Sunday, February 28, 2010


Nick Kent

Having trailered this book a few weeks ago, having respected the publisher's embargo - there's a major serialisation in one of today's papers -  here is the skinny on NK's 1970s memoir.

First off, a few caveats. Nick and I have known each other since 'the get-go' as Nick put it in my interview with him [See The Audio-Generalist] in April 2007, at the Academy Hotel in London, when he came over to promote the revised edition of 'The Dark Stuff' - the best of his collected journalism. Its a stand-out work. At the time he had begun writing this new memoir of the 1970s, a decade which he said he had 'in his back pocket.'

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Brian James and Nick Kent. Brighton. 12th May 2007.

This review is a long way from objective. My story is intertwined with his at several points. I gave Nick his first commission, for some record reviews, when were at the underground newspaper Frendz in Portobello Road. I liked the cut of his jib, his energy, his passion for music and his writing style. We hung out a lot in the early days when Hawkwind were always round the office. Nick's  rise was meteoric. Within a few weeks he was interviewing the Grateful Dead at the Royal Garden Hotel and carving a name for himself. He and photographer Pennie Smith met at Frendz. [Pennie designed several issues and took photographs for the paper]. Both got fed up with the hand-to-mouth hassle of the underground press and headed for the NME. 

Nick took to me to meet the Flaming Groovies in the rented house in Wembley (we had 'hot knives') and got me on the coach trip to Brighton with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, described in the book. We saw the MC5 live at the LSE - Nick at the side of the stage doing his unique dance move, standing hands in pockets and rocking fairly violently backwards and forwards like a rock pendulum. Later we were both at Iggy Pop's legendary gig in 1972 at the Scala in London's King's Cross. We were always bumping into each other at the NME [See Previous Post: Adventures in the Music Press]

The heart of this memoir documents Nick's accelerated ride into the dark beating heart of the rock 'n' roll business - where he got to hang with the Stones and Led Zeppelin, with Iggy Pop and Bowie, with the Pistols - followed by his descent into a drug habit that led him into scum city. The first part is enjoyably visceral with unavoidable comic episodes; the second, a bleak picture and a raw read. Nick doesn't spare himself or anyone else. That he emerged into the light - that he survived at all - is a testament to his strong spirit.

As Nick strides then stumbles through the decade, his narrative reeks of all the elation and confusion of the times, the desperation, the mad speed-driven energy. Offstage, the country was in a state. Britain was broke, there was an energy crisis, IRA bombs, demonstrations, heavy policing. The music was explosive, visceral, expansive, powerful; the music business run by psychopaths and gangsters. It was unhinged, unregulated. Perfect territory for great journalism.

Nick was there. He was in the room. This book captures his real voice, that's for sure. Telling his story in his own way. I respect him for that and I learnt a lot that I didn't know. You'll enjoy the ride.

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Nick Kent on YouTube

Ben Thompson review in The Independent

Tim Horan review in The Telegraph

Robert Sandall review in The Times

 Strange Wikipedia entry on Nick Kent

A whole stack of Nick Kent's journalism on Rock's Back Pages (you have to subscribe but well worth it)

Enthusiastic posting on Head Heritage

'not so much a scoop as a sunday afternoon dip'


Copy of Lieutenats Mistress 093Before I could get a chance to read this book, my son Louis (of The Lieutenant's Mistress) grabbed it, devoured it and has now delivered his own review of the book. The view of a different generation.

Let us put this in context. Picture if you will a young lad of 16 years of age in a quiet town in South East England. This was the age I had started my rock & roll journey with earnest.

