Whether interrogating Tenpole Tudor about whether they would really need the 'Swords of a Thousand Men' as there is only five of them, or berating Roger Glover for suggesting the impossible and that his car could really break the speed of sound in 'Highway Star', or commiserating with Chris Difford for Squeeze of being 'Tempted by the Fruit of Another' and likewise deserting his usual greengrocer, nitpicking pensioner Derek Philpott and his heavy rock-loving son Dave have put their own stamp on lyrical analysis.

They take the premise that once songwriters release songs into the public domain they lose their ownership of them, and they become prone to interpretation or in the Philpotts' case misinterpretation.

Derek and Dave Philpott began writing letters to pop and rock stars over a decade ago, questioning them about their song lyrics and band names, and much to their surprise began hearing back from them.

'Dear Mr Kershaw', their first collection of letters to musicians and their equally humorous replies from them, came out in 2015. They have now followed this with a second volume, 'Dear Mr Pop Star', which at 400 pages in length includes correspondence with Dr and the Medics, Tears for Fears, Devo, Bauhaus, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, the Eurythmics, the Human League, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Spear of Destiny, the Ruts and the Waitresses.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Dave Philpott (AKA musician Dave Dawson) about the concept behind the joke.


PB: Derek and Dave Philpott are, according to 'Dear Mr Pop Star', nom de plumes "of two ordinary members of the public, working with help from a worldwide social networking community." Why have you decided to work under a pseudonym rather than your real name? Do you see Dave Philpott as a wilfully naïve and over pedantic exaggeration of yourself?

DP: Absolutely. They are overblown versions of ourselves, and, arguably, our readers. Whereas a ‘normal person’ would rein themselves in once a missive became too surreal or ridiculous, the noms-de-plume, and freedom that they afford, take that ‘limit’ as the starting point to stretch a letter to its most lunatic conclusion.

Also, the names are deliberately meant to invoke an image of that mundate, weird bloke at a pub quiz night who is an authority on everything but if you dig a bit knows absolutely nothing. He is far too overfamiliar and is audacious enough to feel he is the one listener of millions entitled to confront pop and rock icons because he has a gripe with a lyric

PB: Is the other person writing these letters really your dad? Do you compose the letters together or do you write them separately and reach out to bands from different genres?

DP: You mentioned naivety in your first question, which is vital to this working. I’ve been a professional musician, albeit on the bottom rung of the ladder - the covers circuit - for nigh on thirty years, and my knowledge of music is anorak degree level. My dad however knows nothing about music, which is essential in that whereas you or I may listen to ‘Paint It Black’ by the Stones or ‘Bodies’ by the Pistols with semi-reverence, he won’t. He’ll go, "He may well see a red door and want to paint it black but if doesn’t put a strong enough undercoat on there it’s going to turn out people if he’s not careful", and "Pauline’s living a tree? Oh well, at least she’s dodging paying council tax.. Does he not mean Aintree?"

It’s his ignorance that generates a leftfield, literal and lateral gem of a comment or observation that I’ll then flesh out into a full letter to the artist. He’s not obstructed by an understanding and preconception of the performer and I won’t tell him at the time - although he asks - whether the song is an international megahit or a demo by a band with five followers on facebook. He is observing based on the lyric in isolation, which an obsessive fan is subconsciously unlikely to do given the pedigree of the source. He once told me that he’d done some research into such and such band but I knocked that on the head, saying that his primary research should be keeping away from that...the less you know, the funnier this is and the more it works.

PB: You have focused in ‘Dear Mr Pop Star’ primarily on acts that had hits from the early-1970s through to the mid-1990s. Why have you focused on these eras?

DP: That’s just the way that the cards fell, although I must say that acts from those decades tend to be more comfy within themselves about having a laugh and having their comedic sides teased out. Irrespective of history, we had a very clear if undefinable idea of which individual artist would fit the vibe of what we were doing and it just so happened to be that they tended to be 60s-90s. This was borne out by the fact that, as flattered or humbled as were to be approached, we very politely declined to do missives for many that came our way as they didn’t quite ‘fit’.

Also important to consider was that social media drove the books almost exclusively. They were constructed based on who our fanbase knew personally, be they tour bus drivers, gardeners, drum techs, cousins of bass players or uberfans with a direct connection. It just so happened that these were the eras that yielded the most suitable, agreeable and ‘game’ artists. Of course, I strongly suspect (and have had evidence) that some more modern stars balked at the thought of their public images being tarnished by involvement in such a bizarre project and feared that they would be seen as uncool or too easily accessible. I know too that some playful enough to want to get involved were blocked by management, perhaps connected to the above reasons.

