Sunday, November 05, 2006


We are sorry to report the passing away of our dear friend and colleague Tony Tyler. What follows is a small tribute to him, a series of posts reflecting different parts of his life and times, his talents, his range, his intelligence, his humour - all of which we will miss greatly. [Pictures from the wake at The Royal Oak in Pett by Anna Chen]

To begin, two fine obituaries from colleagues Charles Shaar Murray and Chris Salewicz, in 'The Independent and The Guardian respectively:

James Edward Anthony Tyler, writer and editor: born Bristol 31 October 1943; twice married; died Hastings, East Sussex 28 October 2006.

In his time on the New Musical Express, Tony Tyler was one of those rare, inspirational editors who can see every element of a story in a one-sentence description, and commission it on the spot: lengthy lunches discussing the piece held no interest for such a meteoric, extraordinarily intelligent and encouraging mind. Besides, only half of his teeming brain was focused on the job, as Tyler feverishly moonlighted at home on The Tolkien Companion, published in 1976 under the name of J.E.A. Tyler, which intermittently funded him for the rest of his life.

Always hilariously funny in his writing, as a human being and in his editorial roles on the increasingly surreal NME in the mid-1970s, he arrived with a romantic past. "He was the only journalist on the music press who had carried a weapon in war," said Michael Watts, a rival editor on Melody Maker. Tyler used to love telling the story of how he had been wounded in the shoulder by a bullet from an ancient musket whilst serving in the Army in Aden: half-cut, he was carrying a beer-case and didn't realise he had been shot until another private noticed blood.

He had enlisted in the Royal Tank Regiment via a circuitous route. His father, from an upper-middle-class family, had been a fighter ace in the First World War. The experience had turned him into an alcoholic. Giving up drink, he married his nurse, who was much younger than him. Their only child, James Edward Anthony Tyler, was born on Hallowe'en night in 1943 in Bristol, during a thunderstorm punctuated by a German air-raid.

Tony Tyler grew up in Liverpool, where he attended Liverpool College, at the age of 16 turning on prefects attempting another of their habitual beatings, and leaving before he could be expelled: he had one O-level, in English Literature. His mother died the next year. He became a police cadet, but quit when told his stammer was so extreme he would never be able to give evidence in court. (When people asked him later what cured his debilitating stutter, Tyler would reply, "Acid.") He found more stimulating employment as a trainee reporter on a Merseyside paper.

But Tyler had decided to become a beatnik. His best friend Tim Craig (later the father of the actor Daniel Craig) was a merchant seaman. Tyler stowed away on his Hamburg-bound ship, aware that the Beatles - whom he vaguely knew - were resident in the German port. Tyler's Bohemianism resulted only in starvation; Gerry Marsden (of Gerry and the Pacemakers) bought him the occasional meal.

After he was hospitalised with pneumonia, Tyler was sent home in 1962 by the British consulate. Noting the healthy demeanour of squaddies, he decided to enlist - after first failing in his attempt to join the French Foreign Legion. A guitarist since he was 13 - he once played in a skiffle-group with Richard Stilgoe - he was promoted to the regimental band.

When his father died in 1966, Tyler came into an inheritance, which he quickly burnt through. First buying himself and two friends out of the Army, he purchased an AC Cobra off the stand at the motor show, totalling it on his way home. Taking a job in a London musical instrument shop, he found himself playing Hammond organ in a soul group based in Italy, the Patrick Samson Set; they had a No 1 there with a cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale".

Back in London in 1969, after writing an article for a competition run by Beat Instrumental, a music trade paper, he was offered the job of editor. Soon he became publicist for EG Management, who cared for the careers of T. Rex, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

He was brought into the NME in 1972 by the editor Alan Smith, who was re-launching the pop paper; Tyler's zest, hilarious verve and formidable energy made him a pivot of an editorial team that included Nick Logan, who succeeded Smith in 1973 and went on to found The Face, Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and Ian MacDonald. With MacDonald, he formed a double act that informed the paper's humour. It was Tyler, who adored to debunk pomposity, who, when confronted with Bryan Ferry's latest sartorial extravagance, came up with the headline "How Gauche Can a Gaucho Get?"

In 1975, his first book was published, The Beatles: an illustrated record, an astute and amusing analysis of every recorded song by the group, a collaboration with Roy Carr, another NME editor. The next year Tyler, by now NME assistant editor, advertised for "hip young gunslingers" (his own phrase) and hired Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons. Two years later, when he learned he had both The Tolkien Companion and The Beatles in the New York Times Top Ten, he decided to give up journalism and be a full-time writer. His guide to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth was issued in new editions as The New Tolkien Companion (1979) and, again revised and updated, as The Complete Tolkien Companion (2002).

In 1982, Tyler married, as his second wife, Kate Phillips, an NME staff writer: at the time of his death they had been together for 31 years, with one of the happiest marriages any of his friends knew. He and Kate bought a house overlooking the sea outside Hastings.

Fascinated early on by the very notion of computers, Tony Tyler plunged into that emerging world, trying to bring the same sense of NME absurdity to Big K, a computer magazine he started in 1983, but which folded. He celebrated his new fascination with technology with I Hate Rock & Roll (1984). He began to write columns for the magazines MacUser and MacWorld. These were only intended to fund his efforts to be a fiction writer. He completed several novels, none of which was published. "They were so intelligent," said his agent Julian Alexander, "with incredible flights of fancy, that I don't think they were easily understood."

Tyler, who viewed life as a cosmic joke, was wryly philosophical about the failure to place these books with publishers. As he was when confronted with his cancer, diagnosed only 11 days before he died. "Shit happens, but I'm completely cool with this," he said, phoning his friends to come and visit him. He was annoyed, he said, that he would never get to see Casino Royale, starring his godson Daniel.

