Ian MacDonald – Big Bro’

Assistant Editor, New Musical Express * Author of Revolution in the Head & The New Shostakovich * Died 2003

Ian MacDonald MacCormick

aka Ian MacDonald

A triumph–compelling, seductive, delightful. – Nick Hornby, author, High Fidelity

No book has ever taken us closer to the actual music of The Beatles… A brilliant piece of work – Tony Parsons

His essays are a brilliant summation of the cultural sea change that the Beatles benefitted from and helped to create, and it also contains a clear-headed and unsentimental review of every song they recorded. – Paul Hanley, The Big Issue

The finest piece of fabs scholarship ever published. – Mojo

The masterpiece The Beatles deserved – Max Bell, Vox

The most sustained brilliant piece of pop criticism and scholarship for years. An astonishing achievement – Stuart Maconie, Q

No book has ever taken us closer to the actual music of The Beatles…A brilliant piece of work – Tony Parsons, Daily Telegraph

Every little thing is a gem in Ian MacDonald’s mini-essay collection about the songs of the Fab Four. -The Guardian

The most astute piece of Fabs exegesis ever published–brilliant on the group’s triumphs, refreshingly scathing about its shortcomings . . . One of the twenty greatest rock & roll books. – Blender

An unprecedented critical feat… The most powerful and enlightening work on British pop since Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming – Time Out

One of the best biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich I have read – Maxim Shostakovich

Compelling … a portrait of a creative artist tormented and harried by the random assaults of Stalinism ― Financial Times

Persuasively argued and forceful … A valid, politically driven reconsideration of the composer’s works ― New York Times Review of Books

With passionate integrity, MacDonald fastidiously builds a case to rival the most compellingly labyrinthine detective investigation. Now the great music of Shostakovich will be heard anew – Q

Much-needed – a very fascinating insight – Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys)

Ian was born on 3rd October 1948 and was always ahead of his time. His first words were not a simple ‘Dada’ or ‘Mama’ but, when taken on holiday to St Malo in Brittany aged about 18 months, he looked down at the port from a headland and declared: ‘There’s a boat down there’.

Clever bugger. Not too clever, though, he couldn’t yet read the boat’s name.

He was the first pupil from our little state Primary school near Brixton Hill to go to a Public School: Dulwich College. He hated rugby, flunked his O-Levels, founded an arts society, won prizes for his poetry, and was given a place at King’s, Cambridge, on the strength of his interview.

After a year, during which he changed course twice in order to avoid the end of year exams, he left to pursue a dream of writing about music.

He started to contribute to the New Musial Express and then when the new editor, Nick Logan, decided to take the teeny-bop weekly rag in a radical, new direction, he became its Assistant Editor. Within a very short time, and with a rostor of new writers such as Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray, the NME sat atop the circulation pile, its sales comfortably exceeding those of the previous music press flagship, the Melody Maker.

In 1975 he went ‘solo’, freelancing for various publications and getting involved in the lyrics and music of Phil Manzanera’s Listen Now and K-Scope albums.

He continued to write across a broad range of musical subjects including the life and music of the Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich. He established a web site – Music under Soviet rule – still hosted by Southern Illinois University to this day. Then, in 1990, he published The New Shostakovich, a radical re-interpretation of the composer’s attitudes and work. Although described by the composer’s son, Maxim, as: “One of the best biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich I have read”, it caused more than a stir within the ranks of a group of American academics whose livelihoods and reputation were secured by an alternative interpretation of the ‘facts’. Arguments were bitter and became personal.

But Ian had turned, or returned, to other interests. In 1994, Revolution In the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties was published and was an immediate sensation amongst Beatlophiles.

Now in its 5th edition it has remained one of the leading sources of information and enlightenment about the Fab Four’s music.

He was now writing for the magazines Mojo and Uncut and researching two new books: one about David Bowie along the lines of Revolution, and another  to be called: Birds, Beasts, & Fishes: A Guide to Animal Mythology and Lore.

Severe depression, however, was a constant companion. Compounded by a desperate loneliness, he was then diagnosed with schizophrenia. With an advance from Random House for the two books, he bought a cottage in Wotton under Edge. There, on the evening 20th August 2003, he pinned a terse note on the front door. It read: ‘Call the Police’. The next morning, officers from the Gloucestershire Constabulary found him lying dead on the sofa. It was the final, and successful, attempt to take his own life.

Less than two months before, his third book, The People’s Music, had been published. It was a collection of articles ranging from Bob Dylan, via Marvin Gaye and Steely Dan to Miles Davis  and others. Perhaps the most poignant was his piece about Nick Drake who he had met at Cambridge in 1968 and whose fragile and very English voice was forever stilled by his own hand on 25th November 1974.

In 2006, a revised edition of The New Shostakovich was published with the help of Raymond Clark, a concert pianist and who teaches at the Music Departments of Bristol University and Cardiff University. Raymond had been in contact with Ian and they had agreed some changes were required to the text which Raymond was able to include in the new edition.

On 8th September 2003 the noted music and sports writer Richard Williams, who had known Ian since the 70s when Richard worked for the The Melody Maker, wrote a length obituary for The Guardian. Its opening paragraph reads:

“PROBABLY NO OTHER CRITIC – not even the late William Mann of The Times, with his famous mention of pandiatonic clusters – contributed more to an enlightened enjoyment of the work of The Beatles than Ian MacDonald, who has died aged 54. In his book Revolution In The Head, first published in 1994, MacDonald carefully anatomised every record The Beatles made, drawing attention to broad themes, particular examples of inspiration and moments of human frailty alike.”

Ian MacDonald MacCormick, 3rd October 1948 to 20th August 2003.