Paul Carrack, singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about playing the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, his side project with Nick Lowe and Andy Fairweather Low, performing with Eric Clapton at The Royal Albert Hall and his forthcoming solo tour of the UK

Paul Carrack is an English singer and songwriter, who has recorded as both a solo artist and as a member of several popular bands.

He rose to prominence in the mid-1970s as the frontman and principal songwriter of Ace, and gained further recognition for his work as a solo artist and for his tenures as a member of Roxy Music, Squeeze and Roger Waters’ backing band, The Bleeding Heart Band. From the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s, he enjoyed considerable success as the co-front man (with the late Paul Young) and a songwriter for Mike + The Mechanics. Following Young’s death in 2000, Carrack served as the band’s sole lead vocalist until his departure in 2004. He maintains an active solo career to the present day.

Whilst busy preparing for his forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Paul, good morning how are you today?

Hi Kevin, I’m pretty good thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s always a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you?

Well at the moment things seem to be very good. We all know that it can change in a heartbeat but so far so good. If I am honest things are currently going really well. The most amazing thing is that ticket sales are going really well for the forthcoming tour which is always nice to hear. I have got two weddings this year; two of my daughters are getting married this year. Also, my wife is going into the hospital to have a hip replaced half way through the tour so we are thinking of calling it the Two Weddings And A Hip Replacement Tour (laughter). So as you can see all is quite good (laughter).

Not wanting to make light of the hip replacement but I have friends who have had the procedure and they are up and about after a few days.

I will tell her that (laughter). No slacking allowed. Actually you won’t believe this but I am speaking quietly because she is in the other room. Two days after she has the procedure I’m off to Germany gigging over there (laughter). So hopefully she will be fully ship shape by the time that I get back (laughter).

The last time that we spoke you had been asked to open the Flashback Festival at the Thoresby Estate here in Nottinghamshire.

That’s right, I remember it now.

They asked you to open the Festival with a ninety minute set. Did you enjoy that?

Yes I did, I had a great time. We usually play a ninety minute set at an indoor concert when the people there have specially come to see us. However, when they are there to see any number of bands on the line-up we do tend to play a slightly shorter set at the festivals. The only thing that worried me was just how an eighties sort of crowd would react to us playing a ninety minute set but thankfully all went well on the day.

Taking on board all of the festivals that you get asked to play at, did you have a good summer?

Yes we did, we had a good summer. We played some nice festivals both here and abroad. We visited Germany, Holland, Belgium, so yes we had a great time. I was hoping that I would get an album together but that hasn’t quite happened. I have got about six or seven songs that I am really pleased with but not quite enough for an album. So that will have to wait now because as you know we are going to have to hit the ground running with the latest tour. We are playing some really nice venues this year and it looks as though it could be a good run on this tour.

You say that you have got six or seven songs that you are pleased with. Do you have an idea as to when we will see a new album?

I am very hopeful that it will come out this year but as I say we have really got to knuckle down now and get ready for the tour. We will be hitting the ground running, playing the first three shows in Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow which are three really big shows, and are all pretty much sold out so we want to be on top form. The tour takes us through until the end of March when we will be playing in foreign places (laughter) but I am pretty confident that the album will be out later this year. I just didn’t quite make it for this tour because there were a lot of little distractions; you think that you have got lots of time but then you turn around and it has all gone. However, it’s all okay.

I have been speaking to some of the younger bands and they are now putting their new material out on cassette.

No, oh my god whatever next; 8-Track (laughter). Honestly, they are using the cassette?

Yes they are and it was never that reliable back in the day.

Whatever will they think of next (laughter).

They are telling me that the sound is good, its retro and it looks funky in the shops (laughter).

Go on then, tell me someone who is doing this who I might know (laughter).

The boys from Feeder say that it’s cool and funky.

Feeder, I’ve heard of them. I didn’t even think that you could get hold of a cassette player nowadays. I suppose that you have to take a trip down to the old junk shops.

I mentioned this to Rick Wakeman and he said ‘that’s okay for me. Being a boring old fart I’ve still got a cassette player in the Jaguar’ (laughter).

(Laughter) it’s interesting that because of the whole thing with Spotify and streaming, I’m okay with it in fact I think that it’s great actually, I actually use it myself, as you know you have this vast library of music at your fingertips. Anything that you want to know is all on there. But the problem with it is that it doesn’t sound that good. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cassette sounded far better than downloads.

On the subject of touring, when we last spoke you hinted that you were going to try to cut back on the amount of touring that you were doing. Have you managed to do that?

Yes I have. Normally we would still be at it as we would start touring at the end of October, have a break for Christmas then tour through until the end of March. Now we are not starting until mid-February when we will play twenty-five shows which is half as many as we used to play (laughter). However, having said that, once we have finished touring here in the UK we will be going back to Holland, Germany and Spain but I have to say that it is great.

Will you once again by playing any UK Festivals this year?

We will be playing at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, together with a couple of other festivals with my side project with Nick Lowe and Andy Fairweather Low. We have a couple of things in the pipeline and hopefully an album.

This is the first time that I have heard about this. Would you tell me a little more?

