Hidden Treasures – The Needle Mythology story
A new reissue label is here to give lost classics the care they deserve. John Earls meets Needle Mythology founder Pete Paphides, along with Ian Broudie and Stephen Duffy – the first two artists whose overlooked gems finally have chance to shine.
We all have favourite albums that somehow escaped platinum-selling status, whether by the band whose record label never quite knew how to market them or the acclaimed singer whose change of direction puzzled their audience.
While most of us grudgingly accept the great lost album is inevitable, music journalist Pete Paphides and label manager Will Harris are determined to rectify this with Needle Mythology, a new record company devoted to showcasing both previously ignored albums in otherwise respected careers and the acts that never made it at all. All its albums have either never been released on vinyl, or only in negligible numbers.
The label’s first two releases, Ian Broudie’s Tales Told and Stephen Duffy’s I Love My Friends, exemplify how an album can easily disappear. Released in 2004, Tales Told is a gorgeous acoustic set that wasn’t what fans of Broudie’s apparently more optimistic collective The Lightning Seeds were familiar with. I Love My Friends, meanwhile, was botched to near-sitcom levels by its original record label at the height of Britpop, but has now been thoroughly overhauled by Duffy for its new incarnation.
“Any record collector has the fantasy of ‘I’d have done it this way instead’ with certain albums,” Paphides explains. “You’d re-order the tracklisting or, if you were Teenage Fanclub’s A&R in 1991, you wouldn’t have let Bandwagonesque have such a rubbish cover. Needle Mythology is putting that pipe dream into practice.”
He recalls telling Broudie: “I love Tales Told, it’s a shame it never came out on vinyl. Maybe one day, I could be the person to do that.” The idea stayed theoretical until Paphides met Harris. Previously at Demon and PIAS, Harris is label manager for Sony-owned distributors The Orchard. With Paphides having lent Harris Tales Told, they began comparing notes on great albums that had never been released on vinyl. There was much crossover in their lists.
“Will knows how to actually put records out,” says Paphides, whose previous experience in releasing records was limited to a flexidisc given away with his early-90s fanzine. “The next time we met, we knew it was with a view to seeing how we could start the label.”
If they were going to reissue albums that had already suffered from an underwhelming release, Harris and Paphides agreed it was essential to take extra care with each Needle Mythology campaign. There won’t be more than 10 releases a year, each featuring full sleevenotes and an additional vinyl EP. CD pressings will include everything from the vinyl, in naturally smaller form. “I don’t think CDs are as much of a dying format as people say,” Paphides insists. “There’s still a market for a well-put-together CD.”
This attention to detail led Broudie to agree to Tales Told becoming Needle Mythology’s first release. “I’d been asked a few times about putting Tales Told back out and I’d always said no,” he says. “The attitude from reissue labels had always been, ‘This is what we do, we could do you next’. Pete’s attitude was, ‘I really love this album, and I wish other people could hear it too’. He had more of an empathy for the record itself, plus his passion for his label is great.”
Eclecticism writ large
Pete Paphides has been one of music’s most respected journalists for over 20 years, admired widely because his enthusiasm and knowledge seems to encompass virtually everything of any merit. In the unlikely event his work ever dries up, Paphides should give guided tours of the record room at his North London home, a floor-to-ceiling wonder whose only downside is making guests realise how narrow their own tastes are. It’s an eclecticism writ large in Needle Mythology’s plans for future releases.
The five solo albums The Go-Betweens’ singer Robert Forster released between 1990 and 2008, and Neil and Tim Finn’s 1995 collaboration Finn as the Finn Brothers, “I loved that when it came out,” notes an approving Duffy, are in the offing. So, too, is a compilation Needle Mythology is assembling on Tanita Tikaram.
“People still think of Tanita as the awkward studenty character doing Twist In My Sobriety on Wogan in 1988,” Paphides explains. “But all Tanita’s albums are different, she can be like Norah Jones or Tom Waits, her arrangements can go in a Penguin Café Orchestra direction. She writes unbelievable melodies. Tanita is undoubtedly one of Britain’s best artists of the last 30 years, and it’d be great to put out a compilation showing: ‘This is who she turned into, and we ought to be proud of her.’”
Needle Mythology is named after a song on Duffy’s 1995 album Duffy, released not long after the singer and journalist became friends when Paphides moved from Birmingham to work on Melody Maker. “It’s very flattering Pete has named the label after my song,” enthuses Duffy. “Though the song itself is about heroin…” I Love My Friends was the album after Duffy, the tenth in a career which Duffy initially assumed had been leading up to that moment.
