Ben Marshall photo

Settled in a self imposed exile, harangued music and cultural critic Sean BW Parker voices his acerbic wry, sometimes resigned, observations through a scattering of non de plume forums and, more recently, the Monolith Cocktail.

From his Istanbul garret, Sean interviews a myriad of both local and internationally respected, reviled and downright hostile cultural figures and critics.  Recently he’s been making his way through the venerated but equally attacked Brighton set that includes Julie Burchill and now Ben Marshall. Another music critic whose reputation was hewn from the coalface of the Melody Maker (when it did mean a shit) in the 80s, via regular gigs writing for Loaded (again when it was at least worth reading) as the ‘diceman’, as a Hollywood reporter of malcontent for GQ, and various contributions for Rolling Stone, Uncut and The Guardian.

In his interview with Sean, Marshall pines for the vitriol of yore, bemoans the homogenisation of contemporary culture and discuss the demise of good criticism.

You are widely known as an impassioned writer, frank and forthright in your opinions. Could you give us a brief summary of your writing trajectory thus far?

I started writing when I was very young, did a little fanzine called Murdering The Innocent with Jim Shelley who is now the Mail’s TV critic and was at the same Croydon comprehensive as me. The title is the name of a chapter in Dickens’ Hard Times and refers to how education can shut down curiosity, but people assumed it was a reference to our scathing writing. I then went on to write for Melody Maker where I essentially spent most of my time slagging bands off then meeting them and deciding they were actually pretty great in person.

Despite the fact that I can be quite nasty in words I am not remotely misanthropic. After MM I went on to write for Loaded, interviewing film stars, footballers and generally getting myself in trouble. It’s easy to forget now but Loaded was a great magazine under Tim Southwell and James Brown. The stuff I am most proud of from back then was the Diceman articles I did, which essentially involved me living for about 18 months by rolling a dice to make all my decisions. Tim nicked the idea from Luke Rhinhart’s excellent novel, and by about article two Luke and I were in touch and he remains a great friend and inspiration. After that I did a brief but memorable stint as GQ’s Hollywood editor, fucking about in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Since then I have worked for The Guardian, The Mail on Sunday, Marie Claire, Golf Punk, Uncut, Rolling Stone and indeed anyone else who pays in these tight times.

It’s been said that when you are tired of London, you’re tired of life, but you now live in Brighton. Why did you bail?

I grew up in South East 25, which is a really boring and rough part of London. When punk rock came along I was barely a teenager, but it threw me this lifeline. Me and my mates would tell our mums we were going to the park and hightail into town spend every available moment we could in the West End and North and West London, going to gigs or just hanging around Soho arcades making a nuisance of ourselves. When I became a journalist London was everything to me. The Maker offices were right near Covent Garden and I practically lived in those offices.

However in the mid 1990s I wanted to buy a place, and even back then all the areas of London I liked were way too dear. I didn’t want to carry on living in Croydon, so Brighton seemed like a decent compromise. Brighton is great but the notion that it’s London by the sea is laughable. London is this big proud cosmopolitan confident modern Babylon, and Brighton is this smutty, punky little seaside town with delusions of grandeur. Nonetheless I love it. I met my wife Janine here and my best friends, including the divine Ms (Julie) Burchill live down here. So I am never short of a party and London is only a short train ride away. I like to think I get the best of both worlds, although I might be deluding myself.

What is your honest opinion on the state of the UK media right now?

Lousy. I mean there are papers I hate. The Guardian for its stance on Israel and Islamism. The Mail for its petty middlebrow vindictiveness and xenophobia, but at least those two papers have an attitude, something to say. Most media is hideously anodyne, doing not much more than PR for politicians and actors. Gone are the days when you could pick up a paper and read a really great slag off. When it does happen as with AA Gill’s evisceration of Morrissey’s pompous, semi-literate excuse for a biography, or my mate Simon Price slagging off Guns ‘n’ Roses the reviews make almost as big headlines as the people they were knocking. It blows my mind how weak stuff is today.

Have you ever met Simon Cowell in person? If not, what would you say to him?

I probably have met Simon Cowell, but would’ve been too drunk to remember. If I met him now I would congratulate him on his attitude to Israel and slag him off for his attitude to pop, which he has had a largely dire influence upon.

I get the impression from your writing that you despair for the 21st century homogenisation of British politics. Am I correct?

I feel about politics the way I feel about the media. Blair, more than Thatcher, turned politics into middle-management and even he seemed to tire of just been seen as an efficient manager, cos he got all messianic and launched his wars. I do sort of miss the fire and hate generated by conviction politicians like Thatcher. I was and am on the opposite side of the fence to her, but she gave us a real dialectic, and the Marxist in me enjoys that confrontation. That said the present Tory/Liberal coalition is making me pretty mad, and locally The Greens who run, or rather mismanage Brighton, have made me truly hate them and for the first time actually give a toss about local politics

Why did you shave off your Mohican?

Me and some lads in the gym I go to all grew mohawks for this event called Tough Mudder, which is a thirteen mile obstacle course, involving fire, electrocution, icy water and all sorts of other crazy nonsense. I shaved it off after the event but will be getting a new one in June when I run the race again. This one was dyed bright orange, last year’s pink not being my colour.

The weekly circulation of the NME has fallen below 20,000. What do you think about this, and more broadly on the state of music generally?

I think NME is doing badly because IPC’s publishers are a bunch of soulless incompetents. Yes the net has had a baleful influence on all magazines and newspapers, but NME, which was once known for its strident opinions and brilliant, intelligent writing is now just a series of backward looking press releases. The publisher, some twit called Jo, talks endlessly about extending the brand, and cross platform diversification. Can you imagine her as a teenager, buying the NME, running home like I used to, slamming on her headphones and then spending four solid hours doing spreadsheets. People from ad sales should never be allowed anywhere near anything creative.

I think pop music is maybe not in its healthiest state at the moment, and again that has to do with the net and the way youth culture has become atomised. When I was growing up there were only three things to spend your money on as a kid – clothes, music and football. Now kids have a million choices, so they are not all gonna come together around a certain musical style, and in a way that’s the death of counter culture. That said rap and dance music still throw up interesting things, and there are great committed rock n rollers around too

Any new music recommendations for us?

Your own now sadly defunct band Scorpio Rising are an excellent choice.

Can I get you a drink?

The drinks are definitely on me.

Thanks, Ben

Seeing as Sean received such an unashamed plug (rather too late for a band that is soon breaking up) for his own band from Marshall, here’s the latest ramshackle track from the inimitable Mr.Parker. Under his own moniker, ‘Emotional Planes’ sounds like a nervous breakdown in mid flow; a decadent raid on Can, Lou Reed, Television and the great dame.


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