The word’s been spreading a bit since an initial e-mail a short while ago but Plan B has announced its forthcoming issue on June 1 will be its last.
Plan B was the last of three magazines that were intimately intertwined — Loose Lips Sink Ships was its sister publication of sorts and both were spawned by Careless Talk Costs Lives, founded in the early part of this decade by Everett True and Steve Gullick, who I first knew about as, respectively, a writer and photographer for Melody Maker in the early nineties. As someone who devoured nearly every issue from mid-1991 to late 1994 — getting out right before Britpop-as-such was codified, probably a smart move on my part — both figures were very familiar names, Gullick’s photography being tied up in my head as almost the color equivalent of Charles Peterson’s work (helped by the fact that they photographed many of the same bands thanks to Seattle’s domination of the rock media universe at the time) and True being, well, himself, an intentionally infuriating figure whose aesthetic read as contrarian when it was more accurately just him being himself, more open to admitting his own biases and preferences than most.
Back in 2001 or so True ended up on ILX and somewhere along the way — I forget which thread or where — he noted that he and Gullick were starting a new project, the aforementioned Careless Talk Costs Lives, and were interested in contributors. Taking the ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ approach, I dropped him a line expressing interest and as a result — to my continued surprise — I found myself becoming a regular columnist for the magazine, with a feature piece near the start of the magazine appearing in all but one of the twelve issues. It never had a title, this column, but it was a chance to talk about musical matters and thoughts at the time in a broader sense than simply reviewing an album or the like — each piece had a different theme, from talking about the joys of hearing music from passing cars to how I associated certain songs or pieces of music with the various moves in my life from place to place.
But that’s to talk about my own contributions — CTCL itself was founded as a response to what True and Gullick feared (correctly, as it turned out) was an irrevocable change in music journalism, more specifically from a UK context but with broader implications. The demise of Melody Maker shortly beforehand resulted in the NME taking up the fairly tattered brand of weekly music journalism in the UK from there on in as sole provider — keep in mind twenty years previously there had been four weeklies — and Napster’s explosion in use was just the further harbringer of what’s been the key concern for music writers since: relevance in a world when you don’t have to take a writer’s word for how something sounds, you can just go ahead and hear it, and not pay anything for it if you choose.
As such CTCL was, in many ways, about comfort and retrospection, a reverence for print over the digital world that, for instance, the also-UK based Freaky Trigger had already found itself fully established in from the start, intentionally. To say that CTCL was to an extent backwards looking sounds a touch harsh, but in its way it too was a predictor of future trends — the increasing worship of the ‘real,’ the idea that vinyl is the only way to hear music correctly, that earnestness rather than irony is a key factor. A broad brief and I don’t pretend that CTCL was somehow either codifying or intentionally pointing the way towards these now more commonplace conclusions, but even in things like the quality of the paper it was printed on, CTCL sought to preserve a certain historical moment into a new century, finding a new way to potentially inspire.
One thing I liked about CTCL was its planned obsolescence as well — it started with issue 12 and counted down, the idea being that True and Gullick were doing this as an experiment with a specific end date. When that was reached they announced that two new magazines would be the result. Gullick and my friend and fellow writer Stevie Chick founded Loose Lips Sink Ships, which I ended up writing more for at the start — done more irregularly than CTCL, it emphasized Gullick’s eye for design very well and I had a good time contributing some features and a couple of reviews to its short run, but it went on hiatus after a bit and that turned out to be that, as everyone involved concentrated on other work closer to hand.
Plan B (which, to correct my earlier and too-hasty assertion, both Joseph and Everett have rightly stated below in comments was ultimately the brainchild of the wonderful Frances Morgan, and she was with it from start to finish — more can be found at Everett’s own retrospective post) in contrast thrived — getting itself locked into a steady month by month publication schedule helped, and if not always as visually beautiful as Loose Lips (though many excellent photographers contributed and over time the magazine codified its own fine look and approach), every issue was crammed with detailed thoughts about music and more besides — artists, authors, filmmakers and more were often featured. After a while I was able to start adding bits and pieces here and there — never anything big, the largest story I ever did was a brief interview with Blonde Redhead — but it was always fun and I ended up establishing a new slew of contacts as a result, never a bad thing.
Plan B to a large extent was always a bit ad hoc, at least as seen from the outside — going up against established publications was always going to be part of the struggle, and like its forebear and counterpart it relied on the good graces of the contributors as much as anything else. Also, despite many excellent pieces on a wide range of musicians, by understandable default it presented life through an indie-rock lens to a large degree — by no means as limited as other publications have done (or continue to do), and with an eye to expand the possibilities of what ‘indie rock’ as such means, yet even so, that was the larger framework. But it did find and fill a niche devoted to it, and of the three magazines seemed the most comfortable with the Web in general, with a good site and discussion forum to its credit. This kind of balance remains essential, I think, and will do for anyone still interested in the primacy of print — simply shutting oneself off completely from the Net strikes me as ultimately limiting, but this ties in with my larger thought that the goal is to attract more readers and writers rather than less.
There’s now a substantial section of my music bookshelf consisting of nothing but Plan B issues, a large amount of which I have very small appearances in, a review or two here and there, no more, but it’s about the totality of the issues rather than one’s own work as I mentioned, and like any publication it will be seen through the lens of retrospection with different eyes than at the time. Features on bands that never went anywhere will be puzzled over, ads listing acts and performers yet to be massively famous will be noted with ‘so that’s where they started!’ surprise, critical judgments will either be seen to be incredibly prescient or completely out of sync with future consensus — it’s a bit like Melody Maker, then, and I still have those issues from my time of regular reading as well. It will all make for thoughtful contemplation in the future.
But the future will contain something else in turn too. This isn’t the end of music writing or journalism by any means — it’s a product of time and place, the realities of this current economy and the nature of music and business all coming together once again. I’ve already seen one publication I wrote for disappear this year, Metal Edge, and now here’s another. One hopes for the best that others won’t go as well, but one also thinks of newer possibilities now in turn — and I’d be willing to bet one of the writers will be an Everett True of the future, looking at the state of things and thinking, “I wonder if we can do something like Plan B now, just to see what could happen?”
Also, in conclusion, it was fun to visit their offices during my last visit to London, my friend Hina and I wandering around a slightly nondescript parking lot/courtyard, wondering if we had missed it, stepping back out to the main road and having Louis Pattison chase me down saying, “Wait, we’re back here!,” directing us to the distant corner where the amazingly crammed offices were found. Everett was out that day, preparatory to his eventual move to Australia, but it was fun — after all those days years before wondering what the Melody Maker offices were actually like — seeing what Plan B‘s were like. About what I expected — publications and press kits and discs and little space. I loved it, of course.
Thanks for the opportunities and thanks to all involved from the start with CTCL and onward through Plan B and Loose Lips, particularly Everett, Steve, Stevie, Louis, Frances, Kick and Lauren, and all my fellow writers and participants. It was a blast.