Welcome to the Rocktopia Interviews Section (* For Members Only)
Interview with Neil Daniels
11 September 2013
PAUL JEROME SMITH meets the Fireworks Magazine writer and respected author to discuss the genesis of his urge to write about the rock scene, his current activities and his future plans.
Neil, perhaps we should start with a brief introduction to the man who is NEIL DANIELS…
Well, I can’t say I’m anyone special. I’m just a hack from the North West of England who churns out books on rock and metal. I have a day job too so trying to find the time to write books can be difficult but as I work in education, with so many school holidays, I knuckle down for some intensive writing sessions when many of my colleagues are sunning it up abroad.
What are your particular key musical interests, and favourite bands and performers?
I have fairly broad tastes. The first concert I ever attended was Tina Turner on her Wildest Dreams tour. I like some pop but mostly rock and metal – anything from AOR to hair metal to prog, to old school via thrash, NWOBHM, etc. I also like blues and singer-songwriters and a bit of folk. My tastes have definitely extended as I’ve gotten older. Fave bands/singers include AC/DC, Dio, KISS, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Journey, Meat Loaf, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams, ZZ Top, UFO, Cream, The Who, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Foreigner and so many more.
Now, it’s one thing to enjoy listening to music and quite another deciding to start writing about it – especially when one remembers that those of us who do that are condemned by the observation that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. So, what caused you to cross this particular rubicon?
What’s that saying, “Those who can do, do and those who can’t teach PE?” Well, I can’t play music so I chose to write about it. I’ve always had an opinion on music and films; pop culture in general. My degree is in film studies and my favourite module by far was writing about film, and I always wanted to be a film critic but in the end I turned my hand to writing about music. It just kinda happened. I’m not a journalist or a critic, just a fan who writes about my fave bands.
Where and when did you first become a published writer?
Well, I first started writing for e-zines like musicOMH, Unbarred and BBC News Online in Manchester and from there I steadily picked up credentials. I soon started contributing to Record Collector and Powerplay and the revered bi-monthly magazine Fireworks, of course. I’ve also contributed to Rock Sound, Get Ready To Rock and Rocktopia as well as bits and pieces for a few other publications. As the book work became too much I cut back on magazine/website writings and now I fully concentrate on the books.
And how did this lead on to you deciding you’d like to write a book, and what was your first dabble at becoming a published author?
In terms of the books, well, I had an idea (Judas Priest biog) that was commercial and pitched it to a few publishers. Omnibus Press were keen and a few months later the contracts were signed. It’s progressed from there really. After I finished the Judas Priest book (but before it was published) I got in touch with Martin Roach at Independent Music Press about something else. He said he had an idea that might interest me. After he looked at what I had written he decided that I would be good for the project in question. When he told me his idea was for a book on Robert Plant, I knew it was a strong commercial idea that would require a lot of work but at the same time it was something that had never been done before so it wouldn’t be a case of re-hashing previous Led Zep books. Plus, Judas Priest and Plant both come from the West Midlands so their history is connected. It was also a chance to work with IMP, a much respected music publishers. Since then I’ve done books on Journey, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Iron Maiden, You Me At Six, Linkin Park and two further books on Judas Priest as well as a stack of print on demand anthologies.
Looking back now, what might you have done differently with this first foray into writing books?
‘Defenders Of The Faith – The Story Of Judas Priest’ was my first book and it’s not a bad title. I’d like to go back and beef up the latter years with more detail, though. I don’t think the early years of the band had been written about in such detail before so I’m quite pleased by that. It’s got some fantastic photos and huge appendices of timelines, tour dates, discographies and the feedback was pretty good. I could easily criticise every one of my books. I later worked with Al Atkins on his autobiography and published a small book on British Steel. I never would have managed writing three books on the Metal Gods.
Since that first volume, you have gone on to publish quite a variety of books focused upon the rock music genre. How do you decide what you are going to do next?
It’s a matter of pitching ideas to publishing and waiting for the rejections (laughs). Most of the time publishers will pick an author to work with on a title they already have in mind. That’s the way it’s been for most of my books, to be honest. I’m now self-publishing titles via Amazon’s print on demand tool Createspace which is totally free and the quality of the books is as good as “real” publishers. It’s totally free too. So I’m moving between commercial books and filling in the gaps with print on demand, which is something I’ve learned from prolific and revered author Dave Thompson.
Which ones of these have given you particular satisfaction, and why?
I’m very pleased with my Pantera biog, even if everyone hates it (laughs.) Seriously, though, it’s my best book and the reviews so far have been very positive. I’m also very happy with my up-coming UFO biog which covers the band’s entire history. Hopefully, my books are getting better. I’m not a great writer like Mick Wall but I’ve gotten better over the years with more experience.
Not all of what you have written has received the official blessing of the bands or artists concerned. I note you seem to have a cavalier attitude about this. Are you a “publish and be damned” kinda guy…or do you always seek to get official blessing for your volumes?
