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James Brown

The Leeds-Born Legendary Journalist and Esteemed Author

Famed Editor James Brown is known for being the creator of the revolutionary 90's men's magazine Loaded. An industry legend, James recently published 'Animal House' — a book about his remarkable career and roller coaster life. MARRKT Founder Lewis met James at his home in East London to chat about Loaded, music, football and Japan...

It’s 30 years since Loaded launched and there’s going to be a BBC documentary about it later this year. You recently published your memoir Animal House detailing your roller coaster life and career. How's life treating you now and why did you write the book so late in your life?

Basically I’m shit at deadlines. Really bad. I had my first discussion about writing my book in 1997. And then over the next twenty years I wrote the same first page, thank you lists and notes over and over again. Every now and then I find a really nice notebook full of scribbled sections with anecdotes and feelings, exactly the same as six or seven other such notebooks. 

I eventually pitched it properly and had it commissioned six years ago by Quercus who had published my five a side football memoir Above Head Height. It was so late it became a history book for a younger generation who had become fascinated by the freedom, excess and creativity of the 90s. The FT described it as the Domesday book of Bad Behaviour!

Well it's full of stories about being a music fan, an avid comic and magazine reader, then writer and then editor and publisher. There are a lot of interesting encounters and behind the scenes stories of what it was like to create a global genre changing magazine and the excessive behaviour that went with it. A lot of drinking and then how I got over that.

Tell us some of your best moments of you time at Loaded — funniest, maddest, baddest.

Well you’ll have to buy the book but: Interviewing Louis Van Gaal after far too much space cake in Amsterdam. Going to Prince's birthday party in Brazil with Happy Mondays. Calling the Vatican to have the Pope help us decide which were the best crisps. That sort of thing...

Loaded defined Lads culture in the 90’s. I’m 44 and that era was my youth, a period I look back on of discovery and excitement, particularly music. Seeing bands of the era perform now such as Ocean Colour Scene, New Order, Shed Seven the audiences have bit less hair, but much of the same energy. What do you think it is that the 90’s holds so special for many of us?

It felt like a really positive, joyful, creative reaction to the hardship of the early 80s. A lot of people leaving school between 80 and 85 to unemployment started their own fashion or record labels, fanzines, clubs and so on and by 1990 they were doing well. The introduction of all day drinking, the rise of festivals, a thriving club culture, television got very good that decade too, particularly comedy with Partridge, Father Ted, The Fast Show, Vic and Bob and a whole new energy in films like Trainspotting, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Twin Town and so on. There was a tremendous creative confidence and often the best things around broke into and changed the mainstream.

There was a tremendous creative confidence in the 90's and often the best things around broke into and changed the mainstream. 

I first raised the prospect of doing a feature whilst you were on holidays in Japan. You said you would emigrate there if you were footloose and free. What is about the country that inspires you? You’ve slowed down a bit these days, how did Japan handle the James Brown of old?

I’ve been to Japan four times in the last few years and it feels as exciting as when I first went to New York in the late 80s. It’s different enough to genuinely feel inspiring but similar enough to navigate without any problems. You can go to a clothes shop like Kapital and just look at or buy these insane satin jackets with intricate embroidery reflecting some of the army imagery of the US forces in Vietnam, they zip up into cushions, which doesn’t sound like something you’d wear on a night out in Hull but the imagination that goes into them is really impressive. Japanese people seem to really focus on details. There are literally hundreds of vintage shops in Tokyo, amazing second hand record shops, the food is really diverse and cheap. People think Japan is still expensive but it’s cheaper than the UK and the people are incredibly helpful.

I first went with Sir Paul Smith in 1996 when he was a really big name there, it was like being with the Beatles. Long queues down the roads into his shops when people knew he was going to be there, being mobbed by fashion students at a college. I spent a lot of that trip drinking sake but now many years on I prefer travelling, walking about the cities and also enjoying the stillness of the amazing Japanese gardens. 

