Paul Carrack, singer, songwriter and musician chats with Kevin Cooper about entertaining the Forest Legends, supporting Sheffield Wednesday, his latest album Soul Shadows and his forthcoming appearance at The Flashback Festival at the Thoresby Estate on 20th August
Paul Carrack is an English singer, songwriter and musician who has recorded as both a solo artist and as a member of several popular bands. He rose to prominence in the mid-70’s 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 group, The Bleeding Heart Band, and intermittently handling lead vocals on Squeeze and Waters’ recordings.
From the mid-80’s to the late 90’s, he enjoyed considerable success as the co-frontman (with Paul Young) and 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.
Back home from his recent appearance at Glastonbury, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Paul how are you?
I’m fine thanks Kevin, how are you?
I have to say that I am very well thank you and thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
That’s no problem, it’s a pleasure.
And just how is life treating Paul Carrack at this moment in time?
Very well, very well indeed. I can’t complain at all. I’m keeping busy, healthy and everything is going well so far. In fact I am waiting for a slap around the face at any moment (laughter).
The last time that we spoke your daughter had just left home to travel around the world. Did all go as planned?
Yes, she had a great time and she is now back (laughter). She is back safe and sound and she really did have a good old time. It was all good and I got a great song out of it too (laughter).
We have to speak about the forthcoming Flashback Festival here in Nottingham at the Thoresby Estate on Saturday 20th August where you are billed as the ‘Special Guest’ although I have heard that you are not too fond of being called a Flashback artist. I have previously spoken to a certain Mr Tony Hadley and he is very selective about this.
Is he, so what does Tony like to be called?
Tony likes it to be called a Retro Festival.
Ok (laughter) well it is whatever it is. I don’t particularly like to be pigeonholed as a retro act because, as you probably know, we are always putting out new stuff all of the time. So in that respect we like to think that we are quite current (laughter). However having said that we do have a few hits in the old locker from various decades, the 70’s 80’s and 90’s (laughter). So it’s a funny one for us although we are playing at a number of these Festivals over the summer. On some we will be playing a short set of around fifty minutes where we really do try to keep in the spirit of the thing where we play the hits basically.
However, with this particular gig up there in Nottinghamshire we are on quite early in the afternoon and we have been asked to play for a full ninety minutes, and sadly we haven’t quite got a full ninety minutes worth of hits; we have got a good few but I think that we will have to play some of the new stuff as well (laughter). We will be playing more of our regular kind of set I would imagine, which includes a bit of everything really.
Do you still enjoy recording new material?
Yes I do, I really do. Quite a few of the new tracks that we are putting out these days get really good radio exposure, certainly on the good old Radio 2 (laughter). So hopefully the people who come along to see us in the afternoon will be prepared to listen to a few new things as well as the hits. It’s not rocket science; it’s pretty easy to get your head round our stuff, and it’s not complicated or difficult so we will see (laughter).
I have been looking at your tour schedule and it appears that you are still on the road touring all of the time.
To be honest we are actually trying to cut back a little bit. Our main sort of tour has always been in the autumn and winter, usually starting in October and finishing in around March which meant that we were playing sixty odd shows each tour. It has simply become too many. I can’t do it anymore at my age to be honest. I can do it and I want to be consistent and put on a good show but I think that we need to be a bit cannier with the resources, the energy and still perform to a good high level. So we have made the conscious decision to cut back on our concert tours now, which will be around thirty shows per tour.
In the summer months we try to tick over in order to keep the band fed and watered by doing these weekend things (laughter). It’s a difficult one because things are going well, and it’s great that people are interested and they will come out and see us. And when you have been at it for as long as I have you appreciate just how great a thing that is; that the people can be bothered to come out and see you. It’s just brilliant and I have to say that the band is playing fantastically well and it’s a pleasure for us all to do it.
But it’s not just the band, it’s you personally too. The last time that we spoke you were about to fly out to Japan to play with Eric (Clapton).
Yes that’s right and that has been another thing. I have to say that the past three years have been crazy because I have been literally hopping from one to the other. But I have to say that it has been a fantastic experience for me to be amongst that group of musicians who I can only describe as ‘The Premier League’ lot. It has for me, been a really great experience (laughter). But I have to say that Eric is really going to be cutting down now too. However, my main focus is keeping my little show out there on the road. I have had a fantastic few years; a great few years, it’s been brilliant.
