Pete Paphides on… The Completist

The urge to own all of an artist’s back catalogue is a perfectly understandable one to most vinyl collectors. But what if that artist is invited round to dinner? 

Can you remember the first time you harboured thoughts of completism? The first time you pondered your adoration of an artist and your thoughts didn’t just stop at having most of their back catalogue? Can you remember the first time the prospect of a life without that non-album B-side didn’t seem like any sort of a life? For me, that moment happened when mere ownership of three hit singles and an album by Racey was no longer enough.

For those of you who don’t remember them, Racey were a curious entity – the last forlorn exhaust belch of the decelerating Chinn-Chapman hit machine. Long after label-mates The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Smokie had stopped troubling the Top 10, Racey defied the post-punk zeitgeist with a brace of catchy hits – Lay Your Love On Me and Some Girls – that singled them out as a sort of Showaddywaddy lacking a waddy. A dud Mud. And yet, somehow, I connected to the pitifully needy gaze of frontman Richard Gower and the little triangular dance they did on Top Of The Pops.

Racey’s weedy beta-ness mirrored my interior world to such a degree that in 1981, aged 11, I made the trek to Reddington’s Rare Records in Birmingham and asked the assistant – the lost twin of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker – if he knew of any singles by Racey that predated their first hit. He disappeared into the back and re-emerged after a minute. “Here you go!” he said, handing over a single called Baby It’s You. In a pre-internet age, I had no way of knowing that this artefact – Racey’s failed attempt to launch as a Sainsbury’s own-brand Smokie – even existed. And because I had been unaware of its existence, it was almost as though, by the power of my mind, I had willed it into existence.

My loyalty didn’t waver. I followed Racey all the way to their swansong, their 1982 cover of Not Too Young To Get Married. In my mind, I had passed an important test – one I would apply to future obsessions: Aztec Camera, Dexys, Stephen Duffy and Crowded House. For me and my music-obsessed friends, completism was the metric by which you measured your love of an artist. If you didn’t have Aztec Camera’s first two Postcard releases but didn’t deem this state of affairs intolerable, then you simply didn’t love Roddy Frame’s music as much as I did.

But it wasn’t just that. Underpinning my completism was a half-imagined scenario in which there would be a day of reckoning, and on that day, some sort of league table of fandom would be published, one on which your hero turned up at your house seeking to check whether you were actually as much of a fan as you said you were. Perhaps they might be seeking to employ a new fan club secretary and you were in the running?!

Roddy Frame, standing on my doorstep in 1985: “The thing is, Pete, we can’t just give this job to anyone. It has to be someone who has everything. Even the super-rare radio transcription disc of the 1984 Barrowlands concert. Could YOU be that fan?”

15 year-old me: “Yes! I’ve got that one! And look here! A bootleg of your 1980 demos! And this Les Disques du Crépuscule Christmas compilation, which features your Hot Club Of Christ medley! Have I got the job?!” 
Roddy Frame: “Wow. Even I’d forgotten about Hot Club Of Christ! Forget about your O-levels! Come and work in our West London office RIGHT NOW!”

It took me a long time to work out that, other than owning the actual records, this competitive fanboying might be the underlying driver of my completism. And yet, think about it. If you were Roddy Frame, would you want to spend even five minutes with someone who had filled up three scrapbooks with cuttings featuring YOUR FACE? Or would you want to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE?

This realisation took hold of me when I became a music journalist and started to befriend some of these people. It wasn’t as though I lost my completist urges. But I had to find a way to separate them from the rest of my life. And furthermore, one evening in 2015, I had to do it VERY QUICKLY. I found myself hosting a dinner party to which Neil Finn and his wife Sharon would be coming. Now, there’s no doubt how the me of 30 years ago would have played this.

I would have laid all my Crowded House records on the kitchen table and waited for his impressed response. After all, wasn’t this the moment for which the teenage me had been preparing? Otherwise, what was the point of spending £10 on the crap extended 12-inch version of World Where You Live? And, yet, do you know what I did? I did the very opposite. I sacrificed the teenage me and put the records out of view, so that his hero could enjoy the roast I cooked for him.

I think it’s how he would have wanted to go.