Focus group? No wonder the NME is fading away


Well, I suppose a Happy Birthday is in order. This week the New Musical Express celebrates the 60th anniversary of its publication and while the paper was a crucial part of my life as a music fan it's now somewhat sad to see it floundering.

When I first bought it back in the early 70s it was a conduit to another world. Not only did the NME keep me informed on a weekly basis as to what was happening in rock'n'roll but it was extremely adept at tipping me off as to what might well happen a few months down the road.

When the paper sensed that the musical winds were changing in the mid-70s they were first off the mark, dispatching Charles Shaar Murray to New York to check out a nascent club scene which came to be known as Punk Rock.

As a 17 year-old full of vim and vigour this was like a call to arms and when Mick Farren penned the famous article The Titanic Sails at Dawn, urging youngsters to form a band rather than complain that the music they were being fed was rubbish, it had the desired effect.


The fact that at the time it was selling in excess of 250,000 copies a week meant that its influence was unimaginable in today's world of safety first publishing. Although I stopped buying the NME around a decade ago, I recently purchased a copy -- okay, mainly because they reprinted a Sex Pistols (above) interview from 1977 - and it was unrecognisable from the opionated, provocative periodical I remember.

Sure, times change but when I read a recent interview with current editor Krissi Murison I was horrified to hear her have to justify putting old acts on the cover with 'Young fans love these covers. Our focus groups get really excited when it's the Smiths or John Lennon'. Whoa there -- focus groups!

Sweet divine Jesus, no wonder the NME is barely scraping 20,000 sales a week when they're resorting to focus groups, the tool of the Satanic marketing community, a bunch of people who wouldn't recognise an original idea if it smashed a Rickenbacker over their heads.

I could only laugh at the notion of an NME editor suggesting a focus group to an editorial conference in 1978 when the likes of Nick Kent, Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Danny Baker were in the room.

So, happy 60th birthday NME -- I somehow doubt that there'll be many more of them but thanks so much for everything.