There are two essential rules of music journalism.
1: Never work with Ross Halfin.
2: Never work with Ross Halfin
Only that isn’t quite true. There are times when it can
be true, and times when I’ve believed it to be true (a sneering
remark here, a row in a Cape Town restaurant there) but it isn’t
always true. And increasingly, it’s
less and less so. The first time I met the man was in Munich, on a nothing
cover feature for Kerrang! magazine. The weather was cold; the
story even colder.
I was new to the magazine, a bit nervous, perhaps. For the short time I’d
been there the only thing people had been asking me was, "Have you met
Then in Germany, there he was. Girding myself, I walked over to him and offered my hand. I received a look like I was not only something he’d stepped in but something he’d stepped on the way to a wedding, and not only on the way to a wedding but on the way to a wedding when he was wearing white shoes. Ross had met people like me in the past, all the time; self consciously gung-ho writers who ended up either back in the day jobs or else betraying everything they understand for a job in the paw of a record company PR department. This might not sound so bad, but here’s the truth: every journalist, and every photographer worth his (or her) weight looks down on – if not despises – record company PR’s. Or perhaps that should be, they – we – look down on the job they do. Anyway, here I was, hand outstretched, gormless smile on my face. <<His>> face? It seemed to say this: Who the fuck are you?
A couple of hours later – don’t ask me how – but I’d been transformed from something he’d stepped in to someone he was talking to. Or, at least, << at>>. And Halfin can talk; talk with a wild eyed and deeply enchanting insouciance that is as compelling as anything you’ll hear. It’s like an off-the-record conversation with a much travelled pundit, where everything runs contrary to popular perception and sunshine isn’t for sale. So rumours were dispensed, accusations levelled. The people at the record companies – so <<many>> record companies, so many enemies – who wouldn’t let him fly United (Halfin’s airline of choice; he owns a frequent flyer card so exclusive that it’s actually made out of Kryptonite) were roasted. And the press officers who wouldn’t pay for him to stay at the fabulously overrated Sunset Marquis, just off the fabulously overrated Sunset Strip in the fabulously overrated city of Los Angeles were – and you may be ahead of me here – reserved a corner of hell so hot as to actually be witheringly cold.. But it’s not like this all the time. Ross Halfin may be able to stretch the word "hate" so that it lasts an hour and a half, but he doesn’t hate everyone, or at least not everything. And the general consensus (although, again, any journalist worth their weight will retain a baleful suspicion for the general consensus) is that Ross was "much worse" in the ‘80s. These were the days of Los Angeles, of alcohol, of cocaine, of excess. The music was hateful. And, I’m willing to bet, so was Ross.
There are a couple of stories about our subject that might well be apocryphal, but I don’t know. I don’t know because I’ve never asked him. One is that during a photo shoot with Def Leppard – a shoot attended by many other lens man – Halfin spotted a photographer whom he hated. So he told the band’s manager, Peter Mensch, that this photographer had been convicted of shooting child pornography, and thus secured his forcible eviction from the site. The accusation was baseless, of course, but you have to understand , Ross <<hated>> the man. There’s also a story that as a young photographer Halfin travelled on a trip for an English music paper (Sounds? Might have been) with the band UFO. This was one of his first jobs, and here he heard – from the hands of the band? The tour manager? – the advice that to survive in this business you need a hard shell. And Ross developed a shell so hard and so vulgar that people have been talking about it ever since. It would be cod psychology to imply that this shell protects a vulnerable core, but it does cover something. On the way to a job in Cape Town – and 12 hours in economy class with a man accustomed to flying business, and even more accustomed to complaining, will sober you up – I asked Ross if I could blag a copy of a Metallica photo book he’d published a few years back. "None left," he said, and that was that. Then, on the way home, after presumably deciding I was "alright", he said that he thought he might have one lying about the house, and that he would try and dig it out for me. Right, I thought, <<that’ll>> happen. But the next time I wandered into the Kerrang! office there lay a hardback, limited edition of his book, remembered and delivered after a nothing conversation on a plane ride back from Cape Town. It’s on the bookshelf as I type this.
Because, Ross Halfin? He’s alright.