not all rock critics are hideous!
what is so great about rock critics? nothing much. but we at chickfactor adore peter paphides, founding editor of perturbed and time out london staff writer (he’s also a dad), because he basically has the same taste in music as, um, I mean, really superb taste in music. and he cares more about snacks, tintin, and robert forster’s hair than about rock criticism. gail interviewed him at london’s yo! sushi, where they have those wonderful conveyor belts off which you just grab whatever strikes your fancy.
chickfactor.com: tell me about your new column for chickfactor called choc factor. what’s the first one about? 500 words on u.s. vs. uk chocobars?
peter paphides: I get as excited about new chocolates in the same way that I do about new bands. I also like getting into the psychology of chocolate. for instance, the way men tend to buy bars (boost, yorkie, kit-kat chunky) whilst women are apparently fonder of flatter chocs where you can break bits off (flat kit-kats, galaxy liaison, cadburys dairy milk).
cf.com: you used to do a zine called perturbed. what inspired it? did you read other zines at the time? do you now?
pp: it originally started off as an idea for a college magazine. at the time I didn’t know much about indie music, but there was this girl in my class called angela, who I had a crush on. I was intrigued by the names scribbed on her folder, like primal scream and the soup dragons. so in order to impress her, I very quickly got into all the C86 lot. In the end, angela and I did perturbed as a fanzine, but she lost interest after about a month and my love was never requited. eventually she went out with this other guy and lost interest in the bands whose names she once scribbled on her folder. I expect that her record collection is just, like, this big aural diary of boyfriends. that was a good period for fanzines. kvatch was a real favourite, with its sea urchins flexis and ewan maccoll features. anyway, in 1991 when I was a little older, I thought I’d write one more and put loads of jokes in it. that attracted some attention from people in london — including furniture’s former lead singer jim irvin, who was now working at melody maker.
cf.com: when did you work at melody maker? what was that like? let’s hear a horror story.
pp: melody maker was like a large dysfunctional family, which bore very little correlation to the way people in the outside world listen to music. the culture there was strange. in order to like a record there was a sense that you had to justify it against your personal pop aesthetic. since then, I’ve realised that this isn’t how normal people listen to music. In the real world, you listen to something; you either like it or you don’t — usually for fairly prosaic reasons. because I was insecure and wanted to fit in, my writing was often dishonest. I should have made inspiral carpets” saturn 5 “single of the week, but I chickened out and gave it to someone cool. I also shied away from making the trash can sinatras” “I’ve seen everything” single of the week, but I didn’t.
cf.com: how/when did you end up at timeout? let’s hear some embarrassing stories about tony elliott and laura lee davies please.
pp: tony elliott hasn’t spoken to me since he asked me to appear on a his team at some weekly atlantic bar quiz. I answered one question all night. to be fair though, he runs a company that gives its male employees a whole month’s paid paternity leave. and we get a six-week sabbatical thrown in for every five years. and they let me write whatever I want.
cf.com: has a band ever referred to you/your review from the stage? please explain.
pp: mark kozelek apparently mentioned me. the week before I’d said that when the red house painters did mother his voice resembled that of a dying bee gee. stephen duffy recently dedicated a song to my four-month-old daughter dora. thom yorke dedicated blow out to me somewhere in france. as you might imagine both the latter two left me a little emotional. oh, when pulp headlined at chelmsford, jarvis put me straight because I’d said that a year of performing common people must have left him sick of the song. apparently he wasn’t.
cf.com: is there a certain indie t-shirt you cannot part with even though it is threadbare? which one?
pp: there’s a lilac time sweatshirt with a huge heart on it, from their and love for all tour.
cf.com: describe your dream bill.
pp: a reformed mellow candle; the original lineup of pentangle; the lilac time; r.e.m. circa 1985.
cf.com: what was your first gig?
pp: um, toyah at the birmingham odeon. I was trying to impress a girl in my class. can you spot a theme emerging?
cf.com: what was the first record you bought?
pp: “take a chance on me” by abba. now I sing it to my daughter, poor thing.
cf.com: who is your favorite music writer? general critic? why?
pp: ian mcdonald for his obsessive, celebratory overanalysis of the beatles, nick drake and bob dylan.
cf.com: bob stanley says you and he are starting a folk night in london. details, please.
pp: we love all the scary folk music that people made in the late 60s/early 70s and feel that a lot of it isn’t as known as it ought to be. mellow candle, fotheringay, marian segal, karen beth, pentangle — these people have recorded some of the greatest albums of all time.
cf.com: what review of yours can you not believe they printed?
pp: I had to review an album by brit-funk geezer omar, and I’d recently read that faith no more interview where mike patton had been talking about his activities as a “shit terrorist” — which involved unscrewing hotel hairdryers and putting his own shit in them, before screwing them back on again where they’d lie in wait for their next user. anyway, I used this as a metaphor for putting the omar album in your CD player and then I described the effects. the last lines were something like: everything is splattered with shit. omar has blocked all the sunlight out of the world.”
cf.com: what review or interview or column are you most proud of?
pp: I wrote a piece about the idiocy of bikini lines, which had people writing in calling me both a sexist pig and a feminist. it seems scandalous that if you’re woman who chooses not to wax, you simply can’t buy swimwear that covers you. I mean, that hadn’t even the case before feminism! anyway, the only reason I’m proud of that is that it was a debate I’d never seen happen in the pages on a magazine and I think it’s a debate we need to have. sorry. I’m a bit tired today and all my answers are sounding really pompous.
cf.com: what is the silliest assignment you’ve ever carried out?
