Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dominic Roskrow 91

I dug this article out after a conversation with ex-pat Andrew Dubber, who has crossed paths with Dominic Roskrow, now a reknowned whisky reviewer and writer. 

Dubber remembers Roskrow as a music journo at the Herald "...with whom I never, ever agreed – at first, as a matter of taste, and then, as time went on, as a matter of principle." He even wrote a piece in 2007 on how he bought records based on Roskow's reaction: "It got to the point that for quite a few years I was able to buy a record entirely unheard simply because Dominic Roskrow had hated it."

Now, Dubber is also a whisky blogger and he wrote in that piece "Just wait till I know a thing or two, and I’ll be happy to cross imaginary swords with Dominic Roskrow again." 

And then he did meet Roskrow, at a whisky event in Scotland in late 2010. They bonded over a mutual love of the music of Shayne Carter, after Roskrow had rumbled Dubber for his earlier post. "Dominic and I got on very well together indeed… which is just as well, really – because on day two, they gave us weapons...." 

Roskrow popped up on Twitter recently when Dubber and I were discussing that era, and mentioned he still had the interview I did with him. He's on Twitter here: @Whiskytasting.

From Stamp magazine, July 1991 by Peter McLennan

Dominic Roskrow: The Last Word

So, the Herald's infamous rock writer is leaving - a nation of black jerseyed Stamp readers rejoice loudly. But just who is Dominic Roskrow , and who the hell does he think he is? Well few people in this town even know what he looks like, a bit of an enigmatic figure, really. By the time you read this he will have jumped ship - yes folks, Dominic gets the last word.

This interview may enlighten you to his views, confirm your worst fears, or just plain upset you. Ah, ain't opinions fun? First big question, what suburb do you live in Dominic? "Grey Lynn." Well, there's that mystery solved.

He got his start in journalism at the Sheffield Star in England, moving into music reviews, came to New Zealand to work on the Sun, took over the Entertainment section and when that folded, moved to the Herald after Colin Hogg's departure. He's been here nearly four years now, so what made him leave his native land?

"Well, the mining strike killed off Sheffield as a community, I saw a lot of what I believed in destroyed, I was very disillusioned - the Sun advertised, I got the job, came here for six months, and stayed."

He arrived here already a fan of New Zealand music: "I got into REM, Thin White Rope, picked up on Aussie guitar bands, Hoodoo Gurus, Go Betweens, the Triffids, then it wasn't a big step to be given a Chills album, then I wanted the Verlaines - I imported a lot through a record shop in Sheffield, so I came here quite knowledgeable, I've always been fond of it.

“I think it was very hard to be accepted by people in the music scene - I never claimed to always get it right, I never claimed the way I approach my journalism was always right, I said this is how I do it, and my opinion is it's right and and your opinion is just as valid if it's not.

“You can't divorce what I do from what Graham Reid does, because we play off each others strengths - he's very knowledgeable about local music, its history, and I know more of what's happening with music overseas. We sit down each week, as a policy, and decide whats going to be covered, and if Graham wasn't there I would've done it,and could've done it, it's just he's better at it."

What changes has he seen in local music during his time here? "I've seen the rock scene break down barriers, the fact that Push Push will play with the Nixons and MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave is a big step up. In the heavy-rock scene, an area I checked out when I first got here, it's exciting to see bands like Push Push starting to identify a New Zealand sound within the genre, and I think New Zealand has got over its inverted snobbery toward heavy rock music - 'cos ' like it or not, those people are dedicated, they work hard at it, and even if it's not to everyone's taste, I think it's patronising to assume it can't be important. And the traditional viewof Flying Nun as electric folkies is finally going - perhaps the biggest change is people here are more open minded than when I first came here".

Now, here's where we put ol' Dom on the spot. What do you think of Stamp?

"Well, I think it's great that Stamp has got people going out and seeing new bands. I read every word of your magazine, cos as far as I'm concerned that's where the filtering process begins.

“Someone from the Stamp crowd once stopped me in the street outside Cause Celebre on Xmas eve last year and harangued me - they said shouldn't I be going out and breaking new bands and wasn't that my job? No it's not, that's the job of the Stamps, Monitors etc.

“Of course every journalist wants to be first to break a new band, but there's only one of me, and even if I did see everything, the Herald wouldn't publish it. I also know that there are people out there whose opinion is a lot more on the ball than mine is these days. At the same time I think Stamp should get past its problem of having to impress a certain number of people. I read the REM review in the last issued and it's an apology for liking a record, and I can't understand that.

“I think to be opinionated is great. Having to apologise for something is ridiculous, and I'm not having a go there, ifts just that Stamp is respected, and it should be opinionated - it can be opinionated about me, that's fine, but it can't be opinionated about REM without worrying what someone's friends think."

How do you feel about the term 'Roskrowed' entering popular usage? 

"I'm flattered. I've always taken issue with the term as its usage implies that I missed support bands and that isn't what happened. I didn't review support bands and thats a totally different thing. I find it funny though, the number of times I saw other people Roskrow, I think other writers do it more than I do. The fundamental difference between Stamp, Rip It Up and the Herald is that I only have twelve paragraphs, on an average of thirty words a paragraph. Now you tell me you can do justice to a band in three paragraphs or less - I don't think you can do it."

I suggest that for local bands, failing to get a mention at an overseas support, a high point in their career, is very disheartening.

