“The music is the ante-room you have go through to get the measure of someone.”
It was great to grab some time with Pete last week, he was incredibly generous with his time, and the unique and deep answers he gave across a range of musical topics. He also has a great way of putting a still novice interviewer like myself at ease and the conversation quickly flowed, indeed our opening conversation about shoegaze and early 90s festivals quickly sped on and 15 minutes in, I realised I hadn’t started recording.
His pre-teen memoir, Broken Greek, was a big seller last year and touched a universal chord with so many people, blending the memoir with stories about how music shaped or reflected that period of growing up. I wrote some more about it last year in my Books of 2020 review.
You also get a hint about plans for book two in the interview and the tentative, but tantalising, prospect of it being developed for TV.
We do digress a little in places, but hopefully in a good way – if you’re a music fan, you hopefully recognise Pete’s brilliant ability to expound about music in a way that drills down to its essence and why so many of us spend so much time obsessed with it. This also shines across in his book, radio show and the approach he takes to his record label, Needle Mythology. He’s our very own John Peel for these times.
We also covered a great range of music in the interview and I’ve put it all together in a Spotify playlist – from The Intruders to Kylie to Radiohead. Also a great discussion about groove without funk!
Over to the interview….
Steve: Your house (or your shed) is burning, which three records would you save?
Pete: With regard to the burning aspect, I need to get things that are completely irreplaceable.
Record 1 – I’ll show you the first. There’s slight a backstory to this, it will be about 8 or 9 years ago now – I was tidying up some records and I dropped a record and it just broke in half, of all the records to break in half it was a fucking disaster, because it was a record given to me as a present by my friend Bob, Bob Stanley, who’s in Saint Etienne. It was a record by Anne Briggs, you know her? The folk singer? It was her first EP ‘The Hazards Of Love’. A very valuable record and I dropped it – a chunk came out of it. I was mortified, I thought how can I tell Bob about this? How am I even going to replace it – it goes for a lot of money or even find it. I made this anguished noise involuntarily. My family must have thought I’d had a stroke or something – I made this noise I’d never made before, like a bear wounded by hunters or something. So they jumped up, my wife Caitlin, and my daughter Dora, who would have been 11. They asked what happened and I tried to explain as best I could what happened. Dora seemed more interested than a small child should be in a valuable folk record, a singer she’d never heard of. She is very sweet natured and empathetic. Anyway, fast forward a couple of months, and in the interim Dora had been asking questions like ‘that record, did you throw it away? And the sleeve too?’ I said ‘Well I’ve thrown the record away but I have the sleeve.’ I asked why – she said ‘No reason’. She had been on eBay and miraculously she had found a copy of the EP which was going relatively cheap because it didn’t have the sleeve. This was her secret plan, so that she could present me with it as a Christmas present. If that wasn’t enough to reduce you to tears she then went online and found the JPEG of the record sleeve – she recreated it with the panel from the original sleeve and it says ‘The Hazards of Christmas Presents’, rather than ‘The Hazards of Love’ and that’s Dora recreating Anne Briggs’ pose. Like on the original with Anne Briggs resting her head on her hands. That was my Christmas present that year, which was an astonishing thing for anyone to do, particularly a kid of that age, to have the imagination, empathy and software skills. So that has to be the first thing, because its completely irreplaceable. The beautiful thing is that it took a thing that had monetary value and turned it into something that had infinitely greater value than the thing I broke.
Record 2: And talking of Bob, this is something he got me as a present, this is a mark of Bob’s loveliness. He doesn’t even own one of these. This is a boxed promotional edition of Harry Nilsson’s first album, that was issued at the time by his label, Pandemonium Shadow Show.
Steve – was he on Apple originally?
Pete: He wasn’t Apple but the first people to talk about him were the Beatles. What you’ve got here is the original press release and photographs and Nilsson stickers, and the album itself. A really beautiful thing. I’d never seen one of these, ever before and I don’t know where Bob found it.
Record 3 (and 4.): For the third one it’s a tie between these two items, which are kind of related. This is the second single by The Go-Betweens, People Say. I spent years and years trying to get hold of one. I finally managed to procure one a few months ago. It’s pretty much one of the greatest pop songs ever written. Although it’s available in other formats it feels like the seven inch single is the perfect format on which to own this.
