Crimson/Red / Paddy McAloon / Prefab Sprout

RepHERtoire exclusive: Paddy McAloon as you’ve never heard him before…

Friday 6th December 2013 at 10 am I had the pleasure of speaking with my musical hero, the man who started it all for me, Mr Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout. When he answered the phone he seemed to be in good spirits and he genuinely seemed to enjoy our conversation which was originally only supposed to be for 30 minutes but turned into nearly an hour long chat…
Paddy: Good Morning.

Miranda: Hello, is that Paddy?

Paddy: It is.

Miranda: Good morning Paddy, its Miranda Diboll from RepHERtoire blog, hello. Its lovely to speak to you Paddy.

Paddy: And you.

Miranda: Did you get a message from Icebreaker about someone asking about your shoes on Crimson/Red?

Paddy: *laughs* Is that you?

Miranda: That was me!

Paddy: Ahh! got you! Yes, did you like them?

Miranda: I thought they were fantastic!

Paddy: I only take them out for a spin in dry weather.

Miranda: Right. They’re not for the wet are they really.

Paddy: Nah, they’re not. They wouldn’t last too long. I’m glad you liked them.

Miranda: That was me, I just had to ask.

Paddy: They’re not terribly practical at all,they curve up at the ends. When you’re walking you feel as if you’re in a couple of canoes.

Paddy shoes

Miranda: They were great. The whole look on the album is brilliant. Really really liked it.

Paddy: I’m having a bit of a laff.

Miranda: When I first heard Crimson/Red there were some lines that stood out for me on first listen. First of all, ‘Adolescence’, when you refer to a ‘psychedelic motorbike’. Now for me, I’ve got a sixteen year old son. He’s just bought his first motorbike so when I first heard that line coming out it was ‘gulp’. There was another one on the album, the song ‘Mysterious’ when you say ‘Protest: I am miscast’, my maiden name was Cast!

Paddy: You were Miss Cast. I can see how you might take this as a personal revelation.

Miranda: Obviously you didn’t have me in mind when you wrote that line. Have you had any similar experiences, hearing a song for the first time and there’s a lyric in there that has no reference to yourself but has resonance? Has that ever happened to you?

Paddy: It must’ve done. I can’t exactly recall in this instance that its happened but sometimes you know that if I am writing about someone, or something, this is the way it goes. I’ll give you an example: I wrote a song called ‘Helen of Troy’ and there are other people who have written songs about Helen of Troy and I wrote this song based on school boy knowledge of the legend but very few facts, very fact-lite as a song. But then I bought a book about her and there were things in it where I kind of, even phrases which I’d come very close to it in writing in the song itself. I will often find that after I’ve written the song and when I go to do the research, its all kind of the wrong way round. I’ve written the song and I don’t know why it is, I go look for things after I’ve written it, I will find maybe even some words that will make me think ‘oh dear, someone might think that maybe I stole that from such and such a book. I have a reverse way of thinking: ah I’ve tuned into something there. It often happens but that’ s a beauty: ‘Protest: I am miscast’, that’s a killer!

Miranda: That’s the randomness of when you’re writing a song and its out there in the public and you have no idea how these lyrics are going to resonate with people and its just random things. My son’s motorbike isn’t psychedelic by the way..

Paddy: Is it not? He could always paint it not that I want to encourage him.

Miranda: Still on the subject of Crimson/Red. Love and relationship themes don’t feature so much as your other work. Do you still write love songs?

Paddy: I don’ t think I write as many love songs… no I still do. Occasionally the theme will be touched on. I think there’s a problem as you grow older you may sound as if you’ve not moved on. There’s a sort of youthfulness to love songs. As you get to my age, I’m 56, it doesn’t entirely seem appropriate, so the kind of song I would write now would be much more likely to touch on how it felt way back then. That would be the angle, it would be ‘do you remember how that was?’ Trying to recreate that feeling. But I don’t know, its a general thing I suppose, I try to move on. I try to. So that’s maybe one of the things that’s fallen a bit by the wayside because I feel as if I could get bogged down in doing that. I’m always looking for something else, I don’t always find it, but that’s the idea- you move on.

