In the British Library there is a shelf for every book ever published in Britain. Over 20 of those books are written by Paolo Hewitt, whose work focuses on football, music and fashion, charting the relationship they have with working class subcultures in Britain. The library was quiet as Highbury but the coffee shop was chocker block, so we took a stroll over Euston Road and found a nook in a British boozer.
Paolo first got into clothes around 1971 when he was at St. John’s Comprehensive, in Woking. “All my mates suddenly started showing up in, Brutus tartan checked shirts, sta prest trousers, red socks, brogues, crombies, harringtons, with hair quite long, longer than yours, but that sort of style. They became suedeheads and went from being kids to young men like that. They looked so fucking amazing.” The school would try to find something wrong when the style began to catch on, but Paolo’s gang learnt to box clever, “What they would do is wear the school uniform, but in that style, white Ben Sherman, black sta prest trousers. I remember my mate Steve Garland’s dad got him a 40 quid crombie coat; crombies were 40 quid, which was 4000 now or something. He got sent home from school.”
You can imagine how badly Paolo wanted to dress as glamorous as his mates, but he grew up in a Children’s home in Woking and the “2 and 6 a week” he used to get didn’t cover it. This is where his obsession with style of dress came from, “I remember being at school and they said you could write an essay about your favourite thing in the world, so I wrote 2 pages about a Brutus shirt, ‘cos that’s what I really wanted in life.”
“When I was 4 years old, I was living with this mental foster mother and ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles came on the radio and it just fucking sent me, I spent the whole Sunday singing that song, it just took me off.” Paolo discovered that music and books were a way of switching off, “If I was in the children’s home or with the lunatic, all I’ve got to do is open a book and suddenly I don’t have to worry.”
“When I was 14, I went in to school one day and my mate Enzo had a copy of The NME, and I said, ‘what’s that?’ and he went, ‘It’s a music paper about music.’ I had a look and a fucking light bulb went off — words and music together, that’s what I love and that’s when I decided I wanted to do this.”
When Paolo left school he jumped ship and enrolled at a North London Poly where he began interviewing bands for the student paper. Soon after arrival he discovered much to his delight and the torment of his pals back in Woking — who could only get The NME on a Thursday afternoon – that he could get it at Camden tube station on Wednesday lunchtime. One Wednesday he arrives at Camden only to find that The NME has sold out. After quizzing the geezer for a good 5 minutes “In the end I thought if I can’t get heroin I’ll get methadone so I bought Melody Maker.” Paolo got it home, skipped over the Led Zeppelin and saw they were advertising for young writers, so he sent off what he had written for the student paper.
In June 1979, the editor had signed Paolo up and by the time September came round and the new term was about to start, he was getting so much work at Melody Maker that he decided to leave uni and follow his heart, “That’s why I came to London, you cant be a writer in Woking, they won’t let you, it’s against the town byelaws. You gotta be a fucking alcoholic pisshead, know what I mean?”
Melody Maker wasn’t Paolo’s first love; he wanted it be The NME but the pages were full of bands seeking bass players and record company adverts, there was no bite, no desire to increase circulation or pride left in the publication. In 1982 the Jam had split up and Paolo’s mate Paul Weller asked him to write their biography. He managed to get Tony Stewart who worked at The NME to edit it and whilst working together Tony opened the door for Paolo.
Paolo had followed his dreams but by the time he got to The NME it was around 1983 and there was nothing to write about. Smash Hits and The Face were on the way up and The NME was on the way down. “It was only with the advent of hip hop when I found something I could get excited about and write about and then later acid house came along, so those things saved me. I think rock music in the 80s was fucking diabolical; you know it was all about shoe gazing and all this crap, it really did my fucking head in.”
Since making a name for himself at Melody Maker and The NME, Paolo has written extensively about Mod culture and its impact on British style. The book he co-wrote with fellow LAW HERO Mark Baxter, ‘The Fashion of Football,’ has just inspired an exhibition at The National Football Museum in Manchester. And with his book, ‘The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw’ about the mercurial talent that was Robin Friday, set to be adapted for the silver screen, the British Library had better sort out some more shelves, because there’s a book in every story that comes out of Paolo’s mouth. When Elliot had done the business and we said our goodbyes. We had to go for a few more jars. Paolo had left us buzzing, as though we were 14 and just opened The NME or heard ‘She Loves You’ on the radio for the first time.