Monday, 9 April 2012

Interview 34

Dom Raban produced political/music zines Frayed Edges and later, between 1980-85 Proper Gander, whilst living in Sheffield. These days he spends his time as Managing Director at the design and communications agency Corporation Pop based in Manchester, UK.

Please tell us something about your fanzines and how they came to be.

I started my first fanzine, Frayed Edges, in Southampton in early 1979. At the time I was a young activist in the Labour Party Young Socialists (as well as being a punk). The fanzine was initially put together by a group of us at the LPYS (on the fringes of that group was John Denham - now an MP and former cabinet minister) and reflected our political as well as musical interests. As I moved away from the Labour Party towards a more anarchic political doctrine so did the fanzine - I think the Labour Party stalwarts finally took umbridge when I took to the streets of Southampton with a spray can to publicise the mag. I ended up producing five issues before moving to Sheffield to start a Zoology degree.

I didn't take my degree very seriously (dropped out at the end of the 2nd year) but in my first term I started another fanzine called Proper Gander with a group of friends. Proper Gander was similar to Frayed Edges in that it mixed music and politics (though this time without the Party connections). It was an exciting time to be in Sheffield - with Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League hitting the mainstream and new bands like Pulp, Chakk, ABC and many others emerging from the scene. Politically too there was lots going on - Sheffield was 'the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire' and the miner's strike was on our doorstep. Proper Gander documented all this - and many of the main players in the music scene were regular contributors. Between 1980 and 1985 we produced twenty issues. In 1983 or 4 we officially became a Workers Cooperative with help from Sheffield City Council's Cooperative development team - though this 'official' status was short-lived because we were too stoned to keep up with the bureaucratic paperwork. From about 83/84 we had an office in the newly opened Leadmill, which at the time was one of the 'must play' venues on the live music circuit.

The first few issues were printed by various 'radical' printing outfits around at the time - including Rochdale Alternative Press and a similar print shop in Leeds whose name I have forgotten. But - following the true DIY ethic - I learnt to operate an offset-litho press at a community print facility in Sheffield and printed the remaining issues myself.

By 2005 (or thereabouts) I stopped producing the fanzine but my experience of 6+ years with Cow Gum, typewriters and particularly print fostered a love for design and production and so in 1988 I set up a design company on Thatcher's Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

Clearly politics and music have played a key part of your passion for doing a fanzine. I read in an excerpt from Vague (No.6) that you were 'scooped' in getting the interview with Devo. I don't know if you remember this, but it is interesting to note the competitive use of language.

'June 9 Devo at Southampton Town Hall. Chris Johnson was pictured posing in a Devo hat as he scooped the Southampton fanzine Frayed Edges for this interview with Devo's Jerry Casale.'

Was this reflective of a competitive spirit between producers of music fanzines to get the band interviews during this period?

We weren't so much competitive as territorial. I don't remember the Devo incident but I do remember Vague. At the time Southampton was a one fanzine town and we were it. Vague hailed from Salisbury - a cathedral town whose biggest claim to fame was as the home of Edward Heath - world's apart from the multicultural port of Southampton. When we travelled to other towns and cities to see and interview bands there was a definite and delicious sense of trespass – and I think there's an element of this in the Vague comment.

You've produced zines in cities which would be considered 'provincial' by some, but foster strong regional perspectives. What is it about your zines (either through content or graphic language) where you feel this is reflected?

Frayed Edges definitely reflected a small town scene and a regional perspective. Punk took two years to travel down the M3 to our coastal outpost – but when it arrived we greeted it with the same fervour it had received in the early days on the Kings Road. By this time the London scene was on its knees and had become little more than a photo opportunity for Japanese tourists. Down in Southampton we were re-inventing the DIY ethic and finding our own self-expression (I earned the nickname 'why pay London prices' from one wag because I made my own clothes and screenprinted T-shirts with artwork ripped from my favourite album covers of the day).

But Sheffield and Proper Gander was entirely different. You could justifiably be lynched for calling the Sheffield of 1980 provincial or regional. We were the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. We had dirt cheap public transport, workers coops and David Blunkett leading the revolution! We didn't take any notice of the dandy pirates and indian squaws that characterised the London scene of the early 80s. We had industrial funk and took pride in the fact that the best music of the day originated from Steel City. Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and later Chakk, Hula and Heaven 17 as well as a host of local bands were defining a new music that influenced London - not the other way round.

Sheffield did for the early 80s UK music scene what Detroit and Chicago did for the music of the latter part of the decade. The politics of South Yorkshire also defined the era. Whilst the south of England was waving bunting for our boys in the South Atlantic we had troops on the streets fighting pitched battles with the miners. There was a genuine sense of revolutionary fervour - albeit clouded by a fug of ganja and a plentiful supply of magic mushrooms just a 4p bus ride away. Proper Gander documented most of this - both the politics and the music - and our fluid editorial team often included musicians from the bands which were shaping the city's music scene.

What other zines from the 1970s/1980s were considered to be key in establishing points of views that influence music and politics of the time? Or, at the very zines which you feel would give us some sort of historical insights into the UK scene.

Sadly I've lost the copies of the fanzines I used to collect at the time and my memory is hazy when it comes to recalling all the movers and shakers of the day but one that I'll always remember from my punk days was Kill Your Pet Puppy. I loved not only its outrageous and provocative title but also the graphic style which, with its brash colours and bold typography embodied the zeitgeist of the time. Later on when I was in Sheffield it was City Fun over in Manchester which provided the model for us to aspire to.