This would tie in third place with the debut single by my beloved Aztec Camera, Just like Gold, which has never been reissued. Roddy Frame does not want to reissue it on any format – he thinks it should be specific to the release on which it first appeared on Postcard Records [who would also release a single by The Go-Betweens at the same time – hence aforementioned connection]. It’s not massively hard to find, but it is hard to find with the original postcard. Aztec Camera are the first band that changed my life. Everyone has an artist where they feel like their secret artist, that they’ve discovered them before anyone in their friendship group has. Whatever is happening in your life at that time somehow corresponds to the music they were making. That was very much the case with me and Roddy Frame, when I discovered Aztec Camera. A couple months after I became obsessed by them I managed to track down a copy. But this isn’t my original copy, I gave away my original when I found one that had a postcard.
Thank you – it’s a good question – no-one has asked me that question before.
Steve: I was trying guess what you might choose last night. I did have an idea about Aztec Camera, given what you said when Tim Burgess did the listening party on the album.
Pete: If Broken Greek had ended a year later the last two chapters would have been all about Aztec Camera
Steve: I also wanted to ask you a question about the diverse nature of the music you like, you hear it on your radio show and what you’ve written about. What connection binds it all together, what spark are you looking for? Julian Cope often calls it the ur-spirit… Something connects me to see something in both Otis Redding and Hawkwind
Pete – It can be a combination of a number of things, if it has none of them then I’m probably not going to like it, but if it has the combination I’ll be interested. A kind of maverick energy is always good, I like bands that have not been together long, there’s something about young bands that have not been together long, that is hard to simulate once it’s gone. There’s a magnetic energy that newish bands have, that just disappears over time. Your challenge as a band if you want survive in the long term is to figure how to do other things that will be as charming as that magnetic energy of youth. I like music that makes you want to move, not necessarily funky, but somethings can groove but not always be funky. Something that kinda grooves along. I noticed that when I make playlists for when I go out running – a lot of the stuff I respond to is mid-tempo stuff, that kind of lollops. Music that blithely lollops along, that has a physicality, that allows you to be a participant in its physicality. It’s one of the reasons why I really like reggae. A really great reggae song, usually a roots reggae song, just lets you in. The other really great thing that reggae has, that I really love, is melancholy. Where melancholy in ostensibly happy music is concerned, the really famous example is ABBA. Everyone seems to understand now that even in ABBA’s most euphoric moments there is a seed of something that is the opposite of joy. It feels like that’s an important component, otherwise you end up with asinine marching music. When Stock Aitken and Waterman were rubbish, it’s often because that seed of melancholy wasn’t there. Kylie Minogue songs I love – Wouldn’t Change a Thing, What do I have to do, Step Back in Time – there’s a yearning quality in those songs that I don’t hear in I Should Be So Lucky. That’s my Kylie line.
Steve: Watching those 1990 Top of the Pops back recently and seeing those songs you remember how perfect they sounded.
Pete: The Kylie masterpiece is the Rhythm Of Love album, which has got four absolutely magnificent singles on – Shocked, What Do I Have To Do, Step Back In Time, Better The Devil You Know. That’s a good a run of singles in that decade as you’ll find.
Also things in minor chords, a minor key – yearning – anything that yearns I’m probably gonna love.
Steve: I’m with you on the groove rather than funk thing.
Pete: I love funk as well, but groove supersedes the funk. The funk can be in the groove but can the groove be in the funk? That’s a good question (laughs). Things that aren’t funky can be groovy.
Steve: I think you can say that Krautrock can meet that definition. The beats groove but don’t funk.
Pete – Like on the last Radiohead album (Moon Shaped Pool), that track, Ful Stop, they’re really channelling the spirit of Neu! That absolutely grooves, they’re trying to be machine-like but it works they don’t quite achieve that. It’s amazing that song.
Steve: I think it is one of their best albums, but not yet got the recognition?
Pete: I think because it’s recent and people haven’t had the chance to forget and let it re-enter their lives. As a cohesive piece work I think it might be their most satisfying. I think if you’ve written about music for decades I think you can tell, that even if you don’t get it straight away there is something in a record that will keep revealing to you over time. It seems to sit in a similar space to Talk Talk’s later albums. A fantastic diaphanous type of beauty, musicians that just completely get each other. They are excluding all other concerns – the only question they ask themselves is ‘Is it beautiful?’ Commercial concerns, people’s expectations, none of that matters, just… ‘Are we people in the room happy with what we’re doing’.
Steve: That recent article in Mojo, on the 20th anniversary of Kid A, about how Thom Yorke single-mindedly pushed them through that process and how they all engaged with it?
