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I SWEAR I WAS THERE...TALKING TO DAVID NOLAN - INTERVIEW BY SHELLEY

David Nolan writes music books (I Swear I Was There – The Gig That Changed the World, Bernard Sumner: Confusion, Damon Albarn: Blur, Gorillaz and other Fables). He also produces documentaries (I Swear I Was There, These Things Take Time: The Story of the Smiths, Meet the Bunnymen and Truly Madly Deeply Vale). He’s worked in radio, on newspapers/magazines and also lectures at Salford University about documentary directing and scriptwriting. He trains journalists and programme makers at the BBC and ITV. David is also curator of the Salford Music Map, an exciting new project outlining the city's musical history. 

Shelley: How did your journalistic career begin? I read that you were a trainee reporter aged only 16.

David: Having told the school careers officer I wanted to be a rock star, no vacancies were available so journalist or photographer were chosen. He referred me to a trainee’s job and I was successful. After that I began work on a magazine, was employed by Piccadilly Radio for quite a few years and later Granada as a news reporter. I then got into programme making.

 
Shelley: Did you know Tony Wilson? 

David: I spoke to him many times for various programmes. He was a great on-site resource if a talking head was required. We first met over an interview about Ian Curtis. We later worked together in the same office. The world is a duller place without him.

Shelley: Is it true that you were a freelance writer for Penthouse? Isn’t that a men's magazine?

David: I lived in London for about four or five years and was working for the government as Michael Howard’s press officer. I then became a freelance journalist writing for British Business and other publications to supplement my income. One of these was Penthouse. It highlights my versatility- business by day & porn writer by night. 

Shelley: You’ve had several books published. What was the main inspiration for 'I Swear I Was There', (recommended reading about two legendary Sex Pistols gigs in Manchester organised by Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley)?

David: It’s explained in the introduction of the first edition. The first job I had aged 16 was working with a photographer, Peter Oldham. We both had an interest in music. He’d seen the Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. Peter also showed me some photos and his ticket. I thought this was a fantastic story. Years later I was working at Granada making the’I Swear I Was There’ documentary and someone mentioned having a book to go along with it. I’d not written one before.

 
Shelley: To my knowledge, the TV show was only broadcast in the North of England. Are there any plans to air this elsewhere (I remember asking Granada & they said a copy could be bought for about £90)?

David: I believe it’s been shown in London, Yorkshire & various places but haven’t been officially informed about this. I wouldn’t object to someone uploading the programme to YouTube, as opposed to it sitting on a shelf. Bootleggers do your worst.........that’s fine by me.

Shelley: How did you track people down for contributions? Was this a very lengthy process? 

David: It took quite a long time, over the space of about a year but the documentary was only in production for about six weeks (I was making lots of other programmes & doing this at quiet times). There was quite a bit of publicity, Granada Reports, the Evening News and various websites. The process of tracing people still continues, even after the book was re-issued in 2006.
 

Shelley: Will you update again for a third time? 

David: Maybe. I’ve acquired some photos of Solstice, the support band from the first gig and there are a few more interviews. I always squirrel them away, just in case. It still bugs me how people claim to have been there but others argue they weren’t. I’ve got an audience shot picturing several women but didn’t manage to find many who went along on June 4th. 

 
Shelley: What did you think of the way that gig was portrayed in the film 24 Hour Party People?

David:  It was being made at the same time as my documentary. Researchers kept asking me for advice but ignored everything and did their own thing. Someone once rang from outside the Free Trade Hall asking for a poster of Kiss because they’d played there the week before the Pistols. They thought I might just have one hidden under my desk!

 
Shelley: You located unknown information about Bernard Sumner for: 'Confusion Joy Division, Electronic & New Order Versus The World'. How much time did you spend researching? Would it be fair to say you like solving mysteries and puzzles? 

David: Yeah, it’s cut from the same cloth as ‘I Swear I Was There’. Something about the story isn’t right. It’s almost like a mystery. Bernard’s been famous for nearly thirty years but has repeatedly batted off the question about his many name changes throughout the seventies and eighties. Nobody quite knew what his real name was. I wanted to solve this; otherwise the rest of it would be a waste of time. I studied family records, old street maps and census reports. I did all the research myself. That’s part of the enjoyment…cracking puzzles. This can sometimes be more interesting than the actual music. I’m currently reading about Brian Eno, although I’m not familiar with him. One of my favourites recently is Gary Barlow’s book. I’ve not bought one of his records or tickets and never will but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read. It’s a great story and to me, that’s the most important thing.
 

