Prefab Sprout / Wendy Smith

Will the Lady at the Back Please Step Up? : Prefab Sprout’s Wendy Smith

By Rozonda Salas


In my 25 years as a Prefab Sprout fan , I have always seen the spotlight fall on Paddy McAloon, genius singer and songwriter. The other members of the band (who no longer belong to it ) Wendy Smith , Martin McAloon and Neil Conti , agreed to this and remained discreetly in the background.

However, Wendy Smith has always also been the subject of much comment. Because she was the only girl in the band, and Paddy McAloon’s long-time girlfriend, many of those comments were not nice : I guess her being a pretty blonde didn’t help either, if one is to judge from the comments in the sexist music press of the 80s and 90s : She had no talent. She was expressionless. She couldn’t dance or move onstage. She was there just because she was McAloon’s girlfriend. And so on and on.

And yet … Wendy Smith’s sweet, ethereal and silky voice is so distinctive that for many it is one of the most recognizable features of the Sprout sound . It’s a very different voice, quite unique from my point of view; I do not remember any singing voice that resembles hers . The first one to realize this in full was Thomas Dolby : in Steve McQueen, he used Wendy’s voice to create all sorts of effects that added a melancholic magic to the album’s atmosphere. And that magic worked on all the albums in which she has participated (from Swoon to Andromeda Heights, her last one ) giving an extra touch of beauty to McAloon’s wonderful melodies. And that touch of beauty has not gone unnoticed.

This is true to the point that many people recognize the band immediately when they hear Wendy’s vocals (her “ lalala” in The King of Rock and Roll, or her “ba-ba-ba…” in Cars and Girls ) Quite a few people, after listening to Prefab Sprout’s new single The Best Jewel Thief in the World, have told me” Very nice, but … where is that girl who did the backing vocals? ” and lots of them have asked me if she is singing in the new album , Crimson / Red . ( The answer is no; Wendy left the band, formed a family and works as an executive ) .

As you can see , the girl at the back, the lead singer’s girlfriend , ( the Magician’s assistant , as she liked to call herself ) was not a mere adornment. Even if she hasn’t sung in a Prefab Sprout album since 1997, people still remember and miss her voice ( specially many of us fans do) and many of today’s music critics honour her contribution. I thought that,in this blog that approaches pop music from a female perspective , she deserved an homage .

Here’s to you, Ms Smith.

29 thoughts on “Will the Lady at the Back Please Step Up? : Prefab Sprout’s Wendy Smith

  1. Nice piece and I do fully agree with. I was thinking the same thing this morning when listening to Crimson Red in the car on my way to work. Wendy magical atmospheres contribution is still missing on the latest works of Prefab Sprout, although it haven’t dent their quality whatsoever. Perhaps she’ll see these and jump in for some appearance in the future… 😀

    • Prefab Sprout are like the Beatles in that ALL of them are beloved. If they did a reunion tour–and word was that Neil wasn’t participating or that Wendy refused or that Martin was rebuilding a Lotus Europa and couldn’t be bothered–, we would be crushed. These three and only these three made their part of the whole, which was a joyful thing. As for Wendy, there are times when she sings her way into one of the songs, and we hear “England.” I don’t know quite what I mean by that, but can you dig it?

  2. Is the same Wendy Smith who was Stuart Moxham’s girlfriend and designed all the Weekend and The Gist artwork for their Rough Trade singles?

  3. A great album. I also missed Wendy’s contribution. She contributed little but it made a big impact.

  4. Her voice has become kind of archetypical of the 80s sound and Prefab Sprout’s signature. At least, to me. Also she reminds me sometimes the style of Astrud Gilberto.

  5. VERY thoughtful piece imho. Well done for re-emphasising what (I’m certain) every true Prefab fan has always known….. That, for all that Paddy had, and still has, true musical genius, the Prefab “sound”, that intangible magic that all too few bands have managed to capture and bottle, came from the combination of BOTH those voices, blending and echoing into a beautiful oneness that is still one of the finest sounds I’ve heard in a (long!!) lifetime of writing, playing, and, most of all, listening, to music.
    Congrats again on your intuitive piece.

  6. @wendyfinnandmax
    P.Sprout without Wendy: a Party without champagne, an August day without rain, a Wounded heart leaving the “brain”, Jordan! rush her come-back, I don’t wanna wait in vain.
    Cheers princess !

  7. Wendy Smith was made for Prefab Sprout and listening to their records of the 80s and 90s always makes me nostalgic; where did that beautiful, over-earthly voice go?

  8. As with all great music/bands, every member of the band has contributions to the magic…………….
    So many of my memories from my teens are brought to life whenever I play their music,
    it truly is a blessing that I grew up in the era of bands like Prefab Sprout.

  9. i was an industrial music fan in the 80’s but i still listened to prefab sprout and wendy was probably 75% of the reason why…

  10. Wendy’s voice just makes the sprout sound. Its not often that you listen to a song just to hear the backing vocals come in. There is just something about wendy’s voice that sets my brain alight.
    Its hard to describe the texture of her vocal, but ethereal is an understatement!

  11. I was born in 1958. In the 80s, I was a twenty. And the songs of Prefab Sprout are part of my musical memories. His sound. But until recently his image has not been. Just maybe vaguely some picture of his album Steve McQuinn. Now, watching your videos thanks to YouTube, I have been able to appreciate the special beauty of Wendy Smith, the energy of Paddy McAloon. And if music is important, I realize that the image is also important. Wendy was not a great singer, nor a dancer. But it gave the whole a note of color and sensuality that few other groups had. And for me, now 60, Wendy and Paddy represent the charm of youth like no other. His youth, and also mine, of those wonderful 80’s, of a life that emerged, of a time that, as we know, will not return …

  12. Kind words about Wendy Smith. Her voice was for me an integral part of their sound and although I do enjoy their later material, something is missing. I remember first hand a lot of nonsense being written in the music press, and not just about Smith. I ended up tuning it out (sorry, pun).

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