Editor’s note: Michael Hunter is a Green Man staffer and the Editor of Fiddlestix, the Australian fanzine for the band Fairport Convention. He was interviewed for Green Man by Debbie Skolnik.
GMR: Michael, how did Fiddlestix get started?
Michael Hunter: The year was 1985 – practically a previous life, really. But then as now, I was the collecting type, largely of anything musically related – LPs, cassettes, videos and magazines (this was pre-CD and PC). Until I lost interest in it a few years later, I regularly picked up the latest New Musical Express (NME) every week. I say “the latest” but it was shipped here seamail and always 3 months late. No matter, I still collected and kept them “just in case.” Good thing too, because this one particular day I was looking through back issues from the late 70s when I came across a small mention of a cassette of previously unreleased Fairport Convention material. I had already been a fan of the band for a number of years and had most of their albums and the prospect of this tape of rarities was too good to resist.
The tape was Heyday, a collection of BBC performances from 1968-69, and was yet to be reissued by Hannibal. The little NME plug had an address to write to, which I figured would probably be out of date, so I tried the address on the cover of the Fairport live album Moat On The Ledge. This turned out to be the address for the band’s own label, Woodworm Records. Before long, I got a reply from Chris Pegg (Dave’s wife), letting me know that (a) the cassette was still available from “Ashley Hutchings’ ex-wife,” that is, Shirley Collins, who handwrote the track listing for each tape, and (b) there was a Friends Of Fairport (FoF) in the UK, who put out a magazine called The Ledge,” in which I might be interested. The result was, firstly, I got the cassette and secondly, I wrote off to The Ledge address.
Martyn Kenney, who ran the UK FoF then, sent me a free copy, which impressed me enough to start thinking that perhaps there was room for another local version of a Fairport fanzine.
It was good to know I wasn’t alone in the world with my love of folk-rock, and the idea of finding local similarly minded people was incentive enough to try. I was also given the address of the US fanzine Fairport Fanatics, put together with good humour by TJ McGrath, who was encouraging and helpful in my attempts to get a ‘zine off the ground. Over time, Fairport Fanatics was transformed into the glossy magazine Dirty Linen, which is another story entirely.
The name Fiddlestix was chosen by what I suspect is a fairly standard method for people putting together fan magazines – you look through the album collection until you find a song title which either feels right or is somehow appropriate to what you are doing. The fact that “Fiddlestix” (AKA “The Devil In The Kitchen”)
was a rare Fairport track which was only released in Australia seemed to clinch it. And so with articles mostly pinched from The Ledge and Fairport Fanatics, Fiddlestix #1 was born in Spring 1985.
GMR: How did you publicize it and distribute it when you first started putting it out?
MH: Luckily, I managed to get the mag mentioned on a national folk radio show “Sunday Folk” on ABC-FM (I forget which day it was on) by its host, David Mulhallen. I got a few enquiries from that, not the least being John Penhallow.
John was in fact FC’s very first manager back in the mid-60s and he started off writing “Sydney Reports” for F’stix. Before long, he started to compile the original “Attic Tracks” cassette from unreleased tapes of Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas kept in storage in Trevor’s attic. This was released in 1989. Three more such tapes were released over the next few years, and a compilation CD released by Raven Records in Australia and Special Delivery in the UK. John, along with Elizabeth Hurtt-Lucas (Trevor’s second wife) also started FoF Music By Mail, a CD mail-order company focusing on folk and folk-rock.
I also got it mentioned on a local folk radio program and was invited on to talk about it and play a lot of Fairport. One thing led to another and after a few more guest spots I became a regular presenter. Then both the other presenters left and I have been doing the show myself for the last 12 years!
Distribution, then and now, is purely by good old Australia Post. I’ve left copies in local record shops occasionally, but generally, it’s been word of mouth. It’s purely at a fanzine level (a professionally-minded fanzine, I hasten to add!) which means it wouldn’t be stocked by magazine distributors, even if I could afford such things.
GMR: What was the original format – a typed couple of pages, etc.?
