Saturday, 10 December 2016
Apologies it’s taken me a few months more than expected to conjure up a few choice morsels to whet appetites further for what’s to come in From Cents to Pence!, so without further ado lets whizz back a few months once again...
Neil Tennant: This is all such a long time ago, it was literally forty years ago.
Rob Kirby: Yes, it hadn’t really struck me until you said it. A quick question to start with. Had it always been you’re intention to go into journalism?
Neil: No, it hadn’t. My long term plan in life… well, I had two parallel plans. One was to become a successful song-writer and pop star, kind of thing, but I recognised that that was a difficult thing and an unlikely thing to achieve, and so I did my degree in History. I realised I was going to get some job, but my initial thought when I finished my degree was to do post-graduate [studies], an MA maybe. But, as you [say]… All the way through this period at Marvel and indeed through MacDonald Educational I’m also writing songs at home, y’know; little cassette demos of them. And I was always interested in music, and so I did vaguely think that I would like to be a music journalist because I was just so interested in music and rock music and all the rest of it. But anyway, as you accurately say, right when I finished my degree, a friend of mine who was a mature student – I should say in her thirties – she’d been a journalist in Fleet Street, used to get the UK Press Gazette and pointed out this advert saying ‘Production Editor needed for Marvel Comics’. And she said ‘If you were ever thinking of going into journalism, which I must have said to her, this looks to me the sort of job that’d be a great beginning’.
Rob: This is always the thing, isn’t it… [getting that first foothold].
Neil: I went in and Ray Wergan interviewed me and they offered me the job, and so three weeks, I think, after I finished my degree, I had a job. I took the degree in June and by the beginning of July I had a job at Marvel Comics! (Laughs) As I always said to him, ‘I still haven’t had the cap yet!’ (more laughter). I knew Marvel Comics because, in the late Sixties I think, there was a different British version of Marvel.
Rob: Yeah, the Power Comics.
Neil: Yup. And my brother Simon used to buy them, but I used to read them. They were sort of quite a thing if you were sort of thirteen/fourteen in the late Sixties. There were quite a few of them I used to read. So that was my real introduction to Marvel Comics.
Rob: So, it was always on the British side, not on the American side, y’know, the American imports as well?
Neil: No, you might see American comics occasionally. The newsagent would have a sporadic distribution of them, y’know, up in Newcastle.
Rob: Exactly. Which was, of course, their whole reason for eventually setting up [in this country] rather than licensing, as you’ve mentioned, through the Power Comics or TV21.
Neil: Yes, yes. What happened to Power Comics? Did they go down the pan?
Rob: They did, yes. They had a huge explosion… they probably put out too many titles, the pound dropped, so they merged and merged and then stopped. They then put some stuff in TV21, again to save an ailing comic, and again that didn’t work…
Neil: TV21. We [referring to his brother, who bought the comic and shared it with him] used to love TV21. Yup.
Neil: I realised quite early on that the production thing was a bit boring, but it had to be done, obviously. But I could use the fact (laughs) of supposedly being editor of the Marvel London operation to pursue my own objectives, which were to write articles myself and to put them in there, particularly to do with music, and also maybe there could be a comic originated from there. Which I felt would be a really interesting thing to do. Alex Harvey had had comics’ graphics on at least one of his album covers and so he did the interview, and I tried to get one with Paul and Linda McCartney, but they wouldn’t do it. And I also tried to get one with the Bay City Rollers, who were also Marvel Comic fans, but they wouldn’t do it either.
Rob: We wondered if you were latterly going to try and arrange another interview with Marc Bolan around the time of his TV show, a couple of months’ before he died.
Neil: No, I wasn’t there then, I’d moved on. I was at MacDonald Educational by then. And we also only really needed one, I think, although I think Marc Bolan did suggest that he’d quite like to write a comic, but I don’t think I ever took that seriously. But he was a very sweet person, Marc Bolan. It was the first time I’d done an interview, bearing in mind I went on to edit Smash Hits, and I went to his publicists’ office in Earls Court, with a cassette recorder that Alan in the office had lent me. And we started talking by a table in this room and I turned on the cassette recorder and then we sat on the sofa and I just left the cassette recorder there. And Marc Bolan obviously thought I was an idiot (laughter) and he walked across the room, got the tape recorder, walked back across the room, put it between us, like ‘this is what you do’! And it was very, very sweet of him. One of my few regrets of my life is that he gave me a copy of the album Futuristic Dragon, and I was too cool to ask him to sign it.
Neil: And, to this day, I bitterly regret that I do not have a copy of this album that says ‘To Neil, Love Marc’, because I still like T-Rex’s records, y’know.
Neil: I was astonished that you’d spoken to people in the American office, and they’d said such nice things about these nice English guys. I had no idea what they thought of us, really (laughs). They probably thought I was a bit of a pain because I was relentlessly complaining about Captain Britain. Marvel in the US was… You must remember in these days, phoning up New York in the afternoon was like phoning up the moon!
Neil: I mean, this wasn’t the period when everyone had been to New York and America several times – no one had been to America. America was a sort of dream land. And so to phone up Cadence Communications in New York in the afternoon, and get through to whoever I had to talk to, it was incredibly exotic. It actually was thrilling, to be honest. Phoning up New York, and saying ‘Sorry, I’m on the phone to New York’ (laughter all round). Y’know, I was only 21, so it was really like phoning up the moon! (chuckles) And I was interested to see again, in your book, that you’ve spoken to the American guys.
Rob: Hmmm, oh yes!
Neil: And we did have this thing where they would occasionally send me a record. Because in those days, of course, a record could come out in America that didn’t come out in Britain.
Rob: Of exactly, well that’s still the case now [to a lesser degree].
Neil: And so they sent a single by Bob Dylan that I really wanted called ‘Hurricane’, which wasn’t available in Britain, it wasn’t released, and it came over by the courier. And then I bought them a Mike Oldfield single.
Incidentally, Jim Salicrup still remembers that copy of Don Alfonso that Neil sent him!