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The Wool City Rocker

I left Bradford in 1968 to start a three-year stint at Birmingham University where I took a degree in Industrial Metallurgy. While I was a student, I lived first in digs in Station Road, Kings Heath, later moving into a flat on Gaddesby Road before taking up long-term residence in a top-floor flat in Queenswood Road, Moseley. Known simply as The Village, Moseley was the coolest of places to live. It was the hub of a thriving Birmingham music scene – youthful, multicultural, drug-fuelled, alcohol-driven, and teeming with flat-dwelling musicians, artists and poets

I was still living in my Moseley flat in 1976. Punk was beginning and, between that Autumn and the following Spring, I went to gigs and saw The Clash, The Slits, The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Nightingales, Spizz 77, The Vibrators, The Adverts and others. And I was buying punk singles and EPs along with early fanzines such as Sniffin Glue, Ripped and Torn and Brum Beat.

In the summer of 1977, with my then partner, Kay Russell, I left Birmingham and returned to my Yorkshire hometown, Bradford.

We’d taken out bank loans to buy 5 Beech Terrace in Undercliffe, narrow Victorian mid-terrace perched precariously on a hillside overlooking the city. Here, two years later, Kay and I formed the band Ulterior Motives and, inspired by fanzines, launched our own mag, The Wool City Rocker.

Wool City Rocker #2
Wool City Rocker #3
Wool City Rocker #4

Our decision to start a monthly local music zine, stemmed from the fact that the ‘proper’ music press was paying scant attention to the exciting explosion of live music in northern cities, not least Bradford which had a thriving rock scene using dozens of venues. At one of these venues, Chicago Express, a pizza restaurant-cum-take-away that hosted bands some evenings, just weeks before we formed Ulterior Motives, Kay & I had performed as a duo supporting Bradford’s first punk band, The Negatives.

What they all needed was an energetic local magazine to promote them and their gigs. And, in a pre-internet and pre-mobile phone world, Bradford music fans needed just such a mag to inform them about bands and gigs. And the Bradford venues, recording studios, record shops and musical instrument shops needed publicity via a mag like ours too. And we needed their adverts to keep the magazine both viable and cheap.

Wool City Rocker #1

Other bands were springing up around us. One street up from Beech Terrace was Hustler Street, home to the Hustler Street Band who’d soon change their name to New Model Army. A couple of miles away on the other side for the city centre lived the members of a punk band called Violation who were soon to evolve into Southern Death Cult from which would come The Cult, then Fun-da-mental and then Detrimental. But there were dozens of other bands – punk, post-punk, indie, pub-rock, metal, hard rock, blues, jazz-funk, reggae, ska and more – almost all of them writing their own material, making demos and releasing singles on their own labels.

Wool City Rocker #5
Wool City Rocker #6
Wool City Rocker #7
Stan Engel Wool City Rocker cartoon 1

From December 1979 until the summer of 1981 Nick Toczek edited the seminal northern music zine, The Wool City Rocker. Here’s his account of its rise and fall…

No.1, the pilot edition, appeared in December 1979 and featured nine Bradford bands alongside news, reviews, adverts, gig listings and the first of a wonderful series of cartoons by my friend and one-time literary colleague Stan Engel. (N.B. The cartoons which illustrate this piece are a few of the many he did for the magazine).

Stan lived a few streets from me in Undercliffe and, like me, he was writing witty and political poetry which he wanted to perform. We decided to gig together, met in a local pub, The Green Man, to think up a name for our duo, but ended up just playing darts and getting drunk. It was only after closing time that we came up with a name while queuing in the Asian take-away. We became Two Blokes Who Like Curries. And duly found ourselves listed as such in the gig guides of the UK music weeklies – Sounds, New Musical Express and Melody Maker

Stan Engel Wool City Rocker mind rock cartoon
Wool City Rocker #8
Wool City Rocker #11
Wool City Rocker #14

We even got booked by Lancaster Literature Festival as the warm-up act for playwright and novelist, Alan Bennett. Several years later, John Walters who was famed as the producer of the BBC’s flagship indie-band radio programme, The John Peel Show, published a list of his top-twenty all-time favourite band names. Two Blokes Who Like Curries were at No.7!

The first band in that first Wool City Rocker was Violation. Another featured band was Vex. Their guitarist, Dave Pickard, later played for a while in Ulterior Motives and once reminded me of something I’d forgotten. This was that Vex’s drummer, Steve Sidelnyk, drummed for one gig with Ulterior Motives. If that’s correct, it’s a claim-to-fame. Sidelnyk would go on to become Bradford’s most successful musician, serving as drummer  and/or percussionist on albums by Dido, Annie Lennox, Seal, Richard Ashcroft, David Grey, Orbital, Primal Scream, Massive Attack, Julian Lennon, PJ Harvey, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, ABC, The Rolling Stones and many others. He went to live in The States where, for more than ten years, he was the drummer in Madonna’s band… not bad for a Bradford lad!

Stan Engel Wool City Rocker punkoutant cartoon
Wool City Rocker #14 Flexi Disc

By the time issue 2 appeared, Kay and I had split up and so I became sole editor from issue 3 onwards. By then, it had expanded to cover the whole of West Yorkshire. By issue 9, it would cover all of Yorkshire and, by issue 12, the north of England.

Because typesetting was prohibitively expensive, the first few issues were hand-written, a slow and painstaking process. These were twenty-page A4 editions, each selling at 30p. Later issues would be a mixture of hand-written and typed text, eventually with partial typesetting.

Gradual improvements saw a growing body of contributors (including a second cartoonist, the excellent Kev Hopgood), a cautious move from black-and-white to the use of coloured paper and print, better artwork and even free flexi-discs (with issues 12 and 14).

Throughout 1980, the mag appeared monthly (with issue 8 a double for August/September, as was issue 11 which covered December 1980 and January 1981). Issue 12 (February 1981) was the last monthly edition. issue 13 eventually appeared in late Spring 1981 with me struggling to find the funds to pay for its printing. And issue 14, out in Summer 1981, was the last to be published. I did actually complete issue 15, but couldn’t afford to publish it.

Indie magazines of this kind are hard work. Gathering material, editing, layout, drumming up sufficient paid advertising to cover costs, sorting out printing, handling distribution, collecting sales revenue and all else becomes a 24/7 occupation  that demands obsessive dedication. Such mags seldom last more than a few issues. I did three thousand copies of each edition and personally sold most of them around venues night after night… great times, but finally just too exhausting.

Kay went on to have a hit single, ‘Twilight Café’, with The Susan Fassbender Band which led to a Top of The Pops appearance and a UK tour supporting Judie Tzuke. I carried on with my work as a poet and performer. Thirty-five years after I gave up producing it, a full set of issues of The Wool City Rocker sold for a couple of hundred quid on Ebay.  If you’re not that rich, you can still check out all the issues by simply going to Nogsy’s wonderful fanzine website, Essential Ephemera.

Nick Toczek, May 2018

Stan Engel Wool City Rocker lift cartoon
Wool City Rocker #15

The cover of Wool City Rocker 15 which never made it into print. This is the first time it's been published. Note that it was going to be free because advertisements virtually covered production costs. Watch this website for more pages of this collectors' item!

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