Animal Magnetism: the life and death of Andrew Tyler remembered by Charles Shaar Murray

From NME journalist to animal rights activist, Andrew Tyler’s extraordinary life and death

If you’ve ever read a more arresting opening paragraph to an autobiography than this

If all went according to plan on April 28, 2017, I ended my life in a small village in the canton of Zurich, accompanied by officials from Dignitas. To remain within the law, I had to do the deed myself: lift the cup and drink a very large dose of Sodium Pentobarbitol, together with an anti-emetic to stop me vomiting it up.

 … then feel free to tell me about it.

The para in question kicks off My Life As An Animal (Loop Books) by a dear friend and former NME colleague named Andrew Tyler. We only worked alongside each other for three or four years, but during that time I realized that he was one of the sweetest, nicest, most generous people I’ve ever known, and that what he brought to our table – apart from solid journalistic talent and experience plus an endearing deadpan wit, expressed through a poker face betrayed only by a giveaway eye-twinkle – was a unique degree of empathy. He was a long way from being NME’s most profound critic (that would have been the late Ian MacDonald), but if you wanted an interview which would touch parts of the subject no-one else could reach, he was yer man.

It was precisely that empathy which led him first to wanting to tell the stories of downtrodden people and then to addressing the plight of animals; from vegetarianism and then to veganism, and finally to the most important period of his post-NME professional life: as director of the Animal Aid charity. Some people find it hard to identify with fellow humans less fortunate than themselves; Andrew’s empathy ultimately led him to care about worms, not to mention bigger, cuter or more seriously endangered creatures. And he managed this without ever being holier-than-thou or flaunting moral superiority, with none of the haughty implied rebukage with which smaller spirits belabour those less committed.

Nevertheless, Andrew was first and foremost not only a man of principle, but one whose warm, gentle demeanour, and an easy charm which was as uncontrived as it was effortless, could not mask his iron determination to follow those principles wherever they led, and no matter how thorny the path.

In those NME days we didn’t talk too much about our personal histories: living in the continuous present as we did, we took each other as we were on the day. Thus Andrew’s book tells me far more than I’d ever gathered about his life from the odd dropped-here-and-there reference or anecdote: dumped into a Jewish orphanage as a small child after his parents split up; falling in love with music; leaving school at 14 and educating himself virtually from scratch; learning his journo craft on small trade magazines and exploring the wider world via three years hitching and odd-jobbing around the Americas, from Canada to Mexico and all points in between, including San Francisco in 1967 …

Andrew had a few years’ worth of rockanroll fun at the NME before setting off to explore a bigger world of proper grown-up crusading investigative journalism for mainstream national publications. However, it was animal activism which occupied him for the next few decades. He’d still be doing it now (and would have been far too busy to write a book) had he not been laid progressively lower and lower by Parkinsons Disease and a degenerative back disease … to the horrifying point where even as physically undemanding an activity as lying in bed reading became an agony.

A lively mind and a passionate spirit trapped in a disintegrating body … Andrew just wasn’t having that. In his letter to Dignitas, he wrote, “The alternative, because of my condition, was to eke out more years without purpose, without the work that means so much to me, shrinking into pain, infirmity and indignity. I do not want that! I want to be free of that dread prospect …”

And now he is.

Since Andrew left the building, and since I first read this memoir, two more of our former colleagues on the NME – or, as master photographer Joseph ‘Captain Snaps’ Stevens used to call it, ‘The Old Gazette’ – have also gone missing. The planet is poorer without Andrew, and also without certified good guys and stalwart companions Roy Carr and Bob Woffinden. To all three, a heartfelt ave atque vale

It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with all of those guys. I’m particularly happy and grateful that I knew Andrew Tyler, and I regret only that I didn’t know him better. My Life As An Animal goes a formidable distance towards redressing that deficiency: it’ll make you wish you’d known him too.

Rules are all right if there’s someone left to play the game

All my friends are going, things just don’t seem the same.

Nick Gravenites said that in a song he wrote for Paul Butterfield.

We only meet at funerals

Fewer of us each time

At every stop somebody leaves

As we get closer to the end of the line.

 I said that.

