Unless you’ve been walking around with your head wedged between the back catalogues of Simple Minds and U2 for the last year, then I’m pretty sure that you might have heard of Prefab Sprout. If you have then I’m sure that you like them immensely. Paddy McAloon writes great songs and he’s got a wonderful voice to boot.
Their track record so far has been faultless; “Swoon” being the best LP for years, and, of course there’s that single as well. With, a vast catalogue of songs all ready for release, it looks like we may have a band who can last for more than two albums! certainly hope so because, quite frankly, I couldn’t live without them.
“But, where’s the noise maaan? Where’s the power chords?” despairs a passing Big Country fan. Jeepers! It’s 1972 all over again, no wonder nobody buys the Sprout’s singles if they only want to hear Deep Purple.
Steely Dan mark 2? “Only a fool. would say that!”
Sun Connection: You’ve been attracting a great deal of attention over the last year or so in the music press. Has it surprised you that you’ve become so well liked so soon?
Paddy McAloon: No! We are worth it! Question: are we surprised at the backlash? Answer: No! We are worth it! Anything worth its salt gets attention, and as we all know, lots of unworthy things get attention too. Question: where does that leave you and the music press? Answer: Never believe it. The good and the bad are all the same to me. I’m already embarked on my wicked way.
The music press always likes to try and emphasise the importance of record labels, often neglecting the actual bands that make the records. Factory is always presented as one big happy family of like-minded bands, as were Postcard, Zoo, 4AD etc. Why people have to try and lump different groups together like that is a necessity that I fail to understand.
Factory have had two good bands (count ’em!), Postcard had one, Zoo had two and 4AD have only got The Cocteau Twins and a whole batch of Wire and Public Image Limited imitators… Are Kitchenware the next branch (twig?) in the record label family tree?
Sun Connection: The Kitchenware set-up always seems to attempt to portray a close-knit, family group. Is it all as chummy as that or do all the groups just treat it as a label and a way of getting their records out? Is there as much loyalty as is made out? Do you like the other groups on the label?
Paddy McAloon: Digging for dirt chaps!? Well, I’m afraid that we all get on very well. If there’s, any jealousy then no-one-ever says anything (to my face!)
Seriously, we see little of each other and get on with our own, stuff. We’re so busy that it’s the only way. I’m. producing a single for The Daintees mind you and Hurrah! supported us on our May tour.
Sun Connection: How long has the band been together?
Paddy McAloon: Centuries. A boyhood idea; too long and boring to recall, but here we are, me, Mart and Wendy. Heard of the headless chicken? We’re the drummerless group.
Sun Connection: In the Xmas NME you said that in 1984 you were going to be playing with The Fall. Is this true? It’s a bit of a step (up!) from Elvis Costello isn’t it?
Paddy McAloon: Cheeky! Yes we were, I believe that they asked for us but it fell (no pun intended!) through.
Much has been made of the Sprout’s connection with cute and cuddly Elvis Costello. Some people think that the Sprouties should tell him to shove off. The reasoning behind that eludes my senses totally. So what if Elvis has been making records for seven or eight years; he still hasn’t made a bad record and surely he’s entitled to like Paddy’s songs as much as anybody else is.
Most songwriting bands would, I’m sure, dearly love to be praised by someone as well respected as E.C. It’s just that deep down, all those groups realise that Prefab Sprout deserve praise more than most. Is this not so Paddy?
Sun Connection: How did your association with Elvis Costello come about?
Paddy McAloon: He liked “Lions”, heard it on the radio, mentioned us everywhere. Kitchenware sent him “Swoon”. He loves it. He asked us to support him. He’s as aware as we are of the ‘Elvis’ little band’ tag but we’re all grown-ups and strong enough to laugh that off.
Sun Connection: A major emphasis now seems to be placed on ‘songwriting’ ability as the mark of a good band (however boring that may be). Anyway who do you reckon is capable of writing good songs nowadays? Elvis Costello, Roddy Frame, The Smiths, Billy Bragg? Personally I think that Julian Cope has written all the best songs that I’ve heard, but then I don’t really listen out for ‘middle eights’, ‘arrangements’ and ‘chord structures because it’s so boring!