pp: in a timeout hedonism special I had to set out the case against hedonism. so I spent a day doing things that weren’t enjoyable but were good for the soul: going to church, recycling, lunch at the hare krishna restaurant, preparing food for the homeless, etc. at 7am I had to go for a cold swim in the men’s bathing pond at hampstead heath. not my ideal way to spend a february morning.
cf.com: who is your journalistic or literary hero?
pp: stephen fry’s paperweight gave me the confidence to write about nothing in a rambling, ages-to-get-to-the-point way.
cf.com: who is the biggest nut you’ve interviewed? lee scratch perry?
pp: when I interviewed tricky he’d just seen rosemary’s baby, which had convinced him that he was the devil. his proof? well, you see, his real name is adrian — and so was the baby. lee perry just did his usual “I am mad” thing, but I wasn’t in the mood. my car had broken down on the way to the studio where I was due to meet him. he turned up four hours late. I just asked him three questions just enough to base a small piece on — left. I don’t think any artist has been so hugely indulged by repressed white middle-class rock critics.
cf.com: who is the biggest bitch/wanker you’ve interviewed? stories.
pp: that woman out of the cranberries. she’s manipulative and spooky. arnold schwarzenegger’s PA threw me out of an interview because I had the temerity to ask him to record an outgoing answerphone message.
cf.com: who is the biggest sweetie you’ve interviewed?
pp: lauryn hill. I felt like we’d been to the same school or something. she was very easy to get along with.
cf.com: which interviewee did you think you were going to hate and you loved?
pp: new order. I thought they were going to be boorish and aggressive, but they were quite humble and frank. they really seemed happy to treat the interview like a candid chat. they were also touchingly frank about the bad things they’d done to each other.
cf.com: what lyric or melody is stuck in your head right now?
pp: “livin” thing” by ELO.
cf.com: give us your all time best snack recipe.
pp: can I be boring and plump for a cypriot variation on the traditional greek salad? It has to be at least 60 per cent tomatoes, with half a sliced cucumber, some sliced onion and a generous quantity of feta cheese. lots of fresh coriander is what makes it cypriot rather than greek. add salt to taste. then smother the whole thing in extra virgin olive oil and a splash white wine vinegar. get a pitta bread and fill it up. get messy.
cf.com: what has fatherhood taught you thus far?
pp: it’s confirmed what I already suspected — that often, the key to a happy life lies in having your choices restricted rather than increased.
cf.com: describe your own “media diet” including the embarrassing stuff.
pp: do you mean what media do I diet on? that would be as follows: ceefax, mojo, time out and whatever daily newspaper takes my fancy. sorry some of these answers are so boring.
cf.com: what’s the best thing on tv? why?
pp: um…you join us in the middle of big brother 2001. I liked the bit where they discussed naming the chickens after the spice girls. dean the 37-year-old brummie suggested that doing so would “make them easier to kill.” I.M. weasel is ace too.
cf.com: alan partridge vs. french & saunders? why?
pp: I find it slightly disturbing how dawn french relies on chocolate for so many of her gags. I’m sure she thinks she’s trying to reclaim her figure from all the people who think it’s something to be ashamed of. but it also suggests a deep-rooted vein of self-hatred, or a kind of victim mentality. surely it would be better to not mention it at all and just be funny — otherwise you’re just reduced to being “fat comic dawn french.”
cf.com: who would you love to interview?
pp: the only two people that spring to mind are both dead: harry nilsson and charles schulz.
cf.com: what is the best record label still going?
pp: maybe warp, for broadcast, plone and the aphex twin.
cf.com: what’s the best defunct label?
pp: harvest, for the third ear band, syd barrett, shirley collins and forest.
cf.com: do you have a favorite dj? who?
pp: john peel, because of his appreciation of Indian food and because he unwittingly helped me get into all the bands that my college paramour angela was into in double quick time.
cf.com: what pentangle record do you recommend? how about furniture?
pp: the BBC sessions on strange fruit. I can’t believe that no-one else has persevered with the idea of playing folk songs with a jazz rhythm section. I think it’s the best idea anyone had in the last 35 years. anyway, the great thing about that record is that they’re clearly drunk for a lot of it, which makes the playing really loose and exciting. furniture made a brilliant album called the wrong people in 1986, but their best song was on their next album. it’s called song for a doberman. it’s sung by sally margaret joy (later remembered by many for her riot grrrlrelated musings in melody maker). if there is a god, one day shirley manson and courtney love will do a duet of it. that would be its spiritual home.
cf.com: who is your favorite peanuts character and why?
pp: charlie brown. I strongly identified with him as a child. still do. I was into soccer as opposed to baseball — but my favourite players were all joe schlabotnik type journeymen.
cf.com: give us some stephen duffy dirt.
pp: don’t be fooled by the sweet old lady exterior — his mother is an absolute party animal. she makes kedgeree to die for.
cf.com: what other rock star friends do you have and do other people try to get to them through you?
pp: I don’t have any rock star friends, although… during his lost weekend, robbie williams used to leave rambling drunken messages for my wife — but she didn’t pick up. previously he had attempted to snog her in the middle of an interview. I used to know radiohead in their less famous days and would like to think that if we found ourselves in the same room we’d have a pleasant chat.
cf.com: what’s the best thing to do in birmingham?
cf.com: who do you have a crush on?
pp: my wife has the best hips and the most brilliant blue eyes in the universe. her eyebrows betray her fearful intelligence. and no-one makes me laugh more — especially her impersonation of how natalie merchant would play rounders.
peter’s top five singles of all time
abba: “dancing queen” — that will never change.
pentangle: “light flight”
the stars of heaven: “never saw you”
the field mice: “missing the moon”
kraftwerk: “the model”
do EPs count? If so, broadcast’s “the book lovers” EP.