…so says Wendy Smith, Sprout soprano. Andy Strike meets the girl on a motorcycle
WENDY SMITH must be the most unlikely woman in rock. As we sit in a small but noisy coffee bar in Soho, she reminds me more of a defrocked nun than the source of those ethereal vocals and odd keyboard parts on Prefab Sprout’s records. Her white bony hand struggles to hold the cup as she sips carefully and tries hard not to elude the microphone on my tape recorder.
Prefab Sprout’s new single ‘When Love Breaks Down’ has not exactly set the world alight, but the band are used to that by now. Touted last year as everybody’s band most likely to, Prefab Sprout have so far failed to dent the top thirty despite consistently recording quite beautiful songs and packaging them in a way ZTT would be proud of.
“Paddy would never write a song designed specifically to be a hit,” whispers Wendy. ”There will be plenty of hits from the new LP. All of them could he hits but we’ll start with ‘When Love Breaks Down’. We take things at our own pace these days and only do what we want to. Everything we do is Paddy’s choice because if other people had their way, we’d be stuck in the back of a van touring right now.
”We got pushed into things but we felt obliged to do things like play the ICA Rock Week and to support Elvis Costello at the Hammersmith Odeon when we hadn’t rehearsed properly.”
Another thing that makes Wendy an unlikely pop person, she confesses, is a dislike of records and pop music generally. “I never think anything’s any good,” she says worriedly. ”Records always seem boring or just really really awful. That’s about the range of it really. I don’t really listen to any records except Sprout’s records of course, I’m not really interested. I suppose if I wrote the songs I’d be completely original because I couldn’t copy anything else. I just love singing and I love everything we do, though I never did any singing before I joined Prefab Sprout.”
”I NEVER go out. Paddy stays at home with his drum machine and I stay at home with me little piano. Mark’s more into the social side of things. I do like going out but I don’t get much opportunity and Newcastle’s not the greatest place to go out in the world – oh dear, I shouldn’t have said that. I want to learn to play the keyboard better and just learn more generally about the business so that takes up most of my time. Sometimes, I’ve even listened to records to see if I’d like them – I didn’t!
Has she ever disliked one of Paddy’ s songs, I wonder?
“I never discuss Paddy’s songs with him,” she says diplomatically. “I never tell him what I think because I really like to keep things to myself. I do think things but I never tell anybody, it’s just my character I suppose. I’m only quiet because Paddy beats me every day. If I don’t sing in tune he has this whip in his bedroom – it’s true!” She laughs.
Prefab Sprout’s new album ’Steve McQueen’ is about to hit the shops and a fine offering it is too. A suitably wacky title thought up over an Indian meal – no, I don’t see the connection either – the record has been produced by one Thomas Dolby
“Thomas got in touch with us really.’ says Wendy. “He really liked ‘Swoon’ so we sent him a tape and he really liked it. We got on with him really well and he plays all the keyboards. I don’t really know why we call it ‘Steve McQueen’, there’s no hidden meaning behind it no anagrams or anything“
As they’ve refused to be drawn to the bright lights of London, are they regarded as local heroes hack in Newcastle, I ask?
“We’ve avoided all that on purpose,” she says “I don’t think anyone near me has heard of us. I do get stopped sometimes, like the other day on the train, but it’s usually really awful things like ‘oh, you look much bigger on the telly’ or they make really awful jokes about Brussels sprouts.”
Headline writers beware!