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Guest Blog #1: Chris Jenkins

by Chris Jenkins | 25th Dec 2019

Our first guest blog comes from Chris Jenkins, who shares some background and stories about his work on various publications featured on mu:zines.

Chris has written articles for many of the magazines featured on mu:zines, as well as writing for other publications like Melody Maker, and editing various computer and home cinema titles.

"I became interested in electronic music in the 70s, with the release of albums like Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene. Along with my brother Mark I started experimenting with music at home, using cheap organs, signal generators and effects boxes. With the coming of the home computer revolution and the appearance of more affordable synthesizers, it became practical to build up sophisticated home studios, and there was a boom in writing about these subjects both for professional musicians and for interested amateurs.

After doing a bit of student journalism at Oxford, when I graduated in 1982 I started getting work in London on computer magazines such as Popular Computing Weekly, Commodore Horizons, Sinclair User and Atari ST Update. The Sinclair Spectrum had some music applications if you added a MIDI interface, and the Commodore 64 had a decent sound chip and good MIDI software. Mark and I wrote a book for Sunshine Publications on the musical applications of the Commodore 64.

The Atari ST computer was the real breakthrough though, with built-in MIDI and very sophisticated sequencing software. By the 80s, synth-pop bands using Ataris, and inexpensive Roland and Korg synths and drum machines, were starting to dominate the charts.

Mark was working on various music magazines in Westcliff-on-Sea and then in London, and I started getting some work with them and on gadget title NeXT, and even men’s magazine Penthouse. Eventually I was working fairly regularly for International Musician, for which I wrote the Digital Music Zone column, and occasionally for Sound on Sound, Electronics and Music Maker, Electronic Soundmaker, and other more obscure titles such as Phaze 1 and Micro Music, sometimes using the name John Renwick to avoid spreading myself too thinly. Along with the money, the incentive was the opportunity to get my hands on the latest equipment, whether it was a Casio sequencer, a Yamaha keyboard or an Akai sampler.

The technology in those days could be a little challenging – remember email and the internet were new and scary – and I remember at one point carting an Atari ST and monitor all the way to Docklands because no one at International Musician’s publishers Northern and Shell could work out how to transfer files from an Atari to a Macintosh without connecting them with a cable. Those were the days.

I got a little work recording jingles for video production companies, selling Akai sample disks and composing music for computer games, but never had the performance or coding skills to make a real living at it. One successful gig was the production of a music cassette cover-mount for Sinclair User, using my Akai sampler to edit and overdub music by David Whittaker from the game Glider Rider. One day I’ll find the master DAT for that recording.

Performing at electronic music festivals such as UK Electronica and reporting on the music equipment shows was good fun in those days – this was a time when it was standard practice to hire a couple of Page 3 girls to adorn your stand – but I also had the opportunity to do some interviews with bands I found interesting, mainly for International Musician or Melody Maker, largely at the behest of the ever gentlemanly Tony Horkins.

I interviewed Heaven 17 when they put out Teddy Bear, Duke and Psycho in 1988 – not their best album, but they had plenty to say about production techniques and made themselves very agreeable. Adamski’s Live and Direct, released in 1989, gave me the opportunity to talk to Adam Tinley about the ‘live rave’ experience, and Baby Ford’s Children of the Revolution saw me interviewing Peter Ford, I think at the headquarters of Mute Records (whose PR told me ‘He’s very serious about what he’s doing, you know’, as if she thought I was going to make fun of him).

After seeing her on TV in the series Famous For 15 Minutes, I became determined to interview the gorgeous Catharine Buchanan, who had worked with John Benitez, and set up a ‘home recording’ feature for International Musician when she issued Love Is... in 1988. She and her boyfriend made me very welcome in their London flat, and I never understood why her career didn’t progress any further – I was very sad to read years later that she had developed a serious drug problem and had died in hospital during an operation.

I interviewed the very affable Blancmange around the time of Believe You Me in 1985, and Can (except Michael Karoli) when Rite Time came out in 1986. I took some very nice black-and-white photos of the band on the roof at Mute’s headquarters. Holger Czukay seemed very taken with me for some reason…!

I was a massive fan of John Foxx, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview him for International Musician when In Mysterious Ways came out in 1985. For some reason he didn’t want to meet at his studio or anywhere public, so I invited him to my flat in Wood Green. Unfortunately, the night before the interview, the roof leaked, the living room ceiling collapsed, and I ended up having to interview him perched on the end of my bed (it wasn’t as inappropriate as it sounds – I did have my musical equipment including a Roland Jupiter 4 and a TEAC 8-track set up there.) John was very understanding about the whole business, gave a marvellous interview and was thoroughly pleasant. But I have bumped into him a couple of times since and he always remembers that interview!

To interview Paul Hardcastle I was driven to his massive Home Counties mansion, which stood rather incongruously in an empty, ploughed field. Rather than put a studio in the house, for some reason he’d built it in the field – a separate brick building with better security and all the modern studio equipment you could imagine. He made himself very friendly and had plenty to say, but I remained slightly baffled at the idea of him rattling around in his huge, seemingly empty manorhouse.

Who else? Among others, the charming John Wetton (who was going through a New Age phase, but I couldn’t say I knew much about his work with Asia and the like); the very serious Humanoid (Garry Cobain and Brian Dougan, later Future Sound of London); and about the only interviewees I couldn't warm to, a sampling/production duo who struck me as thoroughly arrogant and obnoxious - oh well, some like it cold.

As the circulation and revenue of the music magazines declined towards the end of the 80s, I became more involved in video and home cinema titles, but in 2003, when I was editing Total DVD magazine, I interviewed Mike Oldfield when he re-recorded Tubular Bells. After a rather harrowing journey to his studio home in (I think) Roughwood, near Watford, we talked in his studio and I sat through the entire album, which left me rather emotional – Mike, who I think is best described as a bit of an odd fish, didn’t seem to know how to deal with this, and seemed quite relieved to usher me out into the garden to wait for a cab.

Although I enjoyed my time working on the music magazines, it was always rather a side-issue to other things I was doing, and I was happy I had never become more deeply involved in their various circulation wars and managerial bust-ups. By the time they went into decline, ending up full of interviews with DJs I’d never heard of, I could look back with pleasure at being associated with them when they were bright and exciting, and had a lot to offer both music journalists and readers."

Many thanks to Chris for our first guest blog post!

You can check out his articles from the search link: Show Articles by Chris Jenkins

mu:zines is always open to the people who worked to create and produce these publications back in such a dynamic and important time for the music technology industry.

If you have stories or personal anecdotes to share, want to set the record straight or would just like to reminisce - whatever your connection with these publications - we'd love to hear from you and feature your pieces on the site, to live alongside the archive content - do please get in touch!

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