News came through this morning that a good friend and companion was severely ill, and would die next month. To be honest, I hadn’t realised that we’d grown so close until I heard that they’d no longer be around. Like many of the shocks we receive in our life’s journey, my mind has flitted back to the news all day as I try to come to terms with it as best I can. I just can’t believe that The Word magazine is to close.
I first picked up Word (as it was then known) at issue three, probably in 2003. It was a new music magazine, with bits on books and films and culture. Blur were on the cover; I was on holiday in Norfolk, and I wanted something different to read. At that time, I was a devotee of the long running Q, but even then it was growing tired and repetitive, a trick it has kept up to the present day. Right from this point, Word was fresh, incisive, intelligent. It was more in depth, covered topics with passion, and included within its pages opinion and advice, recommendations and interviews. Even where I approached topics or artists with caution, the writing somehow drew one in and entertained.
I bought the magazine every month, eventually becoming a subscriber. I was drawn into debate on the website, listened to the websites, found my letters published and my recommendations for the monthly CD taken on board (as far as I’m concerned, Stephen Lindsay has me to thank for his inclusion). The article maintained a high standard, and the regular features, such as Best and Worst and 99% True never slipped in quality. Slowly, a community was developing. What was even more amazing was the knowledge that this mini-miracle was the work of a small, dedicated and talented team lead by David Hepworth and Mark Ellen. During the nine years, I’ve had personal responses from the former, most recently when my attempts to get into writing lead the great man to gently turn my article down with constructive criticism, some of which is applied in the title above.
And so this morning’s announcement came, via Twitter, and there was an immediate outpouring of sorrow, disappointment, anger and, yes, grief. By the time I got to The Word website, there were nearly 100 comments; I checked an hour or so ago and there was approaching 400. Simon Mayo and Danny Baker are among the well known readers who have added their thoughts, their praise and their tributes. The Telegraph and The Guardian have posted articles on their sites about the loss of this great magazine. Why such an out-pouring?
For me, The Word was a perfect magazine. It covered music and entertainment, but didn’t pander to the middle of the road or to commercial pressure or trends. It wrote and commented on where it’s own zeitgeist existed and it drew its readers in. It respected the past, it had a handle on what was fresh and interesting. It had knowledge and experience, but wasn’t flash or showy about it. It found the promise and the potential in the mountain of information that the Internet and the social media world throws at us each day and made sense of some of it. Reading The Word once a month, and receiving and enjoying the weekly email, Something for the Weekend, lifted the spirits, let you see the sun’s rays through the gathering clouds and cleared out the clutter of thoughts about the modern world that really needed straightening out. It was a reliable friend in a complicated world. A hand on your shoulder. It felt like they spoke directly to me, and I know that other readers felt the same.
Ultimately, it seemed that there were not enough like minded souls. I can’t recall anyone I talked to about The Word ever having heard of it, though my father-in-law subscribed on my recommendation, and he loves it too. I can’t see why there wouldn’t be a market for beautiful, clear, unprejudiced honesty about music and the people who make it, with bits on the cultural world for good measure, but I guess we passed demanding quality over quantity some years ago. Ho hum.
So, in the absence of some miracle, we say goodbye to The Word with the last issue dropping through the letterbox in a couple of weeks. I suspect the mourning will be long and drawn out, but the sweet experience of past issues and the legacy will linger much longer.
And as I write this in Starbucks, Palmers Green, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has just come on over the PA. How apt.