Louder Than Words: The festival championing literature about the music industry

By November 24, 2018

Music. Manchester.

As someone who just happened to drift into music writing only a decade or so ago, simply a fan without any performance or journalistic background, I quickly realised that despite what I thought knew about all things rock and roll, the number of music writers I could name was still relatively few. The reflection came as somewhat of a surprise, considering the innumerable hours poured into watching and listening to bands and DJs, reading the print off hundreds of music magazines, and lapping-up countless TV documentaries.

This led to internal debate regarding the age-old comparison between the artistic merit of those making music themselves, compared to those writing about these characters. Further still, the familiarisation with and immersion into the musings of numerous rock and roll storytellers of varied fame and notoriety.

Another consequence came in the form of increased attendance at literature events – not necessarily due to their greater abundance, as I’ve no research to confirm or deny that fact. Instead, they began to edge onto my retuned radar, as I commenced my walk on the aspiring writer’s path for the first time. Initially merely confined to fringe affairs on the periphery of music festivals, they increasingly became stand-alone events closer to home, such as the well-respected annual Ilkley Literature Festival.

Events of this nature this gave rise to Louder than Words, the conception for which can be accredited to supremely affable creator and director Jill Adam. A seasoned music and arts champion, during a time with Harrogate International Festivals, her keen eye spotted a gap in the market: namely, the lack of a literature event solely concentrating on the music industry. Co-curated by John Robb, frontman of Blackpool based post-punk legends The Membranes as well as Editor in Chief of thriving digital music magazine Louder than War, it is clear where the festival got its name. Robb has also penned a clutch of well-received rock and roll tomes, including “Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop” and “Punk Rock: An Oral History”, giving him an ideal perspective on some of the challenges facing the modern music writer.

The resplendent surroundings of Manchester’s Principal Hotel served as a fitting venue for Louder than Words 2018 and interestingly, it was deliberately chosen thanks to its lack of any direct connection with the Manchester music scene. Take for example another Manchester hotel, situated in the building formerly known as the Free Trade Hall. The venue bears a particularly iconic flavour, due to two moments at the crux of Manchester’s music history: the famed 1966 Dylan “Judas” heckle, courtesy of a crowd irate with his new electric direction; second, the 1976 Sex Pistols show, witnessed by future members of Joy Division, The Smiths and The Fall.

Contrarily, Louder than Words, an event supported by Arts Council England and Lottery Funding, desired to establish itself with a truly national profile – a festival for music writers and photographers held in Manchester as a matter of practicality, rather than design. Nevertheless, it is undeniably helpful that the city boasts such a rich and varied musical history. Attracting an assemblage of some of rock and roll’s major storytellers was a noticeable achievement, without becoming simply another Manchester music scene event.

Naturally, exhibitors and guests weren’t solely confined to established music writers and snappers. Also in attendance were would-be authors, music aficionados, and wild cards in form of musician turned crime-writer Iain Rankin, and respected troubadour promoting recently penned memoirs – Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford. A smattering of ardent music fans also swelled the gate receipts, keen to engage with their chosen authors in question. For some, the meeting was perhaps also a vehicle for closeness to the subjects contained within the books, including Jimmy Page, Matt Johnson, Stevie Nicks, Manic Street Preachers and The Prodigy.

Unsurprisingly, Louder than Words 2018 did itself proud in terms of event variety. Not only could you meet, chat and get your book signed by a bunch of recently published authors, but also purchase any from a fine selection of gripping rock and roll tomes for sale. There was also the chance to attend several engaging Q&A sessions, live music performances – either straight or containing a comedic twist, film screenings, and impromptu spoken word. Included in delivering the latter was Everett True, reading from one of his two recently published works. Even a poetry slam workshop featured. As a package, this resembled a ‘something for everyone’ opportunity for those with an interest in crafting sentences, who are not simply content with endeavours such as drawing generic comparisons between the respective merits of genres. For those interested, in such a discussion regarding 70s Glam and Progressive Rock, Glam prevailed by a single point in a hugely entertaining exchange, surmounting even a cape-clad prog champion. Although with Bowie on your side, what do you expect?