Miranda: Now moving away from the subject of love songs, let’s talk about protest songs. In ‘Mysterious’ you’re talking about Bob Dylan and I think you’re trying to say he’s not just a writer of protest songs, he writes other things…

Paddy: My portrait of Dylan was, yeah, it was a picture of a kind of certain world compressed to try and make it as tightly..you know there are endless chapters on Bob Dylan and I was just trying to see if I could compress as much as I could into the song. The line you quoted before: ‘Protest, I was miscast’, where in his case the whole world was on his back at one point, to be a guru. He moved away from doing that because he wanted to move away from being called a ‘finger pointing songwriter’ .He would identify issues in the world that needed addressing and I think he saw life as more complex that that. I remember first reading that in a book about him when I was about 19 or 20, one of the very first rock biographies by a bloke called Tony Scaduto, it was very good portrait of him and I thought I see why you might, even though its a comfortable living and you’re being hailed by other song writers for what you’re doing, it didn’t make you comfortable inside. I’ve always remembered that quote. Now to pick up on your broader point about the themes of this record, I picked a whole bunch of songs that told stories in one way or another. I’m often trying to escape from myself. Trying to find another way of making songs that don’t always refer to my life as it is. So a lot them are outside of myself but of course you never leave your own self. Its impossible, but you can attempt to do that.

Miranda: Can we stay on the subject of protest songs? Both your album ‘Protest Songs’ and protest songs in general. I read once that you said that ‘Protest Songs’ is not an album of protest songs in the traditional sense

Paddy: No

Miranda: Let’s talk about the song ‘The Sound of Crying’ which wasn’t on Protest Songs. Now to me, that is a traditional protest song

Paddy: Yes it is!

Miranda: It was like something you saw on the news made you put pen to paper and write that song. Now does anything you see on the news today make you want to write another protest song, another ‘Sound of Crying’?

Paddy: I occasionally do. Not this week, not this month, not this year. In the vaults of my songs, yeah, I do have a few like that from 2003, a few of that nature when I would see something and you look at it and you’re trying to find a way of incorporating the song or the mood of the time. The problem with that is they date very quickly. That’s why you won’t hear any songs about the press and Princess Diana although I’ve done that before but I wrote one in 1997 and I’ve written things about attitudes towards asylum seekers, I have written these songs. I’m very very careful with them, they freeze the moment but unless they’re very good songs they don’t transcend the moment.

Miranda: You’d have to release that song pretty quickly, wouldn’t you.

Paddy: Yes you would unless you put them together as a collection of things. Almost as you suggested there, do I write that kind of song? If I was to put together a collection of things I might say ‘well, here is a bunch of things that refer to the news of the day’. You could press the song up and make a list of dates, this relates to that. But I do have one of my unreleased things, its called ‘Zero Attention Span’ which is not particularly time specific, it doesn’t relate to items on the news but certainly the mood of the times. Obsession with celebrity, all that business.

Miranda: That seems to be to stay with us now.

Paddy: That won’t change for a whole generation. That’s the way everything is. That one I don’t know what to do with, one of my problems with it is that I felt it would be a great record to make but I don’t know if I would want to talk about it endlessly and one of the problems with when you make an album, you almost have to go out and bat for it and defend it. I really find that wearying to do too much of it. This would be pretty good one to do it with because the songs are on lots of different subjects. I can talk round it, but if I was bogged down on an album purely about issues of the day. I would find that personally really wearing.

Miranda: Its interesting to know that you write songs like that.

Paddy: Yeah, round about 2002-2003 I was going to record this record and I started to arrange these songs and things happens and you drift along and you write some more. Often what happens is I simply forget about things and I’ve got a pile of cassettes and I’ll go back to things and think ‘oh my God, earlier in the year you were writing this kind of song’

Miranda: A bit like looking at old photos?

Paddy: Well it is! it is like that. It doesn’t mean that the new thing you’re writing is better than he one you’ve left behind, its just that you have moved on. Things in life have come along and you’ve just forgotten that.

Miranda: The blog I run, I have a few writers, we’re all female. Its very much a sort of.. you know ‘High Fidelity’, the Nick Hornby book?

Paddy: I do.

Miranda: You know the character is male and there’s a thing about record collecting and obsessing about music being a male trait. This is not necessarily so and then there’s females like myself who are just as crazy about music..

Paddy: Do you compile lists like the characters in High Fidelity? Do you do that sort of male behaviour?

Miranda: Not so much list compiling but ‘the seeking out everything ever made’ behaviour. A lot of the music press out there is a bit male-centric.

Paddy: You’re right, it is. Absolutely it is!

