The view that Punk died with the embers of the Sex Pistols shambolic U.S.A tour is very understandable judging by the mainstream coverage over the years, but behind the hype and the glamour of the big corporations lives a hidden industry that is self-reliant and self-sustainable and is run with the passion and energy drawn straight from music itself. If you are unaware of this going on around you, it does not mean it’s not there, it’s that you have just not been invited to take part. Martin Lacey (aka Martin X Russian) has been part of the Punk industry since 1979 choosing to express himself in print and covering the bands and the scene in various outlets over the years. He speaks to Ten-Midnight.com about playing his part in keeping Punk alive since the first noises of decent came out of John Lydon’s vocal chords, as well as his brand new publication “Safety Pin”.
Buy Safety Pin HERE
Tell us about how you first got into Punk music, who were the first bands you started to follow and why was this music different to anything else that was around at the time?
I was seventeen in 1976, so the perfect age. I was at sixth form college with Marco Pirroni when he was in the original line-up of Siouxsie and The Banshees that played at the 100 Club. He played me a tape of the gig and he thought it was awful, a joke, but I thought it was a brilliant row. I heard the Ramones first album round at Marco’s and I was completely blown away. I organised a couple of school gigs for Marco’s subsequent band The Beastly Cads aka The Models. Marco was (presumably still is) a lovely guy. He let my band use their rehearsal room and equipment and even lent me his spare guitar. They actually asked me to join them as second guitarist but I was so in awe of them I turned them down. So in the early days I saw the Models, Adverts, Lurkers, Slaughter and The Dogs, Wire, and my favourite, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers. Most of the big ‘name’ bands – Clash, Damned, Stranglers – I didn’t see until later in 1977.
The DIY ethos from Punk created many mini industries and entrepreneurs, what was the catalyst for you going the direction of print?
I moved from London to Sheffield in 1977 and started my first fanzine, NMX, in early ’79. Most of the issues were printed by the Sheffield University Students Union, but there came a time when they realised I wasn’t a student and had no connection to the University and stopped giving me subsidised printing, doubling the price overnight. At that point we asked ‘Why don’t we print it ourselves?’ and print other fanzines too, and that’s what we did. In truth, we knew nothing about printing and even less about running a business so it was a bit stop-start at first, but after a couple of false starts we set up a press in South London which has been going, in London and Sheffield, since about 1985. I printed and wrote for the first issues of the football fanzine When Saturday Comes, and when there was a subsequent explosion in football fanzines the world beat a path to my door. In the 90s, because someone asked, I calculated I had produced around two million fanzines, maybe 200 different titles.
Can you remember the difficulties you had starting up in the late 1970s, what was the process of getting a finished article together and out to read, compared to how easy it is today? Did you take direction from Sniffing Glue and other publications?
In a lot of ways it was easier. Yes, I bought a lot of those early fanzines and thought I could do better! Of course, with no computers, DTP or digital photography it was all prepared as hard copy using typewriter, stencils, Letraset, scissors and Pritt-Stick. I actually believe computers have stifled creativity because now anyone can do it, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Selling NMX was comparatively easy too as nobody struggled with concept or point of a fanzine then. Rough Trade used to buy a couple of hundred copies of each issue and pay us up front. Not sure how many they actually sold though, maybe that’s why they went bust!
What drove you on through those difficult early days, was it all to do with your passion for the music and the scene?
Well I was obsessed with music and football and passionate about writing from an early age. I was rubbish at football and not much better at the guitar. Writing about music and football was an obvious alternative.
Has your thinking changed any with regards the content of Fanzines you produce, have you stuck to the same principles as you have got older or has there been a change in direction?
Safety Pin is completely different to NMX. NMX covered the emerging Sheffield scene at a hugely exciting time. It was all news and gossip, very current, very fast moving and was covering things that weren’t getting covered elsewhere. The weekly music papers used me (entirely uncredited) as a source and picked up on stuff I wrote so I played a real part in helping some of those bands up the ladder. I was doing new issues every few weeks. Safety Pin is completely different. The punk scene is so broad and diverse that I can’t hope to keep abreast of everything that’s going on, and news and gossip are obviously redundant in the era of the internet and social media. So I’m trying to make the features timeless, concentrating on quality interviews, so if someone buys Issue 1 a year from now it will be just as interesting as if they buy it today. I produced the entire 26 issue of NMX in three and a half years – and that included a six month gap when I was in Canada. By comparison I spent three years just thinking about Safety Pin, and five months from doing the first interview to seeing it on paper.
How would you yourself describe what you’re involved in and the areas you cover?
I just love punk rock, always have done, though it’s by no means the only music I’m into. But I went out of circulation for about twenty years while I was concentrating on making a living, bringing up kids and the things that grown-ups do. I’ve done printing for Rebellion Festivals more or less since they started and it was actually them that encouraged me to get back into the scene. I’m certainly not a 24/7 punk. I don’t have a mohican, I’m not an extreme dresser (and wasn’t in ’77) but I like to think I have a certain attitude and style that dovetails with punk. Do you know that Johnny Cash song “I Never Picked Cotton”? So he’s heading for the gallows and looking for one thing he can call an achievement in his life… he never picked cotton, I never put a lanyard round my neck or had to wear a suit to work!
What has been your proudest moment in print?
Logically I would have to say in the 90s I published a book of MPs writing about football to raise funds for the Child Poverty Action Group. We had a launch at the House of Commons and I got to hang out with Gordon Brown and the like, plus we had Sir Stanley Matthews as guest of honour and I had to pick him up and drive him to and from London.
Retrospectively, I claim, indisputably, to be the man who discovered Pulp. I would stress this is a different thing from claiming any role in their success! But I did their first interview, first photo session, wrote probably five of their first six reviews, including a remarkably prescient one in 1981 when I said I was the only person who realised how good they were and predicted they would vanish only to be rediscovered in the year 2000. I’m not sure if Jarvis had that in mind when he wrote Disco 2000 but I wasn’t far wrong, as Pulp formed in 1979 and didn’t have a hit until 1993.
I also went to Brussels with Cabaret Voltaire and Joy Division in 1979 and had a bizarre encounter with William Burroughs involving a large amount of alcohol and a comic case of mistaken identity.
The first issue of Saftey Pin has a free EP from the Stunt Kites, how difficult was this to arrange and will it be a regular feature to give away music with Safety Pin?
I was originally planning to do a compilation CD and the Stunt Kites record was the result of a last minute brainstorm between myself and Do It Thissen Records. It wasn’t difficult at all, but quite expensive: the record has accounted for about 75% of the magazine production costs so financially I’ve really stuck my neck out. I managed the Stunt Kites in 1979 when they made these recordings and always regretted they weren’t more successful. The later line-up made a couple of decent singles and they had sporadic reunions up until 2003 when they headlined Sheffield City Hall with Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley guesting.
What are the plans ahead with Safety Pin and anything else you are up to we should be aware of?
I’d like to bring out four issues a year but I’m not making any promises. If nobody buys Issue 1 it will turn out to be a one-off (hint: please buy one!)
Buy Safety Pin HERE
Is there anyone Punk or otherwise you would want to see in one of your publication that you have not covered?
I’ve got a long ‘wants list’ so I’m not going to run out of subject matter.
Name an album/band that’s been with you through all the ups and downs that you still turn to listen to?
The Ramones was the record that got me hooked and I played it only yesterday. On vinyl of course.
Play: Ramones – Judy is a Punk