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Putting together a collective history for a project like this, of something you were at one time near the heart of, inevitably ends up being a series of missed opportunities. Roy Carr, late of NME, died at the weekend [edit: this was first posted elsewhere last year], aged only 73 — and I’m sad because I knew him for a while and he was a nice man, always friendly and funny and just boundlessly enthusiastic. He ’s emblematic to me of a time I have complicated feelings and personal regrets about, and now I find myself wishing I hadn’t taken his talents and his presence for granted when I worked alongside him. Even in the 80s he was an institution: I should have grabbed my chance and sat him down and got some stories out of him. Everyone in journalism has stories of course, but he had a thousand, going right back into the early 60s, and they were generally hilarious and scurrilous and some of them could never be told publicly.
He’s also very much emblematic — as compiler-curator and the person who organised the permissions — of the world glimpsed in the image above: that amazing little wall of excellence. These are the nearly 40 cassette tapes that NME readers could obtain via the paper in the course of the 80s, as guides to whole worlds of music. As a writer, I’m entirely committed to the idea that words can open places up for you — but I don’t think anyone would deny that many of these collections were worth pages and pages of prose to a music paper, simply to establish its unimpeachable ambience of expertise and its remit to cover everything, past and present. The fashion was shifting — some rivals had already tossed both ideals overboard, wastefully and clumsily, and niche-marketing and nervous over-attention to narrower reader demographics were pressing everywhere — but for a few key years, Roy’s contribution helped NME stand invaluably stubborn against this tide.
Some of them were this-here-now critical snapshots, C81 the first of a more or less annual tradition of perfectly designed punning samplers: Mighty Reel in 1982, Mad Mix II in 1983, Raging Spool in 1984, and so on, setting Ornette Coleman alongside Robert Wyatt alongside Haircut 100, introducing you to Trouble Funk, to XMal Deutschland, to Orchestra Jazira and Benjamin Zephaniah and Dr John. And then (perhaps even more important) there were the guides to jazz and reggae and Northern Soul and African pop, to fuzzed-out proto-psychedelia and melancholy alt country and classic 50s R&B. If you want a time-sink of the loveliest kind, as a response and a thank-you, then maybe go blog up a song-by-song breakdown of the contents — though others got there before you, here and here and here…
And I see that I seem these days to be missing fully 10 of them, when once I owned them all: because items this good go walkabout as the years pass. But what I’m lamenting right now, alongside fond memories of a one-time colleague, are the untold tales of all the backroom deal-making that also went into this, the horse-trading and the arm-twisting and the tantrums. All the questions you don’t think to ask until it’s too late.
RIP Roy Carr (1945-2018)
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