available june 2017 : eBook : iTunes

Vague : the Great British Mistake : 1979-84

intro by Jon Savage

"Reading through these back copies of Vague is to trip through time. The world that Tom Vague wrote about with a partisan passion has completely gone. That is to be expected, of course, as the events he described occurred between twenty-two and thirty-five years ago. Even so, there was so much I had forgotten about the 1980's - and, contrary to his assumed name - Tom brings it back with an engaged precision. He was there, and he communicates the eddies and the flows, the sub-currents of a time that is still misunderstood, is still barely known.

"Vague" began, as it happened, a few months after "England's Dreaming" left off: in the post-punk diaspora of late 1979. Turning nineteen years old in sunny Salisbury, Tom Vague began by featuring local punk bands as well as all the major acts that passed through or nearby - the Banshees, the Cure, the Ruts, Joy Division, Red Krayola, the Gang of Four, Clash, Adam and the Ants. It wasn't a pure punk fanzine - it was too late for that - but matched punk irreverence with the overall feeling of experimentation that still existed at the end of the 1970's.

Over the first few issues, "Vague" continued to work out the possibilities of independence - in all senses of the word - that had been pioneered in 1976 by Mark Perry (fanzines) and in 1977 by Buzzcocks and the Desperate Bicycles (seven inch records). The whole point about fanzines and DIY singles was that you didn't have to do what everyone else did. So "Vague" mixed up reviews with Perry Harris' cartoons and what Tom describes as 'stream of consciousness prose' that reflected the chaos and the intimacy of the moment.

Coming from a small, local scene, Tom Vague was used to rubbing up against all kinds of subcultures. In Salisbury, there was a mix of hippies, posers and punks, who, when they banded together, 'had to avoid bikers, Teds, rockabillies, squaddies, smoothies, etc.' There's an inclusive nature about the early Vague's which is very different from London's elitism. This translates into a freshness which makes the descriptions of Tom's prolonged road trips - following the Ants, the Death Cult, Xmal Deutschland - highly readable. He is open to experience.

One of the most shocking things to come out of this account of the early 1980's is the level of violence: full-blown audience fights in Cardiff, in High Wycombe, or at the 1980 Stonehenge festival. As Vague notes in issue 2, on a visit to London: 'everyone seemed to be in a pop sub-cult. At this point there were the various punk factions; from arty post-punk to retro-lovable spiky top; Rasta, rude boy, Ted, rockabilly, mod revivalist, skinhead, heavy metal headbanger and old hippy.' Several of these were at war with themselves and each other, all at once.

Vague followed the post-punk strands - from the Ants to Goth to Crass to Psychobillies and Positive Punks - through to the mid 80's, and Tom's commentary precisely dates the changes. In the notes for Issue 12, July 1982, he observes that 'it was around this time that the number of exaggerated Mac Curtis haircuts increased around London and Theatre of Hate indirectly started the punkabilly cult, which consisted of disillusioned young Ants fans and reformed punky types, largely Londoners. Suddenly everyone started to look like Kirk Brandon'.

After Vague number 15 (June 1984), Tom Vague concentrated on perfect bound, themed 'annuals' that went into a whole strain of gnostic knowledge: the Situationists, Psychic TV, JFK conspiracy theories, William Burroughs (16/17); "Videodrome", the Occult Roots of Nazism, Jack The Ripper and post-Pistols situ pranksters God Told Me To Do It (18/19); Stewart Home, Red Army Faction and an "Apocalypse Now" type cartoon story "Vagrunts" (20). Issues 21>23 included contributions by Stewart Home, Jamie Reid, and Ralph Rumney.

The magazine's orientation matched the changes in its editor's life. By then Tom had relocated to London, and by 1984 was deep in the capital's squatting scene: moving from Essex Road to Stoke Newington via Acton with a spell in Berlin and Hamburg - a way of life now impossible in Central London. Even so, he was weary of what he calls 'cider-drinking anarcho-punk squatters with dogs on bits of string': later in the decade, he moved to a Housing Assocation flat just off the Portobello Road, near where the Westway and the Metropolitan line cast their shadow.

This is around the time when I met Tom. He interviewed me at length for Issue 21, while I was writing "England's Dreaming": I gave him a fairly unfiltered rant which got me into a lot of trouble, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was still committed to the idea of fanzines, and gave him several other bits and pieces that he printed in those last few annuals. We went to the big Situationist show at the Pompidou in early 1989: drunken, argumentative encounters with Jamie Reid, Tom and Ralph Rumney, in the spirit of the exhibition - which was fabulous.(cont)

In the early 90's, Tom shifted his focus again. In Issue 24, he published a long article called "West 11 Days of My Life". After two issues devoted to urban revolutionaries - Issue 26: Red Army Faction and Issue 27: The Angry Brigade - he published a series of terrific pamphlets on the Notting Hill area: most notably Issue 29 "Entrance To Hipp" (the title referencing the race course, the Hippodrome, that had dominated the area in Victorian times) and issue 30, "London Psychogeography: Rachman Riots and Rillington Place".

Inside the latter, I've found an A4 sheet no doubt inserted by Tom. Entitled King Mob Echo: 68/98 No Brit Popery" it's a collage of articles about Damon Albarn: buying a £350,000 house in Kensington Park Road, getting attacked in a Portobello Road pub. Gentrification had begun, sent into hyperspeed a year later by Richard Curtis' dreadful rom-com, "Notting Hill". That was the end for Portobello: the inexorable property price rises that have seen this formerly bohemian area become Tory HQ. But cities are not static. These changes can be reversed.

This collection of Vaguery has value. It reminds the reader that there was a time when pop music was all important: not just a New Sincerity Beard lifestyle but a cause that you would lay down your former life and follow. And then, once you'd opened that particular door, you'd go further into the attitudes that saturated the music you liked. What did anarchy mean? What exactly did the Situationists say? What happened if you drifted round London like the Lettrists had Paris 40 years previously? What history lurks in the bricks and under the pavements?

Tom Vague recorded the present without any thought to posterity. Because he noted the moment so thoroughly, he became a historian, providing a record of Punk's most obdurate and persistent strands. In documenting the chaos of the 1980's from within, he has preserved a forgotten narrative of that decade: not Live Aid, New Romantic Pop or Thatcher, but a dogged and anarchic strand of youth culture that persisted into the flowering of rave in the early 90's. This collection should be read by any serious enquirer into the period."

June 2017 eBook : iTunes