Pete: Yeah on Kid A, there were certain things that Thom couldn’t do anymore. The idea of being the soul-bearing front man was just a dead end to him. And it was about using his voice more as an instrument, as a diary.
Steve: We’ll hopefully get one more record from them.
Pete: I think so, they can afford to take their time.
Steve: Are there any types of music you’ve been drawn to, or retreated to, during lockdown?
Pete: At the beginning I noticed that I was listening to the records that really meant a lot me, that had an innocent joyfulness to them. That were redolent of simpler times, simpler pleasures. Rockin’ and Romance by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – it assumed a moving type of quality, an unintended melancholy aspect to it, because it was a glimpse of how life could be, once was or could be one day. The songs are about things like finding a chewing gum wrapper on the pavement and the colours are mind-blowing, the simple pleasures of going to the beach, or a world where the biggest problem is your favourite pair of jeans is too frayed to wear anymore and you need to find another pair as comfortable as the ones you had before.
I also found myself listening to An Innocent Man by Billy Joel a lot during the first lockdown because again it was emblematic of a simpler form of life, an idealised carefree innocence. To do with discovering love for the first time. Discovering music and it being the soundtrack of your first crush and all of that stuff.
I also returned to Dion’s Kickin’ Child, it was a lost Dion album, that slightly predated Bob Dylan’s electric folk rebirth. The sound of emerging folkie beatnik Greenwich Village. The image that we see of the Freewheeling Bob Dylan on the sleeve of that record – if you wanted to hear a record that sounds like that image, you have to go to Kickin’ Child by Dion rather the Dylan record that’s in there- to really get that sense of being young and carefree in Greenwich Village in the early to mid sixties.
I’ve also been listening to an album called Blue Note Re:imagined which is by emerging British artists reinterpreting tracks from the Blue Note catalogue. There’s some brilliant stuff on that.
There’s also a really great album by a group called European Sun. It captures a sensibility that I really recognise. It’s quite poignant and also humorous. It’s about when you’re in your early 50s, having spent most of your life being a left-leaning, well-intentioned, socially-engaged person, possibly beta-male, who might have been bullied at school and doesn’t go through life with a great sense of their own agency, but you get by and you’re pretty happy now, being an invisible person doing their best in world that doesn’t always reward invisible people doing their best.
Steve: I’d like to move onto Broken Greek and ask a few questions about that. My first question really starts at the beginning – what gave you the idea or that spark, to make you think you should write a memoir about your early childhood?
Peter: There wasn’t one moment, but what I’d noticed over time was that my anecdotes are quite long and rambling and have a Ronnie Corbett-like quality. I’ve noticed over time that the anecdotes people have enjoyed most are the ones where nothing really happens. Maybe people enjoy them because there’s something deflating about them. The bits I remember about life are the awkward silences that happen between the bits that actually happen.
I’d go on Facebook and there’s a record I’m really excited about, like that European Sun album we’ve just talked about. I might write something really effusive about how much I loved this European Sun record – and sure, some people might really like it, but by and large we’re drowning in other people’s music recommendations – and suddenly someone’s recommendation becomes just another thing on our to-do list. So there was this one time I went on Facebook and the response to a post of mine made me realise, ‘Oh god! I think I’m going to have to write a book…’. It was a post I wrote about being on holiday with my family and in the hotel where we were staying, there was a bell jar with freshly-squeezed orange juice in it. I must have been about 47 but I still think that fresh orange juice is best taste in the world. Its like the taste of heaven… I remember that when I was ill as a young kid, my Mum, for a really big treat, would squeeze me some orange juice. And I was like, ‘When I’m an adult, when I’m a millionaire, I’m only going to drink orange juice. That is a promise to myself, write it down!’ Then a year later, some adverts appeared on TV for Just Juice orange juice, it had that catchy tune. I couldn’t believe it! ‘What a time to be alive! They’re making this stuff, they’ve started putting it in boxes! I’m going to put a pound aside, even though a pound is a lot of money…’ I ended up mentioning this in the book – we’d just moved house and my Mum gave me a pound and just said, ‘Go away while we move stuff into the house’. I went Woolworths and got some and it was like that moment in Elf, I drank it and it didn’t taste anything like fresh orange juice! Like that moment in Elf when he goes to the Father Xmas in the department store – ‘You sit on a throne of lies!’ I was so appalled and hurt by this outrageous lie. Long story short, I told this story on Facebook and it was like my most popular post ever… I was like, ‘OK! If that’s what you want to hear, I’ll write a book full of this stuff.’
