March 6th, 2015

An Interview with David Barraclough, Managing Editor at Omnibus Press

I am delighted to welcome David Barraclough, Managing Editor at Omnibus Press, Music Sales Group to the CA blog.

IA: David, you’ve been in the industry a number of years now. What was it that attracted you to working in book publishing and why music titles specifically?

DB: That’s asking me to cast my mind way back! I was always comfortable working with words, so either publishing or journalism were obvious career choices. However, I’ve never wanted to work on a subject unless I had a decent background knowledge. I think it’s important that an editor can contribute something other than making sure there’s no spelling mistakes and the commas are in the right place. And two of my major obsessions are film and music. I spent 20 years editing film and TV books, so when five years ago the opportunity came up to commission music books for Omnibus and indulge another of my passions, I jumped at the chance.

IA: We’ve worked on a number of books together over the years – from a biography of The Killers to our latest biography on Kanye West. What would you say are your top three things you look for when commissioning a music biography title?

DB: A good story is definitely key. If the author has a strong connection with the band or artist, that is a major advantage. And a subject area which feels fresh is always appealing.

IA: I recall us once having a discussion on the length of time it can take for a book to be commissioned. Could you tell us about one that you worked hard to champion to get into print?

DB: The longest gap I’ve ever had between an initial discussion with an author and publication is 20 years! Paul Buck was translating a French book for me in the early Nineties and mentioned he had always wanted to write a biography of the film Performance. And the more he talked about it, the more convinced I became that (i) it was a great story and (ii) that he was the only person who should write that book. But I could just not in turn convince the publisher I worked for at that time to acquire the book. However, good ideas should never be discarded, so I put it in my back pocket and when I arrived at Omnibus it was one of the first proposals I pitched. And thankfully, due to the music connection, Omnibus went for it. The night of the book launch was a very satisfying occasion, not least because the book had lived up to my expectations.

IA: Please do share your thoughts on a book you have just read? I’m currently rereading ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov. Behemoth the mischievous, pistol carrying black tomcat still makes me chuckle.

DB: I’m just on the final pages of Everland, by Rebecca Hunt. I’d be drawn to it by the review in The Guardian and it is an excellent read. It’s the story of two Antarctic expeditions, separated by 100 years. But the similarities between the two draw out ideas about man’s relationship with the natural world. There’s also a really interesting thread about how the media/history can distort a story and a person’s reputation. But most of all, it’s a cracking read. On the music book side, I loved Viv Albertine’s autobiography. It struck me as very honest and completely compelling, even when dealing with material I hadn’t realised I was interested in. And like all good autobiographies, you really felt as if you were hearing the author’s voice. I’ve also got back in to reading graphic novels and loved the Grandeville series, but that would make three books, which feels like cheating!

IA: Thank you for giving me a copy of ‘Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams and Rumours’ by Zoe Howe. Can you tell us a little bit about a forthcoming title you are working on?

DB: How to choose just one! We’ve published a number of graphic novels over the years at Omnibus, which have all been band or artist biographies. And for the first time we’re working on an original story, which has a mod background and also mixes in British crime and sixties Soho. It’s written by Jim McCarthy and features artwork by Kevin Cross. Think The Small World of Sammy Lee or Budgie. Talking of Budgie, we also have a great book on Adam Faith about to be published. But there are so many interesting titles I could have mentioned…

IA: Let’s talk London, where you reside and I spent a happy fifteen years. What are your three favourite London inspired books? Mine are pretty obvious choices. I went to college in London, and these two novels really stuck with me – ‘Hangover Square’ by Patrick Hamilton, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf. For non-fiction I really did enjoy ‘The Worst Street’ in London by Fiona Rule. It is hard to whittle down the list as there are so many good books to choose from!

DB: That’s difficult. I’m not sure if it’s London inspired, but I love Derek Raymond, so would have to choose I Was Dora Suarez, which completely bowled me over when I first read it. There’s also an excellent Derek Raymond/Gallon Drunk album based on the book. Also Anthony Frewin’s London Blues, a great story of sixties sleaze around the time of Profumo. My 12 year-old self is tempted to say The Sweeney novels, but I’m a big Sherlock fan, so any of the Doyle stories or even some of the excellent pastiches. I’ve always meant to read Patrick Hamilton, but never get around to it (I really enjoyed the 1940s cinema adaptations of Gaslight, Hangover Square and Rope) – you’ve inspired me to dig out one of his books before the year ends!

IA: You’ve mentioned to me that you are a big fan of black and white films. My all-time favourite will always be ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ However, feeling homesick for the UK a little while back, I caught an interesting 1960s black and white movie at the Film Forum in NYC called ‘The Servant,’ which was directed by Harold Pinter. It was such a fascinating glimpse into the 1960s class hierarchy in London. Could you recommend a black and white film to us that you think is a must see?

DB: God, that’s a tough question as there are so many! Avoiding the really obvious classics, a few that instantly spring to mind are Night and the City (to keep the London theme, a superb film noir with Richard Widmark), Force of Evil (with one of many favourite actors, John Garfield), The Narrow Margin and The Big Combo (two great B movies), Oh Mr Porter! (a brilliant British comedy starring Will Hay), Hell Drivers (a 1950s British Wages of Fear, with an amazing cast), the Powell-Pressburger A Canterbury Tale, anything by Erich Von Stroheim… I’m a big horror fan, so feel I should mention The Night of the Demon, The Most Dangerous Game and Dead of Night. And that’s just English-language films: there’s also France (anything by Henri-Georges Clouzot, perhaps Le Corbeau), Germany (there are some amazing mountaineering films from around 1930 like The Blue Light, plus a long run of hugely enjoyable Edgar Wallace movies in the 1960s), Sweden (anything by Bergman, but maybe The Face), Japan (some wonderful ghost stories, such as Kuroneko) and so on. Plus animation, like The Tale of the Fox by Wladyslaw Starewicz. And every Laurel and Hardy film ever made! I probably should stop now, as I can tell this question is going to give me sleepless nights!

IA: And my final question! What has been the best music gig you have been to thus far? I know I recently regaled you with my excitement of meeting Richard Butler from The Psychedelic Furs backstage at The Music Hall of Williamsburg.

DB: Just one!?!? I did see The Psychedelic Furs at the Borderline here in London doing a warm-up gig (in 1991 I think) and they were phenomenal that night. My first was Bill Haley and the Comets with my Dad in the Seventies and there have been so many great ones since. I really like smaller venues, so I’m going to pick Wreckless Eric at the Cricketers in the Oval during the early Nineties. He was on absolute fire and did magnificent versions of ‘Someone Must Have Nailed US Together’, ‘Young Upwardly Mobile and Stupid’ and, of course, ‘Whole Wide World’. His autobiography is well worth reading too. Another one where you could almost hear him reading it to you as you read the book.

IA: Thank you so very much for taking the time to talk to us, David! And the very best of luck with your future books projects.

DB: It’s a pleasure!

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by Isabel Atherton

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