Fanzines

Fanzine front page with photo of band on stage and text 'Number 26 October 1982. 35 pence. Merseysound. Echo and the Bunnymen, Futurama, Aztec Camera, Black, 3D, news, gigs, etc'

Merseysound Number 26, October 1982. Courtesy of Roger Hill

Fanzines have played a significant role in supporting and encouraging music scenes. Often simply called zines, they are amateur or 'do-it-yourself' magazines produced by music fans motivated by interest and enthusiasm rather than by money, and sold only to cover production costs. In the era before home computing, internet blogs, or MySpace websites, one of the first tools for sharing and communicating information about music and bands was the production of fanzines.

Most fanzines focus on a particular style of music or a particular musician or music group, and many have played a central role in the development of music scenes. Riot grrrl, for example, was an alternative, punk-influenced scene that emerged in the US in the early 1990s. Through their music and performance events riot grrrl bands such as Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill addressed feminist concerns and emphasised female identity and separatism. The scene was supported and developed through home-made zines:

"Riot grrrl is a network of women and men who want to change society through active & creative means - writing zines, being in bands, creating websites, making art.

riot grrrl is... BECAUSE every time we pick up a pen, or an instrument, or get anything done, we are creating the revolution. We ARE the revolution." (zine writer cited in Leonard, 1997)

During the early 1960s Liverpool was one of the only British cities to launch its own fanzine, Merseybeat, dedicated to local rock or 'beat' music, hence subsequent references to a local 'Merseybeat scene'. However, fanzines had already been in circulation before then and have certainly been produced since the 1940s. They have helped to promote styles of music that have been ignored or dismissed by newspapers and magazines that are more professional or 'mainstream' and cater for more general interests in music. In Britain during the 1950s and 1960s there were fanzines devoted to blues and folk, styles of music that were not covered by publications such as 'Melody Maker' and 'New Musical Express' (NME).

The punk movement of the late 1970s encouraged the production of fanzines: just as one did not need to be a trained musician to make punk music, so one need not be a trained journalist to produce a fanzine. Consequently, the early 1980s witnessed an explosion in the production of zines, and the mid-1980s is often referred to as the 'golden age' of fanzines, with an incredible variety of titles available. Most of these zines celebrated and publicised independent or alternative music scenes and most were produced in small numbers and embraced anti-establishment values and unconventional publishing styles.

Initially, zines were simply handwritten or roughly typewritten texts, with cut and paste layouts on pages loosely assembled into some form of booklet. These were photocopied and distributed through local networks of friends and other fans. Most zines typically included information such as details about particular groups, biographies of musicians, tour dates, venue listings, and album and gig reviews.

'Burnt Offering', for example, was a punk fanzine based around Northampton in England from 1979-1980 that included interviews, reviews and news of forthcoming gigs. In keeping with the DIY style of the time it incorporated badly typed articles, lettering styled like ransom notes and cartoon drawings.

'Merseysound' was published in 26 issues from 1979 to 1982, and provides a unique and rich account of Liverpool's post-punk music scene involving groups such as Echo and the Bunnymen, the Icicle Works, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and the Teardrop Explodes. In its final issue (number 26, October 1982), the editorial explained that, "the magazine is produced by a mix of friends - meeting, talking and writing in their own way about mainly local music".

Roger Hill, who co-founded 'Merseysound' with Ronnie Flood, recalled the initial drive to create the zine:

"There wasn't really any music fanzines around. Roger Eagle [manager of Eric's Club] had a thing called 'The Last Trumpet' and there were a few fanzines around with good writing but it wasn't necessarily about music. We wanted to create something that was a fanzine of record about music in the way 'The Times' is a newspaper of record."

As 'a fanzine of record', the pages of 'Merseysound' present a telling, if partial portrait of the scene through features on clubs, gigs, musicians, and opinion pieces providing discussions ranging from the lack of performance venues to pressing concerns of the time such as the Toxteth riots and rising unemployment levels. In doing so, 'Merseysound' provides a record of more than music, documenting Liverpool as a place undergoing significant musical and urban change.