Of course, I would love to. Well, I have always had this idea in the back of my mind to do this because Nick and Andy are both good pals who I have worked with a lot back in the day. I played the London Palladium a while ago now and I wanted to make the evening a little special so in the middle of the show the three of us, Nick, Andy and myself did a four song acoustic set. We had a riot rehearsing for it and it went down really well at the show so we all thought that we should do some more of it. So we made a few recordings, played a few gigs and actually played on the acoustic stage at Glastonbury. So hopefully that will come to fruition sometime this year. There is just the three of us, so it is all down to the voices and the harmonies. I have to say that the three of us singing together really is a great sound.

Will you tour here in the UK?

We may not tour in the true sense of the word but there will most definitely be a run of dates. The three of us are all up for taking this out on the road.

What about an album?

We have already recorded about an albums worth of material but we kind of put it all on the back burner. Nick had a few personal issues when one of his close friends and band member passed away; it really knocked him for six. So we just kind of left it but our agent has had some really strong interest from BMG but for now that is all that I know. But I have to say that I personally feel that it will come to fruition later this year.

Picking up on something that you said earlier. You mentioned Eric (Clapton), have you handed in your notice?

(Laughter) no not at all. Playing with Eric will probably be the last thing to go. However, I have to say that Eric is definitely slowing down. At the moment he is over in the States playing a few songs with some of the American guys. But I will be playing with Eric at the Royal Albert Hall here in the UK sometime in May. I find it strange that he is only playing three shows there now whereas in the past he would always play ten shows. So no I haven’t handed in my notice just yet and I am really looking forward to playing with Eric once again. It is always a treat.

Whilst we are on the subject of other people I recently interviewed Andrew Roachford.

Oh yes.

As you know he is now the vocalist with Mike + The Mechanics and I mentioned to him that I would be speaking to you. He asked me to pass on to you that he thinks that you have left him a massive hole to fill vocally.

(Laughter) did he really?

Yes he did and I think that it is a back handed compliment really.

(Laughter) I think that’s what he means (laughter).

On your forthcoming tour you will be visiting the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on 4th March. What can we expect?

Well, obviously there will be the usual suspects together with two Mike + The Mechanics songs. I don’t do many these days but I will be playing The Living Years and I will be playing Over My Shoulder, as I feel that I am fully entitled to play those songs. Obviously I will be playing How Long, Tempted, plus quite a chunk from my last album Soul Shadows, in fact I think that we will be playing six or seven songs from that album simply because it has gone down really well. In fact it has probably been my most successful solo album to date. To be honest, we were doing quite a bit from it last year before anyone had even heard it. It is really going down well.

In the middle of the show we will be doing a small section which we have stripped back and we will be playing some songs acoustically just to give it some light and shade. And I have to say that I am really looking forward to it. I always love playing in Nottingham, it always sells well and I can’t wait to be back there once again.

From a musicians point of view, just how good is the Royal Concert Hall to play?

I personally think that it is pretty good. I can only vouch for what it is like on stage (laughter). I have no idea what it sounds like out front. We have got ourselves a really good sound system nowadays so hopefully it is going to sound great. Have you got an opinion on it?

From an outsiders point of view I feel that it may be starting to look a little tired. You have to remember that Sir Elton (John) opened it back in 1982.

Oh bloody hell, we play in some right old flea pits that are a lot older than that (laughter). We like them, the older the better.

(Laughter) okay, I accept that but a lot of people who attend gigs and shows there feel that it is just a little too light even with the house lights off.

Well, I have to say that I totally agree with that. That is a bit of a vibe killer. They could really do with toning it down a bit. That is a very good point well-made young man (laughter) but I am not going to criticise it publicly I don’t think (laughter). However, now you mention it, yes, it does remind me of an ocean liner when you are out there on stage.

From my own personal point of view whenever I go to a concert I want it to feel black everywhere with the exception of what is happening live on the stage.

Yes that’s right. I totally understand what you mean. I wonder why they did that.

I believe that it was for the classical side of things. They have always had classical concerts there since it first opened and they wanted the old dears to be able to find their way out but don’t quote me on that (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) well just remember you said that, not me (laughter).

You have mentioned your last studio album Soul Shadows. Were you pleased with just how well it was received?

Yes I was, but you know the craic, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. At my time of life and being at this point in my career I am now just trying to make music that I like. I have to say that I think that it was a good solid album. There are some good songs on there. I think that sonically it sounded better than my previous albums. As you know I record them at home and I have invested quite a bit in bringing the studio up to scratch. It is now a really great place for me to work and I think that it sounds better. So all in all I was very pleased with the album. It was number one in the Amazon Soul Charts for a good few weeks. I have no idea how this works but it was actually one of the top ten reviewed albums on Amazon. So thanks to my aunty Jessie there for all of her great reviews (laughter).

You now have to be careful with Amazon because if there is demand for a certain CD they are naming their own price and are in fact selling items for over £300.

