Mick Magic was one of the prominent figures of the Cassette Scene. Hailing from Frimley, Surrey, Mick formed the space rock band Magic Moments At Twilight Time, had a fanzine and a label called “Music & Elsewhere”, and also began the United World Underground project.
I always wanted to ask you if you were involved in music before Magic Moments At Twilight Time. Were there any other bands in your life before that? When was M.M.A.T.T. formed and who were the other members?
Mick Magic: Oh yeah, I think I first picked up a guitar while I was at junior school. Probably from around 13ish, I was auditioning for bands and trying to start one of my own, plus doing a lot of solo recording. That would have been live to cassette in those days! It’s actually a really difficult task to get a group of people together who are all dedicated to a common purpose, a lot more so than you would think. However, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. So I did, several times. And THEN gave up!
MMATT was formed by pure chance many moons later. I was 28, middle management in an office, bored senseless. So I turned back to music again, began multi-tracking on a hi-fi VCR. Got my then wife, Shona, to do some vocal parts for me and started turning out some head-damaging art-house avant garde space-psyche. The name – I wanted something that didn’t match the music, rather something that sounded like an afternoon tea-dance orchestra, so put together the names of the songs that had topped the charts in the UK and the US when I was born, et voila. We billed ourselves, with a hint of irony, as “a husband and wife duo from north west Surrey.”
Serendipity struck next. A friend called Eddie Irwin, sadly no longer with us thanks to the traditional rock & roll death of choking on your own vomit while out of your brain, just happened to play our cassette (“State Of The Art” – C4003 – 1987) to a guy and his girlfriend who lived down the road. They were stunned that anyone that lived in their road was making music like that (it’s a very conservative area!) and arranged with Eddie to meet me. Thus we became Mick Magic, Shona Moments, Kate Twilight and Jay Time, the greatest band ever to have come from the side of Farm Road that the shops are on.
Based on the sound of the album “Creavolution”, the band Hawkwind seemed to be one of the main influences of M.M.A.T.T. Was there a special atmosphere evident during your shows?
Mick Magic: Hawkwind were a significant influence, certainly, but we could never have afforded the spectacular light-shows I’ve seen at their gigs over the years. Our live shows bordered more on the theatrical, utilising Shona’s acting and dancing talents. The set would open with her miming answering an intergalactic phone call, all rather tongue in cheek, of course. Then there was the ceremony of getting Jay out of bed (he’d start out on a camp bed, all snuggled under a blanket), ready to play bass on the second song. I used to love the bemused looks on the audience’s faces through that part. Then Shona would strip down from boiler suit to a leotard, dance with ribbons, duet with a cassette recorder, threaten crowd members with a knife, dress up as a cowboy, you name it. We even included the step-walk made famous by The Shadows during the instrumental break of “Acidic Heaven”… don’t know what Hank would have made of that! Sadly, the live phase of the band’s existence was short-lived, but we got to support some great bands like The Pink Fairies and Here & Now, so I have some very fond memories of those days.
I guess, thanks to the band, the M.M.A.T.T. fanzine was created and became a vital instrument for the cassette scene. Apart from your humorous notations, one could find contacts and information about other musicians of the cassette scene. I still believe you are a very talented writer, Mick, and I admit I had always enjoyed your writing when I was reading your publications. What was it like to put together the fanzine back then?
Mick Magic: Hard work, but great fun. I used to start with an A3 sheet of cartridge paper, rule out the layout with pencil, then do the final lining with a black fine-art pen. Captions were done with ‘Letraset’, pictures and logos fixed on with double-sided sticky tape after all the typing was finished. Had a lovely old manual typewriter which had been with me since I was around 13. Finally, the original A3 page would be reduced down to make an A4 master for copying. A talented writer? Oh, bless you. You could have mentioned my matinee idol good looks too though…
Can you please tell us how all these musicians found you?
Mick Magic: The way of the underground, effectively word of mouth. It’s incredible how the thing blossomed when you think it all started pre-internet. Things and communiqués used to arrive on the doormat, rather than via an Outlook Inbox! I always remember the great excitement when the postman came and I’d wonder what exotic countries I’d have mail from today. Would it be Ukraine? Thailand? China? Or just somewhere naff like Greece. :))
I know this was a non-profit edition and money came out of your own pocket to get it out there. Today, with the era of the internet encompassing every aspect of our daily life, some might wonder if you did this for the love of communication, as a way of expression, or, simply for the satisfaction of helping other artists. When did you start doing the fanzine and what inspired you to make such a creation?
