Newcastle’s 02 Academy is a strange venue. Sitting at the intersection of Clayton and Westgate St it’s an imposing building whose red brickwork leaves a lasting impression upon the ‘Toon skyline. Although home to both a cinema and a bingo hall at other times in history, the building was officially opened as a concert venue in October 2005, bringing a multitude of internationally acclaimed musicians through it’s stages in the following decade.
When I first moved to Newcastle in January 2010 I was to become very well acquainted with the Academy in a very short space of time. As a contributing Journalist to several online and radio based publications I was often asked to preview, review and interview local performances of interest. More often than not those performances would take place at the Academy. One of my earliest interviews at this time was with an Ohio based Metal band. I’d seen the band perform in Dublin no less than three times within the space of a year, but that was almost a decade before this, so I still needed to do a lot of research beforehand and prepare extensively – something I believe any good Journalist should count as a personal trait in the same situation.
Upon arriving at the tour bus and being greeted by their manager, I was quickly informed the band might be a slight bit apprehensive, but that I was to be given access to all five members – a rather fortunate turn of events. The apprehension however, was due to the band’s lack of cannabis, which I assume they were using more for a recreational purpose than anything else. Without wanting to politely remind them that “possession with intent to supply” was viewed as a rather serious crime in the UK, the tour manager asked whether that would be something I might be able to obtain. This was most certainly a first.
As a Journalist you learn many skills and crafts during a typical interview. I’ve been very fortunate, throughout the last ten years, to have interviewed a variety of people whom others (and sometimes I include myself within this bracket) might consider to be famous. I’ve often gauged the level of fame of the respective interviewee when I’ve later mentioned it unsuspectingly in idle comment and the person I’ve mentioned it to has lost their balance for a brief moment. That being said, I once interviewed a lady on a radio show I presented, as a favour to my station manager. Halfway through the conversation we got onto the subject of music, and she mentioned she’d once been very good friends with Freddie Mercury, so needless to say there was little else mentioned for the rest of her segment.
In a professional setting there is little I’ve enjoyed more about being a Journalist than the interview. I think that has a lot to do with my personality, as I love meeting new people and bridging new connections, it’s always those first impressions I’m most eager to make. A few people have been kind enough to compliment me on the strength of my interviews, a lot of which I think has to do with my heritage, as Johnathan Swift once said “One of the very best rules of conversation is to never say anything which any of the company wish had been left unsaid”. I think that having those interpersonal skills is one of the most valuable assets you can have – as much as it’s either with you or it’s not, you also have the chance to learn this from one interview to a next.
When I was starting out in Journalism I was bought a book as a present from my then girlfriend called ‘Star Trippin’ by British music journalist Mick Wall. Wall is infamous for having interviewed some of the most influential musicians of his time, arguably reaching the peak of his fame in the late 80s/early 90s, while writing for UK rock publication Kerrang. Since then he’s made a career guest editing and writing columns in other such publications while also writing a string of “semi-autobiographical” novels on bands like Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC. I’d been aware of his work before I read the book but this was the first time a lot of these pieces had been collected together and, long out of print, made available.
Wall glamourised stories such as arguing with Axl Rose, reporting on Iron Maiden in Brazil and travelling to Moscow with Ozzy Osbourne. It was his accounts of these events and his career in general which had inspired me further. Although he was the first to admit, in reality, that chances like going to South America all expenses paid would never realistically happen again – I’m still waiting personally – there was an element of humour and laughter about his material that helped me connect to the story. His use of context and bringing people into the story defined a structure for me that, to be perfectly honest, I aspire to recreate in some way today.
What does it take to be a good Journalist? A good interviewer? Or both? You’re probably wondering what happened about the cannabis. Let’s just say the situation resolved itself, and I got almost 25 minutes with five members of the group, turning an otherwise quiet Sunday into a rather interesting affair. If I’d had no confidence, I’d of never snuck backstage at Guns N’ Roses, formed a connection with the band and gone on tour. I still remember the security man’s face dropping – probably the same way my draw dropped when James Hetfield asked me for a chicken stick in Sheffield – but I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot since then.