Founder Nick Logan on why The Face was never preachy, never tried hard to be cool and why we need it all over again.
Words: Mark Hooper
17 April 2019
Conceived under the pressures of the Jason Donovan court case that nearly closed the magazine, the theme of the Love Sees No Colour issue in May, 1992 was one of tolerance. It was put together in the wake of a rise in the fascist right across Europe, culminating in the murders of two British Asians (Mohammed Sarwar and Siddik Dada) in Manchester and Sri Lankan refugee Pancharcharam Sahitharan in London.
In her introduction to the issue, editor Sheryl Garratt notes: “In chaotic, uncertain times like these, words like ‘discipline’ and ‘order’ seem attractive, and it’s good to have a scapegoat to blame. But violence and fascism is not an answer. Fascism is about intolerance, uniformity. It likes women to stay at home, children to be quiet, and everyone to do what they’re told. Fascism doesn’t let you be different or creative, dance all night, dress how you want, or share a joke. Fascism is ugly, and should be fought wherever it rears its ugly head.”
“With the cloud of Brexit hanging over our heads, it’s brought out a lot of suppressed anger and frustrations from people.”
The parallels to today are uncanny – Garratt goes on to talk about how Britain had to think about its new relationship with Europe: “We could live in a grim, cold Fortress Europe, shuttered off from outside influences, and allowing ‘foreigners’ in only as guest workers on short contracts who can be shipped off home whenever we’re ready. Or we can opt for an exciting, dynamic mix of cultures and races working together.”
Today, as we face the shambles of Brexit, the shame of the treatment of the Windrush generation, a rise in homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance everywhere from the terraces to the workplace, the message of Love Sees No Colour has never been more apt. Mark Hooper sits down with The Face founder Nick Logan to discuss its impact and the legacy of the magazine he created.
When you look at the background to the Love Sees No Colour issue – the rise of the far right, racism, homophobia, the recession – it could easily be about present day…
Definitely. Sadly. It feels like everything that The Face stood for has been rolled back, or potentially could be rolled back, depending on what happens with things like Brexit. Sheryl was the mastermind behind Love Sees No Colour. I wasn’t the editor any more. And I was distracted…[laughs] immensely. It was a tough time on every level actually.
But there was a huge groundswell of support around the court case wasn’t there? That must have been heartening.
It was terrific. The outpouring of love for the magazine. And it’s the same now, to see the reaction to the recent wall of Face covers in King’s Cross, London and Paul Gorman’s book, The Story of The Face – The Magazine That Changed Culture.
Reacting to negativity with love and positive vibes, rather than bitterness, seemed to me like a brilliant statement.
When I think what prompted that issue, it was probably the horrific murders [of Sarwar, Dada and Sahitharan] and the rise of Neo-Nazism in Europe. Was that a different environment from when I first launched The Face? Probably not. Perhaps it was worse. But as a Daily Mirror-reading (when it was good!), Labour-voting teenager in the ’60s, you could see the rate of change. Laws on homosexuality and abortion were changing – there were issues being addressed and we could say, as young people, “We were right.” It seems there’s not the same series of events now. There’s climate change, I think that message is getting through. And hopefully on Brexit. It’s a good time and it’s a time that needs a forum, a voice.
Even though there are still massive issues that need dealing with now, it does sometimes help to look back and see how much things have moved on…
There’s no doubt we’ve made massive progress, it’s just that now, with the cloud of Brexit hanging over our heads, it’s brought out a lot of suppressed anger and frustrations from people. Unfortunately I think whatever happens with Brexit, it’s going to be just appalling. There are so many frustrating aspects to it. If you think of all the students who come over here from all over Europe to study architecture, fashion, art, design, whatever…and then go on to make their name, build a business – and many of them do that here because this is a place where they can innovate and they find a good environment to nurture that. And they’re just not going to come in the same numbers. I imagine if you put that to people, wherever the BBC does its stupid vox pops from, they’d look at you like, “You’re an idiot. Who cares?” Well you should care, because that’s the wealth of the country: from the talent of these people. People can’t get their head around that, but it’s just as important as a car plant closing in Sunderland.
