Pete Paphides is a music writer, broadcaster, record label proprietor and former chief rock critic of The Times.
Paphides’ father Christakis came from a Greek-Cypriot village, Ayios Ermolaos. His mother, Victoria, grew up on the outskirts of Athens. Attracted by the employment prospects in the UK, they moved to Birmingham. Chris, a good mechanic, hoped he could find an apprenticeship at the huge car factory in Longbridge. This proved to be more difficult than he had anticipated. Like many Cypriots, they ended up running a chip shop. There they raised two sons, Savvakis (Aki) and Takis.
When Takis was four, they returned to Cyprus for a long and idyllic summer holiday, with a view to going back home for good. Shortly after this, however, came the Turkish invasion. The island was partitioned, and it was no longer a safe place to bring up children. After they returned to the West Midlands, Takis started infant school. He became selectively mute for three years; he would talk only to his parents, his brother and sometimes his teachers. Eventually, it was his older brother, Aki, who persuaded him to start talking again.
Music became a huge driving force for Takis very early in his life; he brought his first record when he was nine. Pop music not only influenced but even seemed to describe his growing up. He comments ‘I was trying to find a way into things. I was curious.’ He thinks he was looking for a bridge into Britishness. He also decided he wanted to be known as Peter. His interest in music journalism was sparked very early on. When he was eleven, he used chip paper to create a 16-page magazine called Pop Scene. He attempted to review every record in the top 75. Writing about Shakin’ Stevens’ Green Door, that week’s number one single, he declared, ‘I like it, it’s good, but it’s just not right how he can pick one old song, sing it and sell it. How about some new stuff, Mr Stevens?’
He was not particularly successful at school. Although he eventually passed four A-levels, his grades were not good enough to get into St David’s University College, Lampeter. However, he rang Professor David Cockburn and persuaded him to let him come anyway. He studied philosophy, which he feels is a ‘very good degree to do to become a better writer.’ After a few days, he felt lost and homesick. He loved going into record shops, but the nearest music store appeared to be twenty-seven miles away. Then, his friend Andy Lewis told him about Hags, a second-hand record shop above a travel agent’s. Paphides went into the shop and thought, ‘I can stay. This is going to be all I need.’ While he was at Lampeter, he also produced a 48-page fanzine, Perturbed. It contained appreciations of his favourite groups: Dexys Midnight Runners, the Go-Betweens, the Lilac Time.
After graduating, Paphides went to London to work as a free-lance journalist for Melody Maker. Around the same time, he met Caitlin Moran, another Melody Maker writer. He has said ‘I was envious of her because she was brilliant.’ He and Caitlin married in 1999; they have two daughters, Dora and Eavie.
After two years at Melody Maker, Paphides went on to work at Time Out for eight years. He was chief rock critic of The Times between 2005 and 2010, for whom he interviewed artists such as Beyonce, ABBA, Coldplay, Kanye West and Neil Diamond. Alongside this, he presented a weekly music podcast for The Times. He has freelanced for The Guardian, Observer Music Monthly, Mojo and Q magazine. He has also made several documentaries for BBC Radio 4. In Lost Albums, he told the story of great albums that that, for a variety of reasons, can be considered ‘lost’. These included Bambu, by the former Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson, and Robin Gibb’s Sing Slowly Sisters. To Paphides’ surprise, Gibb allowed his songs to be aired for the first time. In Follow Up Albums, Paphides explored the pressures on musicians to live up to huge commercial success. He examined Dexys Midnight Runners’ Don’t Stand Me Down, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Suede’s Dog Man Star. In The Songs of Molly Drake, Paphides told the story of songs privately recorded by the mother of the cult singer, Nick Drake. The programme won the New York Radio Festival Gold Award. Paphides also hosts a weekly music show for Soho Radio.
Paphides’ collection of music is huge; he possesses an estimated 50 000 recordings. His home contains a room filled floor to ceiling with shelves and drawers holding records. An island unit in the middle contains even more records. He comments, ‘I had the drawers specially made in order to replicate the feeling of browsing through records in a shop.’ His tastes are eclectic; his favourite albums range from Abba’s Voulez-Vous through The Heptones’ Party Time to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Robert Crampton has commented that he has a superb ear for the good stuff, regardless of era, genre or artist.
In September 2015, Paphides and his wife Caitlin were struck by the images of Syrian refugees they had seen on television news. Paphides remembered Crowded House’s song ‘Help is coming;’ this had first appeared on a 1999 album of rare and unreleased tracks. It is about people placing their faith in people and institutions they have still to encounter. He suggested to Neil Finn, the song’s writer and lead singer, that it should be released as a charity single with the proceeds going to Save the Children’s Syria Fund. Mat Whitecross produced an accompanying video; Caitlin persuaded Benedict Cumberbatch to record an introduction, an extract from a poem, ‘Home’, by the Somalia-British poet, Warsan Shire. George Osborne, the British Chancellor, agreed to waive the VAT. The day after the single was released, Arsenal FC showed the video at half-time and donated £1 for every ticket sold, giving over £60 000. Cumberbatch, who was playing Hamlet, raised around £100 000 by reading Hasan Shire’s poem at every performance. Around £200 000 was donated via a dedicated text number. Paphides has commented ‘Popular culture can’t solve these problems but … it can create an awareness that … pressurises governments into shouldering their humanitarian obligations.’
