Fanzines and other 'niche' media

Magazine cover with illustration of a space rocket on left and collage from an internal magazine page, with press cuttings and pictures of musicians on the right

'The Last Trumpet' - left image courtesy of Steve Hardstaff,
right image courtesy of Norman Killon

New musical sounds often generate great enthusiasm among their fans, and one of the ways those fans have often spread the word about the music they love - and the scene they belong to - is the fanzine. By definition a fanzine is an amateur production, and its spirit is one of independence from the mainstream sources of information about music. A typical fanzine can support and criticise what its writers see and hear without fear of reprimand from a commercial sponsor - though that does not make them impervious to criticism from other fans of the new sounds they discuss.

Sometimes fanzines support more than one genre of music. Such was the case in Germany in the 1980s with the fanzine 'Gorilla Beat', whose editor was an enthusiastic fan of Pretty Things, Procul Harum and Joy Division (Atton 2003:226). More often they are devoted to publicising one particular sound, sometimes with a fervour bordering on the religious. As Simon Frith puts it:

"Fanzines accumulate rock facts and gossip not for a mass readership but for a small coterie of cultists, and they are belligerent about their music." (1981:177)

In Liverpool in the late 1970s and 1980s fanzines appeared and disappeared at an alarming rate. Aided by the appearance of punk rock and the various independent shops in and around Merseyside such as Penny Lane, Probe and Skeleton, several different fanzines quickly arrived and departed - many after only one edition.

In addition to fanzines there is a category of 'niche' media not essentially 'fanzine' in nature. From time to time in Liverpool the networks surrounding different musical tastes and venues have prompted examples of these, providing Liverpool with written words surrounding emerging sounds and scenes. For example, record collector Bill Harry started his own local music newspaper, 'Mersey Beat', in July 1961. 5000 copies were distributed through Liverpool wholesalers, 28 newsagents, venues such as the Cavern and the Mardi Gras and all record and instrument shops in the city centre. The paper became the unofficial headquarters of the local rock 'n' roll scene - which began by 1962 to name itself after the newspaper, hence the 'Merseybeat' moniker. The paper's circulation increased to such an extent that new offices at 51 Renshaw Street in Liverpool were taken over. So popular was 'Mersey Beat' that it became a national paper, changing its name to 'Music Echo'. Unable to complete with the London weeklies, however, Brian Epstein, who had become the owner of the paper in September 1964, eventually merged it with 'Disc'. Another Liverpool music newspaper - 'Combo' - briefly existed in 1963-4 to mark the local scene, in 'Combo's case principally in the north end of the city, but this failed after a few editions.

Another example of this niche media market in Liverpool is 'The Last Trumpet'. In 1975, towards the end of the Liverpool Stadium rock venue era, a free music newspaper-cum-fanzine 'The Last Trumpet' was distributed at appropriate venues, shops and cafés across the city centre in order to advertise the Roger Eagle promotions at the Liverpool Stadium. It ran to only a handful of editions but for a short while became a rallying point for local rock fans and at least partially provided a training ground for music journalists such as Spencer Leigh. 'The Last Trumpet' was supposed to pay for itself via advertising revenue - something that later Liverpool 'what's on's' such as 'Buzz' have been able to do with varying degrees of success. But its niche was perhaps too small, and advertising revenue dried up. The era of cheap DIY photocopying had yet to arrive fully, and so the paper perished, somewhat ahead of its time.

At the same time that 'The Last Trumpet' was attempting to represent new sounds on Merseyside, one long-running free publication was launched and distributed across the region with some success for some years. This was a journal partially funded by Liverpool City Council and North West Arts, entitled 'Arts Alive Merseyside'. While not being strictly concerned with music, it nevertheless became an essential free addition to people's shopping bags. AAM could be picked up at various shops and venues across the city centre (such the Bluecoat Arts Centre) and frequently discussed music, new and old. This what's on template was continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s and there now exist several free guides in Liverpool (such as the aforementioned 'Buzz') that constantly update local music fans and musicians alike with current trends and venues.

For further discussion of fanzines see Sites and scenes.