The Wire

ISSUE 225, November 2002

This overview of the past two decades of The Wire appeared in the special twentieth anniversary issue in November 2002.

The Wire 20

In summer 1982, in the midst of the Falklands War, the early Thatcher/Reagan era, and the rise of pop's New Romantics, The Wire was launched into orbit by a small independent publisher. Over the next ten pages we celebrate two decades of the magazine's survival by catching up with past and present employees, and leafing through our own back pages, charting the myriad changes, peaks, troughs and quirks of (though we say it ourselves) a publishing phenomenon.

Issue 1 Summer 1982
The strapline "Jazz, Improvised Music And..." announces the first issue of the magazine. Run from an address in Mirabel Road, South West London, The Wire begins as a quarterly, co-founded and edited by Anthony Wood (who stayed for 16 issues) and Chrissie Murray. She was a journalist; he had been an entrepreneur, jazz promoter and, the previous year, co-owner (with improvising musicians John Russell and Roger Turner) of shortlived label called CAW. Five names are on the masthead, including Production by Chrissie Murray, Design by Terry Coleman, and two Editorial Assistants. Wood's debut editorial is scathing about Œcompetitors': "The reverend gentlemen at Jazz Journal continue, at best, to admit only grudgingly that jazz has got beyond 1948..."

2 Winter 1982/83
Wood's editorial in the second issue relates how the staff sold issue 1, fanzine-style, to an unsuspecting public at Knebworth Jazz Festival earlier that summer. The Letter Page (sic) is brim-full of mostly positive comments from first time readers, plus a six-point critique by writer Max Harrison (who would later become a contributor): "... 3) Too many interviews. These are the bane of jazz periodicals. People fancy writing about jazz, find they've nothing of their own to say, and so badger musicians to talk into a tape recorder. 4) There are far, far too many pictures. At 85p readers are entitled to a good long read..."

4 Summer 1983
One year on, and Wood is in reflective and self-critical mode. "I believe The Wire has failed to live up to its stated intents," he admits, blaming both lack of resources and of organisation. Yet, he rallies, "the message is ŒYou ain't seen nothing yet!'" Future Editor Richard Cook writes the opinion column On The Wire, lambasting the archaic jazz establishment ("We need to stop preaching and start being"). Curiously, and on the same page, the issue carries an advert for NME (captioned: "On The Sun Ra Side Of The Street") that lists all the jazz artists it's covered recently: "OK, so you may have to negotiate the occasional piece on Sunny Ade, Grandmaster Flash or Echo And The Bunnymen," the ad copy reads, "but that's the price of reading the world's most broad-minded music weekly."

8 October 1984
The Wire goes monthly after becoming part of Naim Attallah's Namara Group. It now has an office in Namara's Beak Street building in Soho.

17 July 1985
Richard Cook, a journalist who had written pieces on the likes of Derek Bailey and Evan Parker in NME, takes over as Editor, having joined as Deputy the previous month. The design is given a facelift, and another NME writer, Mark Sinker, makes an appearance in the same month. By issue 19 (September 1985) Anthony Wood's name will have disappeared from the masthead.

23 January 1986
The New Year kicks off with a bold statement of intent: Bill Laswell on the cover. "Laswell doesn't really belong in The Wire, they'll tell me," writes Mark Sinker. David Toop, fresh from co-editing the Collusion zine and writing his book Rap Attack, mails in a piece on Go-Go star Donald Banks. Paul Elliman, who has been a layout assistant for several months, takes control of the magazine's art direction.

24 February 1986
A change of logo and a loss of the definite article: the magazine is now officially Wire.

25 March 1986
Peter Pullman's column New York Ear And Eye begins, establishing a special relationship with the Big Apple. New York reports, later handled by Howard Mandel, were to become a regular feature in Wire throughout the 80s.

26 April 1986
Review columns beging sprouting in the early pages, a tradition that would continue until 1990: The Sound Of Africa by Mark Sinker, The Latin Sound by Sue Steward, and Round Up The Usual Suspects by Biba Kopf, which mentions Jacques Attali, Einstürzende Neubauten and Die Tödliche Doris. Plus ça change...