Mick Magic: Not so much ‘non-profit’ as ‘not for profit’. That is to say there was no aversion to making a living, but making money was not the primary purpose of M&E. I didn’t starve, but I tended to dine on beans on toast rather than caviar! Fortunately, toast tastes better with beans.
I don’t know that anything particularly inspired it, more a case of an organic mix of creation and evolution (yes, that’s where the album title came from). Once people started to hear the band, other like-minded artists would send us their music, throw a few flyers in the pot etc. Gradually, our circle of friends began to grow, then it expanded out of the country and I literally tripped over the old KFR Distribution network, the mainstays of which were Stephen Parsons (BBP Records, UK), Lord Litter (Out Of The Blue, Germany) and Don Campau (Lonely Whistle Music, USA). I can do nothing by half measures, I’m quite obsessive, so I simply had to get deeply involved and a newszine seemed a good way of doing it. Then I realised that if we started to sell music by other bands as well, more people would be interested in what we did., which would generate more interest in our own output too. It was the win-win solution I look for in everything. So we started doing master-tape swaps with those that were into issuing music too, simply released music by those only interested in making it and freely gave masters to those that wanted to issue some but didn’t make their own. It was all very idealistic, I suppose, but quite a broadening experience, for all the reasons you suggest in the question. And beyond.
Compared to the letter writings and stamps of those days, do you believe that the internet is a better mode of information or not?
Mick Magic: I’m gonna sound a right Luddite if I say not, huh? The internet makes communication easier, but then it also cheapens it. If you sit down and type a letter, put it in a package with a musicassette and some flyers, take it to the Post Office and mail it, then you have a kind of personal investment in it. Now it’s just send an e-mail with an mp3 attached, maybe even just a ‘url’ link, effortless. Is that a good thing? I see a duality there. But perhaps we shouldn’t imbue the internet with qualities of any type, it is just a tool. The way we communicate is our choice. So sure, keeping in touch and finding old friends has never been easier, but the price we pay is constant spam e-mails designed to make us feel our willies are inadequate! Er, not mine, I hasten to add…
Are there any specific Cassette Scene artists that you would advise our readers to search out?
Mick Magic: I’d be here all day! Probably the most active are the best to go for. Don Campau is still an influential presence and has a wonderful online archive paying tribute to the independent music scene, that’s a great place to start. I have recently bought the domain of http://www.mickmagic.net and am planning an online underground related magazine. I actually hoped to get it going some time ago, but when it came to sitting down to do it, I made the horrendous discovery that doing websites is much more complicated than doing a newszine! I am currently doing a home-study course and hope it won’t be too much longer before The Magic Net goes live. Then it’ll be a case of seeing what goes down in the underground, circa 2010. I’m guessing it’s all changed a bit since our day. We can have a little museum section; “Hey, kids, look at this, this is called a ‘postage stamp’!” I feel very old now, I even own a pair of slippers, God help me…
To use your words, “The MMATT label evolved into Music & Elsewhere (named in tribute to Faust, a reference to their “Munich & Elsewhere” LP)”. How did it evolve and how many releases did Music & Elsewhere have?
Mick Magic: I think I’ve probably inadvertently answered that via question 5. In terms of releases, it was (annoyingly) a grand total of 599 (the last issue’s M&E Audiozine cassette would have been M&E 600, but it never happened) over a period of around 15 years.
How was the Cassette Scene working? Was it just a matter of putting together a cassette album, finding the address of someone with a radio show and mailing it to him? As far as I know, you were also acting as a distributor too.
Mick Magic: Addresses were never hard to come by because we had all developed quite a well connected network, so yes, it was just a question of spreading it, bit by bit. Where it was tough was because, by it’s nature, independent underground music only appeals to a limited minority, so each new contact would only yield a comparatively small advance. However, the harder you worked at it, the better things got. With the cassettes; we would keep the money we made from the ones we sold, the other labels would keep the money from ours that they sold. Simple system, allowing everyone to work at whatever level their lives allowed them to. The distribution we did was a system called Distro Direct. It was designed to allow music fans to buy a number of different CDs from several countries via one source (us) with their own currency, we took care of the rest. It wasn’t exactly hassle-free, but I was satisfied it was a noble effort to overcome the kind of pre-internet distribution problems we all had. Hard work again, but no regrets, it was the most enlightening period of my life and I made so many good friends that I’m still in touch with many of now.
What is the United World Underground?