Miranda: There was an internet survey on a Prefab Sprout fan site that says that the fan base is mainly male. Have you found that is mainly the case? and if so, why?

Paddy: I don’t know but I would find it slightly alarming if it is as true as I think it probably is. I suspect that is probably true, I think there are women like yourself, I meet them. I’ll be out somewhere and someone will be a real hardcore fan (…Helen ?…Ed) and they’ll know lots of things. But in general, there’s a certain kind of, I suppose I’m falling back on the Nick Hornby thesis, but in general it seems to be a trait of the male to be that obsessed with records. With reference to what I do that might be the case. Maybe a bit like, I hate bringing up their name because I like them and people often compare us to them and I hate mentioning them but I wonder if its a bit like Steely Dan..

Miranda: I was going to mention Steely Dan.

Paddy: You’re allowed to but I don’t like to do that just because I’m often compared to them which is not a bad thing. You may have seen videos of them in concert, there are women there ( I think he is referring to the Two Against Nature DVD- Ed) in the audience. My wife would say to me ‘ Oh Steely Dan’. She thinks that’s more of a male preserve. I’m slightly puzzled by it because I think they’re very funny and its beautifully made and very musical and very literate so I don’t see why that would exclude women, it should include women.

Miranda: I suppose you could say a lot of the characters in their songs tend to be men. They tend to be not very pleasant men. The loser in Deacon Blues for example. The women characters are often quite hard done by and suffering somewhat.

Paddy: Yeah yeah.

Miranda: And I suppose for some women that completely turns them off the music. For me with Steely Dan it was the music first, I love jazz.

Paddy: I’ve gotcha.

Miranda: I suppose you’ve got to get their sense of humour.

Paddy: Their lyrics is male psychology. Your entry into is, what you love is the musical side of it. Really as much as I’m interested in lyrics, if I don’t like the music that someone is making- I might like the skill of the words but it won’t thrill me, I won’t buy it.

Miranda: I learnt to love the humour, its dark.

Paddy: It’s very dark, isn’t it. Tremendous lyrical content.

Miranda: Its sardonic, its snarky as well.

Paddy: Yeah, yeah.

Miranda: I learnt a lot about a whole swathe of American culture through Steely Dan.

Paddy: You work backwards from it.

Miranda: You do, you do. I’m glad you brought up Steely Dan because I was going to mention them.

Paddy: They’re tremendous, just wonderful.

Miranda: Have you seen them live?

Paddy: Never met them. I’ve got friends who have bumped into them, they can be quite schoolboyish. Have you seen Donald Fagen’s book?

hipsters

Miranda: Yes. Eminent Hipsters.

Paddy: I knew a lot of the pieces because I read them in Premiere Magazine.

Miranda: He used to write a lot in the 80s

Paddy: I hadn’t quite realised what happened to him, then there was the long chapter about being on tour with the Dukes of September and he paints himself as a grouchy figure, doesn’t he.

Miranda: The things he says about the audience. He’s imagining a fire breaking out..

Paddy: Yeah! and he’s rude to the girl singers in his band! I thought ‘oh dear you have overstepped the mark’…

Miranda: He’s a real tourdog now, he’s out all the time, he’s never off the road.

Paddy: I think that its the demise of the worth of the recorded artefacts. He even mentions that, these things are given away now. I feel the same way now really. If you want to make a living out of it you’re wasting your time making a record. Its a shame, he’s such a great record maker.

Miranda: Did you hear his solo effort last year?

Paddy: Yes, er no.

Miranda: Sunken Condos.

Paddy: I don’t know if I’ve got that one. The last thing I bought by them was Circus Money by Walter Becker.

Miranda: Donald Fagen has had one out.

Paddy: Sunken Condos.

Miranda: Full of Fagenesque humour. You’ll love that. He’ll deals with the whole issue of ageing, there’s a story where the character is dating a younger woman and oh yeah, its good stuff.

Miranda: Going back to the heady glory days of the 80s. Do you think that was a good time to be putting out music and if you could choose the ideal decade for a songwriter like yourself, would it be the 80s or another decade?

Paddy: Well that’s a great question. I feel it was probably a good decade in the sense there was a bit of room for me, I fitted in there mentally. You’re born in a certain year and because of that you will have your influences and traits and your tastes. Therefore that works for me. If I’m really honest I think I feel I would’ve been overshadowed in an earlier decade, the song writing standards were really really high. Personally I don’t know whether it was quite as high as after the 80s, that’s just a personal thing. It peaked somewhere but that could simply be the limits of my perception. I probably hit on the right decade. I loved the music of the 70s but the 80s was my time.

