Interview: Stuart McHugh, Jockrock

Scotland’s longest-running indie music website, Jockrock.org, celebrates two decades since it crept onto the web (and into print) with a show this Friday (October 20).

And what a line-up they’ve planned. To mark the occasion, Ballboy, Mitchell Museum, Stoor and David MacGregor (of Kid Canaveral) will perform at Stereo in Glasgow.

It’s an early gig – doors at 7pm – with the throng able to retire across the road for DJs including Jim Gellatly spinning the finest moments in Scottish indie rock from the past 20 years until the wee sma’ hours.

Tickets are just a tenner (plus booking fee) and available online via Stereo’s website (click HERE) as well as at Tickets Scotland and Monorail.

For more details, head over to Jockrock.org (click HERE)

Ahead of the event, AAA caught up with Jockrock’s Stuart McHugh for a chat…

Tell us about your – ok, Jockrock’s – childhood…

I’d stopped writing software reviews and started sharing music reviews with some people in the USA and felt that rather than them just vanishing into a hole (they were just on mailing lists) I had quite a collection of reviews that could be read by more people if, with the internet just starting to take off, they had a home. I was working for a web developer (Adobe) on its new web design program and it was an ideal test case.

And Scottish indie was also taking off, so being patriotic and most of the Americans being in Seattle and talking about (or being in) bands from there, I wanted them to hear what we had to offer. Which wasn’t that hard – I’d initially got inspired by hearing Spare Snare on John Peel, then seeing them and the Delgados at the Caledonlai Stage at T in the Park (a precursor to T Break)… Then Belle and Sebastian brought out their first couple of albums, Urusei Yatsura had a UK top 40 hit, and everything took off.

So Jockrock was born?

This is where it gets a wee bit sketchy – it was 20 years ago after all! Web domains were really expensive, so it started as a subdomain at vacant.demon.co.uk – it was originally the called Scottish Underground Music Archive.

The name – Jockrock – was tongue-in-cheek of course; I think I subconsciously picked it up from a (Glasgow) Herald music writer called David Belcher. The much-moaned about tartan fitted in nicely. I’d somehow never produced a zine before, so in perhaps the first case of ‘reverse publishing’ (look it up, kids, if you have nothing better to do), took the web reviews, added a few interviews and whatnot, and created a A5 zine. It ran to 4 issues with increasingly elaborate hand-crafted covers, and the last one had a covermount CD – which of course led to to is this music?

But the website continued?

Oh yes, that was the bulk of it – there were reviews and features and a gig guide, of sorts (I think I got that from Jim Gellatly, who compiled it for his BeatFM show). I did a radio show as well which was more fun and let’s face it, less effort, as I could persuade various minor celebrities to come in for a chat and record gigs for broadcast.

It sounds kind of busy, was it all your own work?

Pretty much, for a while I was putting on gigs and the like too, but I restricted that to the annual awards shows, which were usually way too much effort for more than once a year.

Were they a public vote?

Yes, we ran a poll, rather less sophisticated than web surveys etc are nowadays – all done by email and very susceptible to rigging! Though I don’t think there was much beyond persuading friends and family to vote. I think everyone was more concerned with fixing it for Belle and Sebastian to win the Brits. So we had, I think four annual poll parties, had the likes of Gary out of Snow Patrol coerced into presenting awards, though the Delgados were probably as big a name as we had as a winner. But after that, is this music? had its own vote, so the Jockrock version became an ‘in house’ writers roundup of the best of the year instead.

Did you do all the writing yourself as well?

Initially, as it was just stuff I’d written elsewhere, but later on there were a few people wanting to do gig reviews which was great, most of them contributed to ITM? and some of them got proper jobs in journalism. So I needed all the help I could get, what with that and deleting comments on the forum.

Ah yes, famously described as a “pit of hate” by Teenage Fabnclub’s Brendan Hare?

Indeed. There were other boards around at that time too – Prague Candy, Kasino, and the Chemikal Undergound forum (plus some local ones in Dundee and Aberdeen) but the Jockrock board brought people together from across the country. Mainly musicians, so that was its upside, bands could get together to organise shows and the like. As well as ‘discuss’ weightier matters…

Was it as bad as people make out?

You know the saying about empty vessels? There were plenty of people who lurked there, others who… I meet people all the time who said they always checked into the forum, “but I never bothered to post anything” – well, there were an awful lot of pseudonyms in use and they weren’t all me! But like I say, everyone gathered together there – from the likes of Biffy Clyro and Franz Ferdinand and the main record label types, all the way *down* to your bands playing at the Note or The Attic or even just starting out in their bedrooms.
But it was a precursor to Facebook (and a lesser extent twitter) – people arguing constantly, with the occasional worthwhile opinion thrown in.

Is it missed?

I don’t miss the moderation or the legal threats! But I’d say that since FB killed off most of the forums… don’t get me wrong, it’s great as a way of keeping in touch with people you’d rather not see in person (relatives, old schoolfriends – it killed off FriendsReunited as well of course!) – but if you’re having a musical discussion now, you’ll end up in an echo chamber, friends of friends being as far as you’ll go. And all the discussions are on separate threads, separate groups devoted to slightly different aspects of (in this case) Scottish indie music, and of course, unless you are monitoring your timeline 24-7 you’ll miss 95% of the interesting chat (to say nothing of gig adverts!)

But the site itself carries on…

Oh yes, it’s still the only place I can see that lists every new release (well, the ones we hear about that aren’t just shoved onto a Facebook page!), as well as introducing new bands I care about – though the bulk of the reviews go onto is this music?

What’s changed in 20 years?

‘The mid to late 90s were something of a “golden age”, but it hasn’t let up – in fact, due to the ease of recording and releasing music straight onto the internet, there’s so much more to write about than there was back in the day. Fortunately the technology has made it easier to embed music into the site as well. Although that does lessen the need for reviews.’ For me there’s always something coming through that warrants a review – and everything deserves some sort of introduction even if it’s just ‘new release’ news. That said, I have made a rod for my own back…

What’s the future for it?

Onwards and upwards… we actually had RM Hubbert (in his other guise as web developer) give the site a makeover – kept the tartan! I would like to have an A-Z of Scottish music but easier said that done – putting on this gig is enough trouble!

And of course, the 20th Anniversary gig?

Thanks for asking… yes, the gig, which takes place on Fri 20 Oct at Stereo, will feature Ballboy, Mitchell Museum, Stoor, David MacGregor (of Kid Canaveral), with an afterparty over the road at the Old Hairdressers DJed by Jim Gellatly.

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