By any standards, David Hepworth’s career is one which glitters with success.He has rubbed shoulders with some of the music industry’s biggest and brightest throughout the years. With magazine titles such as NME, Smash Hits, Mojo and Sound under his belt, Hepworth is one of the big names in the music journalism industry. Placing his stamp on the industry when he presented Live Aid in 1985 alongside Bob Geldof, it would be easy to feel intimidated in the presence of such a music mogul.
Yet when David Hepworth walked into his event in York on 18th April, his presence had, startlingly, the opposite effect. His appearance saw him immediately laughing with the captivated audience, myself among them, as he jovially threatened to fight anyone who did not share his opinion on musical legend Chuck Berry.
His event came as a product of his new book Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of Rock Stars’ in which he offers snapshots of rock stars throughout the 20th century, from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain. As he introduced the book to the audience, he explained how he believed musical eras to span 40 years, with the era of rock and roll spanning from the 1960s to the 1990s. The book is a refreshing and insightful examination of the genre, taking the reader from rock star to rock star, illustrating them at the height of their fame, like photographs lined up in a treasured album.
For him, his birth year of 1950 was the “golden ticket”, placing him at 21 years old in 1971, the year he believed to be the best year in music. His writing, in both Uncommon People and his earlier work of 1971: Never A Dull Moment, is a love letter to forty years of rock music.
“If you go towards music it flees. You have to be receptive when it comes you to”
While Hepworth holds his ‘golden year’ of music close to his heart, he by no means wants to keep it to himself, welcoming the younger generation to enjoy the magic of the 1970s. When speaking to me about how relationships with music change, he claimed “You can’t have the same connection because you didn’t live through the era in which it emerged. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. I wasn’t around in 1928 but I love Louis Armstrong’s recordings from that time.”
David explains that the accessibility of music has changed the way in which people have a relationship with their favourite artists and records. His book 1971 explains the spectacle that was the release of a new record, and the excitement that came with it, with records more often than not costing more than a con-cert ticket, a concept which is entirely alien to today’s younger generation. Technology has allowed access to a world of music, something which has both broadened the horizons of listeners but also seen the loss of the intimacy of the listening process.
For David, as he tells one audience member at the end of the evening, it is technology, and more specifically social media, which killed the rock star. Today’s constant stream of information on our favourite celebrities means that, should today’s stars behave in the same way as Mick Jagger or Jimmy Page at the height of their fame, they would, in the words of Hepworth “be apologising every day for their antics.”
It was the perfect blend of technology and musical talent, mixed with the perfect level of maintained anonymity that made 1971 the perfect year for music. It was in this decade that music defined a generation, and penetrated every aspect of the lives of the youth. David explained how “in the 70s, people in their twenties didn’t have televisions or phones and they didn’t go to the movies much so music had a power that nothing else had”.
It is a respect for this power that permeates every aspect of Hepworth’s writing, from the power of music itself to the power that rock stars held. When addressing this power during his talk, Hepworth gives the examples of Mick Jagger and Ian Stewart. Stewart was a member of the Rolling Stones when they first formed, as a pianist for the group, but as they grew in popularity and attention, managers dropped Stewart for not fitting the band image. Hepworth explains that while Stew-art could imagine a life outside of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger held the unique quality that only rock stars had, which was to know that they were destined to be powerful musical figures before their name had ever graced the lips of the public.
And if anyone is able to recognise a true rock star, it’s Hepworth, with his passion for the music industry dominating his professional life as well as his personal interests. As he discussed anecdotes of his professional career during his event in York, it was difficult to ignore h i s professionalism and experience. His work on Live Aid in 1985 was groundbreaking in the music world, yet he uses it to highlight how much power the music industry holds, stressing the way in which the event took Bob Geldof from virtual obscurity to a candidate for a knighthood virtually overnight.
Humorously sharing his belief that when he was told to report on the Band Aid single there would be nobody there, only to see every music star of the decade ready to record, Hepworth’s life as a music journalist has seen him in the front row of some of the genre’s greatest moments. He witnessed first hand the way in which the music industry had the ability to make or break a person, and his writings on rock stars clearly reflects it.
“If somebody says ‘can you do this’, say yes and then go and learn…the world will beat a path to your door”
Nothing encompasses this quite as much as his tale of when he came upon the chance to interview the legend Bob Dylan. David laughed about the memory of when, asked how the interview was going, Dylan remarked “I don’t know, he keeps asking me questions”. And this is exactly what David finds so captivating about the rock star: you shouldn’t want to ask them questions. Their sheer magnetism makes you want to do nothing more than watch them: the way they behave, walk, talk, perform.
In both speaking to me, and entertaining his loyal fans at his literary events, Hepworth is nothing but a constant professional and a music fan for whom sharing his passion for the generation of rock and roll has become a lifelong pursuit. His golden ticket in the lottery of music has become a golden ticket for his readers, and, in his words, “If you go towards music it flees. You have to be receptive when it comes to you.”
Yet when I got the chance to ask him about his illustrious career, David was all modesty, claiming it was nothing more than “sheer luck”. And when sharing what it takes to follow in his footsteps in the industry, he tells me “if somebody says ‘can you do this?’ say yes, and then go and learn. Get up earlier than everybody else and the world will beat a path to your door”.