Miranda: I’m just thinking about Green Gartside (of Scritti Politti) right now. After he recorded Provision in 88, he went into hiding, he found the whole promotion machine far too much for him. I know he started out trying to subvert it all and beat it and in the end it kind of got him. The promotion, the videos etc. He disappeared off to Wales for quite sometime. Did you feel exhausted by all that video making, Top of The Pops..

green-gartside

Paddy: We were rarely on Top of the Pops, we were rarely the pop band that maybe we aspired to be at sometime or were encouraged to be. We were certainly swept up in it all. We tried to enter into certain aspects of it and have a bit of a laugh. Sometimes when I talk about the 80s it sounds a little bit sour and not quite accurate to my feelings of the time. I’ve let them be coloured by the passing of time and that’s shame because I think we had a bit more fun than I make out. I’ve got say Green’s experience, he did it very well, he went for the heart of the glossy pop machine and he was good at it.

Miranda: He said it was his way of getting into the mainstream, he was quite a political guy.

Paddy: Absolutely.

Miranda: And he was going get in there and subvert it and send this message out through these glossy pop records.

Paddy: It doesn’t work like that.

Miranda: I think it sucked the life out of him for quite a long time.

Paddy: I think that’s interesting because you make your glossy pop record but by the very fact you had to make a glossy pop record it doesn’t really matter what your lyrical message is. Only those who are super attuned like yourself or myself or a few thousand other people who are attuned to your clever linguistic games you’re playing, at the end of the day you’re still singing about girls to get on the radio.

Miranda: You and I know what the Word Girl (Scritti Politti song) is about, all the other people who have bought Smash Hits and he was on their walls, did they know what the Word Girl was about?

Paddy: Problem is with subversion, you may be subverting too much, you may be talking to the congregation who like you anyway. In terms of what happens afterwards: for me round about 1997 we made Andromeda Heights, it was much more of a me centered record. Largely to do with just the way things go. If you’re not young and you’re not climbing up the stairs to rehearse everyday. I was working by myself, putting this thing together and drafting people into do it but that has much less of a band feeling about it. When that was done, I was saying I’d take care of this when you are doing something else. I just found myself feeling a little hollow. I’d done what I wanted to do and I was writing these songs. I’ d just reached 40 and life wasn’t really what I’d thought it would be. I think if you look at most bands, this comment doesn’t apply to everyone but if you’re looking for a model of what happens its quite obvious: you’re in a band, you’re a young person and when your youth starts to pass you’re looking to grow up a bit. I think that’s what happened to The Beatles and that’s what’s happened to pretty much every band unless they’re mature about it being a business. You’ve got this explosion of great ideas, they become their own people and start to look around and think ‘well, maybe I should be doing something else’. I think that happened to us in a way, life takes over. I haven’t seen Green Gartside for a long time, I could sympathise, I could place myself in his position. Something probably similar happened to me.

Miranda: He was terrified of playing live, he had that incident very early in his career, he had terrible panic attacks.

Paddy: He does play live now, doesn’t he.

Miranda: He does. This is what happened: he didn’t play live during the 80s at all and that really annoyed his record label. He went into hiding and then later released that album Anomie and Bonhomie, the hip hop influenced one and then suddenly, about five years ago he started playing very small pub gigs with musicians he’d recruited from his local pub.

Paddy: Which is quite astonishing because one of the things he used to say about Scritti Politti was the difficulty in playing that heavily sequenced jittery music live, so I’m quite amazed at that.

Miranda: He would probably say that new technology has allowed him to do it. You can have a Macbook and he can fire off Scritti Politti and all that complex sequencing off a laptop.

Paddy: It’s more socially acceptable to do that now, back then someone would’ve said ‘you’re not really playing live’.

Miranda: Let’s go from electronic music to acoustic. Have you ever considered doing an acoustic tour? I really loved the acoustic version of Steve McQueen.

Paddy: Thank you.

Miranda: Have you ever thought about giving some more of your songs the acoustic treatment and taking them out of the road?