PS: the link for Andrew’s book takes you to the Animal Aid bookshop — which may cost you a little more than Amazon would charge, but it means that more of your hard-earned stipend goes where Andrew would want it to go … to his family and to the organisation to which he committed so much of his energy. A word to the wise guy (or gal) … you know it makes sense.

Charles Shaar Murray mourns the passing of the NME print edition

The NME of my NME is …

David Bowie, NME, Charles Shaar Murray

Guess who got THIS scoop

Don’t start me talkin’ … I’ll tell everything I know. Because there’s so much things to say …

The news that the NME – where, during my twenties and half of my thirties, I worked and played and did my best to mess with the culture for fun, profit and the chance to make the world, in small and peculiar ways, a better place – has ceased to exist as a printed thing after many years of slow and steady decline gives rise to a plethora of remixed emotions.

Is it like seeing a dear old friend, braindead and paralysed after a protracted illness, having life-support finally switched off? Nahhhh … way too morbid, not to mention too melodramatic. I guess it’s more like passing somewhere you used to live and, even though you’re well aware that different people live there now, that the locks have long been changed and that you’re glad you moved, it’s still a shock to discover that it’s now been converted into a branch of Poundland.

Nevertheless, the NME is still a part of me, and some aspect of me is still a part of the NME. It was where I discovered that – despite all evidence to the contrary – that there was something I could do which people liked, and seized, with both hands and both feet, the opportunity to be part of an attempt to reboot an ailing and obsolescent music paper on the brink of potential cancellation into a mass-market underground-press rock rag capable of capturing the imagination of a significant chunk of the nation’s smartest and most inquisitive yoot-dem.

Long story short: we did it. And when I say ‘we’, I mean those who were there when I arrived in the summer of ’72 (Alan Smith, Nick Logan, Tony Tyler, Roy Carr, Julie Webb, Robert Ellis, Fred Dellar and others), those who arrived soon after I did (Nick Kent, Joe Stevens, Pennie Smith, Neil Spencer, Ian MacDonald) and them what came along in the next few new waves (Andrew Tyler, Mick Farren, John May, Pete Erskine, Chris Salewicz, Tony Benyon, Kate Phillips, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Paul Morley, Ian Penman, Paul du Noyer, Anton Corbijn, Danny Baker, Chalkie Davies, Mat Snow, Barney Hoskyns, Chris Bohn … the list goes on and continued to do so long after my own departure ). No single one of us ‘was’ the NME. None of us ever could have been. We all were. And we all made contributions to building this … thing … which were as irreplaceable as was the thing itself.

If it hadn’t been for the NME, I have no idea what my life would have been like (apart from grievously bereft of sex, drugs and rockanroll). And I know that the demise of Printed Stuff is about as inevitable as a very inevitable thing can get, and that there’s no use crying over spilt beans and the passing times.

So let’s raise a glass and/or spliff for those no longer on the set: I.Mac, the Terrible Tyler Twins, Micky Farren, poor old Pete Erskine, Fiona Foulgar, the recently departed and already massively missed Cliff White.

Most of us had fun. A few of us (not me!) got rich. All of us made a difference.

Songs? Try The Beatles’ In My Life, Dusty Springfield’s Goin’ Back and Johnny Cash singing Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down for how I feel now. For how it felt then … compile your own playlist, depending on when your own zeitgeisty NME ‘then’ was. Mine would run from Starman and All The Young Dudes to Ghost Town and The Message.

NME was a perfect storm, coming together from a set of social, cultural, technological and economic conditions which had never coincided before and will never coincide again. One of our distinguished alumni recently suggested bringing together the survivors of the 70s team for ‘one more issue’ but hey, fugeddaboudit … you can’t dip into the same river twice, or expect to look into the mirror of your teenage bedroom and see the same face again.

(Unless, that is, you could bring back I.Mac, the Terrible Tyler Twins and Micky F from wherever they’re currently hanging out …)

We only meet at funerals

Fewer of us each time

At every station somebody leaves

Approaching the end of the line …

These we have loved, these we have lost along the way … and the stars look very different today.

