I started my working life in magazine production at John Brown Publishing, helping to pull together ads for Viz, The Fortean Times, Gardens Illustrated and Virgin in-flight magazines. I learnt about chromalins and transparencies and keeping detailed ledgers of all my phone-calls with advertisers, repro houses and printers, so if anything went pear-shaped, there was a record of my role in it. I still have my first pay slip and I was delighted to start on 12 grand a year.
While I was there, in 1997, the multi-talented editor Fiona Jerome launched a magazine called Bizarre, which was a distillation of some of what was being discussed on the weirder internet usegroups and the alternative cultures celebrated in ‘zines at the time, shot through with an attitude that might be thought of as “mondo” – a kind of non-judgemental curiosity at the most extreme material the world throws up. I was in the right place at the right time to apply to work on this mag when they needed more hands on deck by issue three, and became editorial assistant.
It was a dream job, and what it lacked in salary was made up by the free records and a pension. By the time I left the magazine five years later, shortly before it was sold to James Brown’s ill-fated IFG, I’d worked alongside some amazing writers including the novelist Cathi Unsworth, historian Mike Dash, music critic and cultural historian Ken Hollings, the late Tommy Udo, and many more. I’d sourced photographs of buddhist cannibalism in rural Thailand and written stories about the anti-capitalist movement, hoaxes and some extreme things people have done on stage; I’d spent a month travelling for work in the USA where I was an extra in the Toxic Avenger 4, and got a lift back to New York with a then largely unknown actor-director called Eli Roth; took part in a Negativland pirate-radio broadcast, rode rodeo bulls and went to a biker festival in Montana. My life was insured for ten million quid by John and I was a human canon-ball. I edited a review section in which I was able to follow diverse enthusiasms, featuring a range of alternative cultural production around the millennium: Rephlex, V/Vm, Hot Air, Warp, Terry Gilliam, Vicki Bennett of People Like Us, Adam and Joe, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Stewart Home, Metro Tartan films. My writing was pretty ropy back then, but it was a proper apprenticeship, an incredible company and boss, and I hope we introduced readers to interesting material.