Paddy: I’ve thought about it but there are various things that put me right off it. A lot of my songs start in the acoustic state, the bones are picked out. I can play most of Crimson/Red on acoustic guitar. Since my hearing disaster which makes a band playing around me very uncomfortable inside, my only recourse to finding an audience (live) would be to do as you suggest. Its a strange beast, the acoustic version. Things like Appetite, the really were keyboard songs, I wrote that on a synthesiser, Desire As also. Thomas was very true to the original versions. I find the commitment you have to put into playing live, it really depresses me. You have to learn all the material, I don’t have it all at hand. I don’t have that kind of memory, some of it is quite complicated. The last tour I underestimated how much time I would have to put in.

Miranda: Donald Fagen plays with his music in front of him.

Paddy: That’s how we used to play, did you even know that? I used to have a stand in front of me and the very first pub gig in Durham, I had a file with all the lyrics in it. When we did Steve McQueen I used to stand in front of a microphone with the lyrics on the stand and Thomas would get a bit upset, I could hear him muttering when he thought I couldn’t hear him. He’d say something like ‘Nice of you to have learnt the lyrics!’

prefab-sprout-at-domefest-1

Prefab Sprout at Domefest, Durham 1980, with music stand. Photo courtesy of Dave Henderson.

Miranda: They are your lyrics! You are allowed to forget them!

Paddy: I’m supposed to know them, you know all I really do with the lyrics is to make sure they work. I then try and forget them all so I can write another song. I’m not storing in up in my head, its not an age related problem,its how I’ve always been. That’s what puts me off that. Also, I’ve noticed if someone asks me to do something, for example play a song to be filmed as people do, I’ll spend the whole month before the date worrying about it and I’ll get sleepless nights. The anxiety level overtakes, its silly but that’s how anxiety is. Whereas if you were sat here and my guitar was handy I might play you something *Miranda now desperately wishes she was actually there and not on the phone* But if you said you were bringing a film crew I just couldn’t do it. Really, I wish I could say yes to that, I wish I could say yes to the playing live. I wish I could.

Miranda: If its any comfort Green Gartside plays with his music in front of him.

Paddy: If I were to do something like that, never say never, I would try and learnt it.

Miranda: To be honest with you Paddy, people would be so pleased to see you out there that they wouldn’t mind if you were bumbling around with your lyric book.

Paddy: That’s amazing. I’m sure that’s true. I do have trouble with my eyes, I can either choose to see in the distance or close up. Even in 2000 I found that difficult on stage, I didn’t know what pedal I was supposed to press!

The interview has now reached the half hour point. Miranda nervously asks Paddy if she can carry on and he agrees to.

Miranda: Did you wear wellies at early gigs?

Paddy: I think that was our Martin wearing wellies standing on a tyre. I don’t know what that was about, maybe it was because we were worried about being electrocuted in the garage where we rehearsed, there were pools of water. Something like that. Where did you read that?

Miranda: I can’t remember, I’ve read so many interviews with you over the years, Paddy.

Paddy: I remember our Martin wearing overalls and wellies and I used to wear overalls too. I used to wear them when I went to college. They were dungarees. I used to carry a little tin of cigars in my front pocket and when I went to college, I went into this lecture room and the history lecturer looked at me and said ‘Alright, you’ve come to do the windows’. I looked at him and he realised I was a student, he was mortified. He thought I’d come to clean the windows. I wore dungarees and I had a little black cap. I was 20 and wasn’t offended at all but he must’ve thought ‘Oh my God, I’ve just said this to this poor kid’

Miranda: Do you mind me talking about your beard?

Paddy: No, not at all.

Miranda: Last month was Movember. Did you ever consider doing the opposite and actually shaving off your facial hair for a month?

Paddy: *laughs* No I didn’t. The trouble is its a bad season to lose a beard. I’ve done that before when really I should have done it in the summer. No I do sometimes think of getting rid of it all. I tend to let it grow very long, and the hair and I get rid of all of it. Its coming up to two years with the beard in January. Its longer than in the pictures. A lot of the way I look is from vague depression, there isn’t much you can do about the ageing process, you just let it all go.

Miranda: During the 80s was there much control from the record label, from CBS/Sony over Prefab Sprout’s image?