I’m taking about the bits where life falls short, life is not like as advertised on the box. Childhood is at least 70% confusion, most of what happens as a kid is confusing, what adult in the world is going to explain all the things that confuse you and keep the house tidy and hold down a job. It can’t happen, so that’s why I mention those things that were really confusing to me – Fred Astaire and Freddie Star being the same person, the theme tune to Grange Hill being the same to the theme tune to Give Us A Clue. Why is that allowed? Why aren’t there other theme tunes doubling up on other programmes? I just put my goggles of childhood confusion on and described what happened to me.
Steve: I’d read that you decided to write the book before showing it to any publishers – how important was that in freeing you up?
Pete: It was very important because no one is worse than me when it comes to pitching ideas, I can feel my confidence drain away as I’m doing it. I have a way of explaining things that inspires doubt, even if it starts out as something they want to hear, they don’t think it is by the time I’ve talked them through it. I didn’t want that to happen with this book because it’s a messy idea in theory – it’s not a book about music and not just a memoir. It has to be about these two things because of the way they intertwine with each other. The music explains what’s happening in my life and I’ve got to talk about both things. So because I’m writing two books intertwined into one narrative, it’s going to be a long book. What would have happened if I’d written three chapters and tried to get an advance? They’d say, ‘Write a 70,000 word book, about 280 pages long, get it done for that time and we’ll get it out next year’. Finishing it gave me the power to say ‘Take it or leave it’. Thankfully, miraculously, the first publisher I showed it to said ‘Yes please, we’ll take it’.
Steve: Did it take much editing after that?
Pete: It was pretty fully-formed. There were no structural changes. Just the usual sub-editing and back and forth. If I’d shown you the first draft it wouldn’t read that differently. I had to change lots of names. I had a teacher of mine get in touch, which was really nice actually, my German teacher. He was a bit confused, as most names were completely changed, but he was subjected to a very half-hearted name change. His actual name was Mr Thomas, and I just took the ‘a’ out and called him Mr Thoms. The reason why I did that was because he was tall and had a moustache, just like a member of Landscape, who had a hit with Einstein-A-Go-Go. There was a guy in Landscape called Peter Thoms who looked like Mr Thomas, so that was my nod to that. He said ‘Did you mis-remember my name?’ He then went off and googled it and said he didn’t quite see it himself.
One of the names I didn’t change in the book was my next door neighbour Ged, and we’ve never stopped being friends. Ged doesn’t see what I see about her that makes her such a good character in the book. She thinks there’s nothing remarkable about her whatsoever. She wasn’t suspicious but she didn’t really know what I was up to and I said, ‘trust me, if there’s one thing about the book I’m sure about, its that people are gonna love you when they read about you. They are going to have wished that they grew up next door to you. I didn’t show her the book beforehand, I wanted her to see everything in the context of the book. She said that I didn’t need to change her name and she’d trust me.
Steve: That’s a really great thing in the book. I remember seeing that Ged was on Twitter and showed my wife, who’d also read the book, and she was very excited to see that Ged was here in real life!
Pete: Yes, I remember that Tim Burgess popped up and said ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe I’m speaking to the real Ged!’
Steve: My next question is about the end of the book and …(some bits removed here so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read Broken Greek). It seems to be a major life signpost and self-realisation. Did you know early on that would be the end?
Pete: It felt like a really natural end because everything had reached critical mass and I couldn’t really continue. By that point I’d become quite brutally disavowed of a lot of ideas about the person I could be. The game was up for me at the end of 1982. It was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be one of those popular kids that fits in. For most kids that realisation is fairly soft, it wasn’t for me!
The only thing that worried me slightly was that I couldn’t think of another book that ended like that – most memoirs start when you’re 13. I’m 13 when mine ends. People will either be completely bewildered about this or I’ve got this whole area to myself. Because I am surprised that there aren’t more memoirs that do this. Those are the years that you are made. At least 80% of the person you will go on to be is made in those years.
…And what a weird time to grow up – with the cold war looming over you and nuclear war and the early years of Thatcher. I also looked forward to pointing out how this was reflected in pop music. There was such a mood of pessimism around pop music. So many of the best records made were bereft of hope. They had this amazing energy that young people have when they make music.
Steve: The melancholy of The Specials’ Ghost Town would sum it up for me. It was dark and compelling.
Pete: It was bleak as hell, this phantasmagorical quality that it has. It’s like a macabre pantomime song. It just sticks with you. Anyone from our generation will talk about it. Damon Albarn constantly talks about the importance of that record. There definitely something of the spirit of Ghost Town in the second Gorillaz album, Demon Days and then The Good, the Bad and the Queen.