29 July 1986
Elliman revamps the Wire logo, which has already been through four different versions, to the serif typeface which will prevail, in various forms, until 2001. The cover image, featuring Max Roach, sets the tone for the next few years.

33 November 1986
Wire hosts its British Jazz Awards at the end of what Cook calls "one of the strongest jazz years in the UK". Everything is gearing up for the Œjazz revival' which will hit the London media the following year: Julien Temple's Absolute Beginners has been all over cinema screens that summer; a full-page ad for Courtney Pine's Island LP Journey To The Urge Within appears on the inside front cover; and there's a preview of Round Midnight, Bertrand Tavernier's fictional biopic of a jazz life starring Dexter Gordon. But even now the magazine has concerns that go beyond Sobranies and sharp suits: Biba Kopf weighs in with a piece on William Burroughs, and Cook's editorial concludes: "I am not interested in a jazz reawakening that has no space for Albert Ayler. If we do not accept the extremes and difficulties of the music, the interest is worth nothing. The new barriers must be destroyed at once."

43 September 1987
Brian Morton reviews a live performance by Alice Coltrane: "There is something inherently and intensely depressing about the sight of an electric organ on a jazz stage." King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp begins a series on practising the guitar. The issue also contains an essay on Robert Johnson by Greil Marcus.

44 October 1987
Wire co-curates a programme during National Jazz Month at the South Bank Centre, a 31 day line-up that includes the likes of Morphogenesis, B Shops For The Poor, The Voice Of God Collective and Hornweb, alongside Anita Carmichael, Clark Tracey, Dudu Pukwana's Zila and more. 46/47 December 1987/January 1988
The 82 page Œdouble issue' for New Year 1988 features ­ who else? ­ Courtney Pine on the cover. The magazine is in full stride, with big pieces on Mike & Kate Westbrook, Cecil Taylor, Roland Kirk and Bix Beiderbecke, a "Christmas Jazzword", and Tony Herrington on soca star David Rudder.

48 February 1988
The cover carries a classic monochrome shot of Billie Holiday by jazz photographer Herman Leonard, whose iconic images are celebrated over several inside pages. Bafflingly, the only other text on the cover is the alphabet from A-N, which is continued O-Z on the opening spread of an interview with Harold Budd.

50 April 1988
A landmark half-tonne of issues. Wire responds with a cover shot of a ticking metronome, the sheet music of "Lover Man", a clock face, and a poem by René Char. "Milestones can evoke mixed feelings," writes Richard Cook. "The pleasure of getting there is usually tempered by some combination of fatigue and wondering what on earth one can do next." The letters page, now named ŒThe Write Place', is given over to a letter from Nesuhi Ertegun, commenting on a recent article on King Oliver.

52 June 1988
"Barry Wallenstein is a writer and poet with a long experience of working in the jazz environment. Jazz and poetry have many links between them, and there's much fresh interest in combining the two genres. In this two-part piece, Wallenstein himself offers a first hand account of an unusual gig that took place in Lagos and then poses some questions about his life and work." Part two of this feature never appears.

53 July 1988
Lucy Ward joins as Art Editor. Elliman's minimalist precision and cool has reached its apotheosis; Ward has the onerous task of continuing and freshening his style. Under her design, however, Wire consolidates its growing aura of urbane wit, sophistication and cosmopolitan hybridity. Russell Lack begins a short lived rap column. Under the banner "The Jazz And New Music Magazine", the years 1988-90 feature a heady mix of features on 20th century composers such as John Cage, Stockhausen, John Zorn...

54 August 1988
Ward's cover image of Jason Rebello stamps her seal on the look of the mag. A greater variety of fonts and graphics are introduced, although this is still the era of pre-desktop publishing.

57 November 1988
Bird, the Clint Eastwood-directed life of Charlie Parker, elevates jazz in the public consciousness and Wire rides the wave with a cover still featuring the film's star, Forest Whitaker.

58/59 December 1988/January 1989
The words "Acid-free" appear on the cover. Ostensibly a reference to the paper stock, it is a response to the encroachment of the kind of jazz-inspired dance music being popularised by labels like Acid Jazz. Contributor Paul Bradshaw, whose Destination Out column covers the jazz-dance club network, is so upset by this, he quits and sets up his own magazine: Straight No Chaser.