More recently, Paphides launched a record label Needle Mythology which is mostly dedicated to reissuing under-celebrated albums, many of which have never previously being available on vinyl, and “giving them the loving release they deserve.” Artists whose work has been released on the label include Stephen Duffy, Ian Broudie, Tanita Tikaram, Bernard Butler and Catherine Anne Davies, with expanded reissue of titles by Neil & Tim Finn scheduled for 2021.
March 2020 also saw the publication of Paphides’ first book Broken Greek: a story of chip shops and pop songs, (Quercus, 2020). He describes how he struggled to reconcile his Greek-Cypriot and Birmingham identities. Alongside this, he writes about the impact of music on him; he asks, ‘Do you sometimes feel like the music you’re hearing is explaining your life to you?’ But the book is also the story of his parents and their struggle to make something of themselves. Writing in New Statesman, the former Labour minister, Alan Johnson commented ‘I can’t tell you how good this book is.’ Nick Lezard, in The Spectator, described it as ‘a terrific achievement.’ It was featured as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in May 2020. It has since been optioned by producer Andrew Eaton (The Crown, 24 Hour Party People) for a television series.
Harris, J. (2020, March 5). Broken Greek by Pete Paphides review – chip shops and pop music – an evocative memoir by the music writer, which tells how a sensitive, silent child of immigrants learned to cope, with the help of Abba and other pop bands. Guardian. Retrieved February 4 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/179867D4398F32F0?p=UKNB
D’Ancona,, M. (2020, April 17). Tortoise Book Club with Pete Paphides on Broken Greek. [Video file]. Retrieved February 4 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2FyNDcxtLc
Crampton, R. (2020, February 29). How love and pop music saved my life – Pete Paphides grew up above a chip shop in Birmingham, the son of Greek Cypriot immigrants. Shy and introverted, he had a guilty secret: British pop. The former Times rock critic tells Robert Crampton about his new memoir, falling for Caitlin Moran, now his wife, and his obsession with music – 50,000 albums and counting. Times. Retrieved February 4 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/1796944DD8A36368?p=UKNB
Paphides, P. (2005, September 11). There’s a boy down the chip shop: swears he owns it. Growing up in a Greek takeaway in Birmingham might not have been something you bragged about, says Peter Paphides, but the smell of cod, saveloys and kebabs was the spur to gettin. Observer. Retrieved February 4 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/10CAAD277626EA40?p=UKNB
Spice, A. (2013). The private collection: extended interview with music journalist Pete Paphides on the pop gems hidden within his astonishing record collection. Retrieved February 4 2021 from https://thevinylfactory.com/features/the-private-collection-extended-interview-with-music-journalist-pete-paphides-on-the-pop-gems-hidden-within-his-astonishing-record-collection/
HomeProtect.co.uk (2017). PetePaphides: the record collector. Retrieved February5 2021 from https://www.homeprotect.co.uk/discover/stories/pete-paphides-record-collector
Paphides, P. (n.d.) Pete Paphides. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://www.petepaphides.co.uk/
Paphides, P. (2007, April 27). Here’s some you won’t remember. The Times. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/118C6F4848AF9A30?p=UKNB
Moran, C. (2015, September 14). I drank half a bottle, then Benedict rang – Watching the news, Caitlin Moran and her husband Pete Paphides felt they had to do something. They weren’t alone. The Times. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/157DB984CCFF3D70?p=UKNB
Paphides, P. (2015). Help is coming: Pete Paphides on Crowded House’s unlikely charity single in aid of refugees. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://escapismmagazine.com/the-refugee-crisis/how-i-got-involved/help-is-coming-pete-paphides-refugees/
Clay, C. (2020, March 7). Just for the records: a pop superfan remembers – Pete Paphides’s frank, funny memoirs of his Midlands childhood charms Joe Clay. The Times. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/1798E290005363A8?p=UKNB
Johnson, A. (2020). Pop with chips. [Review of the book Broken Greek by P. Paphides]. New Statesman, 149(5510),47. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/docview/2377663066?accountid=130472&pq-origsite=primo
Lezard, N. (2020, March 21). Broken Greek: a story of chip shops and pop songs by Pete Paphides – review. The Spectator. Retrieved February 5 2021 from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/docview/2381622979?pq-origsite=primo&accountid=130472