Basically, back in early '89 your editor was unemployed (some might say unemployable), with a lot of time on his hands, and smarting somewhat at the time because two housemates had started up what seemed to me to be yet another 'indie' magazine. That does that particular magazine, Recoil, an injustice, but I'd spent 4 years in Manchester feeling musically like the poor relation, shuffling my feet at gigs which seemed to showcase bands who may have been innovative and worthy in their own right, but weren't really my cup of tea. The mid-late Eighties seem to have been the nadir in the fortunes of most of the genres of music I was interested in: there were few albums emerging from any musicians from anyone affiliated with the Canterbury scene, Daevid Allen was exiled in Australia, and only the occasional jazz gig seemed to be worth attending. I remember clearly that the Acid Daze festivals (I still have a poster) in '87, showcasing the best of psychedelia were quite noteworthy at the time - in retrospect spending a whole day inside a Leeds indoor carpark being aurally battered by the likes of Dr and the Medics, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Suicide and rather tired versions of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies wasn't particularly groundbreaking. It took the CD revolution to change it all, and on the live front, cross-pollination between 'progressive', 'festival' and later, even 'house' fans to create an audience for bands like Gong and Caravan.
I'd already spent a couple of weekends with my head buried in old magazines at the National Sound Archive in London and started to become aware of things like Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees, Fred Tomsett's fanzines covering other heroes such as Peter Hammill and King Crimson. No-one seemed to be doing a Canterbury scene fanzine.
I'd heard Gong first, whilst at school, when a friend introduced 'Camembert Electrique' to the sixth form stereo. Once at college, I'd followed the Daevid Allen link back to Soft Machine, borrowed 'Third' from the local library, and it changed my life. From there on to other Softs albums, Caravan, Hatfields, Kevin Ayers, of course more Gong, Robert Wyatt, British jazz etc, etc, etc (you're all familiar with how it goes) but always back to Third. 'Facelift' would have been the first 'Canterbury' track I ever heard - I can still remember a week camped out at a friend's house in the North East, taking over his stereo whilst he was at work to listen to these strange dissonant sounds and try to work out why it struck such a chord. There are other (some retrospective) reasons for choosing the title 'Facelift' - it was the track from Third which lent itself best to a magazine title - I didn't feel I could live up to 'Out-Bloody-Rageous' and 'Moon In June' would suggest a Robert Wyatt -based magazine. There was also perhaps an in-built arrogance in thinking that this magazine might be a fresh alternative to all those other music magazines (some hope if you look at the printing on any of the first ten issues!). Other reasons: an early thought that each issue might feature a 'face' on the cover (this lasted until issue 3); an inherent amusement at Mike Ratledge archive shots, all of which seemed to demonstrate a desire to hide his visage with hair and shades (the shades outside the hair were a particular winner); or even the fact that the author of 'Facelift' the track, was Hugh Hopper, who remains this editor's favourite musician, and who has always actively encouraged the magazine. So there you are - take your pick! (Think what it would have been like if I'd chosen 'Teeth'!)
Facelift's reading figures were never dazzling, but then part of the reason Facelift magazine started in the first place was to write about music which no-one else seemed to want to cover. We've never printed more than 1000 copies of any issue, and never had more than 300 subscribers at any one time. Circulation was actually peaking as early as issue 5 or 6, it was pretty steady after then, despite a fall towards the end which was due, I expect to the advent of the Internet as much as our own sporadic publishing of issues. If I dare say it, Facelift's readership is quality rather than quantity - in our time we've had readers in 39 countries. The final sub count was 241, broken down as follows: (140 - UK; 1 - Austria; 5 - Belgium; 1 - Denmark, 2 - Finland; 12 - France; 13 - Germany; 1 - Greece; 5 - Holland; 1 - Ireland; 10 - Italy; 1 - Luxembourg; 10 - Norway; 6 - Spain, 4 - Sweden; 3 - Switzerland; 1 - Brazil; 3 - Canada; 1 - Puerto Rico; 11 - USA; 2 - Australia; 5 - Japan; 1 - Sri Lanka). We've also at various times had readers in Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Lithuania, Malaysia, Indonesia, Portugal, Turkey, Israel, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Croatia, Korea, Romania.
