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NEIL DANIELS (ed) All Pen's Blazing Bright Pen (2009)

All Pen's Blazing

Our intrepid Neil Daniels is nothing if not prolific, and this latest tome comes hot on the heels of his Al Atkins co-write as well as recent books about Judas Priest and Bon Jovi.

This latest work is a novel approach to heavy metal and helps dissect the genre from a journalistic point of view and will no doubt raise the pangs of nostalgia amongst readers, with reference to such hallowed rags as Sounds, Melody Maker and NME. Although for his subject matter, Daniels really focuses on the eighties and beyond.

Neil concentrates primarily on the print media (a fact reflected in his acknowledgments) and I think here he has missed a trick. There's a whole new generation of internet-based writers and media - not least your own GRTR! Hacks - although in fairness he does profile some who cross genres like our own Joe Geesin.

There is a still a certain snobbishness amongst print journalists, and I have to say amongst some of those they write about and who promote them, that web media is a poor relation to the printed page. This book does highlight that there is still a need for well-written, researched and opinionated rock journalism even in the face of the multitude of amateur blogs and cack-handed translation out there in the virtual world.

This is an ideal primer for anyone with a remote interest in the history of rock writing and takes 65 hacks and examines their motivation, careers, and their stories to tell.

But, remember, the book's subtitle is "Heavy Metal Writer's Handbook' so you won't find much reference to Q or Mojo with the notable exception of Paul Elliott. 'Q' magazine did much to revive entertaining music journalism in the late-1980's, not least in their review section.

If there is one criticism of modern rock journalism: it is not entertaining enough and risk taking, with a lack of true character scribes amongst the current generation of writers such as Nick Kent, Nick Logan, Tony Stewart and Charles Shaar Murray in the NME, or indeed Chris Welch in Melody Maker, in the seventies. Thankfully Welch does get a profile.

The reference to "heavy metal" is misleading, though, because Neil includes 'Fireworks' and 'Power Play' and their writers (both primarily melodic and hard rock respectively) and 'Classic Rock' and 'Record Collector' magazines which are generic. And there's no mention at all for 'Classic Rock Society' and their periodic and well produced magazine, for many years under the stewardship of Martin Hudson.

Neil very helpfully explains why the typeface in this self-published book is so small - a major criticism if the reader is long-sighted and of a certain age. But as he says also, this is a book to dip in and out of. It will certainly appeal to all those who like lists, and those who can readily identify with the author's queries. As a writer himself, Daniels' questions come mainly from a writer's inquisitiveness about a genre he enjoys, and not least about a profession he favours.

In a decade or less, this book will probably be more significant, as most music writers and their magazines will have moved online. In that context, Neil Daniels, with his evident enthusiasm and industry in compilation, has done us good service. And, like the best rock writing, his book does make for strangely compulsive reading.


Review by David Randall

Volume II review

For more about rock journalism, check out Rock's Backpages

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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