If there’s a positive in all this, at least it motivates people to be politicised?
Yeah. And maybe we’re coming through that phase of people just taking a lifestyle off the shelf, which I always really hated, epitomised by the men’s magazine thing – who needs to know how to tie a bowtie? No-one actually finds anything out.
There are echoes with the New Life In Europe issue too, where you shared content with various European magazines…
That wasn’t an easy thing to do – it was really complex to deal with the mixture of needs of these different magazines across Europe; some more political than others.
But that period showed that The Face stood for something more – it wasn’t just a fashion magazine or a pop magazine; there was a political side to it, and you felt there were right-minded people making it and reading it.
There definitely was. I remember we tried to interview [writer and director] Mike Leigh and his response was, “What, The Face? No, I’m not doing that.” He completely misread what it was. People would dismiss it as “trendy” – and it was briefly damned as “yuppie”. People might point to the eulogy on Thatcher by Julie Burchill, but that was Julie; that’s what you’d expect from her. She was contrary.
By having The Specials on the cover [of the first issue in 1980], it felt like there was a very definite statement. They were known for addressing racial tensions and Thatcherism, it was like saying “The Face will be doing something different”.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean there was a political edge to the NME when I was there [as editor between 1973 and 1978]. Even with Smash Hits [where I was editor from ’78 to ’79], I was definitely pushing certain types of music. Even though it was broadly pop, you were more likely to read about The Jam than John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. And with The Specials, that’s where everything coalesces: politics, diversity, cross-cultural pollination, everything. And I thought it was a fantastic thing, what they did with 2-Tone. I felt so energised by it. That’s why they were on the cover. If I wanted to be really commercial, I’d have put someone else on the cover. But it felt like a good omen, a good thing to do – good karma to use The Specials to launch it.
Did it feel like a particularly bleak time to you then, or were you positive about the future?
I was feeling positive, but it was a bleak time. And I had people in publishing telling me not to launch a magazine too, because it was a recession. But I thought, “I’m not bloody waiting!” Partly because I thought, what’s energising me to do this is what’s happening right now. I didn’t know what was going to happen in six months or a year – that could all be gone.
And then you have that gang mentality between the staff and the readers. And it can be about music or politics.
It was never preachy. It was never about deciding what was going to be “cool” next week. It was just whatever the staff were into, and then there would be people on the periphery who would come closer and closer until they became a part of it too – I’m sure that’s what happened with you. The Face was about forming a network, pre-Facebook.
When you look at the parallels with today, the racist abuse and the homophobia that’s going on, fuelled by social media, it feels just as important that there’s an outlet to address that now: I always thought The Face was intended for inquiring minds – it was open and liberal.
Oh absolutely, yes, it was: the idea of a magazine that can be a rallying point. I think we need something like that again.
I had one job that Nick Hornby described as “the best job in the world” – editor of the NME. And I had it at the very best time. And then I was the owner and editor of The Face. That’s quite incredible. To think I’ve had two of the best jobs in the world. It shows how far you can go with unremarkable talent. I’m not putting myself down, but unremarkable compared to the people I worked with – and yet to do something remarkable. It’s about not having an ego I suppose. It was just being open, that’s all I ever did. And grateful when a good photographer like Sheila Rock walks through the door with these amazing images of David Bowie in Japan or Mario Testino wants to work for you.
One of the really good things about The Face – that I thought from the very beginning – was that I could just be enthusiastic about everything. I didn’t have any obligation to do anything, because I wasn’t part of any organisation. That’s not to say The Face couldn’t be critical, but it started off from the point of: “This is interesting. This is exciting.” And it broadened out from music into a more general sharing of your interests. It’s very much, “We’re enjoying this thing: you might too.”