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I bought this having heard the author interviewed on the Danny Baker show. I didn't really know who he was but thought it sounded like fun. It was only when I saw the picture on the front of the book in the Kindle store that I recognised Mark Ellen. My impression of him has always been of a enthusiastic, slightly naff, but engagingly so, puppyish figure. That very much accords with the picture he paints of himself in this book. And yet, if the picture is an accurate one, then puppyish enthusiasm has enabled Ellen to be a driving force behind large parts of the music press from the 80s onwards, Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, Select. Add to that, for example, a significant involvement in Live Aid and you have what looks like a very successful career. Live Aid is perhaps illustrative of the whole. One was aware of the hiccups on the day, but overall the impression was of the might of the BBC getting behind a hastily constructed event. Ellen's picture is of a BBC which "didn't do" rock music and so handed the job to the amateurish Whistle Test team. The analogy provided is like asking Radio Cambridgeshire to cover the General Election.

Throughout his career Ellen has met enthusiasts for particular genres, prog, punk, rave etc etc but his own enthusiasm seems to be for popular music as a whole, in any form, any genre, with the possible exception of Cowell manufactured acts. His story starts with a pretty conventional middle class childhood in Hampshire from which the rock music scene was an escape from what he saw as stultifying boredom. Indeed, the theme of father/ son relationships, while not central to the book, is a pleasing and eventually touching background thread.

Having spent late teenage years travelling to festivals, and living in a half hearted commune in France, Ellen went up to Oxford, where amongst other things he was a member of a band called Ugly Rumours. As has been frequently documented, the charismatic but slightly self obsessed singer was one Anthony Blair.

After Oxford, enthusiasm, coupled with real determination, lead to Ellen's association with most of the major British music publications of the last two decades of the 20th century. Starting with a near life threatening encounter with Elvis Costello for Record Mirror, he moves on to NME in the Tony Parsons, Julie Birchall era where his uncynical enthusiasm seems somewhat at odds with the prevailing mood, although he does find a kindred eclectic spirit in the afore mentioned Baker.

This isn't, however, an unerringly positive account, Ellen does on occasion channel his enthusiasm into delivering a damn good kicking. The 70s and 80s Radio 1 pop DJs get a particularly vigorous shoeing, with Dave Lee Travis right on the end of the author's toe cap. Other particular targets are Roy Harper and Jimmy Page (jointly) and Van Morrison.

Inevitably the book contains plenty of celebrity anecdotes, but Ellen's do tend to have the irresistible merit of being funny, interesting, or indeed both. Some fine examples include a surprisingly feisty Sheena Easton, a down at heel Meatloaf, an insecure John Peel, an uninformed Su Pollard, an unashamed Rod Stewart and a remarkably deshabille Lady Gaga.

The final major anecdote is about being on a whirlwind world tour with Rihanna. In some ways Ellen uses this as part of his transition into being a grumpy old man, bemoaning the sense of entitlement of young journalist and the commoditisation of music. But even then, he can't give up his essential niceness, finding a way to recognise that the spoilt diva is under enormous pressure which goes a long way to understanding and even forgiving her brattish behaviour.

So, all in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining memoir, more about music journalism than about the music business itself, although the two are, of course, inevitably close, and the author comes across as a pretty decent chap, a good old english amateur succeeding through a combination of hard work and love for his chosen profession.

A final sign of the overall warmness of the book. In the mid 80s Ellen married Clare. For the rest of the book I found myself worrying when the split would come, showbiz lifestyle and all that. But it doesn't, and the dedications at the start suggest they are still happily together.
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on 17 June 2014
I will be honest - I bought this book to better understand my dad's worship of the Band Aid generation of musicians. Mark Ellen writes with humour and flair, and the ride is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish: from the early days to Rihanna's Boeing 777 and "conflict-free" diamonds. It also made probably the most appreciated Father's Day gift in history ...

