Paul Gorman - London, UK - Spring 2007
04 Jun 2007
"what advice would i give to a budding music journalist? get a proper job...!"
Rockfeedback's Sabuhi Mir met up with renowned music journalist Paul Gorman, a man who had interviewed and documented the highs and lows of some of the all time greats from Johnny Cash to Iggy Pop, to discuss the past, present and future of music, as well as his new book 'The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion'...
Rockfeedback: Was there a defining moment in rock or pop history that made you want to become a music writer/journalist?
Paul Gorman: I wanted to be a writer when reading the fantastic copy of the illustrious gang who worked at the NME in its heyday (74-79): Nick Kent, Mick Farren, Charles Shaar Murray, Chris Salewicz, Danny Baker, Julie Burchill, Monty Smith, Tony Parsons... they didn't just write about music, but the environment in which it was produced. They took in the span of factors; social, economic, creative, etc - and were funny as hell. They were also vigorously opinionated which is always attractive.
I decided against becoming a music writer per se when I failed an audition for the NME in the late 70s; I became a business writer instead, covering everything from farming to film. It was (and is) the behind-the-scenes people and machinations which fascinate me. As a hobby and in my spare time I wrote about friends and things that interested me for mags such as Mojo and (initially) Heat. I got to interview pop stars for Music Week, but again the angle was always business, which suits me.
RFB: What inspired you to write' The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion'?
PG: It started life as a pitch to Channel 4 for a TV programme on the Kings Road in the mid-90s. By that time the street which had given me so much pleasure had gone downhill and I wanted to document what an important place it was and how it represented the fusion of fashion and music which hadn't been covered satisfactorily.
I was sick of reading "style writers" getting details wrong about the shops and people I adored: SEX, Granny Takes A Trip, Johnsons, Demob... by that time I had interviewed quite a few pop stars and knew that, say, Rod Stewart was far more enthusiastic talking about 60s fashion emporium owner John Stephen than he was saying the same-old about his new album, then it just extended from there. I went to Memphis and interviewed Elvis' tailor, St Petersburg with Bryan Ferry and Antony Price and the book spiralled.
RFB: Who was the most fun star to interview (Paul's interviewed many, e.g. Bjork for Music Week in '97; Bowie, Johnny Cash and Iggy Pop in '95...)?
PG: Iggy Pop was charm itself, sat on his little bed in The Halcyon wearing lace-sided black canvas jeans. I gave him a copy of Kicks magazine which covered his first band The Iguanas in detail and he was genuinely made up, guffawing away. Brian Eno is fascinating and funny but I guess the time I spent with Boy George was the best; I lived with him and another friend on and off over a period of months in New York while completing his book Straight and fell completely under his spell. He is a lovely, lovely bloke and has been a true friend to me. He's also a cantankerous old git, but nobody's perfect, right?
RFB: What was it like conducting the first ever interview with the Spice Girls?
PG: Hilarious. It was all pretty much of a set up; Music Week is the in-house newspaper of the British music industry and they were its hottest new investment. They were still called Spice and lied about their ages and how they got together. Geri was attractively extrovert, Victoria nicked my fags and gum and then said, apropos of nothing about my blue and white striped shirt and striped cufflinks: "Your cufflinks match your shirt, did you know that?" The room went silent and then we carried on as if nothing had been said. The only other thing she revealed was that her favourite bit of their first trip to the US had been shopping at Barneys.
Mel B was business-like; she knew the names of their accountants and lawyers, I don't remember Emma Bunton saying anything and Scary talked loudest and took over. They sang me a song - which was really hokey and stage-school - and then threatened to pull my trousers down. When I told them I had on a pair of Burro lime-green y-fronts they forced me to show them. I didn't mind.
Three quarters of the way through one of them - I think Geri - noticed that my tape had stopped working and joshingly berated me for unprofessionalism. I covered up and said it was OK, but it broke that day and somewhere I have just 20 minutes of them blathering.
