We can’t define where it is we’re going and what we now are without looking at where we’ve been and what we once were. So let’s go back to before the beginning…the mid/late 1990s were a strange time to start a magazine. The era of the ‘zine’ of the 1970/80s made up of photocopied pages and handed out at gigs had for the most part gone and the ability to create professional looking magazines at home hadn’t quite arrived yet. The Chancer (started by Joe Duggan and myself with a few others joining later to form A Bunch of Chancers) would be a mixture of photocopied and stapled issues with the last few designed on Publisher 95 and printed the completely wrong paper. It was a response to the Irish literary magazines of the time (that rightly or sometimes very wrongly) we thought were really dull. It had very little interest in the bigger names though it did contain a few well know poets in particular. John Montague gave us a poem nobody else would publish. This might or might not have been a good thing. Years later, in the process of creating an archive, reading the early copies of the Honest Ulsterman, reminded me of the Chancer. Not the content, (as the HU for the first few years had well-known names, and was uniformly male), more the fact that it looks very much of its time and done for very little money. We also didn’t have any of its interest in narrow definitions of what was poetry or literature those, beyond the stuff we liked. We used to annoy people in pubs with poetry readings. It wasn’t performance poetry as it came to be called later, or the traditional reading. Something in-between with little regard thankfully to what the audiences wanted. Anyway, the Chancer lasted five or six issues before everyone went their separate ways.
I’m not sure why the Abridged was created other than I seemed to have the need for a vehicle to place a certain amount of darkness that existed either within or around me. I wasn’t talented or fortunate enough to articulate myself as a full-time writer or artist so I figured that maybe using other people’s talent to create something interesting might be worthwhile. I wanted also to create something in the tradition of Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy; the North of England and Derry spirit combined so to speak. I always thought Derry had more in common with northern England at the time than it had with Belfast or Dublin: Post industrial towns struggling to find a contemporary identity in the shadow of a rapidly changing world. It’s fair to say it wasn’t and still isn’t a popular opinion.
You can read about how the name came about in our Alt edition. It’s fair to say it wasn’t popular which was all the more reason to keep it. The first issue was created on Publisher 98 (an upgrade! – I’d bought a computer on the Never Never from the Universal catalogue) and as I hadn’t learned much from producing the Chancer the paper was still far too glossy and the design (by me) was pretty much non-existent. The cover by Irish artist, Robert O’Connor, was great though and set in motion our tradition of having various walls and fences on the covers. I was the editor (as there wasn’t anyone else to do it) though later Maria Finch would take over the role for a number of issues.
Of course, Abridged wouldn’t have been possible without people that believed in us back then, Declan Sheehan at Context and James Kerr at the Context and later Verbal as well as the Arts Council of Northern Ireland of course.