My dad can now watch Top of the Pops replays from the 80s in peace. In fact, I might even watch them with him occasionally!
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on 13 June 2014
This is one of, if not the best, book about rock journalism I have read (and I have read a lot). Wonderful to read about the origins of some of my favourite journals, from Q to the late and much lamented Word. I bought the first edition of Mojo and all these years later I'm still buying it - although I do believe it has been overtaken of late by Uncut. Thanks a million, Mark.
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on 9 January 2016
This reminded me of Andrew Collins' "Where Did It All Go Right?" - a cheery memoir from the world of popular culture where the default attitude is generally cultivatedly-cool cynicism. Mark Ellen (like Collins) is hugely self-deprecating, never quite believing he is actually part of the circus that he ends up being a ring-master of. In his 1980s incarnation, Ellen was a chubby-cheeked, cheeky-grinning ringer for Paul McCartney, and he carries Macca's glass-more-than-half-full attitude to his life story as opposed to the empty glasses of Lennon and Ellen's early NME colleagues (Birchill, Parsons, Morley et al). So in the field of pop/rock auto-biogs this is a refreshing change to the mainstream, although being thought too mainstream is exactly what our author had to battle against as he rose through the publishing ranks via the success he made of Smash Hits and the Emap titles that followed. He admits to taking drugs once, and suffering numerous impossible-to-avoid-rock-journalist-hang-overs, but in terms of his own rock-and-roll lifestyle, that's it - he seems to have a happy and long-standing marriage (despite his wife's weakness for Dylan's dourer outpourings) and instead, is able to stand back and shine a light on the clay feet of the false idols of the music world (including those he's idolised himself since being a boy). This is a wonderful whistle-stop tour through the changing face of music, broadcasting and publishing from the mid 60s to almost now, with tour highlights including reviewing Jefferson Airplane without having been at the gig, presenting Live Aid (or part of it), emerging as Michael Jackson's spokesperson-in-death, getting to see the real Roy Harper, and being one-on-one with Lady Gaga. Mixed in with the anecdotes though, there are some lovely musings on the music world and the rock star's impossible lot, and why we create idealised versions of them that they can never actually live up to. This book, however, more than lived up to my own expectations, but I will take the author's advice and try my hardest to avoid meeting him in person, in case he turns out not to be the wonderful person I now imagine that he is.
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This is an engaging and fascinating memoir by Mark Ellen – music journalist, critic, radio and television presenter – whose life has been completely wrapped up in his love of music. He begins with his sisters love of The Beatles, and his early musical interest in bands such as The Kinks and Bob Dylan in the Sixties. His childhood love of music was misunderstood by his parents, who disapproved of Top of the Pops and these new long haired bands taking over the airwaves. However, as so often happens, parental disapproval only made music even more attractive to Ellen. His first gig was Nick Lowe at the Roundhouse and he moved on to musical influences such as Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. Early bands at school and university made him realise that his career did not lie in actually being a musician (with band names such as, “Rectal Prolapse,” you suspect success was not going to be easy). However, watching the music press of the Seventies (many almost as famous as the bands they were writing about) swanning into the backstage areas at music festivals and concerts, gave him the idea of possibly trying to work for a music magazine.

What follows is really a career in music. Mark Ellen has worked for music magazines as diverse as NME to Smash Hits, through Q and Mojo. His section on working at the NME is especially interesting, with office politics and factions developing amongst the journalists, which gave him his first disenchantment of what working in the music business would be, considering his rather youthful and naive views at the time. He worked for Radio One, standing in for a delightfully insecure John Peel, before finally getting his own show (one of the highlights of the book for me was a rather nervous encounter with Iggy Pop, who turned up for an interview covered in woad and in no fit state to answer any questions – especially live on air); moving on to television with “The Old Grey Whistle Test” – later updated to the rather more modern, “Whistle Test” when “The Tube” threatened viewing figures. He was at Live Aid, many different award shows and has seen the best and worst of the music business.

