Flexibition #33: Flexipop! magazine

In the short film which debuted last week that The Vinyl Factory made about my flexi disc collection I briefly talked about Flexipop! magazine and this week’s entry is dedicated to the publication rather than any one flexi disc. Flexipop! was a unique magazine that existed in a unique time and it deserves a special mention in UK pop publishing history. From 1980 to 1983 it was independently published, created by a couple of ex-Record Mirror journalists – Barry Cain and Tim Lott – and a small team who took the bull by the horns and flew by the seat of their pants. Each monthly issue came with a free flexi disc attached to the cover (excepting later issues – more of that later).

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The mag straddled many different music genres and artists and wasn’t afraid to mix and match without much of a thought for any sort of core audience. At a time when it was competing against the newly launched, ultra-cool i-D and The Face (which they lampooned), the weekly triumvirate of The NME, Melody Maker & Sounds and the bi-weekly Smash Hits, it managed to somehow occupy a spot of its own, coming on like a sleazy big brother to Smash Hits, rising from the ashes of the end of the previous decade. The Punk movement was largely dead by this time, the main bands having moved on, had chart success or split. Synth Pop, New Romantics, a Rockabilly revival, Ska, the Blitz scene, Goths and what would later become known as post-punk and new pop were the order of the day. It was still very much a music business in transition from the DIY spirit of the late 70s to the blatant commercialism that would later consume the pop charts from the mid 80 and it was those years – some of the most interesting in the 80s – that Flexipop straddled.

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The magazine focused primarily on the Pop charts with an eye on the independent labels too and the gimmick of a free disc with each issue was the bait with which they sold their brand. Each disc was a new, exclusive recording as well, not something available elsewhere, which immediately appealed to fans of whoever was the featured artist that month. The discs were manufactured by Lyntone in London and many big artists of the time featured over the magazine’s three year span: Soft Cell, Toyah, The Jam, The Selector, Motorhead, The Boomtown Rats, Blondie, XTC, The Cure, Genesis, Depeche Mode… even Bucks Fizz!

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The first issue I ever bought was #4 for the Adam & The Ants cover version of ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – re-imagined as ‘A.N.T.S.’ – and reading it was a shock for an 11 year old. This was probably my first encounter with a more adult style of writing, complete with swearing, as well as the seedy cartoons of mag designer Mark Manning (later to transform himself into Zodiac Mindwarp) and the violent bloodbaths that were the monthly photo story.

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The mag had taken a leaf out of girl’s magazines like My Guy, Patches and Jackie and decided to run a photo story featuring assorted pop stars and friends in each issue. These gore-fests usually involved some form of torture, mutilation or bloody death in one way or another and ended up getting the magazine banned from WH Smiths stores at one stage. Aside from the photo stories they hardly ever ran the standard interview pieces, instead opting to go for more quirky, quickfire Q&A pieces (‘Lifelines’), features on childhood (‘Testament of Youth’), star’s everyday lives (‘Welcome To The Working Week’) or Top 10s and single reviews.

They also didn’t shy away from the twee either, a double page Abba spread appeared as did a pairing of Berni Nolan (of The Nolan Sisters) with Jello Biafra (The Dead Kennedys) and it was this sense of fun and irreverence that became its trademark. The ban effectively ended up killing the mag by 1983 though, halved sales, caused by the refusal of Smiths to stock it for two months, meant that the flexi had to go and a last minute re-brand with Kris Needs at the editorial helm couldn’t save the day. Their final issue featured Aleister Crowley on the cover (the interior piece was written none other that Current 93‘s David Tibet) and was dubbed issue 666 in his honour.


What was remarkable, looking back, was the access they had to the stars of the day and the situations they managed to get them into as a result. The photo stories are the biggest shock – Depeche Mode being whipped by a dominatrix for instance – but Paul Weller being gagged by Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler as well as dressing up as a mad professor are things you didn’t see elsewhere. A full page kiss between Boy George & Jon Moss in 1982? It would be over a decade before the relationship between the two was publicly acknowledged so they obviously felt at ease with the publication. Flex33_FlexiKisspg


A few months back, whilst researching this piece, I found a whole site dedicated to the magazine, set up by the original team who created it. Not only is it a treasure trove of content, covers, cartoons and other assorted crap but they just released a book – imaginatively entitled ‘Flexipop! The Book’, what else? – chronicling the history of the mag and reprinting a ton of content. Best of all, it comes with a brand new flexi featuring Spandau Ballet and Marc Almond! All the images in this piece are from it and you can grab a copy right here – it’s a blast of nostalgia the likes of which we’ll not see again I can tell you, even if some of the scans are a bit ropey here and there. Also on the site is Barry Cain’s blog with a ton of interviews well worth trawling through.

For obvious reasons I’m not going to include the audio to this disc here, you’ll just have to go and buy the book…

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