"I want you to know, for when your time comes," Tyler told his wife, her sister and mother two days before he died, his curiosity about the mysteries of life and death undiminished, "that this isn't really too bad. It's quite dealable with."

Chris Salewicz

Tony Tyler

NME talent spotter, Tolkien expert and computer pundit

Charles Shaar Murray

Wednesday November 1, 2006

If some of the New Musical Express's prominent writers were the faces of the 1970s paper, and editor Nick Logan and the late assistant editor Ian MacDonald functioned as its brain, then Tony Tyler, who has died of cancer aged 62, was its heart and soul. Features editor and later assistant editor during the early 70s, Tony, "the looming boomer", 6ft 5in in height with a resonant, drawling baritone, contributed irreverence and absurdist humour to the forging of the NME's identity.

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He was also an author who once had two radically different books, The Tolkien Companion (1976) and The Beatles: an Illustrated Record (1975) - the latter a collaboration with his NME colleague Roy Carr - appearing simultaneously in the New York Times best-seller lists. A gadget freak, he became the founding editor of Britain's first computer-gaming magazine, one of the earliest adopters of the Apple Macintosh and the liveliest, wittiest pundit in Macintosh journalism.

TT, as he was almost universally known, led a rich existence. During a spell in the army, he was the last British soldier to be wounded by a musket-ball. As a teenage stowaway to Hamburg, he was in an all-night card-game with a drunken, speeding pre-Beatlemania John Lennon. While working for a London musical instrument dealer in 1966, he accompanied a rented Hammond organ to the Royal Albert Hall, where he was backstage to see Bob Dylan, paralysed with stage fright, virtually thrown on stage for his legendary appearance with the Band. The same year, feeling that his Gibson Les Paul guitar deserved to be played by a better musician, he sold it to Peter Green, who had just replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Blues Breakers and later founded Fleetwood Mac. Green sold it to the young Irish guitarist Gary Moore, who used it until last year. During his final week, TT was amused to learn that his old guitar was informally valued at $2m. His greatest triumph as a musician was to enjoy an Italian number-one hit the summer of 1967 as organist with the band who cut the Italian-language cover of Procol Harum's song A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

He was also godfather, albeit informally, to Daniel Craig, the new James Bond: TT had known the actor's father, Tim Craig, since they were seven years old. Since Ian Fleming was, along with PG Wodehouse and JRR Tolkien, one of Tyler's favourite authors, it was a major disappointment to TT to realise that he would not live long enough to see his godson play 007. "I'll never go to the cinema again," he said, "and I won't be around when the DVD comes out."

TT was born in Bristol, but raised around Liverpool. He attended Liverpool College but left at 16 with a single A-level. His adored mother died of cancer at the age of 39 when TT was 17, and his father, a veteran of the first world war Royal Flying Corps, not long after.

Feeling cast adrift, he signed up as a police cadet, but was told that his chronic stammer would prevent him from giving effective evidence in court. After stowing away to Hamburg on a merchant navy vessel, he hung out with soon-to-be-famous Liverpool bands such as the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, before contracting pneumonia and being shipped home by the British embassy. After recovering, he joined the Royal Tank regiment and was wounded in action in Aden. Because of his size, the army built him a bespoke bed, which dutifully followed him from posting to posting, but never caught up.

Back in civilian life, he sold instruments by day and played guitar and organ in groups at night, until an Italian band kidnapped him for several years on the European club circuit. On his return to London, he met and married an American student and moved to San Francisco, where he had a job as a piano salesman for 18 months, despite never selling a single piano.

Returning to London, he briefly edited the magazine Beat Instrumental before becoming a publicist for Emerson, Lake and Palmer - "I make no apologies," he later said, "though I would if I thought apology was sufficient " - but, finding both public relations and ELP uncongenial, he took the opportunity to join NME, then just about to start the radical rethink that transformed it from pop-picking chart fluff to a salon for gadflies. At the NME, Tyler demonstrated a keen eye for talent both musical and journalistic: an early champion of Roxy Music and Dr Feelgood, he was instrumental in the hiring of such writers as Nick Kent, Neil Spencer, Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill, Paul Morley, Vivien Goldman, Paul DuNoyer and Kate Phillips, with whom he fell in love and who subsequently became his second wife.

In addition to his NME duties, he wrote (as JEA Tyler) his Tolkien Companion, a massive concordance of all the people, places and things in The Lord of the Rings and its associated texts. The success of this and the Beatles book, co-written with Roy Carr, enabled him to leave the NME and retreat, with Kate, to a remote riverside cottage, which he soon filled with early personal computers. He became besotted with all things Macintosh, and his witty, anarchic punditry for magazines such as MacUser and Computer Shopper helped to keep him in fine wines and electronic keyboards for the remainder of his life.

His third book - a hilariously splenetic rant called I Hate Rock And Roll (1984) - was rather less successful, but remains a cult classic.

Outside his professional achievements, he will be remembered as a formidable autodidact who became expert on ancient and military history; as a right-wing libertarian who preferred to be surrounded by liberals and lefties "because most people who share my views are staggeringly unpleasant"; as a gourmet, oenophile and chef; as a genial host with unquenchable joie de vivre, determined to make sure everybody had fun; and as a man who remained urbane even on his deathbed. His last words, addressed to his 86-year-old mother-in-law, were: "I just want you to know, for when it's your turn, that this [dying] isn't actually so bad."

He is survived by Kate.

· James Edward Anthony Tyler, journalist, born October 31 1943; died October 28 2006

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