Sometimes (often) the publishers’ prefer for the artists not to get involved because it gets too complicated especially regarding money so I try to dig deeper by speaking to roadies, producers, friends, etc. A lot of bands are not interested in digging deeper into their pasts, either, so it’s often best to go down the road alone and speak to outsiders and former friends and so on. Regarding my Pantera book, thankfully a majority of people are on Facebook. That’s the modern world, I guess. Some friends from childhood didn’t reply to my messages but many did. I also got in touch with some producers and record label people; some refused my requests for interviews, others didn’t. That happens especially with a band whose history is as complicated as Pantera’s. Some interviews were done by email; many were done on the phone. Stuart Taylor, Dime’s best buddy, was a massive help. I also spoke with ex singers Terry Glaze, Donny Hart and Dave Peacock and they were great.
Recently, you have published a near avalanche of new titles:
AOR Chronicles: Volume 1
Rock & Metal Chronicles: Volume 1
Rock & Roll Sinners: Volume II
It’s My Life: A (Fictional) Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir
High Stakes & Dangerous Men: The UFO Story
Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: A ZZ Top Guide
Reinventing Metal: The true story of Pantera and the tragically short life of Dimebag Darrell
Hard Rock Rebels – Talking With Rock Stars
That’s eight new titles in 2013 alone. No wonder you are going to be giving up your writing work with Fireworks. Indeed, I don’t know how you’ve managed to keep up as a valued contributor for as long as you have.
Not only is it a huge output, Neil, but the variety of subjects and stylistic range is also hugely impressive. Please tell me a little about each of them for the benefit of the readers here at Rocktopia…
The music and publishing industries were too slow to react to the digital age as it’s called and now they’re fucked. That’s partly why I’ve gone down the Createspace route. It fills in the gaps between the commercial books. I’m on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Linkedin and I also have a website and a blog. It’s very time consuming but it’s good press. However, there’s only so many hours in a day. Comic book writer Warren Ellis can move between commercial comics and indie stuff as well as trying out new self publishing ventures, and that’s kind of what I’m trying with my little rock/metal books. I’m pleased with my stack of Createspace books so far. There are definitely more to come.
I’ve actually just released six books via Createspace which as many people might know is Amazon’s print on demand company. AOR Chronicles and Rock & Metal Chronicles are hefty 400+ page books featuring dozens of reviews of albums mostly released over the past decade or so during the time I’ve been a writer. Hard Rock Rebels is basically my two Rock N Roll Mercenaries books (out of print) together in one 476 page book with bonus interviews. It features dozens of interviews I’ve done with members of Maiden, Priest, Queensryche, Van Halen, and many more. AOR features the “lighter” albums I’ve reviewed over the past decade and Rock & Metal features the heavier stuff and Hard Rock Rebels is a massive 476 page book that features all the interviews I’ve done for magazines. It doesn’t include the countless more interviews I’ve done for my book work, though. Maybe I’ll put those in print some other day. I’ve written all the reviews and I’ve got many more to include in future books. I then published a fictional rock ’n’ roll memoir about an ‘80s hair metal band and republished my two All Pens Blazing titles as Rock N Roll Sinners Volumes I and II with the third book due soon. As a trilogy, the books will feature almost 200 interviews with rock scribes.
I’ve set up a page on my blog neildanielsbooks.wordpress.com which will detail all my Createspace books.
The rest of my books are commercial biogs through “real” publishers so that’s Pantera, UFO, ZZ Top and Bon Jovi and a book on the origins of a huge British metal band. Hopefully, there’ll be more commercial band biogs to come.
It’s probably foolish of me to ask this question, but I am keen to hear your answer anyway! Which one of these eight gave you the most pleasure to write – and why?
I’d seen Phil Sutcliffe’s books on AC/DC and Queen and loved them so I pitched some ideas to the publisher and Iron Maiden was the one that got commissioned. It came out amazingly well with a cover designed by none other than Derek Riggs. I’m really pleased with the book and it seems to be doing well. But of the eight you mention my Pantera and UFO biogs were a lot of fun (but also hard work) to write but I’m pleased with them too.
So, looking to the future, Neil, what other books have you already got in the pipeline?
I’ve had 18 books published with titles on Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Journey and Metallica as well as AC/DC and Bon Jovi et al. I’ve got commercial biogs out this year on Pantera, UFO, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and ZZ Top and a book on the origins of a major British metal band due next year. It’s pretty exciting. I’m not quite as prolific as Martin Popoff or Dave Thompson but it’s not a race and I admire those guys immensely. I like to move between the self-published stuff which fills in the gaps between the commercial releases.
And what are your hopes and aspirations beyond that? One day to give up the day job and to become a full-time writer, perhaps?
I’d never be a full time writer. The economy is too volatile and though I have a lot of books out I don’t make much cash and I don’t think I’d want to give up my day job (with all the benefits – monthly pay, sick pay, holidays, etc) for a job that pays so infrequently. I like writing as a hobby and I think I’ll stick with it as “something on the side.”
Neil, thank you for answering my questions and for giving us an insight into the work of a rock and metal author. Neil has his own page on Amazon…go and be amazed at the entirety of his published works…
Thanks for helping me promote my books. All my details are at neildanielsbooks.wordpress.com. I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and LinkedIn.