In a series of articles, Northern Soul’s Phil Pearson talks to all manner of fascinating folk about the room they use to write in, paint in, and do all things creative. This week it’s writer and journalist, Paolo Hewitt.
It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be at the centre of the supersonic whirlwind that took Oasis from backstreet boozers to shifting a quarter of a million Knebworth tickets in less than four years.
For half a decade in the mid-1990s when Britpop was at its hedonistic zenith, former NME and Melody Maker journalist Paolo Hewitt lived that life as one of the Manchester band’s inner circle, and watched ringside as the Gallaghers slugged it out with each other and then the world.
Officially Hewitt was the band’s DJ, spinning pre-gig tunes in sweaty halls and arenas all over the planet, but he also kept an explosive diary of the epic concerts, dressing room shenanigans and recording sessions he sat in on. Such was his friendship with the band that Noel Gallagher asked him to pen the inner-sleeve notes to the 4.3 million-selling album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, which he did to acclaim coming up with lines like ‘a sound that was a million miles away from fakery and a step away from your heart’ and ‘you hear a council estate singing its heart out’.
Despite the heady four years of cigarettes and alcohol and god knows what else, Hewitt’s diary survived to form the basis of his bestselling 1997 biography of the band, Getting High, which novelist Irvine Welsh described as ‘head and shoulders above every other Oasis book’.
Talking about those days, Hewitt says: “It was a great time. I got to know Noel very well. Me and him hung out a lot. It was all new to them. It was like, ‘Oh my god we’re going to Japan! It’s fucking amazing!’”
Hewitt was born on July 11, 1958 in Woking, Surrey and was taken into care two days later due to his mother’s long-term illness. He stayed in the care system until he was 18, and his experience of growing up in a children’s home inspired two of his most acclaimed books, The Looked After Kid (2002) and But We All Shine On (2014).
But it’s a love of music that defines Hewitt and makes him such good company, with his entertaining tales of the great and not-so-good he has encountered over the past four decades. He has to be prompted though. When we meet, he only casually and modestly mentions he was one of the first UK journalists to interview Marvin Gaye when What’s Going On came on the jukebox.
Hewitt’s time working for the national music press in the days when they were still a weekly must-read led to a freelance career and more than 20 books published with his name on the spine. Highly-regarded works on Bowie, The Beatles and The Small Faces sit in his back catalogue.
His friendship with Paul Weller led to him penning the brilliant authorised biography of The Jam, A Beat Concerto (1983), and writing The Style Council’s sleeve notes under the nom-de-plume The Cappuccino Kid.
His latest book, Colour Me Father – An Open Letter To My Son, published last year, was inspired by the birth of his son Rafi Supino-Arif in 2015 when Hewitt was 56-years-old. It’s a moving account of what it means to be a father and is currently heading up various bestselling charts.
Hewitt lives in Islington, north London, and is a well known DJ on the capital’s Northern Soul scene. He writes in the upstairs, back room of his house. His desk is surrounded by shelves weighed down with books on music, Modernism, movies and his beloved Tottenham Hotspur. Taking pride of place is a signed picture from one of his heroes and a recent recipient of Hewitt’s last book – actor Robert De Niro.
Here, in his own words, Hewitt describes his My Space.
“From my desk I can see the garden and the top of a church in the distance. It’s a room of work. All my books are in here together side by side. I draw inspiration from them. So, for example my last book, Colour Me Father – Open Letter To My Son, was started here while its inspiration – Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis – stood nearby. The room is full of things that are special to me. There are paintings by my son, Rafi, and pictures of Robert De Niro, Spurs artefacts and a photograph of my mother and I – the only one in existence.
“I love to get up early before the world is awake. Five am is optimum, but it’s normally six-ish. Coffee, prayers and meditation follow before I look at social media and Spurs’ websites. My son is normally awake by now. We have breakfast and then I take him to nursery. When I get home about 9.30am, I am set up and ready.
“I start my day by going through and re-reading my work from the day before and then pushing forward. No-one is allowed into the room when I’m working. Writing totally consumes me, so I never think about such things as being lonely. Being on my own is not a problem for me. I always write in silence. The writer Hanif Kureishi once told me he could not work without music on. It’s completely the opposite for me. I need the peace.
“I work until two or three with coffee breaks or detours into Gmail, Facebook, etc and then I then head down to the nursery to pick Rafi up. There is no point in trying to work with him around. After he is asleep, I will start up again if I have thought of something that needs putting down. But normally training Rafi in the park to take Harry Kane’s place in the Spurs’ side has knackered me out.”
Colour Me Father – An Open Letter To My Son is published by Griffiths Publishing and available to buy now