Paul Morley: getting to the heart of northern soul
Paul Morley’s memoir of the north has been 50 years in the making – it’s been worth the wait
The author Paul Morley: ‘The north of England has both sides: not getting ideas above your station and the audacious necessity of being better’
According to his online profile for the Guardian – the English broadsheet for which he writes regularly – Paul Morley is a “rock’n’roll journalist who is from London”. As they said with some frequency in the days before Google, surely shome mishtake?
“A rock’n’roll journalist from London?” ponders 56-year-old Morley, very much an English northerner, and very much not a “rock’n’roll journalist”. “I didn’t even know I had a Guardian profile.”
With a new book, The North (and Almost Everything in It), Morley is all about identity these days, and how perceptions can erroneously staple you on to a notice board and leave you on it for far too long.
“It’s interesting how you’re somehow fixed as something in particular in the public eye. I recall quitting writing about rock and pop in or around 1983, and it was only after a few years I began to notice that whatever I did in my life I’d still be referred to as a pop journalist.”
Of all the music writers who graduated from the 1970s and 1980s school of NME, it is Morley (“the Brian Eno of the sentence”, reckons Time Out) who has upped the ante more frequently than anyone else. What exactly is he? A writer walking along non-linear, unconventional routes? A culture-vulture pundit expounding on topics as diverse as boredom, classical music, Kylie Minogue and the Rolling Stones? Or just someone who uses the word “interesting” a lot?
Morley’s irresistible, fragmentary new book has taken him more than 50 years to process, he says. Part memoir, part one man’s social history, part idiosyncratic rumination and cultural focus, The North (and Almost Everything in It) is a personal odyssey with peculiar twists and turns.
“For a long time I was oblivious to notions of identity,” he says, “in the way that you’re oblivious to a lot of things that people pay obedience to – you know, the standardised ways of thinking about who you are and what you are. I suppose I spent a large amount of my early life, and into my 20s, racing away from those fixed positions, and trying to invent something for myself.
“I was living in the north of England, and I was planning to get out of the north, and then once I was out of the north, I was working for the NME; and then I was planning to work for a record company. By the end of the 1980s I thought I had removed myself so far from the north, and of the north, but for everyone else – especially those in the media – I was just a northerner. And I began to wonder, what was it in their eyes that made me this person?”