Gig Review: Mick Houghton in conversation with Ben Thompson and Dave Balfe, The Rialto Theatre, Monday 15th July.

City Books hosted this lively event to celebrate and promote Mick Houghton’s new book, Fried & Justified. To rewind a little, Mick Houghton was a music publicist from the 1970s onwards whose clients included the KLF, Julian Cope and Echo and the Bunnymen to name a few. Joining him for the evening were Ben Thompson, the respected music journalist, and Dave Balfe, co-founder of Zoo Records, founder of Food Records and former member of Teardrop Explodes.

Living in an age where the internet and social media are firmly entrenched it can seem difficult to understand what the need for music publicists was. Mick helpfully set the scene taking us back to the 1970s when in the UK there were four weekly music newspapers, the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror. Fast forward briefly back to today and there are none, the NME existing as a free rag devoid of anything akin to interesting music journalism until a year or so ago. The other three expiring in the last century. Just as importantly there were no freely accessible means to find new music except via these four tomes in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Hence, Mick and his cohorts being vessels to help our (soon to be) musical heroes get coverage and hopefully sell records and tour tickets.

The KLF, Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen are and were characters, by which according to Mick meant behaviours were challenging and at times he had to be the salve when backs were put out and also the snake oil salesman to sell records which were maybe too outre. Ben having worked and shadowed Mick was able to give corroborating testimony as to the behaviours of bands particularly Mac from Echo and the Bunnymen’s preference for being last at a meeting when he was found taking shelter in the nearest toilet by Ben. A general if Mick believed in them and their craft, he would make allowances to help themoverview of Mick’s work was to try to grease the wheels of the business to help his clients get that interview or break the Top 40 whilst enjoying the lifestyle himself and not letting the band think you were trying too hard as they might self sabotage themselves.

Dave Balfe, as a label manager and bandmate of Julian Cope, gave a view of how Mick worked which seemed the opposite of what you would want a publicist to be, softly spoken. Then stories kept coming and a thread which could be identified in these tales was that many of the characters were difficult and contrary if Mick believed in them and their craft, he would make allowances to help them. Without giving away too many stories from the book all I say is go get it.

As a taste to whet your appetite to read Mick’s book, this evening worked a treat and as importantly made you want to listen to the bands that were talked about. The characters described were certainly odd, for that read whatever you may, but the skewness of their behaviours fed into some of the best independent music of the late 1970s through to the 1990s. Cheers City Books for putting on a great event.

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