"I accept that, after that point was made to me on BFM, I started to introduce the name of the support band on the heading, but it's very patronising to review an overseas band and at the bottom to add, oh one of our bands supported them. If you go over the support bands, a high numberof them have been reviewed in the Herald.

“You see, when people say they want to be mentioned in print, what they mean is they want to have a good review in print. If I see a good band supporting an international act, I will try and go and see them and review them in their own right. This argument goes round and round, people will go 'sure, but they were playing with an international act and should be recognised as such'. I choose not to. There's no right or wrong on it. I'm under pressure from the Herald's editorial policy to be reasonably populist, the restrictions, whether they're fair or not, are there.''

Dominic Roskrow, 1991. Photo: Stamp/Sonoma Message

As for live coverage after Dominic departs, who can tell? "The live reviewing side is a freelance job, I'm paid separately to do that, it's extra to what I do - my replacement Jill Graham works shifts on the news desk, and I at least had every night free, so I really hope live coverage stays, but there will probably be a period of readjustment.

“The old school journos at the Herald do not see music as a valid art form, they say to me 'what you're doing is promotional work, and lets face it, it's not very important stuff anyway'. And that's not the view of the editor and the features editor, who are very supportive. Every word we write has to be checked and approved. Mention drugs, big issue! I got pulled to pieces on a story I wrote on the Happy Mondays earlier this year, I was told the managing director was livid, that was the word they used. So it's hard.

'Rock criticism in this country |has improved a lot, I still think it needs to be more cocky. I read someone like Nick D'Angelo - he's opinionated and I take great offence at what he says- but I always read it because it's great entertainment and I think that we still have to understand that in rock journalism, at the end of the day it's entertainment - sure, it's important to the bands, important that it's taken seriously - but a very high proportion of the public aren't interested in po-faced journalism. It's the ability to accept where the job ends and where the entertainment begins.

“All anyone should ask for is that their rock critic is liked or disliked as critics, and not as people. I mean, people who'll never met me can't say what I'm like. For example, when I first met my girlfriend Natalie, she told someone that she'd met me, and she was told that I was a womaniser, she wouldn't last ten minutes with me, and I was someone to have no respect for. But I didn't know this, and I met these people sometime later and knew nothing of it, sat down and chatted, had a good time, and they later admitted to Natalie that they were totally wrong about me.

''I don't like that bitching behind the back scene, it's really destructive - it's bigger of someone to say 'we've got nothing against you but I dont like your writing'. I just hope the Butthole Surfers really do put their review on the cover of their next record.

''In this country I still think that if you climb out of the trenches, (and I hate using war analogies) you'll find most of the bullets come from behind. Its like, the only time you hear this term chart hype is when a local band gets in the charts - 'do you really think they sold that many records?' You never hear that when John Smith from England goes top ten, but as soon as it's a local band...''

In recent months, your reviews have been getting more extreme - either unqualified praise or hellfire and damnation - what's going on, Dominic?

"See I'm free now so as far as I'm concemed I can openly say exactly what I like about bands, I'm probably more opinionated now that I'm leaving than I've ever been. I think I've got as far down the road as I'm going to, and I'm aware that without going more over the top, I'm in danger of repeating myself - I find myself looking at my use of words and saying hey I said that weeks ago or whatever.

“I think I've started to lose the passion for what I do in terms of writing, I'm not enjoying music as much as I did, I'm looking forward to listening to music as a fan, rather than having to write about it. So when I come back, I'll come back as a fan, and I'll actually pay to get into bands.

"The other thing is, and I have to say this, all I've ever done - I don't care if people accept this or not - but I've always fought very hard to make sure there was a certain amount of integrity in the music scene - and what we're battling against is a corporatism of rock, to the point where journalists are meant to be under record company promotional guidelines.

"I'm very disillusioned with the way music these days is treated as a product and the people who work in the music industry (with some notable exceptions and I always say that 'cos I always get in trouble with this comment), those people don't love music, they don't go out and see bands, they're people who, if you're not doing them a favour by giving them a good review - they're not really interested in you. They are people who go home at six o'clock to a life that has nothing to do with music.

“I have an admiration for Stamp, 'cos they are people who care. Deep down, whatever these people have said about me at Stamp, the reason they've done it is cos they genuinely care, and that to me is the most important thing of all.''

What bought about your decision to depart?

''My reasons for going are personal ones, I need to spend time with my family, but I'll be back in New Zealand within the year. I'm passionately anti-Thatcher (even though she's gone), I've been back three times now, each time seeing my England drift away from me.

“It really dawned on me when - well, I've always been a snob about France, typical English, and last time I was back, I went to Paris, and it wasn't just seeing my girlfriend that made Paris, it was the Parisians, talking to them about nuclear policy, the Pacific, very friendly people. I made the effort to speak French, and the only time I was unhappy during my whole holiday was in Normandy, a group of young English tourists came through, they were beer nasties, out to drink and pillage - I know it's foreigners abroad and all that, but I looked at them and I refused to speak English, and it was like a small version of Dances with Wolves.

“When I was in Paris I thought, one; I do want to come back to Europe for a while; and, two, I do want to break my links with England so I can make my home in New Zealand. Maybe I'm over the top 'cos I'm leaving and I'm a bit emotional about is all; I sometimes think some people don't believe it... they say 'wow, you're so lucky to be going' and I am, I choose to go, I dont have to. There are things I have to do over there, and that's so I can come back here and break that link once and for all."

Say goodbye, wave hello.

No comments: