HIDDEN tracks

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


As Tony Blair knows, you can go far with a smile like that

Politicians – they think they reveal something about themselves by revealing the contents of their iPods. Problem is, it’s never what they think they’ve revealed. Hence Tony Blair and Foo Fighters. At first glance, it seems…


Nick Drake
The Making of Bryter Layter

A mutual accommodation between structure and serendipity”

Between leaving Cambridge and moving into his own flat in leafy Belsize Park, Nick Drake briefly lived in Notting Hill Gate, with a girl whose name no one seems to remember, and her pet monkey. Robert Kirby, a frequent…


David Bowie

We're trying to comprehend the incomprehensible”

You don’t know which deaths are going to affect you the most. When I was 11, John Lennon died. I didn’t know too much about The Beatles – maybe She Loves You and Yellow Submarine. I had never heard Imagine or All You Need…


Five thoughts about Damon Albarn and his OBE

  1. If you think that Damon Albarn is a twat for accepting his OBE, I would imagine you thought he was a twat anyway. When people accept OBEs, MBEs, CBEs, knighthoods etc, it tends to confirm opinions we previously had about…


Sandi Thom

For the first time ever, I found that I actually wanted to hear the new record by Sandi Thom”

I have an admission to make. Even though I (mostly) make a living out of having opinions about music, I’ve somehow managed to get to this point without having heard more than a handful of songs by Sandi Thom. In fact, to…


Remembering Live Aid

I may have failed at history, but soon I was going to be part of it.”

Actually, there was snow in Africa that Christmastime – but it was on the snowy peaks of Kilimanjaro and Tanzania – inaccessible to all but the hardiest of explorers. And, of course, the only bells that ring there are not…


The Beatles

The first artists to tread the pop-cultural snowfall that they had helped cause.”

At the beginning of 1962, anyone who wanted to hear Beatles music had no option but to go and see them live. There were no Beatles records played on the radio because there were no Beatles records. Now, just five years…


The first thing I see is a drunk Willem Dafoe careering down the pavement with a big grin on his face.

The first thing I see is a drunk Willem Dafoe careering down the pavement with a big grin on his face.”

“YOUR FORTUNE is mine for the telling and yours for the hearing.” Outside the East Village’s Gem Spa – favoured corner store of Allen Ginsberg, immortalised on the back cover of the New York Dolls’ 1973 debut and, briefly…


Noel Gallagher Vs Beyoncé

While he’s got the dictionary open, he might want to look up the difference between artisan and artist.”

If there’s a better way of promoting your new album than giving in to your laziest prejudices, could someone please tell Noel Gallagher about it? Asked by Stereogum about Kanye West’s contention that Beck should “respect…



No-one is enjoying this. Not the harried underpaid Clarks assistants who have seen their tidy workplace transformed within an hour of opening time into a harshly-lit, shoe-strewn dystopia soundtracked by a cacophony of…


Wizz Jones, Darren Hayman & Julie Murphy
Like so many stories about Wizz Jones, the triumphant pay-off never materialised

Two years ago, casting around for an appropriate song to begin his show at the Berlin Olympiastadion, Bruce Springsteen remembered a tune he had heard almost 40 years previously.“This is something we learned just for you…


Michael Jackson

In the early 80s, you didn’t just listen to Michael Jackson. You wanted to be like him.”

Five years ago, on a Thursday night at Glastonbury, I got a call from my editor at The Times, for whom I worked at the time. He informed me that he was in a taxi and the radio speaker had just imparted unconfirmed reports…


Revisiting Baggy

In any era, it’s the more ersatz, guileless examples of any genre that sum up the times.”

In December 1989, after my first term at Lampeter University ended, I returned to the Midlands and caught up with a few old friends. Paul, who used to work at the Virgin Megastore in Birmingham, had just landed a job with…


Aztec Camera
Life after Aztec Camera

At school that day, I issued Imtiaz with clear instructions. If he had cords too, he should wear them.”

The first time I heard an Aztec Camera song, it wasn’t being performed by Aztec Camera. It was Eddie Holmes, absently singing the chorus of Oblivious as we filed into class on a January morning. Between Eddie’s ability to…


Broadcast, Pram, Plone and Novak in the 1990s.

Synaesthetic jumbles of sights and sounds: nursery rhymes and test card music refracted through the rainy daytime, off-school ennui of pre-Freeview Britain.”

Pram were the first. I remembered Rosie and Matt from Birmingham indie gigs: Matt regularly turning up to Tuesday night indie hangout The Click Club, where Primal Scream, Talulah Gosh and Edwyn Collins all played. He always…


Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and the London folk revival

I’ve just formed a band.”

You’re a Scandinavian TV crew making a documentary about the British folk revival. You have a chance to alight in London at any point during the 60s and grab as much footage as you can over a few days. Where do you alight…


David Bowie

Once artists become part of our lives, we’re effectively in correspondence with them.”

If you’re a pop star, the armour of a sizeable ego can come in handy – not least to defend yourself against the doubly gargantuan egos of the executives on whom your career can depend. Of course, it’s a long time since…


A song for Margaret Thatcher

So far, our inner search for moderation has yet to yield very much at all.”

It could have been Elvis Costello’s Tramp The Dirt Down, written when Margaret Thatcher’s premiership still had two years to run. Or it could have been a number of other songs which imagine scenes of very un-British jubi…


Ginger Baker

A disingenuous blend of tyranny and cowardice.”