PB: You have gone for what might be described as an ‘indie’ approach and ‘through the back door of the industry-via roadies. Mutual fans, cousins of bass players, and even other famous participants telling the artists directly’. Why have you adopted this approach rather than going through band managers and PRs?

DP: Have a go at that and see how far you get!

PB: It took ten years to out together and publish your first book ‘Dear Mr Kershaw’ and only three years to publish this second one. Why has it taken such a short time in comparison? Is it simply because your success rate at receiving replies is getting better as you have become better known?

DP: That is a huge factor, yes, and that we actually delivered a cult classic first time around, and a beautifully and expensively produced one at that. It was the least we could do to thank all that crowdfunded and had faith in us. When angling for new participants we have an email pitch explaining our history that this time was responded to by some along the lines of,
"You needn’t have gone into so much detail…you guys are notorious...I’m already a fan - count me in."

As for those to whom we were unknown, one act captured an important element by stating that she’d asked around to see if we were legit, and was informed by many in the industry that the books attracted a lot of love and goodwill and it was all a lot of fun.

PB: Why did you decide to publish ‘Dear Mr Pop Star’ through crowdfunding and Unbound?

DP: We were rejected by every publisher and literary agent that we approached - there’s no book in this, we were told, hundreds of times - but our following were demanding it, so Dad in his delightful naivety told me to ask them all for a tenner and we’d do it ourselves. I think that’s why the punks love us - we just flicked a V-sign at the publishing industry and did it ourselves. Of course, years later I know what the rejections really meant - there’s no book in this because you’re not on telly.

PB: It was said by the makers of ‘Spitting Image’ that they knew they had become successful when they started getting requests from celebrities wanting to know when puppets were going to be made of them. Have you had a lot of musicians approaching you to write letters for them?

DP: Yep...well, they don’t ask outright - to paraphrase Hannibal Lecter, that would be crude - but we receive messages from the star or a connected Third Party, along the lines of "Mr XXX is an admirer of your work and would not be disagreeable to entering into a correspondence." Equally wonderful is that many famous artists just love the books but prefer for whatever reason - perhaps they feel they are not quite up to matching the standard of their peers’ retorts - not to partake themselves… the inference being that although you may love 'The Walking Dead' it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be bitten by the zombies.

PB: Most people seem to have got the joke and entered into is spirit, but a couple of the replies you have received have been mildly aggressive and somewhat confrontational. Has that come as a surprise to you?

DP: They’re not. They’re just good actors in character. They are all primed before battle commences. There is no trickery or subterfuge at play. We make it very clear before we enter into a dialogue that, yes, we are taking the piss, but not out of the target - it’s out of ourselves, or rather this smart-alec member of the public that’s been pestering them backstage for the past twenty-five years meandering authoritively on about what their song is really about and actually not having a clue. We tell them that it’s their chance to finally get their own back on that know-all idiot.

James from Electric Prunes, for example, who in his sign off told us to "lose his address" then mailed us straight after saying that he didn’t mean it. It was all part of the play, and that this whole thing is brilliant. You are seeing the reply that the artists knew were going to be read by thousands. The reality is that privately they absolutely adore it .

PB: A lot of the letters you have had back are very funny and clever. My own favourite is from the anonymous member of the Waitresses, who is writing from a prison cell claiming that he has been put in jail for a crime that he did not commit. Do you have any particular favourite letters?

DP: That’s a good call John. I have to agree that Christopher Butler’s response is my favourite in the book. Total genius. Close seconds for me are Geoff Deane from Modern Romance and Bruce Woolley’s glorious return serve regarding 'Video Killed The Radio Star'. As I always say, our letters are the bread and the replies are the jam.

PB: It was already a lengthy book, but you have extended on it by including ideas for letters to people like Cheap Trick and Spandau Ballet who have not replied. Why did you decide to add those?

DP: That was a very deliberate and conscious decision based on firstly some jokes being so stand-alone funny even without a reply that they warranted inclusion, and as a respite for the reader after a particular convulated or complicated Philpott/Pop Star exchange. We called them ‘breathers’, and they are just as popular as the interactions for many fans.

PB: Do you have plans for and are you working on a third book?

DP: British indie and alternative acts...it is shaping up beautifully.








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