Turtle Breeder Fanzine 1986-89

Well, MM&M has reached the magic ten thousand figure. A drop in the ocean compared to some, but not bad. Thanks to everyone who takes the trouble to read this blog, and especially those who have sent in comments or e-mails. All feedback is appreciated. Forgive me if I use this as an opportunity to be a little self-indulgent, but I thought I might regale you with a potted history of the late eighties fanzine that I co-authored called Turtle Breeder.

Back in 1986, three bored individuals decided to start a fanzine. It was mooted in the pub one night with beer-fuelled enthusiasm. Unlike most projects gestated in this way, it didn’t die a death with the following morning’s hangover, but began to take shape as a reality. For the life of me, I can’t think how the name Turtle Breeder was arrived at, but supposedly it was at my behest.

tb12.jpgThe first issue hit the streets (or rather grungy London venues and a few record shops too sentimental to refuse it) replete with a couple of lengthy q and as with the Fall and the Shop Assistants (neither of which involved me) and a hodge-podge of features, live reviews etc. It even had a crossword. Layout-wise it was an absolute mess. It was photocopied, not printed, and had a mixture of typewritten, handwritten and word-processed pieces. Still it was a start – and it did feature possibly the only ever interview with Oblivion River, a band featuring a pre-fame Sarah Cracknell and Mick Bund (Felt, Mexico 70). Helpfully, they’d split by the time we went to print.

tb2.jpgOur second issue saw TB shrink to A5 size, but the layout and readability had improved significantly. The cover was garbage, though. What were we thinking? Still, it had some of our more interesting interviews – the late, great Biggie Tembo of the Bhundu Boys, the equally late and great Ted Hawkins, the Stockholm Monsters (neither late, nor great, and pretty snotty too) and Dead Can Dance. The latter took place at Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s flat in Millwall in the area soon to be razed to the ground and redeveloped as Docklands, but then still pretty much a slum. It was a nice flat, though. It was also one of those arrgh moments when we discovered that the tape had picked up nothing of the conversation and so the whole article was constructed from dimly remembered bits. Issue 2 also saw a review of Inspiral Carpets’ first ever demo. Were we on the ball! (oh, and a live review of Iron Maiden – what?!)

tb3.jpgIssue three was jam packed with the Wedding Present, Age of Chance, composer Steve Martland, Test Department, Metro Trinity (featuring a pre-Republica Jonny Male and a pre-Doves Jez Williams) and the 14 Iced Bears. We went national with issue four, in a manner of speaking. By this time I’d moved to Manchester, although much was written before I left London. We had words with the Shamen (who were still a psychedelic rock quartet at the time), the House of Love and the Cocteau Twins. tb4.jpgWe also had adverts for the first time. These included one for 4AD specifically designed for us by Vaughan Oliver (how cool is that!). Unfortunately, the design he came up with was deemed to be too dark by our printers (a Manchester co-op called Raven Press who numbered Lou Rhodes among their workers). It was a white abstract and text on a dark background so they simply reversed the colours, much to the annoyance of the artist.

tb5.jpgWe returned to A4 size for issue five, with the proud banner ‘Turtle Breeder: Manchester-London’. Life was good. There were demos and records rolling in regularly to be reviewed, and we had no fewer than six writers. As well as interviews with the Sugarcubes, Dee Dee Ramone, Inspiral Carpets and others, there was a good mix of non-music topics too. The layout still looks dull, though.

tb6.jpgJuly ’88 saw issue six hit the streets. It saw us release our first (and only) cassette compilation of selections taken from demos that had been sent in. It included tracks by Inspiral Carpets, What?Noise and Mexico 70 as well as the Chameleons’ “Is It Any Wonder”, some time before it was released on the Tony Fletcher EP. A copy of the tape was sold on Ebay earlier this year for £70! And no, I don’t have a boxful under the bed. Wish I did. The ‘zine had interviews with fIREHOSE, Nomeansno, Brix Smith, Peter Hook and Mark Burgess. It was all beginning to take over my life though. There were aspects I enjoyed, but they didn’t include trying to get advertisers to hand over their cash, trying to flog a carrier-bag load of mags to disinterested students and sticking staples in my thumbs as we assembled something like 1500 copies. Writing it was fun, as was getting sent freebies (even if the majority of them were mediocre). The interview process could be good fun, but could also be like a trip to the dentist sometimes. The upshot was that I’d had enough, and TB 7 was the last.

tb7.jpgThe final issue came out at the beginning of 1989 and featured another Wedding Present interview alongside John Peel, Nikki Sudden, the House Of Love and others. I did my own ‘zine called Strange Times later that year which was more a mixture of music and current affairs. But it wasn’t the same and I didn’t bother following it up. Strangely I bumped into one of my co-writers, Lee, in Edinburgh during the Festival in August this year (at the screening of Control in fact). I’d not seen him for a good 15 or 16 years.

It was a good two and a bit years doing Turtle Breeder. I met some good people, and had some interesting experiences along the way. It’s a shame that the days of the fanzine are pretty much over – at least in its scissors, paste and inky fingers incarnation. The good thing about doing stuff like this blog is the fact that all of the administrative crap is a thing of the past, and you can simply concentrate on writing. But it’s essentially a solo activity, and I miss the social aspects of being a fanzine writer. In retrospect, we may have ended too soon, but I couldn’t really see it going for more than two or three further issues. We’d pretty much reached the limit of what we could achieve without the costs necessitating us being on the phone half the day touting for advertising. Turtle Breeder was far from perfect. There was a lot we could have done better. Nevertheless I’m proud of it.

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3 responses to “Turtle Breeder Fanzine 1986-89

  1. It was a minor pleasure of gig-going in the late 80’s to have a fanzine sold to you, especially if you went to a lot of shows on your own as I did. Most were poor: badly written, typo-strewn and ugly to the eye. But they were born of enthusiasm and that mitigated much. And they were cheap, so buying a piece of crap didn’t seem like too much of an insult. Dez may miss the social side of doing a print ‘zine but as a reader I much prefer blogs. Mind you, that may be because I don’t get out much anymore!

  2. I definitely prefer blogs too, Rae. But you can’t read ’em on the bus home. I’ve been trying to remember the last time some herbert tried to flog me a ‘zine at a gig, and I really can’t think. It’s been at least a decade. It’s kind of bizarre how the whole culture has become as anachronistic as ‘penny dreadfuls’ and ration books in such a short time.

  3. And I’m very proud of my involvement in it too. For me it was beyond just writing a fanzine and getting to meet music biz people – prior to that I was shy, and to get on with this fanzine I HAD to instigate conversations – the fanzine literally changed my life.
    BTW – The Turtle Breeder name came about from a weird advert in BIS regarding the fun run, as someone there found the race clashed with the beginning of the Turtle-breeding season!
    All the best to ya Dez – and pls email me – BTW – just met Sarah again after a number of years!

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