Perhaps you’ve wandered the Glastonbury marketplace at dawn, following lights and beats, looking for the last place to dance. With Shangri-La exhausted and the Stone Circle horizontal, I chased the last faint traces of electronic life, one chemical morning around 2003 or so, to the solitary market stall that was still quietly emitting boombox dance beats from behind a closed tarpaulin, bouncing with shadows punching the air. Ducking inside I found, and joined, the last two people dancing onsite: the NME’s own inseparable danger twins, Tim Jonze and Dan Martin.
You’ll find a hundred similar stories online about how legendary writer and newshound Dan – who, and it’s with no little disbelief and heartbreak that I write these words, has died aged 41 – spent his time at NME sucking the marrow out of the very best life. There are photos of him in a Benicassim hot-tub with Matt Helders or carried shoulder-high by Biffy Clyro. There are tales of his wildest Hollywood nights as the new best friend of Courtney Love, engaging in mutual head-shaving escapades with his NME room-mates at foreign festivals, being called “Candy Flip” by Liam Gallagher for wearing pink shorts or losing all his possessions on a trip to Vegas to interview Green Day, missing his plane home and turning up two days later in the only golfing shirt he could find at the airport.
There are screenshots of him standing in for Bez at a Happy Mondays gig at Coachella ’07 and the definitive moment, while reporting on Live8, when he invaded the stage for Paul McCartney’s all-star encore and roared along to ‘Hey Jude’ with his arm around Bob Geldof. All testament to the way that Dan would never let a good time go until he’d lived it for all it was worth. It’s something of a tradition, when a much-loved NME legend is lost, to rent out a pub, stand on chairs and tell our stories. For Dan, were it not for lockdown, we’d be roaring our reminiscences for days.
In this sense Dan was the epitome of what the NME stood for. Deeply passionate about the music he loved (Manic Street Preachers, Biffy and The Cribs are just a few of the acts who have paid tribute to his undying enthusiasm for their work), unblinkered in taste (the likes of Kylie, Girls Aloud and Katy Perry were just as important to him), able to fire off the Devil’s own copy and immersed in the jubilant possibilities of rock’n’roll.
But he rubbed off on us too. Having earned his spurs at City Life and the Manchester Evening News, when Dan arrived at NME as part of the Class Of Early ‘00s intake alongside such revered names as Tim Jonze, Pat Long, Krissi Murison, Imran Ahmed and Julian Marshall, the paper could historically be an intimidating, cliquey and unforgiving place to work. Dan, though, imagined NME as a family, and thanks to his open-armed nature, that’s exactly what it became. His bond with Jonze was so strong they had to be sent to separate legs of festivals to ensure any work got done, and many are the tributes from writers who arrived at the paper in Dan’s wake to find him a kind and welcoming mentor figure and instant friend, engendering a gang mentality and communal spirit at this title which endures to this day. As much as NME shaped Dan, Dan shaped NME.
He even managed to get through to a dour and damaged just-about-functioning alcoholic such as myself. In 2010, when the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano grounded all flights and robbed us both of foreign adventures, Dan and I shared a boozy picnic in Victoria Park, discovered a mutual love of Weezer and joked about how great a club night based entirely on the band might be. Most boozy picnic ideas end there; instead, thanks to Dan’s enthusiasm, we launched a club night called Geek Out, where we’d play all the Fountains Of Wayne, Ben Folds and Devo we could ever dream of, with a Weezer track guaranteed every half-hour, even if the live band had to play one.
For years we terrorised Camden with ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, sang Kirsty MacColl’s ‘They Don’t Know’ at the top of our lungs at every opportunity and invaded after-hours bars looking like The IT Crowd gone feral to mumble and blather and blink late into the night over whether Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ could really be classed as geek rock. We had the time of our lives, even with the both of us slumped behind the decks barely able to focus on cueing up ‘Hash Pipe’. It was the wonder of the man who became arguably the world’s leading authority on Dr Who that he could help you celebrate those parts of your own cultural make-up that others might suggest you keep hidden. To mourn him is also to mourn the carefree corners he unlocked in you.
In 2013 Dan left NME after 12 years to become Entertainment Editor at Buzzfeed, and later moved back to Manchester to become a scriptwriter on shows such as Hollyoaks. But he never lost his warm-hearted inclusiveness when it came to his NME family – he was calling around old friends and colleagues over the lockdown months to check on how we were all coping.
I write this in a room with a dent in the wall left by Dan after the night he spent DJing at my wedding reception despite being flat on his back under the decks, knowing that this best of men left a similarly indelible mark on everyone who knew him, and many who read him. I’ve no doubt, as ever, that he’s found the last place to dance.