Shelley: Was Bernard Sumner OK about having personal information exposed?

David:  I asked him to be involved from the start and when I’d solved the mystery of his name & background, he read the book. There were a few corrections. Bernard wrote down his version and I put everything in the text. In the end it worked really well, like a DVD commentary.

 
Shelley: After reading the book myself I was surprised he hadn’t had endless sessions of therapy

David: This is what makes him a fascinating bloke. Anyone else would have poured their heart out in all the papers. My Dad read the book (he’s not a Joy Division fan) & commented that Bernard is ''old Manchester”- i.e.) a very private person.
 
Shelley: Your latest publication is about Damon Albarn, 'Blur and the Gorillaz' - are you a fan? 

David: Yes. With 'Blur versus Oasis' in 1996 I was strictly a Blur man. Culturally Damon has outstripped them all. The idea of his contemporaries writing a Chinese opera is impossible. Damon Albarn is bigger, faster and cleverer than Oasis could ever be. He’s a far more interesting bloke than others of that generation.

 
Shelley: Which book did you enjoy working on the most? 

David: Although technically and editorially the first ‘I Swear I Was There’ is not that good, nothing matched the thrill of receiving the initial five copies in the post with my name on. Actually doing it was a nightmare. The process was vile. I said I’d never write another book again. It’s all worthwhile when you see it in the shops though. At first, there was only one major review in Record Collector which called it “tedious beyond belief”. The updated edition was GQ’s top 25 greatest rock books of all time. Technically speaking my best one is probably the Bernard Sumner book.

 
Shelley: In ‘The Gig That Changed the World’ you mention taking your son to see the Sex Pistols. Was he impressed and do your children share their Fathers taste in music.?

David: My eldest son is now nearly 18. He didn’t understand the Crystal Palace gig; it was just a nice weekend away with Dad. He’s now in a band called Copycats. They’re doing quite well in Manchester and ironically enough are playing at the Dry Bar, as run by the Factory organisation and Bernard Sumner.

 
Shelley
: What sort of music do they play? 

David: Sort of punky electronic. I think they sound like The Fall but of course they don’t know who The Fall are. The other children are too young but I’ll work my magic on them.

Shelley: Have you ever been in a band yourself? 

David: Yes, I used to play in bands as a teenager but decided to stick with writing. 

Shelley: Tell us about your current project, the Salford Music Map. Until recently I always thought Salford was part of Manchester. 

David: It’s part of Greater Manchester but has always been a separate city. Not only do you have to be a music expert, you have to know about boundaries! It all came from the Bernard Sumner book. I gave a reading in Broughton Library and ended up talking to someone from the council about creating a map using info’ I’d gleaned from my research. It’ll be available free of charge from libraries and arts venues. It shows locations around Salford and on the reverse will be posters, badges, tickets, memorabilia & stories. Pick up two copies- one for your pocket & another for the wall. 

Shelley: I saw a YouTube clip made by Salford TV where you mentioned the map may be used to accompany tours of the area. That’s a great idea. Do you think that might happen? 

David: That’s one thing the council have been talking about- maybe it could be made into a book, permanent exhibition or tour that might run every other Saturday from Salford Quays. If the price is right I’m the man to lead it. I’m not from Salford but I lecture at the University & spend a lot of time there. People may want to see Salford Lads Club or where Joy Division met, Tony Wilson’s school or Howard Devoto’s flat where he organised the gig that changed the world! All kinds of music is covered: folk, pop, classical- not just punk/post punk, its right across the board.

Shelley: Has much memorabilia been collected for the museum exhibition? 

David: That’s being organised by the council & Manchester District Music Archive. It should be up and running by October. The map will be part of that exhibition. 

Shelley: Finally…any other projects in the pipeline that you’re allowed to talk about? 

David: There’s a fifth book on the go that will come out in the fullness of time. I’m just waiting to do worthwhile things rather than churn loads of books out. I’m more interested in subjects that excite me personally. If there isn’t another for a couple of years it’s no problem at-all.
 

Thanks so much to David for such an insightful interview. Follow the links below for more info’ about his brilliant books, documentaries and the fabulous Salford Music map.

 

 

David’s MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/davidnolanwriter

Salford Music Map page: http://www.myspace.com/salfordmusicmap

Manchester District Music Archive: http://www.myspace.com/mdmarchive

http://www.mdmarchive.co.uk