Mark Blake is an English music journalist, who wrote the book Is This The Real Life?, which I really enjoyed. Here, you can read what Mark has to say:
Hello Mark, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
When growing up, did you want to be a Journalist/Author?
Probably, yes. I was always interested in writing. But I didn’t start writing professionally until I was in my early twenties. I had, for want of a better phrase, ‘proper jobs’ for a few years after leaving school.
In terms of academic achievements/qualifications, how did you get to where you are today?
Luck. I was in the right place at the right time. I left school with a good number of what were then called O-Levels. But by the time I was 18, I’d finished full-time education and drifted into one of those so-called ‘proper jobs’. I had friends that played in groups and I knew a few people that worked in the music business. I managed to get an ‘in’ at a rock magazine because I vaguely knew someone that worked there. You could do things like this in the 1980s, when I started. I’m not sure it would happen that way now.
What inspired you to write ‘Is this this real life’?
I was approached by the publishers, Aurum Press, who’d previously published my Pink Floyd biography, ‘Pigs Might Fly’. They’d actually sounded me out about writing a Queen book at the same time as the Floyd book was mentioned. Then they made me a formal offer once the Floyd book was published. So, I was inspired by money! But, that said, I believed there was a gap in the market for a Queen book that a) brought their story right up to date and b) that filled in the gaps in the existing Queen books.
Have you ever seen a QUEEN show?
Many times. I first saw Queen in, I think, 1980, on the ‘Queen Crazy’ tour. I saw them several times after that: at Wembley Arena, at Wembley Stadium on the ‘Magic’ tour. I am supposedly visible in the audience if you watch the DVD, but I’ve never been able to see myself. I also saw their final gig with Freddie Mercury at Knebworth in 1986. Funnily enough, I remember Wembley very well, but don’t remember much about Knebworth. It was too big. The stage seemed as if it was miles away.
Where and how did you carry out research for the book?
I had access to lots of old interviews with the band, including my own, but I also spoke to around 70 other people. I made a list of people I wanted to talk to – ex-roadies, ex-band members, old schoolfriends, producers etc – and just worked through the list. A couple of people refused to talk to me, but many people were very helpful and obliging. The important thing for me was to find people that were part of the Queen story that had never been interviewed before; people like their ex-bass player who lasted two gigs before being sacked for showing off to much on stage, or Freddie Mercury’s first friends when he came to England.
Did you ever interview any of the band members? If so, who was the most willing participant?
I have interviewed Brian May and Roger Taylor many times over the past 17 years or so, but not specifically for this book. I’ve interviewed them both before ‘Is This The Real Life’ came out and a couple of times since. The book’s never been mentioned. I doubt either of them have read it.
How do you set up interviews, if they are for book research or articles?
For book research, I approach via email, wherever possible. But I have sometimes written letters to people I wanted to speak to. For magazine articles, the interviews are set up via the magazine editor and Queen’s PR.
Do you think that a degree in Journalism is needed to be a Journalist?
Nowadays, yes. Like I said earlier, I was in the right place at the right time and I was very lucky. There were more opportunities back then. In terms of formal qualifications, I am woefully under-qualified for the job I’ve ended up doing.
As a writer, what is your opinion of the blogging field?
I’m a fan. But more out of necessity than anything else. I’ve started a very infrequent blog (click here to view) This has given me the opportunity to give my readers more information and longer versions of some of my interviews.
Would you consider yourself a music journalist?
Yes. But I’m as interested in the people I write about as I am in the music they make – sometimes more.
For our readers who have not read your latest book, could you please describe the plot of your latest book? (Click here to purchase.)
My latest book is ‘Pretend You’re In A War: The Who And The Sixties’. It’s about the early days of the rock band The Who and their late ex-managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. It’s a study of pop music and pop management in the 60s. This is the music world that existed before Queen came along.
What do you think is the best way to build contacts?
Word of mouth and experience. I started writing ‘professionally’ – in the loosest sense of the word – in 1988, 1989. Keep plugging away.
For people who wish to follow in your footsteps, do you have any tips?
Keep plugging away! Find something you love and write about that, but try and find some aspect of that subject other people haven’t written about.
And finally, one random question-so you don’t get bored, being asked the same mundane questions:
Who is your historical hero and why?
I have no idea, sorry!