A Hidden Landscape
Once A Week

“This book is a celebration, a critique, a discussion, a history, a conversation, an intriguing read, and a catalogue of possibilities — what more could you want?” —Rupert Loydell, IT magazine

“… part scrupulous critical analysis, and part grateful love-letter to bygone music weeklies” —Andrew Male, MOJO

“… a story about intellectual openings, the wiring of politics into culture and a cohort of writers gloriously convinced of the world-historical importance of music” —Yohann Koshy, Frieze

“Sinker’s anthology eschews any straightforward path and we encounter many culs-de-sacs, steep turns and surprising vistas”
Colm McAuliffe, The Quietus

“In the past I’ve read Sinker cover everything from experimental noise music to the Spice Girls, and he always meets his subjects with a critical generosity and a desire to interrogate but also revel in contradictions”
Eugene Brennan, The Irish Times

Out at last! Available from Strange Attractor or place an order in your best local bookshop!
(£15.99, PB 392pp, ISBN 9781907222634)

With cover and illustrations by the great Savage Pencil, A Hidden Landscape Once A Week: The Unruly Curiosity of the UK Music Press in the 1960s-80s, in the words of those who were there is an anthology of conversations and commentary from the heyday of British music writing. Contributors include Val Wilmer, Richard Williams, David Toop, Bob Stanley, Jon Savage, Cynthia Rose, the late Penny Reel, Liz Naylor, Charles Shaar Murray, Paul Morley, Paul Gilroy, Simon Frith and many others.

In May 2015 at Birkbeck College I ran a conference that brought together writers, editors and readers of the underground and trade music presses of the 1970s and 80s, including many of the above, to discuss the emergence and evolution of the countercultural voice in the UK, as inflected through the music papers between these dates. Edited extracts of proceedings form the core of this companion to the conference, alongside additional memoirs, essays and thoughts from participants and others. (A full list of panels can be found here.)

The conference, about an emergent counter-politics in 1968-85, was interesting and timely: the book throws its net wider… or perhaps simply defines politics in a more provocative and inclusive way. Full of valuable stories and perspectives, it’s a sketch-map to how we got from there (the past) to here (the present).

I’m really proud of all aspects of it, and delighted to have worked with such a stellar crowd: many thanks to the all the contributors, to Savage Pencil for his illustrations, to Mark Pilkington and Strange Attractor for shepherding me through it and delivering such a handsome object, to Val Wilmer, Penny Reel and Liz Naylor for letting us film them in their homes, Psyche Thompson for camerawork, make-up and wise advice, Birkbeck for staging the conference (special mention to Esther Leslie, Joe Brooker and everyone who chaired a panel), Rock's Back Pages for help with contacts, Ed Baxter at Resonance Radio, the journal Music and Letters for a grant to enable recording and transcription, Katie Grocott Murdoch for the lettering on the original mock-up cover, Tim Hopkins for his small-press expertise, Steve Mannion for website advice and design, everyone who attended the conference (on stage and in the audience), and all friends, relatives and colleagues for their input and support during the project (which has taken longer than anticipated).

The book was made possible by a a successful Kickstarter in July 2016, and thanks are also due to the Kickstarter pledgers!

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“[T]he ‘unruly curiosity’ of the book’s subtitle turns out to be a pertinent phrase. The majority of writers and critics here are still both unruly and curious, still want to be heard, still listen to and write about music, still think about popular culture, still demand more than what is often offered to consumers.”
Rupert Loydell, IT magazine

“[T]he real delight is Sinker’s dissection of this history with enthusiasm and rigour, refusing to accept a single defining narrative yet revelling in this chaotic golden age”
Andrew Male, MOJO (print only)

“[The book] doesn’t provide a linear history of the era but presents us with an anthology of conversations and essays… [which] produces a kind of conceptual clarity; the method of historical reconstruction reflects the unruliness of the object. Sinker sets out to follow the trajectories of the music press not as a spurious whole but one that is fissured by historical fault lines”
Colm McAuliffe, The Quietus

“These were the publications that convinced Sinker to become a music writer. Or, rather, that music would be his way into writing about the world. ‘What was good about these papers was that they covered all these different areas and made them accessible. So, a reader would come in to read about punk or rock but go out knowledgeable about cinema or newly aware of black radical politics. I found that enormously exciting,’ he says.”
Yohann Koshy, Frieze

“Sinker [frames] this two-decade history of the music press… as a ‘tale of counter-colonial curiosity after the end of empire’, [and] sets out the right questions for this volume, and beyond. Questions such as ‘Who gets to speak?’ and ‘Did we really eradicate the impulse to empire in ourselves?’”
Eugene Brennan, The Irish Times

Chris Charlesworth, at Melody Maker for some of the times covered, talks about them and the book on his blog, Just Backdated: “The thing was, unlike today, the weeklies exerted a powerful influence over taste: the record labels needed us more than we needed them, so after a bit of grumbling they always came back.”

“[A] volume – tetchy, dissensual, quizzical – that tries to make sense of why so many young and mostly idealistic men and women gravitated towards the financially thankless world of music writing (…) Given the territory it covers – periodical culture, shifting utopias, sexual and racial politics, the journey from 60s liberalism to Thatcherism – A Hidden Landscape could easily have been double its length. Music criticism is by no means dead, but Sinker’s volume is an invigorating reminder of a time when music criticism – yo-yo-ing between the competing appeal of the mainstream and the underground – could plausibly serve as cultural criticism.”
Sukhdev Sandhu, The Wire (print only)

(And three extracts from the conference transcripts also at The Wire, featuring Paul Morley, Barney Hoskyns and Jonh Ingham, Liz Naylor and Edwin Pouncey aka Savage Pencil, and Cynthia Rose, Simon Frith, Paul Gilroy and the late Penny Reel…)

A long extract from my intro to the book is up at Longreads: “I had a head full of ideas about what music should and shouldn’t be, and was intensely willing to argue about them.”

Tony Stewart’s essay “The Look is as Important as the Noise”, about his time as deputy editor of NME, is up at popmatters: “The photographers at NME should never be under-estimated. If the writers signposted the way to the soundtrack of a generation, the photographers provided the showreel.”

Plus a Q&A by me up at the MIT blog: “Western pop feels like it’s stalled—of course there are new stars, and some of them are great, but where new styles and fashions once flashed by, a new movement or trend every couple of years or so, today it feels as if we can’t escape the gravity of the 1990s; as if pop culture and rock sound somehow got stuck then. Among many other things, this book looks at what led up to the 1990s — with hints at what got lost that might have made a difference. How do we rebuild trust? And how do we get things on the move again as we do that?”  

Extracts and discussions:

  • Contributor Ian Ravendale discuss the book with me on youtube (via my Patreon, which you should support!)
  • The Rock's Backpages podcast invited me on as a guest to talk about the book (scroll down)
  • The Wire ran three nice extracts from the panel conversations
  • Longreads ran a nice long extract from my intro
  • popmatters ran Tony Stewart’s essay about NME as an extract: “The Look is as Important as the Noise”
  • Rock's Backpages ran a short extract from my intro (no overlap with extract above, sub needed tho)
  • The Portuguese magazine ípsilon ran a piece on it (subscription only, in Portuguese)
  • Philadelphia’s City Pages ran a piece by me on book and project