MH: Pretty much. Issue 1 was 10 pages, photocopied on one side, A4 size.
GMR: How has it evolved over time? Not just physical layout, but content.
MH: Now, it is A5 size (smaller but fits in more pages, an average of 20-24). I like to include as much original stuff as possible (as opposed to the first issue being mainly reprints). Interviews I do for dB Magazine here locally are also very usable for F’stix, and go to a more global audience (wow, that sounds impressive!). So we’ve had interviews I’ve done with people like Dave Swarbrick, Simon Nicol, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie, Ian Anderson, Maddy Prior, Martin Carthy, Loudon Wainwright, Maire Brennan, etc., go into F’stix; something I never would have thought possible when it began!
I also like to include discographies of Fairport and related acts. Some of these I’ve done from scratch, but most are updated adaptations of the excellent discographies put together by David Suff of Fledg’ling Records.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the inclusion of old press clippings about FC – I like the mag to give a good historical perspective to the band’s work, and old album reviews and the like from the music press are an effective way to give that perspective.
As I like to say, it is not a glossy magazine, but a fanzine with heart and soul, to match the music it covers.
GMR: Does anyone else besides you write for Fiddlestix?
MH: I have some regular helpers. Gordon Mignot, another Sydneysider like John Penhallow, was an early recruit. He has written many concert reviews, including a couple of Cropredys, and takes very good photos too. John O’Regan from Ireland has contributed the odd article on Irish folk and folk-rock (he also writes for GMR and magazines like Rock ‘n’ Reel). John Penhallow still contributes the occasional report. With his permission, we have used a couple of articles by Karl Dallas (legendary UK folk writer); he suggested he may write the odd article for F’stix but would prefer to focus on the paying work first, which seems fair!
For a few years, we had a resident tape trader, Don Reis from Queensland; with so many live tapes of FC and Friends floating around, Don was the central person to trade through, all for the love of the music – no money ever changed hands. Unfortunately, ill-health put a stop to that a few years ago. And Paul Shepherd (member of Adelaide group The Borderers, amongst others) is my Editorial Assistant, helping out with various technological issues – like helping me with scanning photos and the like.
It still amazes me to think that, over time, a fanzine which started life a little unsure of itself and its purpose has managed to achieve more than just the issue of a quarterly magazine. It has engendered the release of rare Fairport-related material with the Attic Tracks series, and indeed the Fairport compilation album Fiddlestix which was compiled by John Penhallow is effectively the CD of the magazine! More recently (with the Adelaide leg of Fairport’s 1999 Australian tour) the impressively titled “Fiddlestix Promotions” came into being.
Dave Kelly and Steve Jones joined Paul Shepherd and me in becoming the local promoters for the band. It was surreal but very pleasant to see the phrase “Fiddlestix Presents Fairport Convention” on the advertising and tickets!
GMR: Where do you get the info you put into it? Just keeping your eyes and ears open? Do you get “official” or “semi-official communiques” from the Peggs?
MH: A lot of it is gathered from the Web nowadays, with the advantage that the magazine doesn’t need to be plugged in and keeps the information in a permanent hard-copy format. Articles are written especially for F’stix by myself or any of the others mentioned above. There are also articles from the afore-mentioned dB magazine, and finally, there are clippings from my and others’ collections. The band is well aware of the mag but are too busy to contribute directly (Peggy commented as such during a chat earlier this year).
GMR: I hear that Fiddlestix now has its own Web site. Is it to be a subscribers-only site, or, like the Dirty Linen site (when I last looked at it), have some information from the magazine available to the public, but some content available only to paying subscribers?
MH: It is open to all, but I will probably only mention what is in the latest issue as opposed to making it downloadable, because, frankly, F’stix is put together on half a shoestring and I’d like people to actually subscribe so I can afford to print the thing! The site will also have general information about the mag, a list of back issues and links to other sites of interest.
[Update: Fiddlestix alas, is no more, but Michael Hunter now hosts Roots And Branches, an online and on-air folk music program. Dirty Linen, which you can read about here, is also now defunct.]