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Episode 109 : Simon Reynolds on Melody Maker + Saint Etienne + Heaven 17 + Lee 'Scratch' Perry

6 September 2021

In this episode we're thrilled to host Simon Reynolds, beamed in from his adopted Southern California. One of the most outstanding music writers of the past three and a half decades, Simon talks to us about his formative pop years; his own early fanzines Margin and Monitor; and the sea-change he (and others) brought to Melody Maker in the late '80s.

Simon's fascinating and passionate Pitchfork piece "Worth Their Wait" (2014) is the springboard for a general discussion of the peak years of the MM, the NME and the general phenomenon of the UK's weekly music press. The conversation turns to what's been lost in the digital/internet era, but also what's been gained.

One of Simon's fellow Melody Maker scribes was Bob Stanley, which affords us the excuse to rhapsodise about Bob's neo-retro meta-pop trio Saint Etienne. With their latest album I've Been Trying To Tell You due for imminent release, Simon and Barney reminisce happily about the impact of their glorious 1991 debut Foxbase Alpha.

The week's new audio interview — Adam Blake's 1988 conversation with Heaven 17 — takes us even further back in pop time, to the Sheffield group's 40-year-old (and still highly impressive) Penthouse & Pavement album... and to a more general discussion of proto-electropop and the first edition of the Human League. We hear two clips of (mainly) Martyn Ware speaking: one about the challenges of Heaven 17 promoting themselves, the other about their scorn for the Top 40 radio fodder of the day (with particular venom reserved for Messrs. Stock, Aitken & Waterman). There's a brief but related digression on the previous week's audio, Steven Daly's 1990 interview with hitmaker-for-hire Diane Warren.

From there it's a not-so-seamless segue to the sad losses of maverick Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, with attendant discussions of dub & roots reggae — and of the central importance of Mr. Watts to everything that was great about peak-period Stones.

Mark talks us out with his thoughts on (and quotes from) new library pieces about Dylan at Forest Hills, Bowie at Winterland, Donna Summer and the Smiths, and Jasper concludes matters with remarks on St. Vincent and the wonderful cover of Marvin Gaye's I Want You.

Many thanks to special guest Simon Reynolds; find his blog at