A Few Quick Questions about Dear Mr. Pop Star

I had the great privilege of asking a few questions of Mr. Dave Philpott regarding this great book. It was tough to come up with the questions, the temptation to get into some of the particular letters/responses was great — I also had a song or two I thought about trying to get their take on. But I restrained myself — at great personal cost. But it was worth it — these are some of the best answers I’ve received in one of these. . .

This seems to be largely a UK-based endeavor — for the sake of my largely US audience, could you introduce Derek & Dave Philpott and the background for this project?
To be totally frank with you we are just two ordinary blokes. I’m obsessed with music, am extremely knowledgeable about it and it’s my day job, So I revere and view artists and songs from a skewed perspective. My father though knows nothing about music, is completely detached from it and doesn’t know or care if a tune is by a world famous artist or a band in a garage down the road. Hence, when Mick Jagger sees a red door and wants to paint it black, I marvel at an angst-ridden motif of despair and the hopelessness of the human condition from the pen that bought us ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. My dad though, oblivious to Mr. Jagger’s pedigree, will say:

‘’What a fool! If he doesn’t put a strong undercoat on there it’s going to turn up purple. Your Uncle Len did that once and..’’

…and then he’s off on a diatribe about bad D.I.Y. or, as I believe our American friends call it, Home Improvements. How it would always work is that I would play him a song, or perhaps even give him a copy of the lyrics to a famous tune, let him digest it for a while and then wait for the gold, which would normally just be him wittering on for a while about the record interspersed with details of how his day would pan out and what the neighbours were up to. I would note this all down, edit it and it would form the body of a letter to the artist. In 2008 we put together a website of about 50 or 60 letters, which we would add to regularly, and then we set up our Facebook page. We thought it was funny enough that these unanswered missives were sitting there in the misty ether. We found ourselves with a fierce fan base and then one day, about two years into the project, we got a reply from one of the artists themselves. Crucially this contact was secured not through official channels but from a mutual fan who knew the pop star personally. We then realised that this could be an interactive dialogue with the rock and pop stars and that, importantly, we could get to these artists through ‘the back door of the industry’. This could be through friends of friends, roadies and crew, the bass player’s cousin or any indirect route. This made the process a lot more personable, as we were being recommended by people who knew who we were and what we did and that it was all a bit harmless and daft. Eventually we got to the point where the rock stars were telling each other. I wrote to a pop star last year, asking if they would like to get involved and if they knew who we were, then the immortal reply “Oh god, I’ve been dreading and looking forward to being asked one day!” came back and we were absolutely thrilled.

We made sure that we got the full consent of the artists to use their replies and that they were happy for us to share them. Every single one of them told us that they were more than happy and they all got behind us and some even supported us by telling their own fans about us.

Owen Paul told us, in not so many words, that he felt that this is so obviously an organic project which he’d seen this grow over years and if we had been a couple of journalists then he just wouldn’t have got involved because it would be contrived rubbish.

It took us a long time, nearly an entire decade in fact, but we ended up with enough material for a book which we self published after an amazingly successful campaign on Kickstarter, through which we were able to raise £18,000. The success of that volume bought us to the attention of our now publisher, Unbound, who encouraged us to do a second.

Is there an artist/group or song that you’ve tried to write about but just haven’t gotten things just right?
Yes, indeed, the one that springs to mind first is Stiff Little Fingers. Many of their songs are based around The Troubles in Ireland which started in the late 1960s, an era that my Dad lived through and, due to being that bit older, knows more about than I. He was quite rightly very uncomfortable about deriding the subject matter and lyrics, so we decided that we would poke fun at ourselves by writing a letter to them where we deliberately got the wrong end of the stick by misunderstanding the song for comedic effect. Looking back I think that that letter completely changed the project for the better – we realised that we could turn the joke on ourselves and this allows the artist to hit back at us. For the new book Dr Hook and Tears for Fears both informed us that they couldn’t find the inspiration to reply to our first efforts because they weren’t up to our usual standards, probably because of the fact that at the time we were compiling the whole project, and had our eye off the ball. So we screwed up the first letters and started again, thought it through and came up with completely new letters which they lapped up and their responses were magical. They were absolutely right.
Of the responses you’ve received from artists/groups, which has been the most surprisingly good? Either you didn’t expect a response quite along the lines of their letter, and/or theirs was better than you expected? (I’m sure you have some on the other end of the spectrum, as well, but we’ll ignore them)
From the new book it’s Geoff Deane from Modern Romance, Chris from The Waitresses, Mott the Hoople, Wang Chung and Nik Kershaw. They absolutely slaughtered us with their wit and inventiveness. Although I have to say that we are always impressed at the answers that we get back, the effort that the stars put into their replies is astounding and we’re flattered that they give us so much time and attention. Each letter is a wonderful surprise.
You’re obviously enjoying a measure of success from artists and readers (otherwise this book wouldn’t exist), what’s the most interesting criticism you’ve received — either from a reader, critic or musician? Has it changed your approach to anything?
Feedback from our friends online is vital to us and this is why we’ve always tried to be as interactive as we can on our Facebook page, which dad does try to be a part of as much as he can, but he is obviously from a era where things were a little less ‘immediate’ and a lot more polite. Sometimes when we send messages via Messenger and there’s a ‘seen tick’ but no reply, Dad feels that this is incredibly rude, but it’s just the way things are now in the world. He like so many pensioners comes from a more courteous past.

There is a certain luxury of this real time interaction with the people who follow you though, in that you can bounce ideas out there via status updates and see how new material is received in general. If it chimes and makes people laugh then you can integrate it into letters. Also when we first began our letters were fairly flowery – we would spend sometimes weeks perfecting them, making sure that we never repeated words, writing very elaborate scenarios to tie in with the different songs. Perhaps we were trying to be a bit too clever to impress the artists. But the feedback we got told us that we could actually lose a lot of the purple prose and just get straight to the point and this has crucially changed how we write now. Being succinct actually means that the focus is more on the replies and probably makes our missives easier to respond to, as they not bogged down in unnecessary language.

Also a lot of anoraks on the prog forums were incensed, claiming that we’d invented the responses from some of their heroes as ‘there is no way that Mr. XXXX would respond to this outrage’. I loved that – it meant that we really were getting somewhere.

Of all your letters in this particular volume what are the one or two that you’re most proud of?
Bruce Woolley’s is a masterpiece. Also as fan of Gong, getting Daevid was a massive deal for me. It was one of the last things the great man did before he left us, and he absolutely loved it. I was going to include it in the first book but felt it was too soon after his passing. Then I was dithering about putting him in this one and I had a vivid dream, in which he visited my house, knocked on the door and said,

“I am ready to speak”

Thank you very much for your time — and for this book. I had such a great time reading it, I hope you have great success with it!
Bless and thanks, Mr. Newton

2 thoughts on “A Few Quick Questions about Dear Mr. Pop Star

  1. I think you teased out of us there the most succint distillation of this project that we’ve ever proffered. Fantastic work sir! D&D Philpott

    Liked by 2 people

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