What, are you being serious? We can’t let them get away with that. It’s already bad enough with the ticket scenario. That really is a pain in the backside. There is no need for the ticket touting thing on our level. I sort of get it with some of the big bands out there who sell out instantly, but for me it doesn’t work like that. I do get people contacting me saying ‘we can’t get tickets, the show is sold out’. The show is not sold out; what happens is the agencies take three hundred seats and when they have sold them they then say that the show is sold out. That really is quite frustrating actually. I personally feel that it is scandalous that they have these secondary sites when they are complicit in it, the likes of Ticketmaster and what have you. It’s disgusting.

They are quite simply legalised touts.

Well yes, it is true. I don’t know what the answer to it is. I made some comment about it on Facebook and someone posted ‘check this out’ and there was a video clip on there of an MP at a meeting discussing this very subject. He quite clearly stated that he had been looking into this problem for the past eight years (laughter). I just thought fucking hell, will we ever see the light of day on that research (laughter). He had been looking into the problem for eight years and hadn’t in all honesty achieved anything. I just don’t know anymore.

And now that Amazon have taken it to the next level and are openly selling CD’s at extortionate prices, it would appear that at the moment the tail is wagging the dog.

Well, just how does that work, what kind of CD’s are they selling, are they obscure ones?

A good example of what they are doing is that there is currently a copy of the A-Z Geographer’s Guide To The Piano by Jools Holland for sale for a mere £699.74. When I told Jools he laughed and said ‘how dare they sell them so cheap’ (laughter). Also they are currently selling Transatlantic Ping Pong by Glenn Tilbrook for £54.56.

I simply don’t get it. There is no excuse for it at all. I could perhaps understand it if it was something really rare and perhaps on vinyl but I just don’t get it at all.

Haven’t you recently been faced with a similar problem regarding artist’s rights?

Yes I have, I really have. I have been desperately trying to get back a couple of albums after I decided to consolidate a fair bit of the back catalogue. Obviously I own my own stuff since I started my own label Carrack UK, which was one of the reasons for doing it actually. With me not being a part of any of the various bands who I have played with, I suddenly found myself having no rights to any of the songs at all. To be honest with you the final straw was with Mike + The Mechanics because I wanted to do a little compilation of my career and they wouldn’t let me have The Living Years, so I had to bloody re-record it.

I know that The Living Years was co-written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson. Was that a decision that was taken by both of them?

No, not at all, it was purely down to Mike, because he owns the back catalogue for all of the Mike + The Mechanics recordings. So as I was saying there are two albums still out there which I am trying to get back. I was successful in getting hold of a couple of albums that I had recorded on EMI, in fact I bought them back. However, the two that I recorded for Chrysalis to date they won’t let me have them.

I find that totally amazing that you as the artists cannot get your own work back.

The annoying thing is that they won’t let me have them back despite the fact that they are doing nothing with them.

Moving on, what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Wow, where the fucking hell did that come from (laughter). I’m trying to think because I am not much of a blubberer to be honest with you. I am a hard arsed bastard whenever it comes to anything like this (laughter). So I am frantically trying to think what it could have been that had me close to crying. However, I think that the nearest that I got to crying recently was when I was listening to the late Donny Hathaway singing A Song For You. That is such a killer song and it moves me every time that I hear it and it was so brilliantly written by Leon Russell. I have always been a massive fan of Donny Hathaway and especially his Donny Hathaway Live album, with the likes of What’s Going On, Jealous Guy and The Ghetto on there. It was like the bible back in the 1970’s for a lot of people.

Weren’t you fortunate enough to get to see the man perform live at the legendary Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles?

Yes I was. It was when I was over in the States with Ace. We had just moved over there, somebody just happened to mention in passing that Donny Hathaway was performing at the Whisky A Go Go. I said “what, are you kidding, can we get tickets” (laughter). Incredibly, we managed to get tickets for the show and I thought that it was going to be an amazing experience. So we all went along to the Whisky A Go Go and there was nobody in there. We couldn’t believe it. Our hearts sank. There were just a few tables with college kids sat at them who weren’t even paying any attention. It was bizarre, I couldn’t understand it at all (laughter).

We were going mad as soon as he stepped out onto the stage, so much in fact that I think that he thought that we were taking the piss because we were all going berserk (laughter). The amazing thing is that when I first started doing the Clapton thing his bass player was Willie Weeks and he is the guy who is playing on the Donny Hathaway Live album (laughter). As soon as I saw Willie I thought ‘oh my god’ (laughter). Even I get star struck occasionally.

I can’t speak to you and not mention football. You have got to be pleased with how well Sheffield Wednesday are doing this season?

I am very pleased although there is a lot of grumbling going on at the moment. I think that it is the young bloody Twitter generation who are always looking for instant gratification. We had a free punt at promotion last year but this year it is definitely harder. We are playing some great stuff but it is harder this year; teams have become more compact and more physical whenever they play us. When you think that we had over a decade of total crap, seriously it was awful and you just went to the games out of duty.

And I see that you have found yourself a new fan in a certain Kenny Burns (laughter).

(Laughter) yes I have bless him. Kenny came to see me at the Buxton Opera House recently and he held court for a good hour after the concert (laughter).

On that note Paul let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. Good luck with the tour and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thanks for that Kevin it was a pleasure as usual. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.