65 July 1989
The cover story is a piece on guitarist Bill Frisell by Jonathan Coe, soon to become a bestsellng novelist (The Rotters Club, etc).

70/71 New Year 1990
New Year 1990: Wire heads into a decade that other media were characterising as the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The double issue was bulked up with a supplement in association with The Guardian newspaper, co-sponsors of the Wire Jazz Awards that year. While everyone else was digging The Stone Roses and all things Œbaggy', and with Black Wednesday a year and a half away, Wire's unique universe was summed up in an A-Z of "Hip cats, hypesters and names for the 90s": Antilles, Derek Bailey, Tommy Chase, John Dabner, Peter Ind, Improvised Music, Jazz Warriors, Loose Tubes, the Outside In Festival, Courtney Pine, Pinski Zoo, Andy Sheppard, Tommy Smith, Ronnie Scott, Stan and Clark Tracey, Virgin Venture, Annie Whitehead, Steve Williamson, Cleveland Watkiss and ŒYoung Turks'.

73 March 1990
The masthead now lists 34 freelance contributors; key writers/reviewers at this time include Jack Cooke, Mike Fish (Richard Cook's pseudonym), John Fordham, Andy Hamilton, David Ilic, Steve Lake, Kenny Mathieson, Brian Morton, Stuart Nicholson, Chris Parker, Brian Priestley, Ben Watson, Philip Watson, Barry Witherden, Mike Zwerin.

74 April 1990
On the letters page, readers' comments are quoted verbatim from a recent readership survey: "More bassists; More discographies; More avant-rock; More women, Ramones, anything; Too much white space; Too expensive; Please don't get too trendy; Perhaps I am getting old; What? No desert boots?; If Biba Kopf is a real person, could you print a photo of him in a future issue?"

77 July 1990
Mark Sinker, recently appointed Contributing Editor, asks whether music is threatened by sampling, and interviews ubiquitous Ambient DJ Mixmaster Morris.

78 August 1990
A classic issue featuring a wiggy encounter between Sun Ra and Graham Lock; Dave Ilic on Eugene Chadbourne; Biba Kopf on Jon Hassell; and RD Cook on Frank Sinatra.

79 September 1990
Hendrix on the cover signals that times they are a' changin'. The cover line, natch, reads: "Axes bold as jazz."

81 November 1990
Tom Corbin's Hardwire, a column about hi-fi and hardware aimed at musicians, kicks off. Plectrums, Trace Elliot amps, a bass guitar with silicon rubber strings, and the Fender Rhodes. It runs for a year.

84 February 1991 Art Director Lucy Ward is replaced by Brooke Auchinloss-Foreman.

88 June 1991
Infamously, the cover features Michael Jackson. In his editorial, Richard Cook anticipates the response of long term readers: "Michael Jackson? What the hell's going on here?" He then attempts to reassure them: "Nothing, actually, that we haven't done before. Maybe the scales are tipping a little differently as from this issue, but The Wire is essentially the same argumentative, alternative, demanding music magazine it's always set out to be... [But] the word from now on is music [as opposed to Œjazz']. Music worth hearing, worth talking about, worth documenting." And just in case anyone had failed to get the message, the subtitle changes from "Jazz And New Music" to "Music Now And All Ways". The magazine starts calling itself The Wire again. The next four issues contain a ragbag of articles on The Jam, Stravinsky, Elvis Costello, Elliott Carter, Prince, Haydn, Kraftwerk, John Lee Hooker, Z'ev, Van Morrison, Test Department, David Bowie's Tin Machine, Whitney Houston, Robert Wyatt... The contributors list now includes Barney Hoskyns and Phil McNeil, both associates of Richard Cook from their days together on NME.