Paddy: We did want we wanted, really. Comments would be made, probably more comments from Keith Armstrong at Kitchenware. Keith always thought if I shaved the beard off it would be much better. I see that, I understand that. I remember as a kid, I saw someone and I remember I didn’t listen to their records because they looked old, they looked intimidating and made me think that their music wouldn’t be attractive. I can’t remember who it was I thinking about. So I kind of see if I was an 18 or 20 year old you might make that superficial judgement. I did notice that there was one occasion where I was youthful looking, it was around Steve McQueen, I was about 28. Someone would put make up on me and I would look even more youthful. Once or twice when we had photos taken, comments would come back ‘You look just great’. It was a strong illusion, I didn’t really look that good in the flesh. The make up artist had done a wonderful thing so even now when people say, looking at the cover of From Langley Park to Memphis, they say ‘ you’ve got red hair, you’ve got this, you’ve got that’.I never had red hair.

Miranda: That was the photographer’s trick.

Paddy: Yes, Nick Knight, he was a great photographer. He just made this composite of us where my hair was bobbed. the stylist was very good. You look like young dandies..

Miranda: You had wonderful hair.

paddyking

Paddy: Well I did. Its thinning a bit now. I had hair like my mother, even in old age she had quite thick hair. That was a natural asset. We were willing to go along with things and try things out ourselves. Wendy would often have something to say about the cover of a record. With Langley Park to Memphis we thought ‘let’s pretend we’re a pop group’. It was really to no ones particular taste. When we went away from that session we didn’t dress like that. We were much closer in style, in general, to the cover of Steve McQueen. I got a bit more of a dandy later on when I was in my 40s, I enjoyed wearing things to cheer myself up.

Miranda: You had some wonderful waistcoats.

Paddy: Yeah, some good waistcoats.

Miranda: I liked that white shirt and waistcoat look you had for a while.

Paddy: I think that was borrowed from David Bowie. Our first drummer and myself and Martin to a degree were very taken with the Bowie look and the whole attitude round about the time of Station to Station.

Miranda: You didn’t decide to do Ziggy Stardust?

Paddy: The stripe across the eye!

Miranda: I don’t think Prefab Sprout and the Ziggy Stardust look wouldn’t have worked.

Paddy: No *laughs*.

Miranda: Can I ask you one more question? I love I Trawl The Megahertz. The title track sometimes moves me to tears, it really does. Its a female voice, a female narrator. Its heartbreakingly beautiful. She says she’s telling the story of her life and then she breaks this bad news whom I presume are her children saying that he partner has left her. From then she takes us on this incredible journey of the mind, she’s all over the place. The images that conjure up are fantastic. Where did that come from and what is she talking about?

Paddy: Thank you for the nice things you say about it. It came from a desire to make a record where I could listen to it and not have to listen to me, that was my starting point. I thought, I won’t sing on the record. First of all it was going to be an instrumental then I lost faith in my ability to make an interesting instrumental record. When I get a few nice chord changes happening or some melodic stuff happening part of my mind starts to think of words. Subconsciously that happens, it always happens. So I ended up thinking that maybe I would put something over the top of it. It was around 1999, I’d had an eye operation and I wasn’t suppose to be doing too much physical activity and I spent a lot of time listening to the radio. I taped a lot of late night phone in shows, really quite draining, people with their problems. I collected these programmes and one or two sentences leapt out. One of them was ‘I’m 49 and I’m divorced’ and the other one you mentioned ‘Your Daddy loves you, he just doesn’t want to live with us any more’. Its a terrible thing to hear and when I played these things back, I could hear the rhythm of the voice, it sounded like music. I had one of two of these things and a couple of sentences- I’d stumbled across Margaret Atwood, writing about her grandmother who was going blind and what she did with her time, and her grandmother said ‘I’m telling myself the story of my life’. I heard that sentence and I thought ‘wow’. That thing stayed in my mind, there’s a kind of rhythm there and the rest of it, I built around things I’d heard. Or I invented connecting sentences to make it seem like a country song, its a little bit new agey for my own taste. But I could get the character, in my head I could hear this voice. Maybe there was one of the things I taped, I heard a woman’s voice and thought if only I could get someone to speak like that. Then I had to find someone who would do it. I was talking to my wife and she had a friend called Lucy who lived in London and was a teacher* and Lucy worked in drama groups and she said I’ll ask Lucy if she knows anyone. I wanted an American or Canadian voice, as far away from me as I can get and Lucy mentioned this woman called Yvonne Connors. Yvonne called me and left a message, her tone of voice- I loved her voice straight away. Is this too much detail for you?

Miranda: No, No. This is perfect..