We took a few shots in the local park it wasn’t long before you found someone you knew. Heading back to your home we found Nemo’s, a chippy that you raved about, chatting with the owner. Is London home for the foreseeable? What are some of your favourite haunts...

Well I want to be near my little boy otherwise I’d be in Tokyo or New York. Aaron at Nemo’s in N16 is a mate, the only fish and chip shop that sells my book!  I do really like London again, in my experience there’s always more happening than most major capitals. I like going to the Rock and Roll Book Club at the Trades club in Walthamstow, they have live interviews with musicians and authors who’ve written music books. 

I love the Curzon cinema and its Documentary screen in Bloomsbury. Tate Britain is free and has some great exhibitions. That's the Tate they had before the Tate Modern which is probably more well known now. I like cycling down to Canary Wharf and docklands very early in the morning. The bars in Soho are as busy as ever, I was out seeing a band The Oliver Shaw Experience in Soho last night, they were good. The West End was packed. I’ll go to a comedy club to see Vittorio Angelone or John Meagher who I play football with. Very funny guys. I had lunch recently in the Rochelle Canteen E2, where the food is amazing, although there was some lunatic firing a cross bow at people in the street last time I went. I went to see Jamie Holman’s LUFC v Millwall pitch invasion print round there in Shoreditch too recently at the Second Act Gallery.

Football, music, clothing has been woven together for years, no more so than during the 90’s era. I remember as a Saturday boy in Flannels in the late 90’s, the terrace lads would come in post game, off their heads, buying Stone Island, CP etc. It was a thrill to be honest. Are the cultures still as closely aligned do you think?

I think they are central to the lives of people who go to football. Large sections of fans love labels and going out with their mates as much as they love going to the game. We always had Flannels ads on the back of Leeds Leeds Leeds mag when I edited that. I’ve just written something for a book Admiral have done for their 50th anniversary about the musicians who’ve worn their football shirts over the years. Tony Rivers has his Stone Island book out too, so there’s been those cross overs for so long that it has a nostalgia and heritage scene as well as contemporary fans buying music and fashion.

I’m going to ask you about Leeds United since it’s one of the subjects our conversation always comes back to. You’ve described football as your religion — what is it about Leeds that keeps us going back for more? 

Well I was very lucky to be growing up in the city when we were the best team in the country. After that, the 80's weren’t the greatest period but beyond that we’ve won divisions, cups, the league or promotion in pretty much every decade I’ve been alive in so as our song goes we always have our ups and downs. Few teams anywhere in Europe have won their top division, won European trophies and also started a season with minus 15 points in the third tier. The years away from the upper echelons weren’t always that entertaining on the pitch but it was great going round the country in League One seeing a different side of football from playing at Arsenal or Liverpool.

You wrote a previous book Above Head Height about playing 5aside. Who is most surprising person you’ve met on a 5aside pitch?

Woody Harrelson! I came back from holiday and he’d joined the Tuesday night game I play in which has a couple of comedians in. He was making a film here and wanted a kick about and his temporary neighbour knew about our game and sent him our way. That was pretty weird. Especially as I hit 9 goals that night and he hugged me after everyone of them.

Do you still play now?

Yes like many old men I’ve had a knee problem but once that’s cleared up I’ll be back to playing two games a week and the occasional 11aside appearance too. I still think I’m Peter Lorimer when I score.

I once played 5aside with Woody Harrelson! I hit 9 goals that night and he hugged me after every one of them.

Finally what are you reading?

Two books, Memoirs Of A Geezer by bassist Jah Wobble who I saw talking last week, he was hilarious. And The Year of Dangerous Days by Nicholas Griffin about the 1980 race riots in Miami, insane mix of a racist police murder, a sudden influx of 10,000 Cubans and the cocaine trade blowing up extremely violently.

If you'd like to find out more about James Brown's fascinating life, you can buy a copy of Animal House below, as well as his first book Above Head Height. You can also buy a signed copy of Animal House by contacting James directly on Instagram at @JamesJamesBrown.

Photography by Ben Benoliel at 2812 Studio.