BOB KILLBOURN: PICKING UP THE REINS
At the tail end of 1965, a young British black music fan gave serious thought to launching a magazine devoted to American black music and thus, in the early months of 1966, John Ernest Abbey approached his then boss for a little help in getting the project off the ground.
"I'd been a fan of American blues and soul artists for a while and was continually frustrated at not being able to read about these music genres in any of the established music mags here," recalls Abbey. I was working for a travel agent and my boss told me that providing I did my job during working hours, I could use the office equipment to produce the magazine out of hours. So, with the help of a few other dedicated soul music aficionados, I went ahead and prepared the first ever issue of what was to become Blues & Soul."
That first, somewhat basic issue, came out in May 1966 under the title Home Of The Blues and despite limited distribution and a non-existent marketing and promotion budget found an immediate response from similarly minded black music fans across the UK who, too, had been frustrated by the lack of information available about the music they admired and the artists who made it.
Abbey's foresight filled a much need gap in the British music media and the far from regular magazine rapidly achieved a reputation with fans across the UK and subsequently other black music fans across Europe. Abbey's 'baby' had been born and was growing fast!
By issue number 12, Abbey changed the mag's title to Blues & Soul as he considered the original title too limiting in terms of what the actual contents had developed into with more and more editorial being given over to the ever increasing American soul scene together with the fast burgeoning British black music scene.
The enterprising Abbey had built a strong roster of dedicated home grown journalists including Northern Soul expert Frank Elson; former Motown press officer Sharon Davis and that doyen of soul music journalism, the late Mr. David Godin. Abbey also recruited a young EMI Records executive to help run a newly launched Blues & Soul associate company Mojo Records and to contribute to the writing team of the magazine. That young team addition was a certain Bob Killbourn who enthusiastically plunged into all activities with both the record company and Blues & Soul. As the company grew in stature and financial stability, Abbey enlarged the company's activities. Aside from the existing record shop outlet, Contempo Records, Abbey introduced a promotion company which specialized in bringing to the UK significant American black music artists including the likes of Al Green, Bill Withers, Barry White and many others all of whom enjoyed successful British tours under the B&S banner. By the mid 1970s, the B&S empire was a vibrant, pulsating organisation and Blues & Soul had developed dramatically increasing page number and having introduced colour to sections of the magazine. The editorial content too had grown and coverage now included jazz, dance music and certain world music areas and was universally accepted as the leading authority on black music. The infant Home Of The Blues had matured into a universally respected commentator of black music with fans spread across the five continents with record companies in both the UK and the USA making requests for coverage for their artists. Blues & Soul had arrived and arrived with a discernible fanfare heard around the globe.
With its rapid progress and status, the magazine's list of contributing writers expanded leaving magazine founder John Abbey a more flexible role within the company. With his 'baby' in safe hands, Abbey now had time to concentrate on developing other aspects of his music interests including record production and the launch of Contempo Records which in turn lead to a key decision - a relocation to Atlanta, Georgia where he launched yet another label in the guise of Ichiban Records. This, of course, lead to some significant changes in the UK operation, namely a change of publisher (the late Roy Daniell) and, within a few months following a brief stint in the editor's chair of longtime B&S associate, Jeff Tarry, the confirmation of yours truly as B&S editor in the Summer of 1979 with issue 284 featuring interviews with Barry White, Taka Boom, Carrie Lucas, Hot Chocolate and the Commodores plus the usual rundown of US and UK album and single reviews, charts, reports on live action and the Jocks Rapp club rundown section initiated by me when I first became involved with contributing to the mag's editorial.
My initial thoughts on becoming editor were predictable. I had assumed the guardianship of the world's leading black music magazine and with that status, the responsibility of maintaining its distinguished pedigree and track record. In terms of the editorial content, the buck, as the man said, stops right here! The magazine's 'tone', template and editorial policy had, of course, already been fashioned and in this instance it was simply a question of keeping to set guidelines. I did, however, in an attempt to broaden its readership base, wish to consider new editorial content to go side by side with the magazine's existing format. Thus, in due course, I recruited a number of young, fresh people for various new sections. Pete Tong, who was already working at B&S in a dual role as advertising deputy manager and editorial contributor, was given the responsibility of forging a new gossip column under the aegis The Mouth. The appropriately tagged 'Mouth' and subsequent 'Nose' columns gave a rundown of all industry gossip and a rundown of hot tracks. Both the Mouth and Nose columns proved instant successes and paved the way for a series of similarly-minded columns in B&S which became part and parcel of the mag's format. The ongoing touch of humour and tongue-in-cheek approach added what I considered to be a welcome slice of fun to the otherwise info-laden and comment-ridden magazine. Further recruits included Paul Oakenfold who provided his Wotupski column and Tim Westwood who compiled and wrote the world's first ever Hip Hop column. These, together with an ongoing commitment to the soul music cause saw B&S successfully traverse from the 70s decade to the 80s and into the Hip Hop generation.
My remit changed somewhat during this decade and the entire philosophy and approach to 'black music' was in a state of change with hip hop becoming more and more a consideration for editorial coverage along with the more traditional genres of soul, R&B, jazz/jazz-fusion and dance, the latter having received a huge boost in the previous decade with the likes of commercial successes for the likes of Chic and Sister Sledge. The pop market, inevitably cashed in on this and projects like Saturday Night Fever became block busters. As a result of having to consider editorial content with a more liberal attitude came the inevitable cries of "sell out" and other more choice comments from the B&S ol' school. It was, and continues to be, a delicate
division of genres: "More jazz"... "less jazz". "More soul"... "too much soul"; "Way too much hip hop"... etc. etc. etc. Believe you me, it is a thankless task. It is, however, a task that I have enjoyed enormously and one that I would not have missed for the world. To have been a serving editor for the world's longest running and most respected black music magazine ever for 28 years is the greatest honour to have been bestowed on a Brit soul music fan I can think of.
To have reached the milestone of 1000 issues covering a 40 year span is a remarkable achievement and one which I am immensely proud to have played a part in.
Words Bob Killbourn