93 November 1991
Contributing Editor Mark Sinker, who had recently left NME after refusing to rewrite a negative review of a U2 album, joins the staff as Assistant Editor, replacing Graham Lock. His presence is immediately felt: the cover features a solarized TV image of Sid Vicious, and the issue contains a series of articles linked and themed by a multi-tiered cover line: "Nostalgia For An Age Yet To Come: Punk 15 Years On: What Happened. What Didn't. What Still Could." One of the pieces, by Ben Watson, births the scabrous notion of punk jazz ("from Ornette Coleman to now"). In the top right hand corner of the cover, a box of text, like a tombstone echo of another time: "Miles Davis 1925-1991."

96 February 1992
The cover carries an image of a toy robot (illustrating the issue's theme, "Machine Age Kicks", which includes Mark Sinker's essay on Black Science Fiction). The robot is owned by Mark's sister, Becky.

99 May 1992
The cover line screams: "Is Music Dead? Why The Business Must Be Destroyed." Inside, the pages are decorated with images of smashed vinyl. The cover image again features a prop courtesy of Becky Sinker: a Mexican Day of the Dead skull photographed in lurid orange shadow. Yes, itŒs another of Mark Sinker's Œtroublemaking' themed issues. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the issue David Toop writes a critical essay on Ambient music for The Orb generation, referencing Philip K Dick, La Monte Young and JG Ballard.

100 June 1992
Richard Cook's final issue. Somewhat ironically, he leaves the magazine to take over as head of PolyGram's jazz department. The cover story features "The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made", from The Dinwiddie Coloured Quartet's 1902 recordings of gospel and minstrelsy to Public Enemy's 1988 Bring The Noise. On the masthead of the next issue, 101, Adele Yaron, formerly the magazine's Administrator & News Editor, is listed as Publisher and Mark Sinker as Editor. The issue contains a report by Chicago critic John Corbett on the London Musicians' Collective's First Annual Festival of Experimental Music, co-ordinated, then as now, by Ed Baxter. On the letters page, readers continue to argue over the magazine's new direction, although now the arguments are widening: "To consider PrinceŒs flashy, showbiz cliches as worthier of a place in The Wire than The Grateful Dead's often sublime output..." This issue also marks the magazine's move to its single floor office at Namara House in Soho's Poland Street, where it will remain until June 2001.

108 February 1993
A competition is launched to win the right to do a redesign job on the magazine. The winner is Mark Porter, who scoops a prize of £1000. Mark SinkerŒs agenda for the magazine is now up and running in full effect. No more faces or musicians on the cover for a while now (not until issue 114, and Björk, for the second of Mark's issues to be devoted to the role of women in music. Prior to this, the last issue to carry a cover story consisting of an interview with a known musician was 104, which featured a suitably chin-stroking Brian Eno). Instead, Mark generates a series of broad themes ("Lone Visionaries And Rogue Elements", "Music And Censorship", "May 68: Music And The Days Of Rage", "Music In The Realm Of Bodily Desire", "Music And The American Dream"...) through which to commission four or five new essays per issue that will flesh out his vision of the magazine as "a try out zone for arguments about cultural, as opposed to purely commercial, success," as he wrote in issue 105. "As much as anything, argument is what this magazine is for." Mark Porter, as Contributing Art Director, illustrates these themes with a sequence of startling covers, including Sam Piyasena's ghostly portrait of a disembodied Malcolm X (109).

115 September 1993
Kevin Martin coins the term Isolationist Music in an article featuring Main, Thomas Köner and :zoviet*france:.

117 November 1993
Mark Sinker spends an entire weekend coming up with the headline for a cover story on The Cocteau Twins. Eventually he delivers it: "Last Refuge Of The Sound Whirl" (a pun on the Samuel Johnson quotation, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", which says everything about Mark's frame of reference). Except, when the magazine is printed, the words ŒOf The' fail to render.

120 February 1994
Mark Sinker is sacked by Adele Yaron. In his valedictory editorial, Mark recalls his first, in which he stated, "have fun starting arguments". There were arguments all right, but they were mostly confined to the office, as Mark and Adele battled each other over their respective ideas of what The Wire should be: a thorny, quizzical, fanzine cum proto-Weblog on the one hand; a sleek and stylish urban music 'n' lifestyle monthly on the other. Tony Herrington, Deputy Editor since issue 104, is offered the Editor's job. Rob Young, Editorial Assistant since issue 116, is made Deputy Editor, and suggests putting "Adventures In Modern Music" below the logo. It's still there. Six years prior to the millennium, a shortlived series begins, "Music In The 21st Century". The first is an interview with Future Sound Of London, followed by a meditation on recording and distance by David Toop, inspired by Œdead zone' duets, and a piece by Tony Herrington on the first audio CD-ROM, Peter Gabriel's Xplora. Also in this year, the regular Multimedia column begins, written by Mark Espiner. People keep phoning the office thinking the magazine is the UK version of Wired.

