
I don’t think I did much studying in that first year, at all. I was going to gigs all the time. I did Italian at Lancaster, and remember getting a 0 on my oral exam at the end of year 1, which I’d done absolutely no work for. But I managed to get my act together towards the end!
Sounds full-on! What did you get up to next?
That first summer of ‘86 I got a press pass for Glastonbury, access all areas. I just walked around backstage for the entire weekend. There weren’t even that many other journalists there, so I got to interview people like Lloyd Cole and The Housemartins. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of competition to write for SCAN, and to interview those bands, I was very lucky.
In my second year I was Arts Editor. In putting together the paper, we were total luddites – we used to Letraset the headlines! It was very hands on and felt like a proper collaboration. I worked with a guy in my year, Dave Griffiths, who was interested in taking photos. We’d get the national express coaches to Leeds or Manchester for gigs and get back at God knows what time.
How do you feel you helped to shape SCAN into what it is today?
I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say, but I think we made SCAN very pop orientated – we maybe tipped it more into covering music. I’ve always been good at spotting what’s going to be successful, and I think that’s why I’ve succeeded in my career. At my first job at The Face, everyone was like “who’s Kurt Cobain? What?”
What was it like coming to Lancaster in the 80s?
Basically, my dad died in the February before my A Levels, and I fucked up my A Levels because I didn’t want to tell anyone that I’d got extenuating circumstances. So I didn’t get into my first choice of university; Lancaster was my second choice, and I turned up on the first day despite never visiting it before. I thought “it’s close to Manchester and Liverpool, and to the Lakes”. It felt small and I liked the idea of it being a campus uni, as I was a bit freaked out about leaving home, as we all are.
At Fylde, I met best friends for life within my first week. I can’t fault my time there. There were loads of gigs both on campus and in town – the bigger bands played the Great Hall and the smaller bands played Sugarhouse.
If anything, there’s a distinct lack of live touring bands that come to visit Lancaster now.
Yeah, I saw that, it doesn’t seem to be on bands’ touring schedule like it used to be. That’s a real shame. Back in the 80s, Pop Will Eat Itself and all those northern indie bands played; they’d pop up the M6 to Lancaster on the gig map. I think that I was there at a very good time.
Finally – what are you working on now? Any SCAN exclusives you can tell us?
Erm… I don’t know what I can say! Okay, well I’m updating my first book Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock, with a whole load of new women from across all genres of music. This is supposed to be announced at the London Book Fair in March, so that’s certainly a SCAN exclusive!