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Cila Warncke - A Life in Music

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 26 / 5 / 2023

Cila Warncke - A Life in Music

Cila Warncke is one of the earliest contributors to Penny Black Music magazine, having started writing for them more than two decades ago. Penny Black founder and editor John Clarkson recalls that Cila's first interview for the magazine was with Cinerama about their “Disco Volante” album. She was the magazine's first female writer and, as John Clarkson says, he is proud that Cila paved the way for many more excellent female music writers in Penny Black Music over the coming years – as rock music writing was notorious for being too much of a "boys' club". As a professional journalist, Cila says she was attracted by the scope for originality and independence (and lack of male chauvinism) at PBM - and she has produced a fascinating range of articles over her time there. Although she left Penny Black Music in the early 2000s and worked on the glossy London-based music magazine, 'Q” she was welcomed back in 2012 and has been a regular contributor since then. She has written about the impact of the pandemic on those working behind the scenes in the world of live music, about the eventual demise of 'Q' magazine and she wrote a very thoughtful piece about Marilyn Manson. Plus she has produced excellent articles on so many other diverse topics. Cila also originated the 'A Life In Music' series where she probed fellow contributors to PBM about their musical tastes, background and aspirations. - All done with great tact, sensitivity and diplomacy plus insight - key hallmarks of Cila's style. That series is now drawing towards its conclusion – but not before we turn the tables and seize the opportunity to ask Cila about her own 'Life In Music”' Born in 1980 and raised in a small town in Oregon over on the West side of the USA, in her late teens Cila moved to the East Coast to study English at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia - an esteemed Ivy League institution. Subsequently she moved to London to undertake further studies at King's College before becoming a journalist. She thrived in the UK, enjoying all the many cultural opportunities available just after the turn of the millennium as well as the proximity to Europe. She and her fellow-American husband Chris Hall, a production audio technician in the world of live music, have travelled widely and have now made their permanent base in Valencia, Spain. Cila was at her home in Valencia when I started to ask about her 'Life in Music'. What are some of her earliest musical memories? “Well, my parents weren't musicians and because my mother was an Evangelical Christian, anything that wasn't a hymn or soft God-rock was not too popular. It was a cool, rebellious thing to listen to anything other than that. My sister and I would listen to local radio, though and so I got some of the sound of late 80s/early 90s rock and pop culture through that. But my brother - who is around 6 years older than I - loved The Smiths, The Cure and some of the other British post-punk/new wave bands. I enjoyed that sound and I recall some of the record sleeves up on my brother's wall - brilliant images which made a lasting impression. The first (non-Christian!) record I remember buying when I was 13 or 14 was Sting's “Fields of Gold...Best of: 1984-94” and my sister (who was 8 years older and much cooler, always) bought me Green Day's 'Dookie' – which I still think is a great record!” Is there an artist who Cila enjoyed in her early days - but who makes her cringe, now? “Yes. When I was around 14 or 15, I was completely obsessed with Bryan Adams - in his “Everything I Do” era. Which I do find a bit embarrassing now - just as my siblings did back then!" When did Cila start to get into live music? “Back in Oregon, there wasn't too much opportunity to see good music live – the bands I wanted to see would never be playing anywhere near us. That was so different when I moved to London - all these great bands would be playing within easy reach either in London or Glastonbury or Reading. There were festivals everywhere, all just a short distance away. I also recall that in my younger days occasionally you might hear someone whose recorded work you liked, but their live performance would be disappointing. Probably the most memorable live gigs for me have been one with Patti Smith in quite a small venue. I really admired her and it was so exciting to be in a small space with her, just a few feet away. I remember waving at her and she smiled and waved back....and I was just, 'Oh my God, that was Patti Smith.....that was amazing!' - definitely one of the best experiences ever. There's something very special about the intimacy of a small venue. But a good stadium gig is exciting, too. The other live event that will always be special to me was seeing Bruce Springsteen at Camp Nou in Barcelona (capacity over 90,000) in 2008. Springsteen is just so good in a stadium. He was amazing. And maybe that image of seeing him there when my friend and I were wearing our skinny jeans, white vests and bandanas - maybe that image perfectly captures my love of music.” Why is music writing important for Cila? “Music and writing are the two most important things in my life. So, to me, any combination of the two is important. I think that, more than ever, we are adrift in a sea of uncertainty and blackness and confrontation. Music is an antidote to that, a universal language – so just writing articles about music is valuable. And trying to articulate what we like about music is important, too. It is hard for a music fan to understand everything about an artist, to appreciate everything about their background - and a good music journalist can help with that. Artists often have a lot to say and many experiences to share and sometimes it is good for them to articulate this beyond the confines of a three minute song - a good music interview can help them express themselves more fully. One of the joys of Penny Black Music is that the editor, John Clarkson, encourages his contributors to write things they wouldn't be able to write elsewhere. He is also the kindest editor I've had the good fortune to know. But his approach means Penny Black has such a range of articles. You can just dip in and out of it and always find something fascinating. So it is making a really valuable contribution to this important world of music writing.” Is there an interview that was especially memorable for Cila? “Yes, one of the early ones I did just after I joined Penny Black Music when I was still quite new to London. It was with Bobby Wratten of The Trembling Blue Stars and it was one of the first face-to-face interviews I had done with an artist. And Bobby just confounded all my expectations. He was a small, very quiet, nervous man and we just met up at a pub. He was so unassuming. I am not sure now exactly what the alchemy was - but I do recall the very rewarding feeling that this was a good interview. The interview is still available on the Penny Black Music site.” Is there an artist Cila would especially like to interview? “There are many. But Britney Spears comes to mind. Because I don't think anyone has ever interviewed her properly. There have been big cover stories but so often people keep asking the wrong questions and I think the essence of her story has yet to be delved into.” And is there any artist Cila would like to be? “Ah, now, that's easy. Patti Smith. There is just so much about her I admire.” What would be Cila's choice of a record to be played at a wedding? “Prince's 'Take Me With U' would be my wedding pick. My husband and I like to travel a lot so that song would work for us. Also, shortly before I met him, my husband Chris was working at Paisley Park, Prince's home and studios in Minnesota. He played me out-takes from sessions there and he knew Prince and all these other guys. I was just so impressed! So 'Take Me With U' is a good choice for many reasons.” And what about a song for a funeral? “'That would be 'Do You Realize' by The Flaming Lips.” Is there a song that Cila never tires of? “The Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony' . I always remember the first time I heard it. It was during my very first trip to the UK and I heard it on the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The song suddenly came on and I just loved it. All these years later I still love it.” Does Cila play any musical instruments? “I do not – which I regret. I would have loved to have studied music and play an instrument. But I am now taking singing lessons – it is a work in progress.” And how does Cila envisage her life in music evolving? “I haven't been as good at keeping up with contemporary music as I would have liked. But I have become much better at exploring new genres of music - and learning far more about the back stories of artists or compositions. One of the many things I really appreciate about writing for Penny Black Music is that it does provide an incentive to try to keep up with things – and to keep an ear to the ground.”

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Cila Warncke - A Life in Music

Cila Warncke - A Life in Music

Cila Warncke - A Life in Music

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Over the last two years Cila Warncke in her 'A Life in Music' column has talked to her fellow contributors at Penny Black about their musical tastes, background and aspirations. Now in what is the last one in the series Nick Dent-Robinson talks to Cila about her 'Life in Music'.

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