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Promising “music, arts and facial hair”, Beard has quickly become one of the best zines in Scotland. The judges at the EMAP Fanzine Awards agreed and named Beard as the best music fanzine earlier in the year earning them a cash prize and, even better, the opportunity to hang out with the one and only Steve Lamacq.

Covering a nice mix of local talent and bigger touring bands as well as more offbeat topics, the latest issue sees the layout and print quality improving yet further to showcase the photography at its best with the writing and cartoons keeping to the usual high standard. So we though it was about time to collar co-editor Stewart and get him to answer some questions.

How did you first discover fanzines and what made you want to do your own?

I’d always been interested in journalism. Strictly speaking I made my first zine in primary six, although it was just handwritten, hand-drawn stuff about football which I got my dad to photocopy at work. But I didn’t know anything about fanzines – I was just imitating Shoot! (kids football mag)

Growing up in Stirling in the mid 90s, I didn’t have much access to zines. I loved Grand Royal though. It had the production values of a magazine but a zine attitude. I ended up editing the student paper, but it wasn’t until I came to Glasgow to do my post-grad journalism course and met Neil that the idea of doing a zine came up. There had been a couple of recent Glasgow zines I’d really liked – Cheery Bananas, which was the Scottish answer to The Onion, and Lucy Sweet’s Chica – and the music scene was getting really exciting again, so we were duly inspired. It was also a way to keep writing.

What’s the obsession with beards all about?

Well, Neil and I had been listening to a lot of Will Oldham, Dennis Wilson and Robert Wyatt, so we developed an admiration for beards. We wanted to do some kind of silly top ten for the projected zine and, aided by the cheap red wine we would drink in Neil’s grotty flat, I hit on the idea of beards. Then I thought, why not do a whole zine about beards? In the cold, sober light of day we realised that was ridiculous, but the name and top ten stuck. We nearly ditched the name Beard after the first issue, but fortunately we saw sense. Having daft jokes about beards, along with comics and what not, ensures the zine doesn’t become too dry. You can be passionate about music, but still have a bit of fun with it. We don’t want to be The Wire.

UK zinedom seems to have been a bit quiet of late. Do you think things are starting to pick up again? Do you feel any kinship with other new zines?

I’m fairly new to the world of zines, but I am seeing more on the shelves again. In April, Neil, Ben and myself went to the first annual London Fanzine Symposium. We thought it was going to be some big thing like a Star Wars convention, with top zine editors giving talks and so on, but it was actually in a squat in the West End. Various DIY distro people had stalls set up, which was a real eye opener. It seemed a little disappointing at first, ‘cos there were scores of boring and badly Xeroxed anarcho-punk zines, and tedious personal zines full of sixth-form musings, but we managed to pick up some gems. There were some wonderful comics like Morgenmuffel and some really funny gay and lesbian zines.

I write for Is This Music? and have friends who’re involved with Plan B, so I feel a certain kinship with them, even though they’re not strictly zines. But I’m keen to develop links with other zinesters.

What good/bad/hilarious experiences have you had doing interviews?

There have been a couple of interviews where I could have been better prepared, but no disasters thankfully. I don’t want to sound like a luvvie, but everyone we’ve interviewed has been lovely. …Trail of Dead was a blast. Conrad took a bite out of the copy of Beard I gave him. I wasn’t offended, ‘cos it made for a great photo. Meeting Ian Svenonious was pretty amazing, but my Dictaphone fucked up so we lost about five minutes of the interview. We should be able to sort out a follow up though.

How much does the internet affect fanzines in general and particularly your own? Do you have any plans to put the fanzine online?

Certain types of zine haven’t been affected so much, because they wouldn’t work online. I picked up an interesting zine in London called The Mind’s Construction. It began online but the editors decided to go into print, because it was easier to read and had more longevity.

I can’t imagine what Beard would be like without the internet. I got in touch with a number of my contributors and other zinesters through messageboards. We’ve got a weblog, which compliments the zine ‘cos I can post up to date reviews, respond to recent events and post links to interesting things. It’s a great promotional tool: we’ve sold a lot of copie s to people who’ve seen the blog. We’ve been meaning to set up a proper website for a while. Nothing fancy, but it’ll incorporate the blog, give us space to do more reviews, and have an archive of the best bits of past issues.

What was it like winning the EMAP zine award? Did you feel more pressure to prove yourself when producing the next issue?

Winning the award was an amazing stroke of luck. I came across the EMAP Awards site and discovered the closing date for entries was the previous day. But they very kindly said they’d accept a late entry. A week later I got a call to say Beard had been nominated, which was unbelievable. Going on to win was fantastic, but we were happy just to be there – there was a free bar after all.

I’ve always aimed to make each issue better than the last, so I think I’d feel a certain amount of pressure to prove myself with each new issue anyway. I suppose the award will raise the pressure to some extent – it all depends on what people think of the new issue.

What bands are you excited about just now?

We’ve been banging on about Lucky Luke for a while, so it’s really great to see them doing so well. The other new Glasgow band I really rate is The Sky At Night: dreamy indie melancholy with a county twang. I’m really looking forward to the new Scatter album – Alex Nielson is an amazing musician. Then there’s the more obvious stuff like Sons And Daughters, Antony & The Johnsons and Arcade Fire.

What have been the best and worst things about running a fanzine?

Best: getting to meet all kinds of interesting people and having people say nice things about Beard.
Worst: the stress, the late nights, the lack of money.

Have you got any advice for anyone thinking of starting a fanzine?

Make sure you’re offering something different to what’s already out there. Be true to yourself and let your imagination run wild. Don’t expect the first issue to be a huge success – the first Beard certainly wasn’t – but hang in there, ‘cos if what you’re doing is good, people will appreciate it. Ask around about good printers and copy shops and avoid expensive places with fancy offices.

What have you got planned for future issues?

We’ve got a few interviews lined up for the next issue, but I ain’t telling! I’m going to the Green Man festival, so there will be some coverage of that. There’s going to be a homage to an unfashionable but great rock star and, of course, more top ten beards. We’re going to have a wee bit of a redesign. We’d also like to do more events – the launch for the current issue went really well.

For ordering info etc. visit the Beardblog