Can’t always buy into this anniversary idea – has our culture become more and more obsessed with iconic events from the recent past, does the present hold little of interest and value or is it just a sign that some of us are getting old?


One thing’s is for certain, 2009 is a mother of all anniversary years for a lot of reasons. I idly sat down the other night and started one of those infernal lists – did you know for example that it marks the 500th anniversary of Henry V111 ascending to the throne? 50 years since Chris Blackwell launched Island Records, 30 years since Bucketfull of Brains magazine started?


This year is the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, the Manson Murders, the arrival of Monty Python and the release of the Easy Rider movie.


And here is a bunch more - put these in your pipe and smoke ‘em:

The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival,  and the death of Brian Jones.

The 40th anniversary of the launch of Harvest Records, Dandelion Records, Head Records, Friars Club, Aylesbury, Amethyst Club, Preston,

40 years since the release of ‘Troutmask Replica’, ‘Happy Trails’, ‘Oar’, ‘Tommy’, ’The Madcap Laughs’, ‘Ummagumma’, ‘Live Dead’, ‘Elephant Mountain’,  ‘The Family That Plays Together’, ‘Hot Rats’, ‘Five Leaves Left’, ‘Anthems in Eden’, ‘In Blissful Company’, ‘Flat Baroque & Beserk’, ‘Wasa Wasa’, ‘Ahead Rings Out’, ‘Sea Shanties’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Mighty Baby’, ‘Mott the Hoople’, ‘Ask Me No Questions’, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’, ’Battersea Power Station’,  ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’,  'California Bloodlines' and three remarkable LPs in one (yes one) year by Fairport Convention = ‘What We Did on Our Holidays’, ‘Unhalfbricking’, and ‘Liege & Lief’.

It was the year that saw Formerly Fat Harry, Greasy Bear, Stackwaddy, Daddy Longlegs and Hawkwind form and marked the coming of the first incarnation of the Pink Fairies!


It was also the year of Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green and co.  out sold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.


But most of all, it was  the year that saw the very first issue of Zigzag, ’the rock magazine’ roll off the presses on 16th April and that folks not only changed my life but is reason alone to celebrate this wonderful  year that also inspired the Stooges eponymous nihilistic anthem!

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing on the 16th April 1969 – two days after my 16th birthday and a Thursday I recall – I do remember my sister had bought me a Nice 45 on the 14th and I can still recall hanging around endlessly at my mate Ian Bretherton’s house listening to ‘Man of the World’, ‘Tons of Sobs’, ‘Mr Apollo’, and ‘Marianne with the Shakey Hand’, probably a lot of Cream and Hendrix too.


School was more than just a drag and my parents were getting increasingly on my case – it was easy to escape into the luxuriant, healing landscapes of John Peel’s Top Gear and Night Ride – I know I first heard Ivor Cutler around then and try as I might I couldn’t get hold of any of his poetry books. Outside of set texts for O-level, our reading matter was limited – the Liverpool poets and Marc Bolan’s debut tome ‘A Warlock of Love’. We devoured Beat Instrumental, Disc & Music Echo, and the Melody Maker plus we’d just made our first forays into the weird worlds of the underground press, IT and OZ.  The box offered the occasional weekly treat such as Do Not Adjust Your Set, Colour Me Pop and How Late It Is. There was a dearth of live music up where I came from, Lytham St Annes (the ‘Fylde’, the coastal area between Preston and Blackpool) – live bands were in short supply – a severe bout of flu had meant I had recently missed out on both Eclection and John lee Hooker and the Groundhogs but whenever they played we’d get along to see Purple Haze and Cat’s Squirrel, two outfits from Preston who played the kind of ‘heavy’ music we liked!


Like a lot of kids we were heading for the ‘underground’, even though it was already a shadow of what it had been in 65 and 66.  It’s amazing looking back at just how easy it was to get hold of the alternative press back then – as a school kid I was still doing a paper round and I recall being able to read Rolling Stone in Kelly’s, the newsagents whilst the papers were being marked up for me to deliver on a Sunday morning.


But in April 1969 my introduction to ZigZag was still some months off – had to get through my O-levels first and see a few bands including the Pink Floyd in Manchester and the Glass Menagerie at the Preston Public Hall. By that July I was a callow 16-year-old working six days a week washing up in a hotel on St Annes sea front and getting my first dose of ‘real’ life – pervert chefs, belligerent kitchen boys and waitresses who kept their tips safely wedged in their suspender belts!  But, as I wrote in the convoluted intro to my Mac Macleod piece for the Terrascope back in 1999, my life was all set to change.  On a rainy Monday afternoon between shifts, I headed over to Carnabique ostensibly to buy a couple of tie-dyed grand dad vests. Carnabique was a legend – you don’t get shops like this anymore! It flogged the latest Swinging London fashions – pretty cool for an area full of Are You Being Served-style men’s outfitters – and the shop assistants, instead of dirty old men, were these tantalising young beauties hired by the owner Ken Watts – a kind of Arthur Daley figure who amongst other lines hired out equipment to all the local bands. For some reason known only to himself Ken had decided to start stocking all the underground press papers which he adorned the window display. And so it was that on that fateful afternoon my eyes strayed into the Carnabique window and there nestled next to Gandalf’s Garden was a periodical I had never seen before that bore the legend ‘ZigZag The Rock Magazine’ above a picture of Frank Zappa!