Although meeting some of his heroes led to disappointment (another highlight was a hilarious, for all the wrong reasons, interview with Roy Harper and Jimmy Page), this is not, in any way, an unkind or vicious attack on those the author is writing about. Yes, he may muse on how certain superstars have terrible behaviour, but he also understands how difficult living with such huge fame can be. Mostly, his writing is very self deprecating, laughing at himself over anyone else and will not offend anyone mentioned within its pages. Often it is the music business itself, rather than the personalities, that comes under scrutiny. However, for anyone who grew up in the time Mark Ellen is writing about, or who loves music, this is an entertaining and enjoyable read. The author has managed to laugh both himself, and at the business he has spent his life working in, yet also convey his immense fondness and affection for the music which has provided the soundtrack of our lives – including his own. If you enjoy books by authors such as Stuart Maconie, then you will probably like this.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 December 2014
As a subscriber to the late lamented Word magazine, and someone who has enjoyed every one of the Word magazine podcasts, I am familiar with both Mark Ellen and many of the anecdotes which appear in Rock Stars Stole My Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair With Music. This prior knowledge did not detract from my enjoyment one jot.

Mark's musical consciousness started in the sixties and continues to the present day, and as such he has anecdotes galore from his long and illustrious career which saw him pass through the NME, Smash Hits, the BBC (and Whistle Test plus the small matter of Live Aid), Mojo, and the Word. Needless to say he has great insights about the way the music industry worked (and works); his numerous and eclectic musical passions; his own life story; and much more.

This book is a joy.
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VINE VOICEon 16 January 2015
If like me you get a newsletter/magazine from your old University containing reviews of books written by former students, you'll know that those books are often only of interest to academics in highly specialised fields. It was a very pleasant surprise therefore to come across a review of "Rock Stars Stole my Life" in last autumn's newsletter. I acquired the book and read it eagerly - it didn't disappoint. Mark Ellen is clearly nuts about music but has managed to remain surprisingly level-headed following 40 years working in music journalism. I loved his childhood recollections of his father's complete bafflement by rock/pop music. At University, Ellen wanted to be a performer himself, and formed a band with Tony Blair. After realising that music journalists got in to big gigs for free, he set about carving out a career for himself as a reviewer and writer - and the rest is history. There are loads of funny and entertaining stories in this book (including using Phil Collins singles for shooting practise) but it is also fascinating to look back on how the music business and music journalism have evolved since the late 70s. I remember buying Smash Hits when it very first came out - oh the thrill of seeing rock stars in colour (in your face, Sounds and NME!) and I definitely recall the free Simple Minds badge, which was so proudly worn by Mark Ellen's mum. Basically this a great read if you fancy a bit of a musical nostalgia-fest. Don't forget to check out the URL on the dust-jacket for a generous helping of extra photos and other bits and pieces.
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on 11 May 2014
A marvellous evocation of a time when rock ruled the world and was the centre of his (and many of our) lives. But he remembered most of it, and I'd forgotten how hilarious it all was. Buy this if you love any kind of music and can't figure out why no-one else appreciates it in quite the same way.
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on 19 December 2014
Once you're past Mr. Ellen's early adventures in prog and get to his entry into music journalism, this is a fantastic read. Beginning as a stringer at the NME as it went through its late 70s imperial phase, it's the story of a writer who perhaps was never fashionable but has achieved much in his career.

Watching in bemusement as his colleague at Smash Hits (Neil Tennant) becomes a bona fide pop star, the wing and a prayer operation of Live Aid, the disastrous Page/Harper interview and generally getting to share a canape with anybody who is anybody in rock and pop - it's a fantastic read full of top quality anecdotes.

Mark has been a major influence of many of the magazines I have read on a regular basis - particularly the late, lamented Word. It's easy to appreciate his horror that led to the creation of that magazine as he relates how the buzzword-spouting management drones rip the soul out of publishing. Sometimes Mark Ellen comes over like some Zelig figure who has spent four decades lurking in the background at major music events. His tale is well worth your time.
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on 31 May 2014
I grew up in the era during which Mark Ellen was editing Smash Hits. It's fab to read about it from the point of view of one of the stylemakers (yes, you were!) as a mature (!) adult. He writes with wit and intelligence. I can't put it down and am quite content to post this review whilst still only 85% of the way through. Don't really want it to end. Child of the 80s? Buy it now.
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