If a year is a long time in publishing, then 34 of them must feel like a lifetime. With Hot Press having just put out its 800th issue, last night’s documentary chose to focus on the magazine’s founding and early days. And what heady – and hairy – days they were. Punk was on the march, the country was on its uppers and the Irish music scene was searching for a mouth piece. Whereas the UK had the NME, Ireland was sorely lacking. Until, that is, Niall Stokes stepped into the breach. The rather iffy reconstruction sequences aside, Hot Press – The Write Stuff did a pretty decent job of telling the early part of the story.
What was abundantly clear was just what a different world the media was in 1977. Having to hassle to simply get a phone line in less than nine months, the magazine came together under a rag tag band of music enthusiasts rather than industry professionals. The archive footage of the production process was enough to make us working today hug our laptops in gratitude and the tale of how the magazine nearly went under after attempting to break into the UK market is one that still echoes today as title after title disappears.
Although the documentary was essentially a fluff piece, it was not without its insight. Bob Geldolf was as vocal as ever about his doubts when the magazine launched, and contributors such as John Waters, Declan Lynch and Liam Mackey painted a vivid picture of an Irish publication finding its feet in uncertain times. There are many memorable stories along the way, from the late Bill Graham steering U2 in the direction of Paul McGuinness (Bono was an obvious and not entirely unwelcome absence) and the four letter fuss surrounding Waters’ Charles Haughey interview. Above all, Hot Press mattered – to the people who ran it, to the people who wrote for it, to the bands and to the readers.
Fast forward three decades and the picture is very different. It’s debatable whether any music magazine can have that kind of influence anymore, with those that are left – along with record companies, music stores and the rest – are fighting a losing battle against a culture that no longer feels the need to invest time and effort into music. Yet Hot Press has managed to survive when plenty of others have fallen by the wayside. Even so, there were enough mumblings about a magazine stuck in a rut and losing its way to suggest that some of the old guard at least find it hard to recognise the original spirit in the modern day version. The site of that team reuniting in its old haunt of the International Bar, like some middle aged band getting back together, was an oddly moving one and a reminder that once upon a time you could make things happen by force of will alone. The past was theirs, but who owns the future?
Watch the documentary here.