HIDDEN tracks

Music was Pete Paphides' first love. And at this rate, it will be his last.

Jamie T

Mon, 1st January 2007

Nothing bad could happen in the London described by John Betjeman.”

Jamie T’s girlfriend Lola is in the hotel room, nursing a day-long hangover. “She hasn’t eaten anything today,” he says tenderly, “so I just sent her up a green Thai curry.” While she convalesces upstairs, the 20 year-old former public schoolboy – real name, Treays – steadies his nerves with a pre-show lager. Living, as he does, in Wimbledon, he is delighted about the timing of his first national tour. “For the two weeks that the tennis is on, the pubs are overcrowded, the drinks suddenly cost twice as much and you can’t get to the bottom of your road without bumping into Americans in funny trousers.”

Not, he adds, that we couldn’t learn a thing or two from those Americans. Jamie T likes the way they chat openly to people on the tube, heedless of frosty London etiquette. Talking to strangers, he opines, is a dying art – although if you wander the leafier suburbs of South-West London, an old English gent out for a morning stroll will still bid you good day. “I like the idea of an England where that used to happen. But making eye contact with people you’ve never met before – I can only bring myself to do that sort of thing after midnight, when I’ve had a couple of drinks.”

Given that Jamie T seems torn between two different Londons and two different sensibilities, it’s somehow fitting that they both collide on his new single Sheila. In the one London, then, we see the song’s beleaguered protagonist swap her abusive relationship for an overdose beside a starlit Thames: “Drunk she stumbles down by the river/Screams calling London/None of us heard her coming.” In the other, a sampled John Betjeman (reading The Cockney Amorist) plays out the end credits of his own courtship over an opulent backdrop of suburban spires and putting greens.

If Jamie T is drawn to the sense that “nothing bad could happen in the London described by John Betjeman,” it’s hardly surprising. During a series of “properly fucking huge” panic attacks last year, the singer cast around for something that might act as a comfort zone. Eventually, he alighted on a Betjeman album handed down from his deceased aunt. He says he still doesn’t know what brought these episodes on – but his methods of dealing with them have borne unforeseen dividends.

Currently running at monthly intervals, Jamie’s Panic Prevention club nights at London’s 12-Bar club grew from a series of eponymous mixtapes which he gave to fans. On these, excerpts from self-help CDs punctuated a selection of songs which included Squeeze, Joe Jackson, a smattering of 70s reggae greats and, inevitably, the odd Jamie T number. Listen to these tapes now, the most remarkable thing about them is the degree to which Treays originals like So Lonely Was The Ballad and Salvador blend in with tunes that were written before he was born.

Not unreasonably, you assume that some of those influences – names which have struggled to register on pop’s fashionometer for years – must come from the singer’s parents. In fact, Jamie T he can’t name a single record that his father, a chartered surveyor, ever played in the house. “A few years ago,” he recalls, “I asked him whether it would be better to go blind or deaf. He reckoned he would rather go deaf, so I said, ‘What about music?’ And he said, ‘I don’t like music.’ I don’t think he’s heard my stuff even now – but I quite like that.” He smiles. “It’s not like I’ve ever taken an interest in chartered surveying. Hahaha!”

As the hitherto unreleased Here’s Ya Getaway concedes, Jamie T’s is “a smile like Steptoe” – but on a younger man, it’s not without a certain crooked charm. Twelve months ago, Jamie T’s myspace page had attracted a stampede of record company interest, and yet you wouldn’t honestly have called him pop star material. Since then though, two things have happened. He’s assembled a band to help flesh out what were once the endearingly untutoured outpourings of a boy and his acoustic bass guitar. Secondly, post-Arctic Monkeys, the resurgence of the cocky young wordsmith has even thrust Billy Bragg back from obsolescence. Jamie says it has been instructive to see the beginnings of fame encroach upon his friend Lily Allen – but, he adds, “she’ll be fine because it’s hard to imagine anyone giving less of a fuck.”

If Allen’s ska-shaped London vignettes are set to soundtrack the summer, the autumn – when Jamie T’s debut album is set to drop – must surely belong to the whey-faced Wimbledonian. The duet they’ve recorded for it sounds like the plot of Woody Allen’s Take The Money And Run crowbarred into a tune reminiscent of It’s Immaterial’s 80s hit Driving Away From Home. And yet, it might not see the light of day “because the drums are shit and I can’t erase them because of how it’s recorded.” Why not just start again from scratch? “Because you need the original vibe,” he protests, before adding that if Allen saw him now, she would swiftly upbraid him. “Every time I find myself fretting about a track, she’s like, ‘I don’t know what your fucking problem is. When I write a tune, I just do it there and then. End of story.’ I was like, ‘Thanks for that, Lily.’”

With the stakes raised, there’s arguably more to fret about than there was this time last year. Yet, paradoxically, Jamie T says it’s several months since his last panic attack. When talking about managing his own psychoses, he shows a depth of insight which makes you forget he was born in 1986. But it isn’t long again before you remember that this time four years ago, Jamie T was waiting for his GCSE results. “I’ve been doing a lot more cooking since me and my brother got our own flat in Wimbledon. Fusilli, mainly.” Just fusilli? “Yes. I tried penne, but it’s shit.” Jamie T puts his pint down and leans conspiratorially forward, as if poised to impart classified information. “And then, what I do is stir one of Loyd Grossman’s sauces into it. Tomato and Basil is really fucking nice. It shits all over Dolmio.”