Musician turned DJ, web pioneer and publisher Neil Cossar is celebrating the release of the latest The Day I Was There book, this time featuring Bruce Springsteen. MALCOLM WYATT found out more
Music was always a passion for Neil Cossar, from teenage days learning guitar and visiting a Stockport market stall through to minor band success then a move into radio, PR and publishing.
And in the month he turns 60, Reddish-born Neil is celebrating the publication of his latest collection of fans’ anecdotes, Bruce Springsteen: The Day I Was There.
After past successes in similar vein focused on David Bowie and Bob Dylan, the latest This Day in Music Books title follows The Boss from late-60s New Jersey through to his one-man shows on Broadway, with several UK visits along the way. But what was it about this particular rock’n’roll great that appealed?
“I first became aware of Bruce Springsteen working for HMV Records in Manchester. I was on the shrink-wrapping machine in the days when all vinyl was covered that way.
“New records would come in and I’d see the same sleeves maybe 20 times, wondering what they’d sound like, as with The Wild, The innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, and soon appreciated what a great songwriter he was. With this book, I was surprised when reading fans’ accounts at his openness and interaction at gigs and backstage. He’s unique for an artist of his stature in that respect – that level of audience participation. So many big artists do world tours, play the hits, do the same set every night, but his shows involve a huge back-catalogue of great songs and covers he can play at the drop of a hat.”
And while it’s Bruce’s name on the cover, it’s as much about his backing outfit, the E Street Band.
“Totally. Again, it’s a sign of a good person to work for that at one stage when he didn’t tour for some time he gave every member of that band a
significant amount as a bonus.”
This title follows Dylan and Bowie titles in the same series. And it was the latter we talked about next.
“‘Space Oddity’ was one of the first singles I bought. I’d go to a second-hand ex-jukebox stand on Stockport Market, look through the singles. I heard it on the radio and I played it over and over again. I couldn’t figure out what all the sounds were, and the way he painted a picture with the lyrics … it was theatre of the mind. Much later in my career, in PR, I ended up working on his Earthling tour, and seeing him live was just amazing. I stuck with him all the way, and the last two albums were exceptional.”
These days dad-of-three Neil’s based in Prestatyn, North Wales, with his partner, Liz. What do we call him now – owner/publisher or author?
“I don’t class myself as an author. The Day I Was There books are written by the fans. But I feel very fortunate I’ve always worked in the music business. From that job at HMV to being a professional in a band, making three albums, being fairly unsuccessful but making a living, then working in radio and moving into PR, evolving into being a book publisher via the This Day in Music website … it’s all been music.”
The move into radio came ‘reluctantly’ via Manchester’s ex-pirate station KFM, fellow staff including comedy writers Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne, Terry Christian and Jon Ronson.
“It was fantastic. We played what we wanted and the Manchester scene was taking off. We’d have The Charlatans in, Noel Gallagher gave his first radio interview with Craig, we had Radiohead in session, plus James, The Mock Turtles, Shaun Ryder … everybody came through the doors.
“I wanted to work in radio, but didn’t want to be a presenter, but one Sunday morning a presenter phoned in sick and I happened to be the closest and got called in to do the show.
“I was terrified but could work the equipment. I thought I was dreadful but the boss seemed to think I was okay, so I ended up presenting an evening show, five nights a week.
“I still found it difficult to talk nonsense though, so started compiling events that happened on ‘this day in music’, ending up doing it for every day of the year.”
A conversation with former Seal manager John Wadlow then led him take that idea online.
“I really wasn’t aware of the internet at that point, but we launched the site in 1999 and nowadays it gets around 10 million page views a year. That evolved into the first This Day in Music book 10 years ago, and it’s now had several editions.”
And long before that there was The Cheaters, with major label backing and a cult Scandinavian fanbase.
“Dad was a guitarist in a jazz dance band after the war, and I bought a guitar off a friend’s brother when I was nine and Dad showed me a few basic chords. He was also into electronics and built me a little guitar amp and made me a pick-up. I’d play along with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bowie, you name it.
“I formed my first band, Zenith, when I was 14 and did my first gig at that age in a pub in Macclesfield. I had various bands until I formed The Cheaters with Mick Brophy from London. He’d been in a band called Trash, on Polydor, then moved up North with his job. We became firm favourites on the live scene, supporting Dr Feelgood, The Q-Tips, The Piranhas, and The Psychedelic Furs, and did a few gigs with the John Peel Roadshow. We ended up signing with Parlophone, made three albums and did Radio 1 sessions, finding our own special niche in Scandinavia, touring there around seven times, six weeks at a time. Happy days!”
For details of This Day in Music, including a link to buy Bruce Springsteen: The Day I Was There, head to Neil’s http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/ website.