Steve: I will ask the inevitable ‘ Will Pink Floyd reform’ question. Are you thinking about the second book, a follow up?
Pete: All the time I was writing the first book I didn’t know if I was going to finish it, whether I was going to run out of steam or whether it was a viable thing to be doing. So in that spirit I’m gathering information, making notes, gathering bits and pieces that, if they continue over time, might start to look like a book. When I finished Broken Greek, it felt like there would be another one. The final paragraphs in Broken Greek are what will be in the successor. I will probably do the same thing and go ahead and write it all before showing someone.
Steve: At least you know you’ll never be like JR Hartley and Fly Fishing with Broken Greek…( see here if you feel a need to see a 1980s advert for yellow pages..)
Pete: I never thought I would write a book, I thought books were for other people, I thought books were for much cleverer people than me. To have one out there I’ve already exceeded my wildest expectations. There’s something about growing up in the West Midlands, you do have quite low expectations. I thought that to write a book I would have to have read a lot more books to have stood a chance. It seems as though you don’t – this one just popped out.
Steve: And it’s coming out in paperback soon as well?
Pete: Yes, in June. And it’s been optioned for television but things get optioned but don’t necessarily get made. So we’ll just see what pans out there.
Steve: I wanted to ask you a few questions about record shops. There’s a great section in Broken Greek when you go to Discus, your local shop, for the first time and get the first two records for your collection. And when HMV closed I recall you writing an article in support of the high street record shop. They’re part of our formative experiences in finding music. What did those record shops mean to you?
Pete: I’d be lost without the high street record shop, no one becomes a specialist overnight. You start in the centre, in the mainstream, and you move left, right, up and down, depending on where your interests lie. I had a very definite routine when I was little, when I was record shopping – to see how far my pocket money would go. The way you did that wasn’t by going to specialist shops but by going to the reduced racks at places like WHSmith, Boots, Tesco and Woolworths. Going into Woolworths the day after the chart was announced you’d have the records that had just dropped out of the top 75 the previous day and would have their corners snipped off and would be ignominiously sitting there waiting for me to buy them for 49 pence. In the timeline covered by Broken Greek, I would be so obsessed by squeezing as much money as I could out of my pocket money that I resorted to (and I never told my parents this) getting up early then anyone else did and secretly making my own sandwiches so that when my parents gave me money for school dinners I could go to the newsagent where they had ex-jukebox records. It was a full-scale mobilisation of all available funds. The shop was called Easy Listening and they would get the juke box singles in bulk and they would bag them up and you would get five or six for £1.25, and you would have to decide based on the typed list in the front of the pack. That was quite a lot of effort for records being sold for £1.25. I was like ‘Well I don’t like those two but I like those four’. It was stuff that had been in the charts four to six months previously. Occasionally there would be a wild card in there. One time there was a record in there from Philadelphia Records, by The Intruders called Win, Place or Show (She’s a Winner) – I believe it’s an American term – quite an insulting term, really! – from dog competitions. The lyric is comparing the object of his attractions to a really attractive dog. It’s up there with back-handed compliments in records, like the Drifters’, You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book.
That’s how we got to become obsessed by records. Not by knowing the serial number of every Factory record that came out. You would follow the songwriting credits… if you like this one, find some more by them… You were like a self-styled detective trying to work out where your next record was coming from based on these little bits of knowledge.
Steve: What makes a good record shop for you today? You don’t get the chart racks these days..
Pete: There aren’t many high street shops left and I do love a chart rack. It’s a source of great sadness that the countertop of seven-inches is now a thing of the past. The last time I saw one was David’s in Letchworth. There’s a shop in Leigh-On-Sea called Fives that serves that function of the high street record shop.
Steve: When I worked in a record shop it was always my first task on a Monday morning to change the chart over.
Pete: That’s my dream job, I’d like to do that now. If I ever come into a huge amount of money and get a Supernova Heights-style mansion, I’m going to have a room with a chart wall. I’m going to employ someone to make pretend seven inches and change them over every week. I’ll come in every Saturday and make sure each new chart is properly represented.
Steve: I used to remember the mobile DJs who used to come into the shop who steadfastly only bought records once they charted, they would never take a tip that something was likely to chart. They come and in and just read the numbers out 1, 4, 7, 36, 42.
Pete: There’s something very appealing about that life: ‘I have my criteria and I’m sticking to them.’ If only life was as simple as it was for a mobile DJ.