I was learning guitar, starting at Art College (as that’s what guitarists do) and immersing myself in the world of music like never before. I was hoovering up  information, records, guitar tips, documentaries at an immense speed, all the while planning my own rock & roll manifesto. A few years into this new world, my heroes  -  those that set the ground work of my musical education -  were the Who, Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Clash, Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Also at the time it was Britpop a-go-go and  the then current crop of bands  - Blur, Oasis and Pulp  - were ruling the pop culture of the day. I was a diehard Oasis fan and I remember round about the release of their third album, there was a huge feature in Mojo magazine of the Gallaghers  being interviewed by the legendary Nick Kent. The interview was a great read, the Gallagher’s always gave great copy but there was something about the article itself that was unlike any piece I’d read on them.

I remember my dad had mentioned Nick at various times as they had worked at the NME together back in the 70’s and had been firm friends. Shortly after this,  I had been given a copy of Nick Kent’s collected writings called 'The Dark Stuff'. It lay untouched for a short while before I picked out a chapter on The Smiths and found myself drawn in.

I had never read anything like this before. Sure I’d read countless articles about the Stones and punk but not like this. Kent was not just passing critical judgements,  he was part of the action. To me he exposed the rock super beings as flawed mortals, all be it very talented ones. He championed the cause of the cult and unknown  - Nick Drake, Syd Barrett. Like a war correspondent, he put his own life on the line in search of the story. Nothing seemed quite the same in my little rock & roll world after this.

Fast forward to now and I found myself face to face with his long-awaited second book, which I demolished in 36 hours and was once again affected by his writing,  this time in quite a different way.

I lay awake trying to think why this book had moved me so much. I stuck on Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ to give some background clarity to the situation. The main reason I realised was that, in between reading this and 'The Dark Stuff', I  had met and spent the  day with Nick. To see him and my dad reconnect their genuine friendship after all these years was a delight to be around. Though Nick is a tough cookie, I think we warmed to each other. But I had completely underestimated what he had been through.

The book is essentially an autobiography of Mr Kent’s life as a journalist in the 1970’s. Each chapter is dedicated to a year. It’s incredibly engaging to read and easy to get drawn into, as the young Kent moves to London to be a journalist. I found myself genuinely excited, as he was, at the unfolding turn of events, which led him eventually to go on tour with Zeppelin and the Stones, to head to America to learn from Lester Bangs and to fall in love with a young Chrissie Hynde. It all seemed exciting and totally rock and roll.

But then he started to descend into a dark place, the sinister side of the seventies. Nick was  not alone as  the stars of the time are going through a similar journey. However unlike his rock star chums,  he did not have the protective management unit around him and was dealing with a drug problem and a career going out of control. You can tell that he was probably a very nasty individual to know at certain points due to the lifestyle he was leading. Though one of the champions of punk, this new youth movement turned on him as he became  the token journo whipping boy for punk thugs.

Nick writes as if he is talking directly to you and there are great rock anecdotes. Along the way he settles a few scores but also praises various characters with genuine affection for their support. 

I think if the same story was composed by a different writer it would have been sensationalist and they would try to justify their actions and life choices. It is with all respect to Mr Kent that he lays the blame for his troubles and problems squarely on himself and never, at any point, looks for sympathy. He wants to tell the real story.

Music journalism is a dull place these days. Kent was someone who held Lester Bangs, Jack Kerouac and James Joyce in the same regard as Iggy Pop. He wasn’t trying to live the rock and roll lifestyle but he knew he had to be in the story to tell the real story -  no matter what the cost.

1 comment:

ib said...

Hello, John.

Well. I was locked into the process of a Google search on my own domain - I don't normally stoop to such anal-itics, I might add, but occasionally I succumb - when I came upon your informed musings on Nick's unabridged tome.

A fine document, it is too. Every auditionee with a preset agenda ought to read it. Before he / she embarks on the ruinous road.

Anyway. I just wanted to acknowledge - thank you, actually - for acknowledging my own Sunday piece. It is quite startling to see oneself referenced in such fine company.

This time around, it would be nice to see Nick proceeding to a finer spot than the Old Kent Road. A writer who elevated the NME - with the (very) occasional assistance of one Lester Bangs - well above the banality of its [present] .com address.