Paddy: I asked if she wouldn’t mind meeting me.It was in The Kensington Garden Hotel in London and I took a tape recorder and a cassette of the music. That was in a hotel room. I tell you what I had to do, Miranda, I couldn’t turn the air conditioning off. So I had to edit between every word, I edited out all the noise which was intensely irritating. When I was working with Calum Malcolm, when he turned my demo into a full album, he said we’ll get her up to Scotland and record her. She came up and recorded it beautifully but I could see the look on Calum’s face. He said, ‘no it sounds like a radio play’, we should really keep her in this form where I originally captured it and edited her on the tape recorder. We went back to the thing I’d done in the hotel room. That’s exactly how I wanted her to sound.

*note to real Sprout obsessives who may have heard a copy of the Shepherds Bush 2000 gig where Paddy gives a ‘shout out’ to a Lucy..

To be honest we could’ve talked for longer but I was intensely aware of the time and was worried he might have to cut me short. We wished each other a merry Christmas and he headed off to his daughter’s Christmas fair. I was a little concerned that he was running late, that there would be a queue of children outside a Santa’s grotto somewhere in Durham. Their mothers looking at watches, waiting for the grotto’s occupant to make his appearance!

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12 thoughts on “RepHERtoire exclusive: Paddy McAloon as you’ve never heard him before…

  1. Wonderful conversation, Miranda and Paddy!
    Thank You very much for this beautiful christmas present.

    My best wishes for the season go out to You…
    Love
    Joseph

  2. Miranda, may I ask how you made contact with Paddy? He is hero of mine also and I am looking to contact him regarding a project in the early stages based on the shipping forecast. It will include photographic reportage, painting ( my profession for my pains! ) and contributions from writers/poets/musicians.

    Any assistance would be fantastic!

    Regards

    Ian

  3. Beautiful interview, Miranda. And thank you for taking a different tact in the conversation that most of the mainstream media people have done. No doubt it was a refreshing change for Paddy as well…

  4. Hi Miranda, it is a very insightful interview. I am a fan of Prefab Sprout since Steve McQueen, bought all their CD (including Two Wheels Good in U.S.) and I’ve got a chance to see them live MANY years ago in a theater in Milan. As well as Steely Dan, at mosquitoes-dreadfully-infested Milano Jazzing Festival in July 2009… Keep up the good work! I’ll follow you from now on.

  5. Great interview, seems like a great, humble guy! Huge fan of Sprout and Paddy since the early ’80’s…his is the sort of music made for obsessives. You either collect and cherish everything he’s done or are just a casual listener. Thanks, lucky, lucky girl!

  6. Pingback: How to Tweet an 80s pop star….and maybe eventually get to interview them | repHERtoire

  7. Robert Christgau once referred to Paddy (in the office of songwriter) as “a bit of a cad, but a well-meaning cad”. I think that is why Prefab Sprout don’t have many female fans, because I think women pick up on that, and the ones who don’t perceive the narratives in his song as feminist and want to co-opt it into the body politic. But in general, there is a sort of pre-math rock sensibility and jazz shadings of Prefab Sprout’s songs that appeals to how left-brained men can be. In “Horsin’ Around” Paddy sings about a man who cheats on his girlfriend, admits it, feels bad about it, and then says “I deserve to be kicked”, which is a well-meaning thing to do, but then he ads, “…so lightly” which, betrays all intentions and shows just what a cad he is. When Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) sings about the plight of a woman in his songs, he identifies with her character and embodies the emotion, which is probably why women are so in love with Pearl Jam. I personally know a lot of women who are big rock/pop fans and I cannot name one who likes or listens to Prefab Sprout. That is not a judgement against the band, but I think it addresses what kind of music women gravitate to.

  8. As a reference to my comments: “Two Wheels Good [Epic, 1985]
    Paddy McAloon is a type we’ve met many times before–the well-meaning cad. Expressing himself with a grace befitting an intimate of Faron Young and “Georgie” Gershwin, he’s sweet enough to come out on the losing side sometimes, but in the end he’ll probably “let that lovely creature down,” because he can’t resist a piece of ass. J.D. Considine calls this music “Steely Dan Lite,” which suggests the crucial contribution of producer-sideman Thomas Dolby but misses its pop-folk roots. Reminds me more of the justly obscure, unjustly forgotten Jo Mama–or of Aztec Camera if Roddy Frame were a cad.” – Robert Christgau, rock critic

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