Paddy McAloon seems to pop up as as a welcome distraction during of some of my life’s more stressful events. Being in hospital gives me plenty of opportunity to catch up with all of Paddy’s media appearances while he promotes Sony’s reissue of ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’. It also gives me the time for a much needed RepHERtoire update!
He spoke to me a little about the original 2003 release when I had the pleasure of interviewing him for this very blog in 2013 during his promotional rounds for Crimson/Red. His pride of the piece was obvious and it was clear this was very personal for him. He could still remember the technical troubles he experienced when recording Yvonne Connors in that Kensington hotel room twenty years ago; he was happy to confess them to me once I revealed my audio production bow string. It also turns out he was using the same portable Mini Disc recorder that I was using at the time at University.
Me: 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?
Me: 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
My first experience of Megahertz was up on the rooftop of some flats on a balmy July 2003 night in Trapani, Sicily. On the ground floor was and still is one of the towns oldest and most revered Pizzerias, served in ‘party’ rectangles on greaseproof paper and washed down with beer.
The heat from that place rose up until it made the attic flat is rented for the summer unbearable to sleep in. I took myself and my Discman up onto the roof and Megahertz made its debut as I looked out over the lights of the town and the sea beyond.
I’d been waiting for a moment like this so I could experience the CD uninterrupted and in a place of wonder. I noticed that a Sprout fan in Norway had experienced the reissue while cross country skiing. This album requires you to be somewhere where you can reflect. A beautiful soundtrack deserves beautiful pictures to go with it.
Paddy is great to interview. I gather he has never been awkward even during the ‘wild’ years of Prefab Sprout. But 2019 sees him very comfortable in his own skin. Humour flows, his brilliant mind jumps from one anecdote to another, one step ahead of the rest of us. No wonder he is a getting plenty of media attention yet again- he is a journalist’s joy.
For such immersive music like I Trawl The Megahertz, the question remains: when will we see a visual representation of Prefab Sprouts music? Gigging is out of the question. But Spike Lee and his brother Cinque have spotted the visual potential in Paddy’s songs.
If we can’t have Paddy live on stage, I hope, at least, one day there’ll be a film or a show.
We can but hope….