Charles Shaar Murray NME

Pic Pennie Smith

Micky, we hardly knew ye …

Miles Charles Shaar Murray Mick Farren Chalkie Davies

Herewith the full original author’s-cut text of the piece I wrote for The Guardian after my old pal Mick Farren fell off his perch … written within 24 hours of the bombshell. The pic, recently unearthed by Chalkie Davies, shows Miles, me, Micky and Chalkie in Brighton,summer of 1976. 

If you gotta go, go now … or else you got to stay all night. Mick Farren was a lifelong writer in a full spectrum of disciplines and a former political activist who became a living banner for the psychedelic left, but fundamentally he was a performer at heart. Late in life, he had reunited his ’60s cult band The Deviants and returned to the stage which was as much his true home as the writer’s chair he had occupied for the previous four-decades-and-change. Only weeks away from what would’ve been his 70th birthday, he died a true performer’s death: onstage at a crowded club on a Saturday night with applause still ringing in his ears. I nearly went to that show. I’m glad I didn’t, and was thus spared seeing someone who’d been a friend for over forty years die before my eyes.

If Micky had been the singer he wanted to be — Elvis, Gene Vincent, Jim Morrison — or even a ‘non-singer’ whose style captured the listener the way Bob Dylan or John Lydon did, his writing may have remained a sideline, or been confined to the composition of lyrics. As it was, it was his writing — journalism, polemics, criticism, poetry, fiction, autobiography, social history, manifestos and much, much more — which became his voice. And certainly he cut a dashing and charismatic figure in the London underground and rock and roll worlds of Ladbroke Grove and te West End from the late ’60s until he relocated to the US at the end of the ’70s: all leather and denim and silk and studded belts, topped off with mirrorshades and Afro and a spectacularly broken nose; part biker, part urban guerrilla, part rock and roll dandy.

Even at the height of the ‘Summer Of Love’, there was nothing ‘flower-power’ about Micky: no-one could have been further from the stereotype of the mumbling indolent hippie than he was. Farren represented hippie’s militant wing; he was a whirlwind of activity, a cauldron of ideas, some of which actually worked. He became part of the editorial collective of London’s fortnightly underground paper International Times (IT for short) and ultimately its editor, performed with The Deviants (essentially, a punk band almost a decade too early), organised demos and gigs (where, if he wasn’t performing, he’d nevertheless be onstage delivering his inimitable rabble-rousing revolutionary rants) and co-published the underground comic Nasty Tales which, in a less-publicised parallel to the OZ Trial, was prosecuted for obscenity and led to him (successfully) defending himself from an Old Bailey dock.

Above all, he was smart and funny, impressively well-read, endlessly fascinated by all aspects of popular and boho culture, a sparkling conversationalist and a world-class raconteur. It seemed blindingly obvious that when the underground press collapsed in the 1970s, that Micky should join other former outlaw journalists like me and Nick Kent at the New Musical Express where, sheltering under the umbrella of IPC, we’d continue the mission of fun and subversion by other means, only now to a much wider readership. During the second half of the ’70s — before, during and after punk — we shared an office (not to mention similar tastes in coiffure, eyewear, music, politics and stimulants of choice), and no-one could rationally have demanded that the universe supply a more congenial and entertaining deskmate.

Inevitably, we lost touch during his US sojourn, when he lived first in Manhattan and later in LA, seeing each other only during his occasional visits to London. He’d always been a chronic asthmatic, never far from his inhaler, and it was ultimately serious health problems which brought him back to live in the UK. Quite simply, under the US healthcare system he couldn’t remotely afford the treatments he needed, but which were available to him here via the NHS.

Last year I saw him perform with The Deviants at London’s Borderline. Now massively overweight and perched on a barstool at stage-centre, he seemed sluggish at first but then the old fire returned … but backstage, after the show, he was in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask clamped over his lower face.

For some months, our mutual friend Chris Salewicz has been trying to coordinate a reunion between Micky and our old buddy Wilko Johnson, still rocking the blues in the face of terminal cancer, but their various schedules and medical needs have frustrated his efforts. Now it’ll never happen.

Nevertheless, Micky died, like all good rock and roll cowboys, with his boots on. And his shades.

For my review of Give The Anarchist A Cigarette, Micky’s 2001 autobiography of (mis)adventures in 1960s/70s London, give it some clickage here