I’m Not With the Band


Much like being in a fantastic new band, surely, having a favourite new band is one of life’s most intoxicating thrills, a prismatic explosion of hitherto dormant energy channelled from the atmosphere directly into your soul; an atomic collision promising unknowable new possibilities of sonic beguilement, lyrical connection, dancing upside down on a dance floor with your greatest friends and talking synapse shredding cobblers til three days hence at dawn.

Sylvia Patterson is a freelance music journalist who has worked in the industry for thirty years. She’s interviewed every major artist, from Madonna to Prince to George Michael to Damon Albarn to Jarvis Cocker to Eminem to Johnny Cash to Liam Gallagher to Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, U2, and Britney Spears, and her 2016 memoir I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award. It’s a compulsive read, indeed when I finished reading her book, I went back to the beginning and read it again.

Turning into a teenager in late seventies/early eighties Britain seared my generation with an indelible attitude, a widespread propensity for shouting ‘up the revolution!’, idealistic freedom fighters forever snapping gum to The Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’ with two fingers flung in the air.

Like all fashion-conscious teenagers of her era, Patterson flirted with socialist politics, and avidly followed her favourite bands with an almost academic obsession. Born in Scotland in a dysfunctional family that drew her to escape in music:

The world, ideologically, worked in black and white: Margaret Thatcher was The Devil, (and) socialism ruled…

She found herself religiously devoted to music journalism, and somehow, with no university education, was given a staff job at the then irascible London teen magazine Smash Hits during the late eighties.

As the rebel 90s dawned, Patterson lived in various temporary accommodations, had various short lived romantic relationships, drank and followed the drug scene as a music revolution in the form of Brit Pop exploded.  She became a freelancer for NME as the music magazine industry began to collapse under the weight of Napster and the internet.

The NME was, at its indie core, the so called superficial pop star’s enemy (hence the name) its default position one of skew wigged judge to perceived crimes against ‘authenticity’.

She followed the Happy Mondays to a video shoot in Jamaica, after Shaun Ryder quit his fifty rock a day crack habit (12 grams of coke) and saw first hand the famed Jamaican yardies grinning sinisterly with baseball bats swung gently in their fists. Eminem threatened to both beat her head in with a hammer and rape her corpse; Liam Gallagher turned up at her flat share to listen to Paul Weller and snort expensive cocaine with her housemate as she listened from her bedroom, covered in projectile vomit. An idealist who desperately lamented the rise of tween pop at the turn of the millennium in the form of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, N Sync and Westlife, she found no emotional connection to teen angst Nu Metallers Slipknot and Limp Bizkit, and became bankrupt as the payment of 10p a word as a freelance journalist (and various possessive boyfriends) made it impossible to find a living wage as the magazine era folded. It became: a rare incident of a well known public figure having a strident opinion about anything, the infinite freedom of our digital age having become, ironically, a simultaneous opportunity for infinite suffocation…of having the ‘wrong’ opinion…and the platoon of Twitter trolls on constant trawl for the sackable offence. Which makes the very culture it serves to create and reflect significantly poorer.

A bittersweet journalistic achievement, I’m Not With the Band is driven by a passion for pop music and its potential for political change. Sylvia Patterson may not have been rich like the millionaire stars she interviewed over three decades, but her observations on the tide of our celebrity culture, what it means to be ‘famous’ in the Twitter age compared with what it meant in the seventies and eighties, make her memoir required reading for anybody who’s ever believed that rock stars can change the world.

Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction