Paul Carrack, singer, songwriter and composer chats with Kevin Cooper about Radio 2 not playing songs from his latest album, his best ever Christmas present, his seventeenth studio album These Days and his forthcoming tour of the UK in 2019.

Paul Carrack is an English singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He has recorded as both a solo artist and as a member of several popular bands.

He rose to prominence in the mid-70s as the front man and principal songwriter of Ace, 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, intermittently handling lead vocals on both Squeeze and Waters recordings.

From the mid 80s to the late 90s, he enjoyed considerable success as the co-frontman (with the late 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 now maintains an active solo career.

With the release of his latest and seventeenth album, These Days, Carrack has quietly built a huge loyal fan base that turn out to see his frequent extensive tours in their thousands. He has done that the only way he knows, by making high quality, accessible pop and soul records with unmissable hooks and lyrics that say something about all of our lives.

Whilst busy preparing for his forthcoming 2019 tour, he took some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Paul how are you?

I’m good thanks Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you, and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s not a problem, it’s always good to speak to you.

And I have to ask just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

To be honest life is treating me pretty good at the moment.

Well I have to say that I have been playing your latest album, These Days for the past few weeks and I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.

Thank you, I am so pleased that you like it.

It is one of those rare albums nowadays that you actually listen to from start to finish without skipping over any of the tracks.

That’s great, that really is good news, and it is so great to hear.

Are you happy with it?

Yes I am, I think that it is what we set out to do which was to make a proper grown-up album. We wanted to make a natural, organic album without any jiggery pokery. We didn’t go for the jugular in terms of commerciality. I think that working with Eric (Clapton) over the past five years means a bit of that has rubbed off a little bit. However, we got our come uppance because Radio 2 won’t play anything from the album (laughter). Radio 2 have always supported everything that I have done in the past but God knows what is going on down there now. Their new politics and agenda seem to have moved the goalposts somewhat. They are now trying to create a new, trendy station that all of the thirty-five year old mums are going to listen to.

However, from what I gather, a lot of people from our sort of age who like to have a bit of Radio 2 on in the car do not like the new format. I personally feel that as far as they are concerned it was probably the wrong record at the wrong time particularly as they are going through this overall. Anyway, fuck them (laughter). From all of the other quarters the album is getting a fantastic response. The album is actually getting a million streams per month on Spotify.

Really, so tell me, just what will you spend your one pound on (laughter).

(Laughter) don’t fucking start me on that (laughter). We will save that for another day; another interview.

Joking aside, a million streams per month surely has to highlight the fact that you must be doing something right?

Indeed, what it says to me is that some people who are remotely interested in me and what I do obviously feel that it is a good album.

I totally agree with you. Every track has its own legs and can stand alone from the rest.

That really is great to hear, I really do appreciate that. Thank you.

When I was listening to the album I actually wrote down in my notes that the ‘production is on the money, and the whole album sounds clean, crisp and fresh and the more that you play the album, the more of that freshness comes though’.

Wow, that really is great, thank you. I have to say that the album was at first a little lightweight in the mastering department and I have since learnt that mastering is a really important part of the process. I had never got it myself but now I really do with this record. It really has made a difference. The finished album is punchier because I did feel that it needed to be punchier and have a certain weight to it. I didn’t want it to sound lightweight.

Well I have to be honest with you and tell you that I have been listening to the album on the laptop complete with its crappy small speakers and despite all of that you are here in the room with me.

(Laughter) well the album is very well recorded for a start. It was recorded at AIR Studios and produced by Jeff Foster who has worked with the likes of Alisha’s Attic, All Saints, Björk, Blur, Cast, Crowded House, David Essex, Deborah Harry, Enrique Iglesias and Lionel Ritchie to name but a few. Jeff is a very experienced producer; he does the orchestral stuff and all that, and he has at least fifty mics set up in the studio. To be honest it is ridiculous (laughter). The whole thing was then mixed by Martin Levin who is also very natural. There were times when I thought ‘we really do need to fucking spruce this up a bit’ (laughter).

Having said that I haven’t played the album; I won’t play it now for another few months otherwise I will only hear the bits that I would change (laughter). It is recorded very well, it is mixed very well, but in a very organic, processed way. We had Steve Gadd playing the bloody drums for god’s sake so it’s not going to sound rubbish (laughter).

Having said that I like all eleven tracks, but if you had to push me and I had to pick just one track then that would have to be Perfect Storm. I personally feel that it has got a Motown, Muscle Shoals feel to it.

I don’t know what it is to be honest with you, but it is one of my favourites as well. I was a bit worried that we might have lost that one in the mix. I wouldn’t say that it’s hidden away, but it comes in late on the album. I really do like that track also. The horns on it are great; we just turned that over to Pee Wee (Ellis) who simply went away and wrote all of the charts for that. I have to admit that we just gave it to him, and when the horn section showed up and played that opening riff off the bat it was like ‘oh blimey, I wasn’t expecting that, I love it’ (laughter).

The last time that we spoke you said that you always try to better your last album with your new album. Taking that on board where would These Days sit in a Paul Carrack top five?

Wow where did that come from (laughter). Well thinking about it I would have to say that These Days would sit at the top. I think that I must be a slow learner because it has taken me over fifty years to paint my masterpiece (laughter). I’m still trying. I think that the songs are strong; it is the most unadulterated album that I have recorded for a while, it’s not over processed by any stretch of the imagination. It is a grown up album which is where I have got to be really. It’s no good for me to be trying to have a hit these days especially if bloody Radio 2 have anything to say about it (laughter). That really was a kick in the bollocks but the reviews speak for themselves and the reaction to the album over in Europe has really been amazing, especially in Holland and Germany, which are good places because they both have a grown up appreciation of music.

And I have to say that your voice is like a fine wine and is, in my opinion, continuing to improve with age.

Well what can I say, I hope so. Funnily enough I was recently listening to something, and you have to remember that I very rarely listen to myself, but I had just the one Christmas show in December with the big band and in order to ready myself for that one show I began looking at the repertoire. So I went back to listen to the Swinging Christmas album that we had recorded with the SWR Big Band back in 2013 and I actually thought ‘bloody hell, that’s better than I remember’ (laughter). So I have to say that the voice does change a bit over the years but hopefully there are certain aspects of it that do actually improve.

I just think that it is sounding better than ever.

Well thank you. The trouble with singing is that, for example, if you get a bug or a cold or something like that, it can really screw you up. Then you are faced with the option of both soldiering on and getting through as best you can by using your experience or you can disappoint people and piss everybody off by saying “I can’t play”. So really you find yourself in a no-win situation. I like to think that I am pretty consistent and it really does take a lot to stop me simply because I feel so responsible to the people who have taken the trouble to come out and see me. Having said that I know that there have been times when I have thought ‘I probably wasn’t very good tonight’ (laughter).

How many of the new songs will make it onto the set list for the forthcoming tour?

Well to be honest with you we have, as a whole band, already been playing Amazing, These Days, Life In A Bubble, In The Cold Light Of Day and You Make Me Feel Good, and in the middle of the show I have been doing an acoustic set which has included Dig Deep, so I expect that there will be a few, in fact a good few in there because we really needed some new songs in the set. We have got a hell of a lot of songs to choose from, so that really is a bit of a problem. A problem but a nice problem (laughter). Obviously we have got to play the hits, and I think that is fair enough. People aren’t seeing you every night and so they expect to hear some of the hits.

Let’s face it the music isn’t really that challenging. It’s not like we are going out there playing a new Opus and the punters are going ‘oh my god, what’s this’ (laughter). The songs are traditional, and in an ordinary format so we are not reinventing the wheel. Hopefully they are just getting that little bit better. At least that’s what I think (laughter).

What would you say has been the best song that you have written?

(Laughter) being totally honest with you I really don’t know. Obviously How Long statistically would have to come close; it is such a simple song and I must have done better than that (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing it, it still gets played, so it must have something about it other than a strong hook. Having said that I do honestly feel that I have written better songs that that. There is a song that I wrote for The Eagles called I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore and I have to be honest and say that I think that is a good song. Having said all of that I think that there are some very good songs on this album.

I personally think that my songs are pretty conventional; they are not reinventing the wheel, they are borderline cliché, but hopefully they are delivered in a convincing way. I would never feel the need to put myself through the song writing process, if I didn’t need new songs in order to keep people interested. I would most probably be happy with what I have got and just sing them because to me, they are different every time that I sing them anyway. But I want to keep pushing myself a little bit in order to do better things. The fact that I have never really had major success as a solo artist is to be honest a bit of a spur for me to keep trying to do something that really stands up.

What about now, is the Radio 2 situation spurring you on so that you can put two fingers up to the establishment?

It is to an extent but as I have said, it was a bit of a kick in the bollocks but to be honest I had been pre-warned that there were changes a foot at Radio 2. We almost made this album in spite of that. We knew that it was changing; we knew that the album wasn’t going to sound incredibly commercial, but I need to make some grownup music now; I am far too old to be chasing a hit. I want to do something good before I fall down the bloody stairs and have a heart attack (laughter).

Don’t worry about that, I’m a big lad so I will catch you (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s good to hear (laughter).

As the festive season is upon us, how will you be spending Christmas?

With any luck, please God or whoever is in charge, I will be at home with the family. I think that we have got a full turnout this year which is my four kids together with their spouses, a grandson, a couple of dogs that they will have in tow for Christ’s sake. There will be a fire going, and plenty to eat and drink. And we will all consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate.

What is the best Christmas present that you have ever received?

The best Christmas present that I ever received probably was the year after my dad died. I was eleven years old and I was already by that time tinkering about on the drums. My dad had begged, stole and borrowed pieces of kit from here, there and everywhere. The Christmas after my dad passed away my mum got me a proper set of drums; a set of Trixon Drums on hire purchase obviously. It really was a fantastic kit. It was a Telstar kit which is a very odd looking thing. You don’t see them now. The only person who I ever saw play one was Fred (Marsden) in Gerry And The Pacemakers. I couldn’t believe it, I had this incredible proper drum kit. Some years later I found the hire purchase agreement, and my mum had paid a couple of hundred quid which back then would have been an absolute King’s ransom. So thinking back, that would have to be the best one.

And on the other side of the coin, what would have to be the worst Christmas present that you have ever received?

That’s easy. That would have to be a year’s supply of Hai Karate talc and after shave which was big in the 70’s. I was a dirty old hippie at the time and I think that they were trying to tell me something (laughter).

During your career what is the most extravagant purchase you have ever made?

A 1954 Fender telecaster guitar. I paid five thousand pounds for it and Terry Brittan, the guy who I bought it off, still says to this day that I ‘stole’ it from him. Being totally honest I would have to say that it is probably worth several times more than that now.

What would you say has been the most enjoyable period of your career?

That really is hard for me to answer but I have to say that it has been a very interesting ride. Obviously when you start out it’s all a big adventure that you are sharing with your mates. I’ve had so many great times with my ‘brothers’. The early days where there was no pressure on you, you were just doing it for the love, together with the fun. And having a few victories along the way with a hit here and there helps to keep you going. Honestly, the time now isn’t too shabby either. As a musician you feel more knowledgeable and able to deal with different situations.

Is there anyone out there that you would particularly like to collaborate with?

Not really. I love being the leader of my own band but also being part of the Eric Clapton Band, working with the SWR Big is quite enough. That’s not to say if something interesting crops up I wouldn’t consider it but I’m not waiting for the phone to ring at the moment (laughter).

Which part of the profession do you enjoy the most, writing, recording or performing?

All of the above (laughter). Performing live when everything is going well, you’re on form and in good health is the best because you get that great reaffirmation from the audience but on the road is not the best place to be if exhausted or sick. That’s when you have to dig deep.

That sounds like the perfect title for a Paul Carrack song (laughter).

Do you think so (laughter).

I recently interviewed Burt Bacharach and he said that touring had changed beyond recognition after the events of 9-11. Would you agree with that?

Well travelling by air is a complete pain in the backside now with security etc. It’s the travelling that is the tiring aspect so anything that takes the sting out of that is always welcome.

The last time that we spoke you said that you were trying to slow down on the touring front, is that still the case?

Sorry (laughter). I have to say that 2019 is already shaping up to be the busiest year ever for me. Having said that you really do have to try and take care of yourself otherwise you’ll blow up somewhere along the line.

You are playing the Sheffield City Hall on 14th March. Does it feel special whenever you return to your home town to perform?

Yes it does, it really does. I saw The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Shadows, Chuck Berry and Roy Orbison up there in Sheffield when I was growing up. Whenever I go back to play there it really does bring back some very special memories. It seems unreal to be on that very same stage. Plus from a personal point of view, I get to catch-up with the family, remaining cousins, and the like.

You are also playing the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Valentine’s Day. Is there going to be anything special?

Well the fact that people have bought tickets to see me on what is a romantic day will naturally make it special, and I love playing the Concert Hall; it’s a must do venue for us so I am looking forward to that.

Which one song in the world do you wish that you had written?

That’s easy, it’s the Squeeze song Tempted that was written by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford and produced by Roger Bechirian and Elvis Costello. The song is a classic and I am so very lucky to have got to sing that one.

Is anything currently happening with your side project with Nick Lowe and Andy Fairweather Low? Is there any sign of a forthcoming tour?

Sadly it seems to have gone on the backburner as we’re all so busy with our own agendas.

When will you start thinking about writing for the next album?

(Laughter) give me a break.

On that note Paul let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been great.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been a pleasure as usual. You take care and I will see you at some stage on the tour. Bye for now.