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Roy Carr obituary

Roy Carr, music journalist

Born 1945, died July 1 2018

Roy Carr, who has died aged 73, was much more than a music journalist. While he applied his encyclopaediac knowledge of all genres across almost half a century of writing for the major publications of each era, Carr opened the doors of perception to generations of curiously-eared listeners through compilations of the sounds themselves. This was done during his long-term tenure at NME during Britain’s premiere music weekly’s post-punk peak, when it could shift more than 200,000 copies.

The series of what would be more than thirty NME cassettes began with C81, which was produced in association with the Rough Trade label, and aimed to capture a market who listened to music on their new portable Walkman cassette players. The tape featured a roster that included Scritti Politti, The Raincoats and the Red Crayola, as well as tracks by Orange Juice, Josef K and Aztec Camera, all luminaries of the Glasgow-based Postcard Records. It was a perfect snapshot of the UK’s DIY musical underground made even better because it only cost the price of postage and packaging.

While compilations of new material were key to the series, which included the seminal C-86 cassette that sparked a new DIY revolution, it was arguably the accompanying genre-based archive releases, meticulously compiled by Carr, that mattered more. As they introduced a new, anything-goes generation to the delights of blues, jazz, soul, country and reggae, they were mind-expandingly educational even as they set the tone for the numerous archive releases that are now commonplace.

In today’s landscape where pretty much every obscurity can be accessed at the click of a mouse through downloads and Spotify playlists, the idea of having to cut out and collect six coupons over as many weeks before being able to send away for the NME cassettes seems archaic. Add on the twenty-eight days delivery time, and it’s easy to recognise why they were treasured when they finally arrived.   

Roy Carr was born in Blackpool, and was exposed to music from early age through his father, Tony Carr, who was a member of Joe Loss’ Orchestra, and who composed the woozily rambunctious March of the Mods. The tune was covered by Carr’s own band, The Executives, who cut nine singles between 1964 and 1969, including the vogueish Tracy Takes a Trip, which was banned by BBC Radio 1 in 1968.

The Executives supported the Rolling Stones in Blackpool, a show that turned ugly after an altercation between Stones guitarist Keith Richards and members of the audience. The incident didn’t stop Carr giving the band’s sprawling 1972 double album, Exile on Main Street, a rave review where others dismissed it as an indulgent mess. Some Executives tracks have popped up on compilations of psychedelic rarities that might well have been influenced by Carr’s own genre-based collections.

As a writer, Carr had begun penning reviews for Jazz News in the early 1960s before becoming a freelance contributor to the New Musical Express. He became a staff writer in 1970, a crucial time in the paper’s history as it attempted to absorb the energy of the 1960s underground press and become something more than a pop industry fluff sheet.

Carr interviewed the likes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, the latter of whom he kept a poster of on his office wall. He also penned a gossip column called Hello Sailor. Carr’s forensic eye for historical detail combined with a dry wit led to him writing or co-writing several of the Illustrated Records series of books. Presented in a large-size format that resembled a 12” record, the books gave detailed critical commentary on an artist’s recorded output as well as historical information in lavishly illustrated editions.

Carr co-wrote volumes on the Beatles with Tony Tyler (1975), David Bowie with Charles Shaar Murray (1981) and Elvis Presley with Mick Farren (1982), with a 1976 book on the Rolling Stones a solo venture. Other books included Fleetwood Mac: Rumours n’ Fax (1979), The Hip: Hipsters, Jazz and the Beat Generation (1987), with Brian Case and Fred Dellar; Jazz on CD (1995), with Tony Russell; Beatles at the Movies (1996); A Century of Jazz (1997) and A Talk on the Wild Side (2010). Carr was also a prolific writer of record sleeve-notes for labels that included Blue Note and Chess.

As a long-standing NME staffer, Carr was made an executive editor of IPC publications, also overseeing Melody Maker and Vox magazine. Carr left IPC in the mid noughties, and coming full circle, for the last fourteen years wrote for Jazzwise magazine. His wealth of experience, in-depth knowledge and first-hand experience of the likes of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix was a journalistic goldmine that is impossible to replace.

The Herald, July 12th 2018


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