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Sylvia Patterson: I’m Not With The Band

Eyewitness account of music journalism’s decline.

At the peak of Perth-born lapsed goth Sylvia Patterson’s late-80s tenure at Smash Hits, the title was regularly selling in excess of a million copies an issue. The prevailing pop scene that the magazine served was an uncommonly broad church, and each and every one of its parishioners, from Madonna to the Manics, U2 to Siouxsie Sioux, Prince to Milli Vanilli, understood the selling power of controversy.

As a consequence, interviewee tongues were loose, and even at the top of the A list, stars (expertly coaxed from any last vestige of their reticence by the effusive, fearless and fabulously shod Sylv) invariably spilt beans, entered into the spirit of increasingly surreal lines of questioning, gave good copy and kept the seven-figure customer satisfied.

Record company budgets soared with intoxicants fuelling the fun, and before you could say ‘Britpop’ our heroine – stumbling through a personal life best described as ‘chaotic’ – was doing it all over again in the nose-dusting 90s, at the NME.

Latterly, of course, spooked by the career-killing power of the bottom half of the internet and the red-top tabloids, celebrities (musical and otherwise) have either clammed up, been gagged by their scandal-wary handlers or cherry-picked for fame for their flat, opinion-free, anodyne personalities.

But Patterson has persevered in her relentless pursuit of sparkling copy, and her story is eminently readable. For, ultimately, Sylvia is almost always more attractive, engaging and interesting than the people she is commissioned to interview. And a great writer. I’m Not With The Band, meanwhile, is the best book about music writing you will ever read.