I forgot about my fashion requirements, promptly handed over my two shillings (10 pence in today’s decimal terms), slipped the mag under my denim jacket to keep it from the rain and scurried back to work for the early evening shift. Come 7.30 I was on the upstairs deck of the 11A bus heading home and greedily devouring the contents of ZigZag 3 -   Frank Zappa & the Mothers, John Koerner & Willie Murphy (starting a lifelong love with the Twin Cities renaissance man - in 2002 I would be involved in a film shoot of Koerner playing in his former adopted home town of Copenhagen), the Jefferson Airplane (magnificent piece based around their Roundhouse shows of the previous September), a review of Blind Faith’s Hyde Park gig, Johnny Winter, and Sea  Train. The tone of the writing was just perfect – knowledgeable, hip, humorous and free of that condescending tone that always ruined Melody Maker – here were guys that generally loved the music and wanted to share their enthusiasm. However,  it wasn’t just the articles and writing that blew me away – everything about ZigZag blew my tiny teenage mind – the graphics and layouts, Rod Yallop’s amazing photographs, the trivia/news columns by the likes of the late DJ/entrepreneur Simon Stable and New York crazy Peter  Stampfel  (yes ZiggyZag turned me on to the Holy Modal Rounders for starters), even the adverts were different  - many of them  pushing local gigs and bands – and even if I hadn’t heard of the bands i wanted to know more about them.


In due course that issue, I am proud to say the original copy of which I am perusing whilst writing this piece of incoherent nostalgia, was passed around all my mates. My then good friend Pete Nelson and I would become avid ZigZag readers and its champions for the next few years till our parting of the ways in a field in Aberystwyth in 1975!


But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here – ZigZag 1 hit the streets in mid-April 69 after a nice plug by John Peel on Top Gear and its editor Pete Frame would quit his day job and finally ‘drop out’ on 23 May . Funnily enough I never saw that now legendary debut issue until 1973 when Pete found a cache and flogged them off through the pages of the mag – but what an issue it was when it finally arrived down in Wales where I was by then studying. The cover was Sandy Denny and the lead article was Frame’s evocative piece on Fairport Convention in the wake of their ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ LP (at that stage my absolute fave record of the time, spring 69); issue 1 also featured Blodwyn Pig, Creedence, Chicken Shack ,  Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Village and Led Zepellin.  As debuts go, absolutely fabulous, bursting to the brim with what its founder referred to as fine grist!


Over the next couple of years until autumn 71, the magazine was fairly easy to get hold of especially if you frequented ‘underground’ haunts and the big outdoor festivals. Apparently ZZ was a big hit with festival goers as it was good to sit on and absorbed the mud! How I managed to keep issue 14 pristine from the half inch of rain water in my tent at the disastrous Krumlin Festival near Halifax I’ll never know.


It was my river of no return. It was the road map parents and teachers couldn’t provide – whilst it didn’t quite propagate the long hair lifestyle fellow UPS  (Underground Press Syndicate) magazines like IT and OZ did, ZZ early on was very much part of that whole underground movement – but it chose to mainly concentrate on what its subtitle said, ‘rock’. Having said that it embraced alternative culture as a whole - heck with people like the great Jeff Cloves writing for it, you weren’t just going to get pieces on Jeff Beck or Mountain or Marc Bolan (and even these steered away from the obvious). Cloves sensitive obituary to Jack Kerouac in issue 8 (‘So Let Us talk of Angels’) opened my eyes to whole other world. Most of all I’ll be forever grateful for all the great music that I discovered through its pages – Quicksilver Messenger Service, Tim Buckley, Elektra Records, Help Yourself, Mighty Baby, MC5, Stackwaddy, Big Star, Mad River, indeed West Coast music in general. There were three acts you could always rely on the mag to keep you up to speed on – Love, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band and the good old Byrds!  I also came across Crumb and Shelton and other underground artists there for the first time. Frame’s masterly essay on the Grateful Dead in issue 13 really turned my head – not only it was there that I had my first encounter with the names Rick Griffin and Zap! Comix – but it also turned me on to the Dead a big way – made me go out and listen to the records as I had just seen them at the Hollywood Festival in May 70 and been unable to make head nor tale of them!


The monthly appearance of the mag became almost taken for granted, ditto that the people responsible for it were good guys. The first issues emanated from a place called Caddington – actually a conurbation between Harpenden and Luton with nothing particularly special about it if you lived there but conjuring up a vision to a reader like me of a magic gateway into the mythical kingdom of ZigZag that actually seemed to exist. It lay across the counties of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and eventually when it relocated to just outside Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, encompassing towns and villages, venues, musicians and local characters like the amazing Ginger Mills * . Little did I know that Frame underwent some quite horrendously difficult times to keep his dream alive. Indeed i think had the mag not fallen into bad ways as 1971 turned into 1972 – Frame had to go back to a day job, Moore Harness its distributor went bust owing not only ZigZag but a lot of other underground papers money – I may never have got into correspondence the great man himself in the first place.