Steve: I wanted to move on and ask a question about your record label – Needle Mythology – what is the best and the worst thing about running your own label?
Pete: The best thing is issuing records that you love, often by artists that you’ve loved for many years – such as Stephen Duffy, Ian Broudie, Tanita Tikaram, Robert Forster. Years ago I was taping their performances off the TV and now I’m putting out their records. You feel that sense of acute responsibility, to do justice to these beautiful records that they made. Not fucking it up and to feel that they have a relationship with you and trust you…You’re not some mad fan, but someone who can do this properly. The first two releases we put out were by Stephen Duffy and Ian Broudie, these are records that I wanted on vinyl. The only way I could have them on vinyl was to start a label and put them out myself. The mind-blowing thing of holding a record in your hands, knowing that it’s because you’ve put a mechanism in place for it to exist is just staggering. There are some releases on the horizon that totally conform to the category of teenage wish-fulfilment. We’re trying not to lose money. And so far we haven’t.
Brexit will definitely have an effect because the incentive for people to buy records from this country from abroad has taken a massive hit. Customs charges will make it twice as expensive to buy a record from mainland Europe. If people are paying more, then we make sure there is enough in that for them to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. But, to be honest it’s a nebulous thing spending money on a record. Take that Aztec Camera record…it cost £30… but I’ve had £100s worth of pleasure out of this thing over my life. How do you measure it?
Steve: I also wanted to change tack and ask about working for Melody Maker in the 90s – the height of Britpop – a massive explosion and buzz but equally this culture of building bands up then knocking them down. Where did you sit in all of that?
Pete: I was out of it by 1994 and got a job at Time Out so I stepped away when it peaked. I was in my 20s and tried to fall into line and be a ‘critic’, when really the best writing I’ve done is a long time after that, after the realisation that first and foremost you’re a music fan and you’re there to honour the emotions and impressions when you put on a record. Broken Greek feels like a completion of a circle because in my 20s I would have been embarrassed about the person depicted in the book. The person in that book is more honest and sincere and excited about life that the person I went on to become for a while and when I realised that, I tried to fix it. Hopefully, my writing is better as a result.
Melody Maker was quite a tribal place and there were different factions with different aesthetics, some I agreed with, others I didn’t agree with. But ultimately the reason why I ended up there was because I was a music fan and I was a record fan, and here I am being a music and record fan. The music writing I do now is trying to finish off what I started when I was making music magazines out of chip paper.
Steve: My final question. I wanted ask about some of the totemic names you’ve interviewed – I’ve seen that you’ve covered ABBA, Elton John, members of Pink Floyd – how do you build their confidence in that sort of interview and get what you want out of it?
Pete: If Elton John is giving you an hour of his time, the least you can do is show that you’ve researched him properly. They expect that type of respect. But when you interview a new band they’re uncomfortable with being treated like they are important. They don’t want to deconstruct their lyrics that much and they often don’t have a take on what they do. They want to mask their inexperience, they feel like imposters and don’t want to confess that. But older artists are more comfortable in their skin. With older artists you have to talk to them about what they’re there to promote, but you don’t want to just write an advert for their record, so most artists understand there’s some push and pull between those two things.
The best way to get a good interview is to talk about the music. I remember I had an editor at The Times and I was due to interview Coldplay and this particular editor and gave me a list of pointers about what to cover when speaking to Chris Martin – get some personal stuff out of him but also address an apparently negative public perception of him. But I knew if I did what I was asked, he would have walked out after ten minutes. I actually got a good interview out of him. The way I did that was to ask him about the songs and music. People actually find it difficult to talk about music without talking about what’s going on in their lives or what makes them tick. The music is the ante-room you have go through to get the measure of someone. These days I’m just happy talking to people about music as that’s why we’re here…. The Elton John Piece I did for Record Collector was a perfect example of it – it was for Record Collector and he is a record collector, and he was just so happy talking about records. As long as he’s happy, he’ll talk. I was only granted half an hour with him but ended up chatting with him for over an hour.
Steve: I also saw the Bee Gees story you put on Twitter the other night, about asking them to record you an answerphone message at the end of the interview. You must have built a good rapport with them and they had a reputation for being prickly?
Pete: They could be quite prickly. I think it was because I was young as well, and you’re more likely to be charmed by someone who is young when you’re an older generation of musician. You want young people to think you’re quite cool. I was 27 when I interviewed them. They were happy that a young person liked their music.