It was mildly disappointing to meet Paul Rees, the recently appointed editor of Q, and discover that, just four days into his new role, he'd ditched his tendency to dress entirely in black. During his days as the overlord of the rock world, when he was the editor of Emap's runaway musical express Kerrang!, he was rarely seen in public in anything else.
But dark clobber and earrings aside, Rees, 34, has never really conformed to the heavy-metal cliche. For a start, he's a grounded, intelligent guy more interested in creating a good magazine than hellraising.
"At the end of the day, you've got a weekly or monthly magazine to get out. So that image of swanning off down the Met Bar with a noseful of coke is just not what it's about. Not that I'd ever go to the Met Bar anyway, but the excitement of putting a magazine together is what I'm interested in," he says.
In his seven years at the weekly rock bible Kerrang!, his two years as editor coincided with an indecent amount of circulation success. Now Rees is facing the daunting prospect of becoming Q's fifth editor in two years.
His predecessor, Danny Eccleston, is remaining with Emap and working on a new launch in its rock stable.
Emap's view of Q is that it's not broken, despite its recent circulation fall of about 20 per cent. Its current circulation (after the ABC reissued a debulked certificate) is 160,950. For the same period in 2001 it was 200,159.
It could hardly be more different for Kerrang!. It put on an annual circulation increase of 60 per cent to 83,988 in the last audit period. You could make the case that Kerrang! has capitalised on, and in part created, the popularity of various forms of nu-metal and skate rock, while magazines such as Q and the NME have failed to move on.
Rees rejects the notion that Q needs to change radically. "There's immense potential not just for Q as a magazine but as a brand. Now and the next couple of years are Q's time. There's a huge opportunity there to be a global music brand," he says.
He says changes to Q will happen over time rather than overnight. Rees wants it to become known for being slightly more cutting edge.
"I'm keen to make it about now. I'm in no way doing down what it has been about. There's this notion that Q doesn't or can't do new music or break new bands but I think it has done this. Q has a great editorial team and they're all really keen, but it's maybe not had the courage of its convictions and reacted quickly enough when it's seen something to be excited about," he argues.
Rees isn't about to turn Q into a monthly version of Kerrang!. He wants it to build a reputation for covering all that's exciting in music rather than focusing on one genre. Hip hop and metal might get more of a showing but it will continue to feature global stars such as U2 (who appeared on the November cover), along with other establishment stars such as Tori Amos and Graham Coxon from Blur, while trying to cover what's new with the usual Q authority.
A love and enthusiasm for what he does is Rees' most obvious asset. He got into rock journalism by working excessively hard. Like many in the hard-rock game (Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant spring to mind), he was brought up in the West Midlands, and he developed a fondness for Kerrang!, Q and other music magazines as a teenager. His first job was on a magazine called Brum Beat where, for £50 a week, he did everything from writing news stories to selling advertising. A move to London and a spell at the Kerrang! rival Raw followed before he arrived at Emap.
As editor of Kerrang! and working with the managing editor, Phil Alexander, Rees oversaw stellar growth of the magazine's circulation, coupled with the launch of a branded television channel and radio station. Kerrang!'s success stemmed from "taking the opportunities that were there. It was really organised and aggressive. There was nothing we did that we didn't take immense care over," Rees says.
Rees' experience in overseeing an editorial brand as it diversifies into new areas will help him at Q, which has also transformed into a cross-media brand. But his skills in dealing with rock's most troublesome stars will also be more than handy. Rees' best story involves a Christmas adventure at Ozzy Osbourne's English country mansion when, after a rambling interview with the Prince of Darkness, he was invited to accompany Ozzy on a more bizarre ramble - through a deer park wearing Army-issue night goggles.
Putting such frolics aside, the immediate future holds plenty of work for Rees if he is to achieve his goal of stamping a clear identity on Q. While his priority is to deliver "something edgy, exciting, glamorous" for real music fans, this goal will also chime with the wishes of advertisers eager to see a reinvigorated Q that is able to break new ground while continuing to woo affluent readers.
THE REES FILE
1992: Raw, contributor then reviews editor
1994: Kerrang!, news editor
2000: Kerrang!, editor
2002: Q, editor