Hats off to Michael Hann of The Guardian for uploading his painful Q&A with Ginger Baker at the screening of Beware Of Mr Baker. I’m not sure if I would have been so brave. That said, Michael doesn’t come off badly. Baker’s…


Dealing with your albatross

You start off thinking you’re the author of your story, but you’re merely the protagonist.”

In 1993, as a young Melody Maker writer, I accompanied Radiohead to Los Angeles. The influential KROQ station was playing the group’s second single Creep on constant rotation. It was, apparently, only a matter of time…


Record Store Day 2013

Today, perspective is as scarce as the records that made you join that freezing queue at 5am.”

Midnight on Friday and I still don’t know which record shop I’m going to head for. On previous years, I’ve headed for Berwick St on the basis that there are a few shops there to spread the demand, but with every passing…


10 songs that need to be claimed by their rightful owners

Bill Fay has written a supercharged Europop anthem in the making. Does he know it? Of course not.”

Sometimes an artist writes a song whose chord sequence and melody line seem far better suited to another artist. I’m not talking about conscious pastiches of another act. That’s something else altogether. I’m talking about…


Dexys Midnight Runners

This used to go like that, but then one day something happened as it so often does.”

The school holidays were six weeks long. I was in my dead grandmother’s house in Athens, bored out of my mind while my older brother – homesick and in love with wedge-haired rouge-streaked Caroline Fellowes – played The…


Men Without Hats

I bet Ivan wouldn’t have found me ridiculous. Ivan would have let me be in his weird gang. I could have been the Donkey to his Shrek, the Ralph Malph to his Fonz.”

It’s almost thirty years since I first heard The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. I still have a videotape somewhere with the clip that introduced me to the song. Back in 1983, Top Of The Pops used to have a regular fea…



A Showaddywaddy lacking a waddy.”

I remember pretty clearly the day that Racey changed my brain so that from that day on, a little bit of my brain would be forever Racey. As a treat for being patient whilst going shopping with my mother, she took me and my…


10 Eurovision Rules

We have turned into one of those countries we used to laugh at.”

“Do you curse where you come from?” sang Nick Drake in 1970. It’s highly likely that he wasn’t singing about Britain’s inability to field a winner in the Eurovision song contest. After all, back then, when we ruled pop on…



It rose up and dispersed like a vapor that enveloped the world outside: the Chrysler factory in the rain; the sulphur light of the subways beneath the Bull Ring.”

Growing up in Birmingham at the age of ten, I knew what reggae was. Reggae was the music I heard booming out of upstairs windows on when my dad drove through Balsall Heath. Reggae was the sound of the occasional chart hit…


Growing up in a chip shop

By the mid-80s an irreversible sea change had swept across the chip shops of the West Midlands. Kebabs. Everyone wanted kebabs.”

It was the birthday party of the year, hands down. How could it not be? The summer holidays had only just begun. It must have been about 2pm on a weekday, because that’s when my parents turned off the fryers and closed up…


Greg Milner: Perfecting Sound Forever

The CD vs vinyl debate has, in essence, always been with us. Only the names have been changed.”

Having interviewed hundreds of people for his exhaustive history of recorded sound, Greg Milner has been nothing if not meticulous. However, from his New York base, one item of news eluded the Spin and Village Voice writer…


Simon Cowell

Contrary to his claims, he doesn’t ‘guess what’s going to be popular.’ The public tell him what’s going to be popular.”

Fifty years have elapsed since Simon Cowell’s desert island disc – Mack The Knife – scaled the charts. It’s no surprise that so much of Cowell’s favourite music was made in the very infancy of rock’n’roll, less still that…


Vinyl sales have finally found their floor, and it turns out the floor isn’t as low as many had feared.”

Stand on the floor at the old EMI pressing plant in Hayes, Middlesex – and close your eyes. If the sound is familiar it might have something to do with half-remembered episodes of Ivor The Engine. The rhythmic clunk and…



You’d want to catch it before the DJ started talking.” (2009)”

“A dying format? I’m not sure there’s any such thing,” says Richard Goldsmith from upscale hi-fi geeksters’ paradise Audio Gold. Cast your eye around his North London shop, and you can see why he might say such a thing.…


Wogan’s Eurovision meltdown

Europop’s equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.”

This was written the morning after the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest – the one which saw a disconsolate Terry Wogan declaring that he couldn’t go through with another Eurovision Song Contest.

“Let’s not take it away from…


Lost Albums (2007, 2008)

Between 2007 and 2008, I made six programmes for Radio 4 as part of the Lost Albums strand. The three featured below look at Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day, Lal & Mike Waterson’s Bright Phoebus and Robin Gibb’s…


Greek Blues

The music that Greeks have come to recognize as their own was created in the hash dens of Piraeus.”

In 2008, I went to Athens with producer Laura Parfitt and made a programme for Radio 4 called Greek Blues – in which I explored the roots of the music that I grew up listening to. Here is the programme, and beneath it is…


Belle and Sebastian

The only bands he ever wanted to emulate were The Pastels and Felt, and that happened ages ago.”

It happens once every few years in pop. An unforeseen event divides people into two camps – those who expected it, and those who are left scratching their heads. You’d have to rewind five years to the death of Kurt Cobain…