We've received a few in our time - not all of them, I suspect were actually intended for us - there was the Nigerian oil company who wanted us to put our 'millions' their way, or the letter from the young Man Utd fan congratulating me personally on my first goal for the club (it turned out the PO Box no had previously been used by Independent Man Utd Supporters Association and the 'Phil' in question was Phil Neville). I wonder if the IMUSA , like me, got a little weary of picking up their mail from the sexually suggestive PO box no (unlike the Royal Mail sorting staff in Old Trafford, who never tired of this fanzine editor tapping on the counter window and grumpily demanding "69, please, mate").
What's in a name?
Facelift has counted amongst its subscribers over the years a few celebrities, although most of them keep it quiet! - I found out quite by accident that both members of Ultramarine (later to collaborate with both Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers) were secret readers, so too the lead singer of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Lol Coxhill once sent me a cheque (I sent it back). In other fields, James Bond author Raymond Benson (the successor to the late Ian Fleming) is a regular correspondent, and we also once had the assistant curator of a Salvador Dali museum in the States as a regular reader. Somewhat more tenuously our readers in the past have included a Charlie Brown, a J (R?) Ewing and a Chris Evans. For a while the Canterbury scene threatened to be overrun with Kings: Mike was putting together the Robert Wyatt biography in Canada, Barry H continued to compile his Caravan chronology, whilst losing nothing in translation, Thierry Leroy founded a French CD label KZL which released Gong's comeback album 'Shapeshifter' and Aymeric Leroy is now behind the Canterbury website Calyx and its newsletter What's Rattlin. Spookily, for 5 years, Facelift was published from an address of Nicolas Road, an Anglo-parallel of the Nikolaistrasse address of German sister magazine 'Canterbury Nachrichten'. No-one will be surprised to hear that the most common subscriber name is Smith, who are just about keeping up with the Joneses. But there was also the strange case of the Greens (4 of them) all of whom sent in for issue 7 and 8 and none of whom ever wrote again.
Facelift was constantly amused and irritated by the methods some people will stoop to in order to avoid paying for what is was set up as a non-profit-making (and, in reality, a loss-making) magazine published at cost price. If you're a businessman or an American (or, worst of all, a combination of the two), it seems that you have a divine right for free merchandise. It's a 100% certainty that anyone asking for a sample issue (including some we've sent them to) will never write again! The most cursory request for a free issue was an American who simply put in his e-mail: "Send sample of Facelift". Our reply was even more brief: "Why?"
The Hungarian conspiracy
We're aware of the problems people in some countries have in raising cash (a trip to Indonesia in the late 90s made me realise that the sole subscriber there was probably looking at the national average weekly wage to raise a subscription). We have accepted progaganda from Russia and offers of Steua Bucharest football shirts from Romania in return for Facelift issues. Our correspondent in Havana, who often has his mail stopped, once memorably stated that he couldn't offer any payment for the magazine, because 'Cuban money is shit'. In our time, we've sent sample issues to outlying Canterbury posts in Israel, Poland, Kazakhstan and Brazil.
However, we have to draw the line somewhere. The greatest blag yet is what our American correspondent, tour organiser, and ex Voiceprint USA man Rick Chafen called the 'Hungarian conspiracy'. I received a letter about 10 years ago from a '9 year old Hungarian boy' whose handwriting and passable English suggested a rather more advanced education. I was almost convinced by his story of orphanage and parental unemployment until he reeled off a string of Canterbury CDs (including some extremely rare Softs, Dave Sinclair and Matching Mole stuff that I'd never heard of) that would 'bring back smiles for father again'. I bet it would!
If this seems like a bit hard-hearted on the part of your editor, then read on... I'd forgotten about this until a letter from Rick Chafen appeared in 1996. His postbox had turned up two separate letters from Hungary, same handwriting, different stories: on the one hand our correspondent was dying in a wheelchair; on the other, he was a refugee from Bosnia who had to leave behind his CD collection, which included rare Tim Blake, Gong, Hugh Hopper etc etc....
Then, just as I sat down to write this piece in 1999, another letter appeared with a familiar postmark and scribblings. Our friend had now transmuted into being a refugee from Kosovo (full marks for contemporaneity), and had toned down his demands to specific back issues (3, 13, 14, but also 1, 4, 6, 19) from Facelift. I shan't shame our correspondent by revealing his name (although shame doesn't seem to be a problem, and the name is ever-changing in any case), but you will get your sample issue (this one - with this section highlighted). As Rick put it, we admire your musical tastes, but not your tactics....