Word magazine was launched in 2003 by three people I’d worked alongside or under at the magazine publisher Emap in the 1990s, so when they came knocking about contributing to a brand new magazine for grown-ups who were past the age where “cool” mattered but not yet past the age where music and other cultural stuff mattered, I jumped at the chance.
Those men were David Hepworth and Jerry Perkins, both disillusioned execs at Emap who fancied breaking out on their own, with a boutique, independent publisher, which they called Development Hell, and Mark Ellen, editor of Word until its sad demise this morning. Between them, these men had worked on everything from Smash Hits and NME to Mojo and Heat, via Q, Empire, Raw, Mixmag and the perhaps less well remembered Neon. For them, it was like starting again.
For me, it was like writing for a music magazine I wanted to read. Word was run from a poky office in North London, sat poetically atop the building that housed the colour origination lab where we used to put Q magazine “to bed” in the small hours every month, have a curry and wait for the cab driver from Caerphilly to pick up all the colour films and take them off to be printed.
Some of the spirit of those hands-on, pre-internet days remained in Mark and Dave, as they put out a magazine that they wanted to read, and in doing so found a gap in the market where “Fifty Quid Man” was waiting to be served, but for a bunch of middle-aged dads, they were pretty interested in technology. Word embraced the iPod and the internet forum, and made its readership feel like club-members with its unpretentious, rambling weekly podcast, recorded in a cupboard and never short of breeze and tangential joy.
I would ask to guest on that podcast, rather than wait to be asked. It was like group therapy: to know that there are other people out there who think like you do, and voraciously consume telly, films, music and news. It seems impossible today to imagine that there won’t be a new podcast next week, or a copy of the magazine after next month’s, Word 114.
It was a job, but never felt like one, to write for Word. Mark, an ebullient fellow who comes late to most technological developments, a bit like David Dimbleby on Question Time, remains an instinctively brilliant editor of copy, and it was his insatiable appetite for ideas and angles and trends and lists and new ways to cut an old cake that kept us all going for nine years. Word had a lot of words in it. It also had some beautiful illustrations on its covers, which made it more like the New Yorker than Q.
It also allowed me to write a monthly column about whatever the hell was on my mind, which is something nobody else has ever done. When you are pigeonholed as a writer about films, or music, or TV, it’s liberating to be able to write about squirrel genocide, or militant atheism, or student apathy, or American politics.
I shall miss it terribly, and I won’t be alone. The Word “Massive”, that vital community of unpaid contributors who gathered around the forums and, of late, the gigs the magazine staged around the corner from the poky office, may not have been that massive, but they cared. They cared a lot.