Mick Magic: It was more a concept than a thing. The label was Music & Elsewhere, the newszine was The M&E Newszine (took me months to come up with that one!), but what of all the people we wrote about in it? The UWU was just a collective term I came up with to describe all of us that were involved. I wanted something that spoke of how we worked together on what we had in common, rather than bicker on how we differ as the governments that ‘represent’ us do. Ironically, though it sounds kind of cool in English, it didn’t translate well into many other languages, rather defeating he object of a globe-encompassing concept! Bugger.
When did you stop with all these activities of yours? Are you still making music?
Mick Magic: There was never a conscious decision made to stop, it just kind of happened. My life-long battle with depression is no great secret, and that can be a very debilitating thing to deal with. Probably without it though, the music would never have happened, but as with everything, there’s a balance to redress. Towards the end of 1995, I became embroiled in what would become a year long bitter legal battle with a CD manufacturer. Okay, we won the case, but the damages were paltry and it certainly didn’t FEEL like a victory. The frustration with our grinding and ineffective legal system had taken quite a toll. During the midst of this, four days before the opening court date, I’d lost my father to lung cancer. This was some two months before “Creavolution” came out, which should have felt like a pinnacle achievement, but simply didn’t because of everything else that was going on. As it turned out, it was the last MMATT album. I carried on with M&E/UWU for a few more years, but when you’re not doing music yourself any more, it’s never quite the same. Come 2001-ish, the next issue just ‘never quite happened’ and it died a natural death. I still have all the masters, of course, and I miss it all. Thankfully, things like Facebook (look me up, just send me a friend request with a note saying “I love underground music!”) have helped me rediscover many friends and contacts from the era, and I shall look forward to exploring how the experience turned out for everyone else, all in the ‘pages’ of the forthcoming Magic Net. As they say, the adventure continues…
Music – it’s been a while, but I have a project in mind again now, feeling suitably inspired from the wonderful discovery of my birth family over these last two years. Imagine it, 50 years an only child, then I find myself to be one of five! Oh wow. The working title for the album is “Last Star Falling”, but I have a feeling it’ll end up being called “Rose Of Erin”, an inspiration from the names of my newly discovered nieces. Watch the skies, but don’t expect it in a hurry, I’m betting technology has moved on some since I last put decibels to magnetic tape!
Can you name your most disappointing and your most pleasurable experiences from those cassette days?
Mick Magic: Most disappointing – choosing the wrong CD manufacturer for “Creavolution” to start with! I’ll never forget the wonderful Sounds Good of Theale who later saved the day for us. Most pleasurable – reading any one of the many lovely letters I’ve received over the years telling me how I’ve had a positive influence on somebody’s life. That’s as good as it gets.
There was a Los Angeles article a while back saying that cassettes didn’t die and that they are back on the mix. What do you think?
Mick Magic: I love cassettes, I have hundreds, but let’s be honest, it’s because of all the joyous memories they invoke, not because they’re a good medium! They stretch, you get wow and flutter, they don’t last, and cassette players can be a pain too. You wouldn’t believe how many units we went through in M&E’s heyday! If we want our music/images/words to be available to the widest possible number of people, we have to accept the future is digital. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do an occasional special cassette package release, does it? It’s a big world, we can accommodate everyone, nothing is written in stone. Well, apart from the work of stonemasons, obviously.
Are you still in touch with people you found during those days?
Mick Magic: The number is growing, mostly through Facebook at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find many more on the wider web once The Magic Net is up and running. I seem to remember a ‘Yahoo group’ called Cassette Culture too. I saw my name mentioned on it one day and posted a message expressing my surprise as I’d heard I was dead!
I was wondering whether you will ever again make available the M.M.A.T.T. music through the internet.
Mick Magic: Absolutely, yes. First thing up will be a second edition of “Creavolution” with a couple of extras. That’s easy because it’s digital anyway. There are four vintage MMATT tracks that were digitised for release on French and German labels too, so I can make them available again simply. Then I need to learn about new technology (how DO you connect an Edison Cylinder Player to a USB port?) to be able to begin the conversion process of our analogue archives, but it will happen, sure. I hope to digitise at least sample tracks from much of the wider M&E catalogue too, just to make available as free mp3 downloads from The Magic Net. I must keep mentioning it publicly so I fully commit myself to doing it!!!
What does the future hold for Mick Magic, and, is there anything additional you would like to add?
Mick Magic: The undiscovered country, it’s the journey I’m just about to embark on…
Thank you very much for this interview, Mick. It was truly a pleasure and we appreciate you taking the time to fill in a slice from the underground movement’s past with the world of today.