After interviewing Rhodri Marsden about the fanzine he used to produce, I went directly to a great little caff in north London to meet Pete Paphides for the same reason. His zine, Perturbed, was actually the first one I read and I wanted to hear the story of how it came into existence. All that chat will be in my forthcoming book about fanzine editors but here are some choice off-cuts about how a zine interview lead to his first meeting with Caitlin Moran and, some thoughts on Word. I’ve never felt more like I was in one of Dexys’ early music videos, drinking lots of tea and having beans on toast whilst we chatted about the midlands of the eighties. During our conversation, Pete asked me about my old zine and I mentioned that I interviewed Levitation for the second and final issue.
Levitation were the reason I met Caitlin. Do you remember a fanzine called Ablaze from Leeds, run by Karren? I’d started at Melody Maker and she was looking for someone based in London to interview them. I had to meet them at the Southampton Riverside arts complex. The interview was fine, it lasted about an hour. At the end Terry Bickers said, “I think one of your colleagues is up next. Do you know Caitlin Moran?” I’d not met her at that point but I liked her writing. In fact I was kind of annoyed because I’d finished college in Wales and thought I could go back to Birmingham and maybe do the gig reviews for Melody Maker. In my absence Caitlin’s byline had popped up doing Birmingham gigs and she was way better than I was. I thought, ‘Well I can’t compete with her.’ That hastened my move to London. I thought she was brilliant, so much so that I’d written a letter to tell her how great her writing was. Being in the offices in Melody Maker, I knew that you often didn’t get much feedback, it was hard writing into the void. I took it upon myself to write this letter and got her address from the secretary but had never got round to sending it off. We all went to the pub with Levitation that night and she missed the last train home. I said “You can stay at mine if you want – it’s a shitty bedsit in Stockwell but you’re more than welcome.” We stayed up until five in the morning and I told her about the letter. I said “I know it’s a bit weird but I wrote you a letter, I think you’re brilliant. I may as well give it you now”. She thought it was sweet. She slept on my bed that night, I slept on my sofa and we just hit it off.
And that was that?
Nothing happened that night. We went out for a few weeks but she was seventeen and hadn’t even moved to London yet. We decided we’d be better off just as friends and it stayed like that for a few years until we got together in 1995.
We then drank further cups of tea and spoke a lot more about fanzines before I asked him how he came to do some bits of writing for Word.
I think Mark Ellen got in touch with me. I’d do anything for him because of Smash Hits. It’s a shame that he’s not editing a magazine right now, the same goes for David Hepworth. Did you read 1971? He’s a brilliant writer; especially when he’s writing about music that he clearly still finds exciting. It’s funny because beneath that slightly world-weary exterior, he’s a total enthusiast. He is on the inside what Mark Ellen is on the outside, which is probably why they’re so close.
It was always fun writing for them, it was a meaty magazine. In our toilet at home we have all the issues and they’re falling apart because every visitor over the last seven or eight years has picked them up. There was so much in them.
It knew its audience very well and it wasn’t under pressure to get younger readers all the time. For a few years, Q lost a lot of readers by not quite knowing who it’s trying to attract, although for the past five or six years, it’s really got back on track. I thought Word might last a bit longer because it was well written and it knew who it was there for.
Did you ever go to the office?
Once or twice. I went in and did a thing on old music papers with Mark and David. I brought in a haul of old NMEs and Melody Makers from the late sixties and early seventies, and we pored over them for a podcast.
Was that the time you spoke about Darren Burn?
Yes, that’s right. [listen from around 44 minutes in]
I got really interested in him after that and got a copy of the two documentaries from someone.
That DVD has that awful adjunct hasn’t it?
Yes, the short documentary from 15 years later? He looks broken in it. I think he died fairly shortly after that.
He did. I tell you another good one to watch is the Sheena Easton one. She was discovered through a documentary series called ‘The Big Time’. It followed different people like actors, circus performers, or footballers to see if they had what it takes. That’s how she got famous. She was from a suburb of Glasgow – Belshill I think, where Teenage Fanclub and the Pastels are from – and she auditioned for EMI. They take a punt on her and send her to various experts to be restyled. They all chip in with their ideas on what she needs to do to be famous and it’s weirdly demoralising; she’s torn apart basically. At the end of it her first single is released and it’s a flop. The general feeling is ‘oh well, she had her makeover, she was ripped apart by a bunch of experts, she made a record and it stiffed and that’s that.’ It was only because it was televised and a lot of people saw it that her next single was a hit. It was almost out of pity really. At the same time, the song that was featured in ‘The Big Time’ – ‘Modern Girl’ – started rising up the charts too so she had two records in the top 10. It’s still quite a depressing documentary, partly because seventies record company offices are all low low-lit, really dusty and full of cigarette smoke. It looks like terrible things happen in them.
They resemble sit-com sets, like Reggie Perrin’s office, all nylon and over-flowing ashtrays.
They seem to be such uncreative places. There’s something sad about seeing people who were adults in the sixties and now everyone has longer, greasier hair and wider collars. Everyone looks a bit smellier than they did in the sixties.