May Days: Small town talking

9780571309764Never Enough cover

I’m doing the following UK events this month to discuss Never Enough, Small Town Talk (shortly out in paperback), and anything else anyone might want to ask me about…

Mon 15 May 19:30 (MEMBERS ONLY)

Shoreditch House, 1 Ebor Street, London E1 6AW

Weds 17 May 19:30

The Woolpack Inn, 6 Fawcett Street, York YO10 4AH

Thurs 18 May 19:30

Wakefield Beer Exchange, 14 Bull Ring, Wakefield WF1 1HA

Tues 30 May 19:30

Studio 2 Parr Street, 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN

Poem for Ron Sexsmith


Long Player


The name’s a strange one:

Sexsmith by trade or by vocation

with voice of plummy angel and sad child’s face,

distilling pitfalls of our frailty,

miniatures of moments,

reveries of sorrow and of fate.


Friend in need

when I have need of tender mending,

I love that you don’t strut and are not smug –

are sweetly vulnerable instead,

self-effaced Canadian

with nest of hair and doleful eyes.


Ghosts of ’60s harmonies

haunt every song and well-honed phrase

repurposed and reclaimed:

Your former glory in a flash,

Now lost in thought or thought out loud.


Who cares if you’re not hip.

These songs will sound around the world

through my remaining days.


Mark Greif against everything


IN A WEEK I’ll be conversing with fellow “critics” Laura Barton and Will Hodgkinson on the subject of how one writes about music – or dances about architecture, to cite Martin Mull’s almost-infamous 1979 phrase.

I have no idea what I’ll say, though the prospect of the evening has got me thinking about Roland Barthes’ 1972 essay “The Grain of the Voice”, which shaped a 1991 book of mine called From a Whisper to a Scream, and about an NME piece I wrote back in 1984 called “Subbed Culture” – a strident defense of “critical” pop writing in the face of the MTV/Smash Hits dumbing-down of the discourse in that era.

I may go back and read some Lester Bangs, Nik Cohn, Ellen Willis; or some Ian MacDonald, Geoffrey O’Brien, Simon Reynolds. Or I may just point to three remarkable essays in Mark Greif’s 2016 collection Against Everything: “Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop”, “Punk: The Right Kind of Pain”, and “Learning to Rap”.

The three pieces, written in an unapologetically intellectual style that’s nonetheless intimate and confiding and wholly unpretentious, made me realise it’s still possible to write about pop music and pop culture in ways that haven’t exactly been done before – to ask questions of punk, hip hop, and electronica that haven’t exactly been asked before.

“Learning to Rap,” written by a white Harvard graduate, may be the best thing this white Oxford graduate has ever read about hip hop. It engages with the music of, among others, Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. is ways that make their records as emotionally real as they’re socially radical. Greif is brilliant on race and class and crack and capitalism, just as he’s super-perceptive in “Punk” on how much the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead had in common; just as he’s fascinating on the “philosophy” immanent in the vocal tics and synthetic textures of post-OK Computer Radiohead.

I don’t know what I’ll say at Spiritland, but I’ll certainly be thinking about the way Greif has encouraged me to take pop music seriously and personally all over again – to understand why, as Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote in Dancing in the Dark, music is the “rope” that holds my memories together and keeps my life in position.

An Unbound Night Out: How Do You Write About Music? 03/04/2017 6.30 pm

Spiritland, Granary Square, 9 – 10 Stable St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AB

How do you write about music?

Unbound authors Tot Taylor (The Story of John Nightly) and Martine McDonagh (Narcissism for Beginners) are joined on Monday April 3 by the Times chief rock critic and author Will Hodgkinson, journalist and author Laura Barton and, yes, Yours Truly to discuss the question of How Do You Write About Music? Details of the event at Spiritland in London here.

Small Town paperback, out today


The U.S. paperback of my Small Town Talk is published today by Da Capo. Read more about it here and/or buy it on Amazon here.

“A portrait of the musical life of Woodstock, an idyllic artists’ community that turned into a rock ‘n’ roll soap opera.”
The Guardian, “The Best Music Books of 2016”

A San Francisco Chronicle “Top 5 Rock Biography of 2016”

“A breezy, gossipy read that takes you inside Woodstock, N.Y., during its glory days…The always-erudite rock critic vet Hoskyns effortlessly connects the dots in the notorious town’s history.”—Addicted to Noise, “Best of 2016: Top 5 Books”


Publishers Weekly, 2/15/16
An absorbing glimpse into events that shaped Woodstock, N.Y., into a haven for musicians. Hoskyns’s stunning book highlights some of the most memorable music in American history.

Record Collector, Issue 451
[A] supremely evocative book. Hoskyns has painted his masterpiece.

Rolling Stone, 3/24/16
Goes inside the myth, debauchery and creative fire of one of rock’s legendary towns. Hoskyns’ fascinating new history of Woodstock, Small Town Talk, explores one of rock’s most mythic settings [Hoskyns] pin[s] down the knotty reality behind the tie-dyed myth.

The Guardian (UK), 3/2/16
[An] enjoyable study of the New York upstate village. [A] fascinating account of the epic influence and mysterious magnetism of this Dibley-sized corner of the Catskill mountains. Hoskyns, who appears to have talked to everyone who ever lived here, and amasses their testimony with admirable grace and ease, chronicles the excesses that set in during the ’70s in unsparing detail.