“I was 37, and I thought: ‘I’ve finally made my great album’,” he recalls. Then he handed the album to his label, RCA offshoot Indolent. Their response was to ask if Duffy could make elegant ballad One Day… “more trip-hop”. “That’s when the fear started,” says The Lilac Time singer Duffy. “I thought, ‘You have heard the record, right? It’s not ever going to be a trip-hop record. You’ve got the wrong artist here.’” Indolent said the album lacked singles, so Duffy “in a strange masochistic fashion” offered to write two potential singles with XTC’s Andy Partridge, who had co-produced The Lilac Time’s album & Love For All. One of those, the infectious You Are, was mocked by Indolent for having the allegedly obscure word “Shangri-La” in the chorus. “I was doomed,” notes Duffy.
Indolent dropped Duffy while he was making the video for lead single Seventeen, and the album eventually emerged on Cooking Vinyl a year later, in 1998. Its tracklisting was a mess. To shoehorn the Partridge compositions on, Duffy dropped two of its finest songs. The running order was incoherent by Duffy’s usually careful standards. “The label ballsed it up and it was the first record I didn’t sequence for vinyl,” Duffy summarises. “After I Love My Friends, I immediately went back to thinking of Side One and Side Two, even though none of my albums until No Sad Songs in 2015 came out on vinyl again. There’s something about putting a faster track at the start of Side Two after a slower song at the end of Side One that just works, even on CD.”
The running order has been fixed for the Needle Mythology release, with the Partridge songs now comprising its bonus 7″ EP, replaced by previously dropped tunes Mao Badge and In The Evening Of Her Day. Another song, Something Good, is dropped altogether as “It’s so of its time, it’s embarrassing to hear now.” Duffy says of the new version: “There are songs from I Love My Friends that I’ll always play live, because they’re great songs that have stood the test of time. I look back at that album and think, ‘At last, I’m getting it right.’”
Ian Broudie’s Tales Told wasn’t quite so drastically mishandled, but still fell through the cracks. He’d stopped The Lightning Seeds after 1999’s Tilt, instead producing new Liverpool bands including The Coral and The Zutons. “I didn’t think I’d make any more records,” he admits. “I’ve never wanted to be a producer, but I started mentoring bands, partly as a favour and because they were really good. Working with those bands was how I’d produced records for years for Factory, Beggars Banquet and whoever. I was reverting to type, without thinking about it.”
Nominally living in London, Broudie stayed at a Travelodge in Liverpool while producing the city’s future stars, inevitably writing songs in his downtime. “If you’re a songwriter, you just end up writing songs,” he shrugs. “I’d record in the studio when there was no-one in it.” The melancholic mood of Tales Told isn’t actually far from The Lightning Seeds’ pop. “I naturally write downbeat songs,” says Broudie. “To make them special, I make them sound upbeat. Pure, for instance, is a sad song but with a big effort by me to make it not appear sad. And on Tales Told, I didn’t do that.”
Broudie was still officially signed to Sony through The Lightning Seeds, but the album was passed on to Sony subsidiary Deltasonic, home of The Coral and The Zutons. “Sony thought Deltasonic was the right home,” laughs Broudie. “I didn’t mind, but Deltasonic didn’t know how to take Tales Told either. It just wasn’t a priority for them.” Tales Told has since become a cult favourite. “I get people who say they don’t like The Lightning Seeds, but who love Tales Told,” says Broudie. “I’ve always had that kind of career, where people who hate Three Lions love an obscure Lightning Seeds album track.”
Such a fondness for hidden treasures is why Needle Mythology deserves to thrive. Paphides hopes to curate a compilation of strings-soaked Glaswegian marvels Butcher Boy, and reissue Sony nearly-men Whipping Boy’s ferocious 1995 album Heartworm. “Whipping Boy were huge in Ireland and critically revered here,” says Paphides.
“It makes sense to put Heartworm back out based on Ireland alone. And I adore Butcher Boy. We should release them, then I’ll bang on about it relentlessly on Twitter in the hope a small percentage of people who follow me buy it.”
That social media following gives Needle Mythology a useful head start. Once labels get wind of releases Needle Mythology think could succeed, they could reissue them themselves. “It’s a risk you run once you submit a wishlist,” accepts Paphides, who emphasises labels have so far supported Needle Mythology’s plans.
“But through social media, I’ve got a direct line to 60,000 people. A fair size of those follow me, as they’re into the same things. Someone working their way through a major record label’s release schedule, where Album X is one of 20 records out that week, isn’t going to find the same audience. So why not let us do it?” Promoting great vinyl, what more benevolent function can Twitter provide?