Given the weather of course which do you prefer, indoors or outdoors?
(Laughter) we just played Glastonbury at the weekend and it wasn’t too bad actually. So horses for courses I try to take things as they come. If it’s a nice day then it’s great to play outdoors, so we are all hoping that it is going to be a nice day up there in Nottinghamshire. We have had some crap weather so far so hopefully it is going to perk up now, but as I have said, we just take them as they come.
Is there anyone in particular that you are looking forward to seeing perform on the tour?
I would have loved to have seen Lulu as she is always a good laugh and great value but unfortunately she is playing on the Friday night. All of these guys are good turns and I am sure that it will be a good day. As you know, we are on fairly early in the afternoon so being honest I just don’t know who we will get to see.
The reason why I asked was that I interviewed Nick Heyward a couple of weeks ago now and when I asked him the same question, without hesitation he said that he couldn’t wait to see you playing once again.
Really, Nick said that did he; well that’s lovely of him. I remember some years ago now I was playing some shows with Squeeze and Nick was the opening act and I remember him being very good. He was with a nice band playing nice songs and all was good. Having said that, I really do hope that I get to see Nick perform together with Hue and Cry, because I think that Greg (Kane) has a tremendous voice.
Hue and Cry play a stripped back set and it really is up close and personal.
They are the kind of people who can pull that off. There is nothing worse when they can’t but they can because as I said Greg really does have such a tremendous voice and that is what you want to hear really. You don’t need a lot of clutter (laughter).
If we may talk about your latest album, Soul Shadows for a moment. I have been playing it to death, and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work.
Thank you, I really do appreciate you saying that.
Are you happy with the reaction that it received?
Yes, let me say that I am as happy as I can be until we make the next one. Whenever I make a new album I am constantly trying to top the last one. We feel that it is necessary to keep things alive, to keep them fresh, try to be a bit current and not a retro act (laughter). On the subject of retro acts I don’t know if you saw it or not but there was an article about Billy Joel who is currently doing a run of shows at Maddison Square Gardens. Apparently he comes out onto the stage and says “right first of all I am not doing any new stuff” and every single person in the audience shouts “yes” (laughter).
I think that in my case the fact that most of the hits that I have had which you can call proper hits, I have had them all with bands. Because of that people don’t necessarily, even now, associate me as being the singer on those songs. So that is why I still feel that I need to do something in my own right. And it is interesting because we are getting triple airplay on Radio 2; we have had so many songs on their playlist but they are not hits in the sense that those previous songs that I sang on were and still are regarded as being hits. I think that part of the problem is that hits don’t seem to last as long nowadays as they did back then. Do you know what I mean?
Yes I do. The whole industry has changed and in my opinion there are no record collectors out there anymore.
Yes that’s right but anyway, it is what it is, I’m not complaining (laughter). I’m doing ok.
I have to say that I am leaving myself wide open to be shot down once again. The last time that we spoke I picked my three favourite tracks on your last album and unfortunately you hadn’t written any of them. Well here I go again; I really do love Bet Your Life which I understand was written by an old Squeeze friend of yours?
(Laughter) yes you have done it once again and yes, you are right. However, you may have redeemed yourself this time as that is my favourite track on the album. That particular track was co-written with Chris Difford from Squeeze. Me and my son Jack, who actually plays the drums on the album had had a few jams together and we had come up with this shape. Chris then turned up at my recording studio with a lyric which he had already written, and we simply made it fit. It was great because I could never write a song like that because as you know my songs are all a bit lovey dovey and all the rest of it.
It was at that point that I said to Chris that I could never write a song like Tempted or Labelled With Love but he can because he has that descriptive thing and also the art of telling stories. Bet Your Life is also a good song to play live because we allow the band to stretch it out at the end. Hopefully we will be doing a bit of that and play two or three songs where we actually let the band rip and people really do love it. We let the band have a good old play and people do actually respond really well to that.
Is there ever the temptation to try to write a live performance song rather than an album track?