123 May 1994
Simon Reynolds coins the term post-rock: "Perhaps the really provocative area for future development lies... in cyborg rock; not the wholehearted embrace of Techno's methodology, but some kind of interface between real time, hands-on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement."

134 April 1995
Robin Hawes comes in as Art Editor. The layout has become a mess; Robin brings some semblance of order to the interior. Confidence is restored: a story on Aphex Twin and lucid dreaming, tapping into a fertile electronica explosion underway across Europe (whose full scale is revealed at that year's Sonar Festival in Barcelona), appears on the cover, and a supplement on Sonic Youth in New York is bound on as a freebie. Tony Herrington concludes a two part A-Z of Prog Rock from his sickbed; the tone of the piece is sarcastic, which provokes the same kinds of hostile letters non-jazz pieces used to in the 80s. An email address appears on the masthead for the first time. For years afterwards, The Wire only has one address for the entire office, and there is always a queue to use the single computer that's equipped to download mail. The first time the mail is checked, a message is waiting from Andrew Brooks, a reader who has been running an online index of Wire issues since issue 100.

138 August 1995
DJ Spooky is on the cover, before he's released a record. Chris Campion, author of a reportage piece on the Master Musicians of Joujouka in the Rif mountains, fails to pass on the information that there are two groups of Master Musicians, each with their own spelling of the name, and each at one another's throats. The Wire's unwitting use of a photo of the Jajouka (as opposed to Joujouka) musicians nearly causes a diplomatic incident. Later, Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo will contribute a Moroccan journal that plunges the magazine back into the same dark waters. Sometime this year, Tony Herrington arrives in the office on the last day of press week to find it has been burgled. The only items taken are the RAM chips from The Wire's three Apple Macs. "They'll be sold in Russia in exchange for heroin," explains a policeman.

141 November 1995
Under the headline, "Stockhausen Versus The Technocrats", the transcript of a BBC interview with the German composer is reproduced, in which he listens to and comments on new electronica by Aphex Twin, Scanner and Daniel Pemberton, instructing them to listen to his own music. So the magazine sends out tapes of his music to these artists and prints their comments, including Richard D James: "He should hang out with me and my mates: that would be a laugh. I'd be quite into having him round." Also in the issue, Tony Herrington interviews David Toop about the latter's new solo album, Screen Ceremonies, which just happens to be the first release on the magazine's newly launched in-house label, The Wire Editions. It soon becomes apparent, however, that trying to run a record label while also producing a monthly magazine is supreme folly. Sure enough, it's another five years before the appearance of the label's second release, Rhys Chatham's Hard Edge. Meanwhile, back in the outside world, for three Saturdays in November 1995, The Wire co-hosts Transgressions along with the Chill Out Label and London Arts Board. Licensing problems at Community Music, the former LMC HQ in Central London, mean that the event is suddenly declared free just days before it opens. There are queues out the door for Otomo Yoshihide, Pram, Wishmountain, DJ Spooky, m-Ziq, Pierre Bastien, Scanner, Frances-Marie Uitti, Alex Reece and Jony Easterby's melting ice sculptures.

145 March 1996
Robin Hawes and photographer Dean Belcher fly to Chicago to shoot the Tortoise cover. Rob Young interviews the group in... Bristol.

146 April 1996
Smokin' Yoko Ono on the cover; Simon Reynolds on Mille Plateaux and Frankfurt electronica; an anarchist's guide to setting up an indie label, and an Invisible Jukebox with Courtney Pine ­ a blast from the past who, true to the times, is now running with DJs, drum 'n' bass outfits...

