Three years in Manchester may have seen a mixed development with my artwork, but it had a profound effect on other aspects of my life - especially through music. It was a fabulous time to be in Manchester - I moved there at the height of punk, and left just before the Haçienda opened. I saw all the iconic bands of the era, from Buzzcocks to The Fall to Joy Division, and all their touring contemporaries. Despite poverty as a student I loved Manchester and often wonder why I didn't just stay in the city after graduating, but I was penniless and disillusioned with my artwork, there were no potential clients for my drawings and the prospect of looking for a job or signing on in Manchester filled me with dread, I couldn't see any reason to stay in the city. A temporary return to the family home was inevitable, however while I was in Manchester my parents had decided to leave the West Midlands and move to a village outside Norwich. It was an entirely alien world to me, from the gritty streets of Manchester to a hamlet in the Norfolk countriside, which I'd only visited on holiday once. What was I going to do now?
My head was full of musical and creative frustration, I needed some outlet for this energy, I was angry, disillusioned, full of post-grad angst and resentment. I needed to get something off my chest....
|Cut from Blue Blanket issue 4, 1982|
Musical ambitions were never to be fulfilled, so I did the next best thing - I started a fanzine.
Why The Blue Blanket? The first thing my parents did after I returned to the family flock, after throwing away my entire wardrobe of arty (to my eyes) second hand rags (in theirs), was to tag me along on a short holiday in Brittany. I was really not in the mood, but there was a large blue blanket at the place we stayed, and blue fluff seemed to attach itself to everything - long after the holiday we were picking bits of blue out of things. I wanted a magazine that would get into the crannies of Norwich, a blanket coverage that would stick everywhere. The name was a joke, but it also reminded me of Der Blau Reiter art movement started by Kandinsky and others.... this was to be a magazine about art as well as music (or so I hoped). Hence The Blue Blanket.
The fact that I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about Norwich, it's music or art scene didn't seem to matter, in fact I saw it as an advantage as everything came to me fresh, and to my eyes there really didn't seem to be that much of a scene to discuss anyway. Today, Norwich has several venues and numerous galleries, but in 1981 it was more of a city of antiques and second-hand bookshops, there were only a handful of pub venues and two small clubs that put on indie bands - The Gala (a former ballroom) on St.Stephens, and The Jacquard on Magdalen Street, plus occasional gigs at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Nevertheless there was an energy in the city, with some ambitious local bands, an energy which I soon connected with.
The first issue of The Blue Blanket extended to 16 sides of A4, printed (extremely badly) by the Freewheel Anarchist Bookshop in Norwich. It consisted of a manifesto, a news page, a band interview (the non-band Sans Culottes), some gig reviews and lots of opinionated noises from me (under various aliases) questioning whether Norwich was a creative cul-de-sac, a diatribe against the media, jokes, cartoons, an unplayable song and some truly awful poetry. I think the first edition stretched to 200 copies, some of which were stocked by HMV and other local outlets, Rough Trade in London offered to take some, and to my immense pride John Peel at the BBC gave it a shout out on his Radio 1 programme.
|Spread from Blue Blanket #2, 1981|
To my amazement it sold out, so I upped the price and print run and produced another one, followed by another, and another. My fanzine wasn't alone in Norwich (there was another Is It Fish?, produced by Farmers Boys compatriot Kid Brian), but my policy was staunchly to focus on the whole of the local indie music scene rather than promote any particular band or cover touring acts. Succeeding issues ran features and interviews on Norwich bands The Vital Disorders, Carl Gustav and the 84's, Zod & the Universe, The Suspects, After Dark, The Higsons (author & comedian Charlie Higson's band!) and Popular Voice, though plans to include the local art scene as well as indie music never really materialised. By Issue Four the print quality had greatly improved and it still regularly sold out of it's much increased print run, it was actually turning over a small profit, but the job of writing, compiling, designing and selling it was becoming a burden, though by that stage I had a few contributors and the distribution was much easier. John Peel's encouragement kept me at it for a quite a while (he announced the release of every issue and phoned me up once to talk about the Norwich scene on air, tragically I was out!), but my energy was being pulled back towards my illustration career. The focus and self-discipline of running the magazine was giving me a more professional attitude to my work, it gave me the determination to research the market and produce a new portfolio of illustrations to show around London.
The decision to finally hang up ambitions of journalism and close the covers of The Blue Blanket after 6 issues came when I was commissioned to illustrate my first children's book in 1982 - Jeremy Strong's Fatbag, published by A&C Black.
I thought I'd lost all copies of The Blue Blanket, so was very happy to find a few surviving in my father's loft.