RFB: What do you think of girl bands in general?
PG: Better than boy bands, but then, as the old song title goes: "Man Smart, Woman Smarter."
RFB: What's been your weirdest experience with a rock/pop/fashion star?
PG: There have been many. Being called "Sir" by Johnny Cash. Doing aerobics to The Ramones with Boy George. K D Lang trying to wrestle my thrift store shirt off me. Being called back into a backstage room by Bono and asked why I was leaving. Driving El Vez's 56 Bel Air through San Diego with the certain knowledge that the brakes had failed.
RFB: Who would be your ideal interviewee today?
PG: Rudi Gernreich, Nudie The Rodeo Tailor, anybody who's name ends "i" or "ie". I guess Yves Saint Laurent remains the enigma, the uncrackable. I really would like to sit John Lydon down and just talk clothes but he'd probably do his outrageous starey thing and give me a hard time for being facile. I deeply respect Vivienne Westwood (and know her lovely husband Andreas a tiny bit socially) but I'm not sure she's interested in being dragged down memory lane yet again. But then again, who is?
RFB: How do you pick who to work with? Do you pick people like Kevin Rowland or Boy George because you admire their work? Or you are friends with them?
PG: Sometimes it comes personally or via agents or publishers. I worked with Kevin and George because we knew each other and understood each other's strengths; mine is writing, theirs is being all-round geniuses. Goldie auditioned me via my then-agent but I'd met him already; he's a good egg. I work with people I like and admire; spent too many years working for and with people who got me down.
RFB: What projects are you currently working on?
PG: I have a book project called The Cutting Edge in America with Brit designer Keanan Duffty who works with Bowie, etc. It's out next spring. Keanan's out-there and punky but his KD label sells in all 1200 of Target's stores (quite mainstream) so he has an interesting duality. The Look is constantly being appraised by TV people - and there is a big broadcaster interested at the moment - but we'll see. The Look on MySpace is really flourishing; I post "news" items and fresh images at least twice a week and get the best reaction...
RFB: Where do you see The Look brand or events going?
PG: It's a living breathing entity of its own. My club The Look At Lost Society is going to have reams of great new bands and DJs over the next six months, all of whom have a fashion or style angle, and there's the prospect of The Look also co-promoting the appearance of a major 60s singer this autumn. The Look has even got me in to academia all these years after ignominiously leaving school; I'm now an associate lecturer in fashion at Central Saint Martins where I put on The Look events for students.
RFB: What advice would you give to a budding music journalist in this competitive market?
PG: Get a proper job!
RFB: Do you have a favourite music magazine of all time?
PG: Kicks, the occasional publication run in the 80s by Billy Miller and Miriam Linna who also have the exemplary rockin' label Norton. Try and hunt copies down; it's obsessive and completely dismissive of the contribution "limeys" have made to popular music.
RFB: Who's your favourite music critic at the moment? Or you don't have one?
PG: Simon Price is on-the-money.
RFB: What do you think of social networking sites like Myspace, Facebook etc.? Are they a good thing for the industry, or what?
PG:I think they're progressive because they're destructive of the music and fashion hegemonies (even though they're controlled by multinationals themselves), which is, of course, a very good thing.
RFB: What's on the iPod / turntable at the minute?
PG: Soulful poppy pre-acid house like Ten City's 'That's The Way Love Is and The Gap Band's Big Fun', electro from '03 like Nag Nag Nag, classic dub like Big Youth, U-Roy... Pippa's band All About Eve, Babitz, Detroit Cobras, Grinderman, Priscillas, 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' by Ian Dury, 'Boops' by Sly & Robbie, 'Rush' by B.A.D. and 'The Greatest Love Of All' by Kevin Rowland.
RFB: When not writing fashion bibles, what are you up to?
PG: Gardening, dancing, decorating, designing, consuming, dog-walking...