Anyway back to the original point; who do you think writes good songs nowadays, if anyone?
Paddy McAloon: You shouldn’t listen out for ‘middle eights’ etc… but the thing is, a songwriter can’t help but be aware to some extent of his craft. Similarly, stuff like ‘arrangements’ become crucial issues when you’re in the studio, wondering how come your own stuff isn’t quite as enthralling as the next chap’s: even when the song is good, you’ve got to present it.
Good songs? Heaps. Consistently good writers are fewer. Roddy Frame? Yeah, pretty damn consistent too. I like “This Charming Man” but not the follow up. I love “Never Too Much”, Luther Vandoss, Prince: “Little Red Corvette”. “SWOON”, oops…!
“If I’m troubled by every folding of your skirt,
Am I guilty of every male inflicted hurt?
But I don’t know how to describe the Modern Rose,
When I can’t refer to her shape against her clothes.
With the fever of purple prose…”
Sun Connection: You’ve said in previous interviews that you want to expose Paul Weller for the crappy songwriter that he is. I know that he’s a dick, but what are your reasons for disliking him in particular?
Paddy McAloon: 1. Bad music. 2. ‘Us and Them’ lyrics. 3. Overall sound. 4. He’s a good lad, worthy type but that has nothing to do with good songwriting. And it annoys me that he’s praised for his “Fabulous Human Being” qualities.
Sun Connection: Have you got any major influences on your songwriting? The main thing that appeals to me about your songs is that they sound so original. Your lyrics in particular.
Paddy McAloon: Thank you. That’s the nicest thing that could be said, i.e. original, other than maybe that I’d moved someone. Anyone who has ever written a good tune or a good lyric, or even a good turn of phrase influences me. Influences do cover everything in life. In the world indeed. It’s so big a subject as to be as vague as hell.
Sun Connection: Are you happy with your records so far? “The Devil Has All the Best Tunes” is wonderful! Easily the best record ever made! Is the best yet to come?
Paddy McAloon: This gets better! You’re right. “The Devil” is that good. That’s four of us that think so. It could’ve been played and sung better (same as “Lions”) and it could’ve been done in a better studio too. But the spirit is right. Why wasn’t it Number One?? Seriously, it was voted best record in an Italian nationwide magazine last year. Honestly! Beating Elvis, Aztecs, etc, etc. “Lions” was number fourteen. Why? Probably because the Italians like a good tune! Is the best yet to come? No; I was a genius when I wrote “The Devil”. I’m merely very talented at the moment, but give me time…
Sun Connection: Can you ever see yourself getting widespread commercial success? I can’t, because quite frankly you are too good for the average person in the street. However would you like to have hit records?
Paddy McAloon: I’d love to. Will we? Yes, somehow. “Swoon” went in at number twenty two; a hell of an achievement for a first album with no hit singles (yet). But let’s face it, we aren’t Mick Jackson yet. “Couldn’t bear to be special” could’ve done it, but it’s possibly too good.
Sun Connection: OK, this is the expected boring interview question! How did you think of a name like Prefab Sprout!?
Paddy McAloon: And you were doing so well until now!
Sun Connection: Apparently you’ve now got yourself a rather luxurious record contract. What are the terms of it? Can you afford to retire yet?
Paddy McAloon: Mind your own business!! No, it’s an eight album deal: we write and record eight LP’s. CBS are supposed to flog ’em for us. In short, if we’re brilliant then CBS are the guys to publicise this fact. If everyone agrees and buys our records then we may be talking about retirement me ol’ cock-sparrer!
“It’s hard to act so simply,
it’s easy to make noise.
I worship the silence that sings like a bird.
I long for the Moon as it looks from the earth.
But to have and to hold it I’d only suggest…”
With special thanks to @Birmingham81 from Twitter who provided the source material