148 June 1996
The Techno/electronica network is in full tilt, and this issue is unusually skewed in that area: Andrew Weatherall on the cover, pieces on 808 State, Mad Professor, Meat Beat Manifesto and Hardcore Jungle.

149 July 1996
Publisher Adele Yaron, a veteran of the magazine for seven years, leaves. Tony Herrington becomes Editor & Publisher. At Scratch, a monthly club at East London's newly opened Spitz venue that is co-hosted by The Wire, The Leaf Label and Lo Recordings, Talvin Singh and Squarepusher perform an unrehearsed live collaboration.

150 August 1996
An A-Z "alternative sonic canon" reveals novelties and continuities at the heart of The Wire's editorial mindset. Airto, AMM and Ayler are there, but also Masami Akita, Aphex Twin and Autechre ­ and that's just ŒA'. Tony Herrington, in his editorial, writes: "Few of the musicians listed can be accommodated in any single canon with any degree of comfort: they are the rough edges periodically filed down by the acknowledged, streamlined histories of 20th century music. Taken as a whole, what they describe, perhaps, is a layering of shared experience, a network, distributed through time and space, of wayward exploration; and a desire to free music from the crippling embrace of the customs and lores that spawned it." There are six names on the masthead ­ only one more than in issue 1.

152 October 1996
A sweeping redesign introduces a heavily promoted issue, which features a new, bolder logo, a free CD from Virgin Records, and a conversation between Jim O'Rourke and John Fahey.

160 June 1997
In a rare photo shoot, Nurse With Wound's Steve Stapleton looms out of the cover like a psychotic chimney sweep.

161 July 1997
Chris Bohn joins the staff as Reviews Editor. In a Primer on John Cage, a small cutting of one of Cage's scores is collaged as part of Savage Pencil's illustration. Cage's publishers threaten to sue.

164 October 1997
By this point, The Wire's workload is almost spiralling out of control. The title has achieved an unprecedented international prominence and is receiving more and more requests to co-curate events, attend festivals, host panel debates, etc. It has also inaugurated its series of free Wire Tapper CDs, which are compiled in-house (beginning with issue 170). In addition, The Wire Website is launched, in association with graphic design/multimedia collective DFuse. Anne Hilde Neset, who joined the magazine the previous month as Advertising Manager, will become the magazine's first Projects Manager to maintain these connections with the outside world of music.

184 June 1999
On a whim, a fax is sent to Karlheinz Stockhausen's office requesting an interview. The next day, the fax machine spews out a handwritten summons to come in three days' time. It's too soon to make the arrangements, but a week later, Ken Hollings is travelling back from Kürten, Germany, with this month's cover story in the can.

189 November 1999
The combination of a revitalised Iggy Pop on the cover plus a free Domino CD makes this the biggest selling issue in The Wire's 17 years. 193 March 2000
Tony Herrington, who has been labouring as Editor & Publisher for some time, decides to split the job in half. Rob Young is appointed as Editor.

196 June 2000
Andy Tait joins as Advertising Manager and, from this issue, the present-day staff line-up is fully in place.

200 October 2000
The Wire celebrates its 200th issue with an expanded Internet special, throwing new Art Editors Jon Forss and Kjell Ekhorn into the deep end.

204 February 2001
The six full-time members of staff acquire the title in a management buy-out. They have enjoyed years of editorial freedom as part of the Namara Group, but because the magazine's finances have been tied into a larger group of companies, it has become underinvested, hovering on the brink of freefall, with staff morale at an all-time low. The process, set in motion in the summer, stumbles on for months, stymied by a succession of legal quibbles, including the late discovery that Anthony Wood still owns a token single share in the company, and his permission must be sought to surrender it. When the elusive Wood is finally tracked down, this information turns out to be untrue. The contract is signed a few days before Christmas and the title once again reverts to being a 100 per cent independent publishing operation, exactly as it was when it was founded.

206 April 2001
EkhornForss radically overhaul The Wire's design.

212 October 2001
Jim O'Rourke dresses in a rabbit suit for the cover. Namara House is put on the market. The Wire relocates to its current home in Whitechapel, East London, following a summer residency in a temporary office near the British Museum.

The rest is hysterie...


This article first appeared in issue 225, November 2002
© The Wire.