By the autumn of 71, it was suddenly difficult to track the ‘zine down – and by then I cared enough about it to actually buy some copies and try and sell them to mates and others at college – I’m sure I didn’t make them much dough but a few postal orders duly found their way to Yeoman Cottage, North Marston where the magazine was now based. Less frequent the next few issues before the mag was sold Charisma Records were among the best ever produced.  A superb John Tobler interview with Pete Townshend in ZZ 24 for starters – but ZigZags 25 and 26 rank amongst my favourites ever. #25 featured Elton John on the cover (now don’t snigger, Reg was a big champion of the mag at that time and had a huge knowledge of rock) – it contained two superb, hugely expansive Frame articles – one on the Flamin’ Groovies  (then relocated from their San Fran home to the wilds of Chingford) and even more fascinating, ‘The Year of Love including the Birth of the Pink Floyd’, one of the first ever pieces to be written on the beginnings of the British underground. They didn’t come better than these!


But as issues as a whole go, the following one # 26 was even better – a magnificent dual article on the original Charlatans and their some time drummer Mr Dan Hicks and Hot Licks, Deke Leonard, a piece on the 60s Greenwich Village folk revival of the 60s, Hawkwind, a vitriolic put down of Quicksilver (who without the great JC had just pulled out of yet another UK tour) and one of Pete’s best ever ZigZag wanderings. Arguably always the best bit of the mag, the ZigZag Wanderings column was where you followed the smoke trails to all kinds of amazing esoteric sniff-snaff – it was here you’d pick up on bands like the Helps, albums like ‘Rolling Thunder’, books like ‘The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test’ and other exceptionally worthy magazines like Greg Shaw’s  Mojo Navigaor and Who Put the Bomp, former ZZ contributor Pippin’s  Supersnazz, and Fat Angel put out by the like-minded Andy Childs. 


Like a lot of the first 30 copies I read these over and over again – scholarly, insightful, humorous! Terrific! They lit my fuse!


Sold to Charisma, the mag once more rolled out on a monthly basis, now shorn of most of its old hippie leanings, issue 27 even boasted a Monty Python flexi lingua disc, Teach Yourself Heath which we duly practised over and over. Everything seemed to be sailing into calm waters when in the ZigZag Wanderer of no 30 Frame had his famous abdication rant and announced his retirement. It was the end of an era though there were still great issues to come.  The mag carried on under various editors including Connor McKnight, Andy Childs and later Kris Needs into the 80s, with varying degrees of success but never with quite the same level of magic as those first 30. 


In an attempt to wrap all this up I’ll just try and flag a few of the highlights that followed – Pete’s classic John Cipollina history; maybe the greatest thing ever to appear in the mag buried in one of his early family trees, Frame’s interview with John Peel about the MISUNDERSTOOD (hugely influential); Andy Childs’s pieces on Mighty Baby/Chilli Willi and John Martyn;  Needsy’s  Flamin Groovies interview. Pete came back to edit the 5th anniversary issue no. 41 – another goodie including part 1 of a Moby Grape history.  Even some of the editorial board issues of the mid 70s were indispensible featuring fine grist on the likes of the Rolling Thunder Revue,  early Jethro Tull (ah, the old Luton/Lytham St Annes axis!) and the three part American Kaleidoscope saga. The Feelgoods’ 1976 tour diary of the US wasn’t half bad either, whilst the sole release on ZigZag records of the Mike Wilhelm LP, one of the few genuine records to lift the drudgery of the mid-70s.


After he relinquished his captaincy, I am pleased to say I continued exchanging letters with Pete – I particularly recall a line from a letter he sent me in 1977 when he wrote:  ‘I’m investigating stuff unsullied by the music business like the recent album on Flying Fish by Dave Grisman’ (and this was at the height of punk!). When he was press officer for Stiff Records, he very kindly sent me a copy of the Damned’s ‘Stretcher Case’ single.  When I finally decided I had to go into publishing myself, I made the pilgrimage up to North Marston to get the tribal leader’s blessing. It was a typically ZZ moment – Pete was doing one of his periodic stints deputising for the landlord of his local, the Bell and by the time i arrived early Saturday afternoon had disappeared off to buy some mash to feed the chickens if I’m not mistaken so by the time of his return I was a little worse for wear but he duly invited me round to Yeomers where I emerged an hour or so later with a bunch of rare albums (including ‘HiFi Snock Uptown’) he kindly lent me and he even drove me all the way back to Aylesbury station. Like I said good guys!


It’s fair to say that if I’d never encountered that magazine that fateful afternoon in the summer of ’69, my life may have turned out rather differently and certainly I would never have encountered and become friends with the amazing bunch of people I have (too many name here but you all know who you are).


 So I hope you’ll join me and raise a glass to a great British institution:


HAPPY BIRTHDAY ZIGZAG and here’s to good health and a long life Mr Frame.


(Nigel Cross)


Somebody has to draw the ZigZag map in the style of the great Man’s Map of Wales in the centre of their 1972 album ‘Be Good to Yourself Once A Day’