Well I think that because we are essentially a touring band, it is very much our life blood really; it is something that is always in the back of your mind. It is always quite handy to have a few songs in the locker that work well when you perform them live (laughter). On our normal tour we are playing a lot of the new album and it all actually works really well live. So we are mindful that whenever we play these festivals that people are not necessarily familiar with the new stuff. It is definitely in the back of your mind that it is very handy whenever your stuff works live (laughter).
Being an old soulie at heart I have to ask you what was it like having Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis working with you on the album, the man who co-wrote hits like Cold Sweat and Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud for the late James Brown?
It was great, Pee Wee is quite a character. He did a very nice horn arrangement in keeping with the album. As you point out he has played with the likes of James Brown together with Van Morrison, George Benson, Hank Crawford and Esther Phillips. But as I say he is quite a character (laughter).
On the album you have covered Share Your Love With Me which was originally recorded by blues singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and later by Aretha Franklin. Why that particular song?
Honestly…we probably just needed another track to finish the album (laughter). I like the song and it was the Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland version that I was familiar with. It’s a great song and it hasn’t been done to death. Aretha Franklin did a gospel version which is quite different and then Kenny Rogers did a very straight up version of it, and The Band did a version of it many years ago now but other than that it’s not been done a lot. I honestly think that it is a really nice song and I just fancied doing it.
Whilst you no longer live in Sheffield do you keep an eye on what’s happening there on the music front?
No, oh god no. I have to be honest and say no not at all. When it comes to music I’m very lazy (laughter). I just enjoy listening to old stuff, playing my own music and the rest of the time I have most probably got Radio 4 on (laughter).
And what about the football. Do you get the time to go and watch Sheffield Wednesday?
Yes I do, I am a season ticket holder at Wednesday and still manage to get up to watch a lot of their games. I have been a season ticket holder since back in the 60’s. I did manage to get to the play-offs last season but unfortunately we didn’t quite perform in the final which was a big disappointment as it would have been nice to see Wednesday crash the party and get themselves up into the Premiership. But it simply wasn’t to be. But we had a great season; the best season that we have had in a very long time.
We have taken some good players off you over the years and vice versa.
Don’t tell me, you are a Forest supporter right?
Yes that’s right, I’ve been season ticket holder now for 47 years. Back in 1993 Des Walker joined you when he came back to England after playing for U.C. Sampdoria. He played for you for eight seasons before coming back to us again.
That’s right, Des was great; I have to say that he was absolutely great. Mind you, you did recently nick Michail Antonio off us didn’t you (laughter).
Yes we did, but he soon got bored with us as he had done with you and buggered off (laughter).
The funny thing was that I was never sure about him. He did a great job for us especially when he played under Gary Megson, when we played a very direct style of football. It suited Antonio because he was very powerful, strong and fast but when we started to change things and became a bit more of a passing side, he didn’t really fit into it because he hasn’t got a great touch.
Most of the Forest fans, myself included, thought that he was a one trick pony. If you were a defender you could work him out quite quickly.
Yes, I agree with you on that but I have to say that I don’t think that he was easy to play against but I do agree with you. A lot of fullbacks quickly cottoned on that he would just let them nudge him then he would fall over and get a free kick. Having said that he did a great job for us and we can’t complain. I can understand why on a football level we let him go. I think that we probably snatched your hand off for the two million (laughter). But didn’t your lot sell him for about seven million?
That’s right he joined West Ham for seven million on a four year contract with an optional two years at the end of that.
What I never liked about him was that he would often get fed-up in games or even at times he would get tired which for a big, strong lad was not acceptable. Talking of football and players, funnily enough I will tell you who came to see the show the other night, Kenny Burns. For over twenty years now I have been close friends with Trevor Francis, since his days as manager of Wednesday. He has bought a few of your ex-players along to a few shows. Not so long ago he bought John Robertson with him. In fact only the other day Kenny was being quite animated with his stories of Brian Clough (laughter). He was very entertaining.
I see Kenny at most of the home games so I will mention you to him.
Please do, they really are a lovely bunch of lads.
On that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure.
Thanks a lot Kevin. You take care and bye for now.