Here’s the third part of a series of four reflecting on Fire Raisers, the magazine that Alistair and I co-edited in the early nineties. The last part will be appearing over at Unpopular before long.
All three issues are available as PDFs via either of the links below or as paper copies for purchase. Do feel free to comment, whether as a contributor, a reader from back in the day, or on the basis of coming upon the magazines for the first time.
Daniel: Was it a pain having a co-editor? Would you have preferred absolute power?
Alistair: As a self-acknowledged control freak, I suppose I should answer yes to that. But actually no, it was fine. It was good to have someone else make some decisions about content etc, and of course your proof reading skills have always far outshone mine! Looking back though, I don’t actually remember how much real editing was needed. Did we turn down any contributions? Did we actually do any physical editing of other writers’ work?
I think the sense that we were properly collaborating was novel to us both, and exciting, and of course it never lasted long enough for serious issues to arise.
D: I think we took the ‘produced naturally’ approach to editing (analogous to groups recording without direction from an ‘auteur’ producer, leading to an end product whose audio quality is diminished but has greater charm). I’m sure that stemmed (a) from how sensitive we personally would have been at that time to editorial suggestion or interference, and (b) because we were a long way from having the skills you need to be an editor (some might say still are, if they’re wading through this!).
We did however turn down several proposed contributions, including one by a member of a certain pop group of whom we were fans. I meanly decreed in my mind that he should stick to music and leave the writing to us! I’ve always felt bad about that since.
But yes, I totally agree that the experience of working together on something was exciting – and instructive to two habitual loners like ourselves. Our chief obstacle as co-editors was of course one of us being in Scotland and the other in London in the days before email.
D: What reactions do you recall the magazine getting?
A: I don’t remember a huge amount, but then it was so long ago and many things have sunk into the depths of lost memories. I do recall the feedback from Richey, as noted previously. That would have been around the time of the Manic’s first Heavenly singles I think. I also remember doing a phone interview with David Belcher at the Glasgow Herald. Belcher was something of an iconic figure in the Scottish broadsheets at the time, championing lots of music and culture that the English broadsheets wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole. I sent him a copy of Fire Raisers on the off-chance he might like it, and then he phoned wanting to do a short feature. I’m sure I have the cutting somewhere in the vaults… The thing is, I remember thinking at the time that the article was a great coup and that it would surely increase sales. The truth was that it had an almost no impact at all. Except possibly to have the Scottish Library write to me and demand copies of all issues for their collection. They never paid, either.
Some years later, however, I sold a copy of my third Melody Haunts My Reverie fanzine to a bloke in The Cavern in Exeter. He came to be a good friend (even published my book of Pop witterings!) and it turned out he remembered buying copies of Fire Raisers at the local small press outlet and being impressed. So you know, people did take notice.
D: Having been tipped off by you, I made a special trip to King’s Cross early on the morning that particular edition of the Glasgow Herald was published to get hold of a copy – feeling somewhat like a playwright on the morning after press night, or Kerouac buying the New York papers the day On The Road was reviewed when I read: ‘Fire Raisers fits in somewhere between Granta and Sniffin’ Glue’!
That’s quite heartening, that Rupert had encountered Fire Raisers before he’d encountered you. It’s a perennial concern when you’re sending out writing into the world in no matter what form: are your words connecting with people and having an effect? Or are people completely disinterested? How can you know?
Being the hoarding type, I’ve kept a file of letters that first my fanzines and later Fire Raisers generated, and there are a fair few. There’s a great one from a Shaun Johnson of Melton Mowbray, who tried to get his local radical bookshop to stock the second or third issue of Fire Raisers only for them to refuse because ‘it didn’t sell well last time’! Shaun went on to say that Fire Raisers ‘is the best literary magazine on the market’, which may not be that far from the truth, given that the lifetime of literary magazines then as now tended to be brief, leaving plenty of windows where there wasn’t much or even any competition.
Other radical concerns were keener – a publication called the Exeter Flying Post got in touch to ask for ‘a statement of our aims’, which I presume I gave them.
And it was through Fire Raisers that we made contact with folk like Robin Tomens, who would later go on to write for Tangents. He bought the first issue in Rough Trade and wrote recognising Fire Raisers and his Ego were kindred spirits. Balancing up Richey’s verdict, Robin said he loved Carrie’s ‘Snowboots’ story, and Sam Matthew’s piece in the first issue. And that Fire Raisers was ‘beautifully produced’.
A: Although I would say it, I also liked Snowboots. Not sure what Carrie would think of it now, though perhaps she will let us know in the comments.
D: I think the tale of the beach shelter needs to be retold.
A: Oh gosh, the beach shelter… This was for the cover photo for FR 3, for which we wanted to borrow Paul Morley’s infamous ‘boredom or Fire Engines, you can’t have both’ line. I had this idea of painting the slogan (with ‘Raisers’ in place of ‘Engines’ of course!) on a beach shelter in my then hometown of Troon. I did the painting on the wall at around midnight after a night at my friend Stephen’s ‘Subculture’ club (I spent the night with a paintbrush and a small jar of white paint in my pocket) and then we went down the following day to take the photos. The cover star was a Subculture regular called Rozlyn, who I barely remember now. I think we asked her because she had a parka, though you can’t really tell that from the photo. There is also a photo from a few weeks later when you hitched up to Troon, I think. I’m standing beside my artwork, dressed in anorak and desert boots. Height of fashion.
The real interest in the story though is from several years later, when I had left Troon and was living in Devon. My mum mentioned on the phone that there had been a story on the front page of the local paper about an arson attack on a beach shelter in town. Seems the paper thought that the graffiti on what remained of the torched shelter (touched up just a few weeks earlier by our friends Andrea and Suzy) suggested that there were a group of arsonists at work in the town… naturally my mother was anxious about a visit from the local constabulary! I suspect the truth was that a bunch of glue-sniffing casuals got bored and cold on the front one night and decided to warm themselves.
The shelter was rebuilt, and these days the only graffiti you’ll find on it is of the ‘Baz 4 Shaz’ type. No imagination in the young people these days…