No Depression, 1/28/16
Absorbing and in-depth. Hoskyns so powerfully evokes the feelings and vibes both good and bad of living in and through those halcyon and fraught days. In his pages[he] brings new life to old tales[A] captivating look at this sometimes sad and always fascinating scene that gave birth to Americana music.

Mojo, March 2016
Barney Hoskyns has come up with something novel in Small Town Talk. Instead of focusing on the concert which actually took place 60 miles from Woodstock he nails the magic, and mayhem, of the town which inspired the festival’s organisers to co-opt its name. Hoskyns offers a pitch perfect East Coast corollary to his classic tome on the Laurel Canyon scene, Hotel California. Better, he chronicles the seeds of the Americana movement, whose fetish for rural music resonates louder today than ever.

Financial Times, 7/1/16
Woodstock, the Catskills town where Bob Dylan recuperated after his motorbike crash in 1966, [is] a hippy oasis with a storied place in music history, well related in Small Town Talk.

Austin Chronicle, 6/17/16
Hoskyns examines the small upstate New York town that lent the festival its name and uncovers details long forgotten, and in some cases, previously unknown. There’s sex, plentiful drugs, and all sorts of rock & roll.

Best Classic Bands, 7/29/16
In a word: Illuminating. Small Town Talk is the story of refugees fleeing the chaos and paranoia of the rat race, embracing the peace and nature of this welcoming oasis, making some of the best (and sometimes worst) music of their lives, but ultimately discovering that leaving their demons behind was just another pipe dream.

Spectrum Culture, 8/4/16
Some scribes get it right. Barney Hoskyns is one. The reader is moved at a deep level by the drama that unfolds, as the town’s glory fades or, rather, evolves into something that trades on its past rather than creating an ever-brighter future. A book that will hold you in its grip from cover to cover and encourage you to think more deeply about a town that has seen its time come and go.

Montreal Gazette, 4/11/16
A book that eloquently serves as both tribute and eulogy to what people used to call the counterculture. It’s a clear-eyed look at the bohemia-friendly town where many of rock’s major figures found themselves living, working and playing in many cases, playing very hard indeed.”

Woodstock Times, 4/8/16
Hoskyns has spoken to, or spoken to those who have spoken to, almost everyone who was a player, large or small, on the cosmic-bucolic stage of Woodstock, and his affection for them all is on a par with his scholarship and his love and respect for the music and art they created. What’s really valuable about Small Town Talk is the way the author has tied the disparate strands together and braided them into a single, intimate, extensively researched, and color-splattered narrative. The definitive history of Woodstock’s emergence as a world-renowned musical Mecca.

New York Post, 3/13/16
[Hoskyns] tells the colorful history of this town that began its life as an artists colony in the early 20th century.

Counterpunch, 3/11/15
An in-depth look at the Woodstock music scene, that also provides a history of the artistic inclinations of the town itself Small Town Talk is loaded with legendary stories of rock and roll, some funny, some crazy.

Catholic Herald, 3/11/16
How did a Republican-voting rural town in the Catskills become a magnet for disaffected hippies and its very name a metonym for the entire 1960s counter-culture? This is the question Barney Hoskyns, one of rock ‘n roll’s most engaging chroniclers, sets out to answer in this compelling new book. Hoskyns has written a fascinating, poignant and elegiac book that is about much more than music, success and the gentrification of rural AmericaIn Small Town Talk, Hoskyns has taken this tale of smashed hopes and turned it into an allegory of the American dream and of all Edenic aspirations.

Rare footage of the Grey Cloud

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Apart from Dont Look Back and the 1977 Bearsville Picnic on the Old Grey Whistle Test, there’s precious little footage of Albert Grossman… so the Grey Cloud’s brief appearance in this YouTube clip of a 1981 launch party for Bearsville act the Johnny Average Band (featuring the aforementioned Brit and his wife/bandmate Nicki Wills, as well as other Woodstock luminaries incl. another Wdstk Brit, Bearsville engineer/artist John “Brian Briggs” Holbrook) is worth a look. Albert’s cameo kicks in at about 17 minutes. The venue is the old Woodstock Record Shop on Tinker Street, opposite the Village Green.

Northern Uproar!


Details of some forthcoming Louder In The Regions appearances in the Great Northern Powerhouse by yours truly + the great (and highly amusing) Jah Wobble + fellow scribes Chris Salewicz, Zoe Howe and more…

PONTEFRACT: The Tap and Barrel, Front Street

Wed 8th March  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 12th April  7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Wed 10th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 21st June  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 5th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info


SHEFFIELD: The Ship Inn, Kelham Island

Tues 7th March  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 11th April  7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Tues 9th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 20th June  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Tues 4th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info


YORK: The Woolpack Inn, 6 Fawcett Street

Wed 22nd March  7.30pm  Chris Salewicz in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 26th April  7.30pm  Jah Wobble in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 17th May  7.30pm  Barney Hoskyns in conversation
Click here for tix & info

Wed 14th June   7.30pm  John Osborne: John Peel’s Shed
Click here for tix & info

Wed 12th July  7.30pm  Zoe Howe in conversation
Click here for tix & info