Gary James' Interview With
Rock Writer / Interviewer
Mark R. Blake
He's interviewed Rock Royalty, people like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Kurt Cobain. He is the author of a book Queen: The Untold Story. He is Mark R. Blake. Mark spoke with us about his adventures in Rock.
Q - Mark, how did you get into writing?
A - Through friends of friends really. I grew up in London. I saw a lot of groups when I was growing up. I bought a lot of records and I knew some people who were sort of on the fringes of the music business. I think I simply knew somebody who worked at a music mag. I worked for a couple of magazines that aren't even around anymore, Rock magazines, but it gave me a chance to get started. It just kind of took off from there really. That would've been about 1989 I think.
Q - Were you at any time a musician?
A - No.
Q - Was your first job at Q Magazine?
A - No . Q Magazine was later on. I was freelancing before that for lots of different magazines, a sub-editor and writer. I still write for Q. I was an assistant editor at Q for many years.
Q - What's the state of Rock journalism in England as we speak? Is it alive and well or pretty much dead?
A - Well, I think there's a lot of good writers around. There's still people doing good writing. Magazines are still producing good work, but obviously everybody is fighting about free stuff on the Internet really. I certainly wouldn't say it's thriving.
Q - I don't know how old of a guy you are.
A - I'm 47.
Q - But were you impressed by guys like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger?
A - Well, yes. I liked The Beatles and I'd like The Stones. I've interviewed them both. When I was starting to listen to music and going to see bands, The Beatles were long gone by then and I don't think either of them were at the peak of their powers at that time, in the early '80s. I felt they were both great musicians.
Q - How did you find Mick Jagger, arrogant or down to earth?
A - He was fine. He was down to earth. He was okay. He's a professional. He did what he needed to do. He's promoting an album. He answered all the questions, but he also steered the interview so it went his way, which of course I would imagine he would do. He's had a lot of experience doing it. He's had more experience being interviewed then I probably had of doing interviews.
Q - Charlie Watts could be a good guy to interview, but he doesn't do interviews.
A - Well, he does. I've interviewed Charlie Watts. He does do interviews, but not that many. Charlie Watts is a great guy. I've interviewed him a couple of times.
Q - You stopped Keith Richards from falling down. Where was that?
A - Q Magazine do an annual awards ceremony. It's been running for about 20 years. He was walking up a flight of steps and I was chaperoning him for the afternoon, which basically means all the people that were guests at the awards, they have somebody who works at the magazine that's their guy if they need anything and you do a little interview with them while they are there. He was walking up the stairs and he lost his footing and toppled back. He didn't hit the ground. I just steered him upright again is what it was.
Q - He wasn't under the influence of anything was he?
A - He probably was. I imagine he was. But it wasn't anything more dramatic than that I'm afraid.
Q - You also interviewed Kurt Cobain. That must've been when their Nirvana toured England.
A - He was over here doing press before "Nevermind" came out. It was the advance press he did for "Nevermind". Record labels used to send out what was called a white label cassette. I remember I had a white label cassette of "Nevermind". I had it for ages before it came out. They obviously sent it out to all the writers. He wasn't famous. I interviewed all of them. It was half an hour in a room in a hotel somewhere.
Q - What did you think of Kurt Cobain now that you look back on it?
A - I thought he didn't want to be in a band. But I've got to be honest, at the time he was just another person that I interviewed. He was on a conveyor belt of interviews. They were a relatively unknown band. He was fine. Dave Grohl was there. I remember Dave Grohl talking. I just got the impression he (Kurt Cobain) was a little bit bored with it. He was quite shy. I think it would be fair to say he was shy.
Q - You wrote this book about Queen: The Untold Story.
A - Yeah.
Q - Untold Story? How much can you write about Queen? What is there left to be told?
A - Well, it applies to everybody. There's always other things that you can discover. The book very much focuses on Freddie Mercury's early life. In the UK, Queen were absolutely huge. They were literally one of the biggest bands in the country, probably in the world. I know they weren't big in the States at all. They kind of turned their back on America. I think the thing I found interesting about Freddie Mercury is he died when he was still relatively young. And, he never talked about his past life. One of the things I wanted to do in the book was to find out a little bit more about the person he was before he became Freddie Mercury, before he took on this kind of persona. That was the untold element of the story, trying to shed some light on someone who's been dead for quite a while now. He never talked about his past life while he was still alive, which of course so many musicians do now, The Stones, The Who. All of these people will pick over their past for the benefit of journalists. Freddie Mercury never did.
Q - Did you go to his family?
A - No, I didn't go to his family. I went to the people he was at school with when he first moved to England, the people he knew at college, people who took him out to see gigs. He used to go out to a lot of gigs in London. He saw Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, Cream. All that stuff. He was obsessed with that era of music. So, it was quite interesting to talk to people who knew him then, before he assumed this persona.
Q - So what's your next project?
A - I'm doing a book about The Who in the 1960s.
Q - Pete Townshend just released his autobiography. Does that mean you'll be going to Roger Daltrey?
A - I've interviewed Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle before. The book is focusing on a specific kind of period. I'm talking to a lot of other people that they knew when they were growing up and worked with them early on and people who knew their managers. Their managers were a very, very big part of that story. So, that's very much the angle. Their managers were kind of on the par with Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham. That's very much the thrust of the book.