Paddy McAloon is the leader of Prefab Sprout, one of the most important of today’s bands, on the road to promote their latest album, “Jordan: the Comeback”. Next Friday they will perform at the Palau d’Esports in Barcelona, but before that, this young musician looks back over their career and objectives.
Expecting a heterogeneous audience? Prefab Sprout’s leader talks of the group’s expectations prior to their concert in Barcelona.
Prefab Sprout is a unique group, the extension of the personality of Paddy McAloon, their leader, a pure talent, a young musician who doesn’t even affect an anti-star image, because he has been raised not to be a star. The singer prefers to move at his own pace and contemplates with a certain horror the world of mass market music from his house in Consett, a small town near Newcastle.
Not without a certain weariness, he now has to go on the road to give a greater commercial boost to his latest work… no, sorry, the latest Prefab Sprout work,“Jordan: the Comeback”. This is the excuse that brings him for the first time to Barcelona on Friday to perform at the Palau d’Esports and play some of the best recent songs that have been written in Britain. Prior to that he visited Madrid for TV appearances and to talk to the press.
You can’t call Prefab Sprout prolific. Since their debut in 1983 they have recorded just five albums: Swoon (1984), Steve McQueen (1985), From Langley Park to Memphis (1988), Protest Songs )1989, although recorded in 1985) and Jordan: the Comeback. And they don’t perform live much. But that has only increased the aura of mystique that has always surrounded them.
“Five years ago we didn’t play live, and the reason is I hate touring”, says McAloon, reaffirming how unwilling he is to enter into the showbusiness routine.
So why now?
“In all honesty because we’ve spent five years making music, and it’s now time to demonstrate live what we’ve put out on record.”
Is it not sufficiently explained on the records?
“The audience understands part of the music, but you need to claim the stage. Also the records need a lot of work, but they also cost money and you need to repay the investment. Playing live is a way to reach a wider audience and sell more records.”
What sort of an audience does Prefab Sprout have? We think of you as a cult band.
“We’re interested in all sorts of audience. Our ambition, without wanting to compare ourselves to the Beatles, is to achieve the same as them: to have a diverse audience. Some argue that the music we make has a highly artistic component, but that is increased because of the contrast with contemporary English music, which is mostly all sorts of dance music, for example the Blow Monkeys. When we started we were considered more commercial, now we’re thought of as a contemporary band that makes a less commercial music, but we’re not a cult band.”
You don’t seem to like current British and American bands, with the trend towards the dance beat?
“No, not at all. I love melody and that’s the reason I do what I do. Not that I don’t like some artists, like Michael Jackson, but I hate the kind of songs that all sound the same.”
On your new album you’ve returned to Thomas Dolby as a producer, who you already worked with on Steve McQueen and part of From Langley Park to Memphis…
“Yes, with a different result. Steve McQueen was a simpler record, piano, voice, guitar, without elaborate arrangements. This time he almost became a member of the group and managed to get the best out of each of us, and it was a difficult album with many more songs to work on.”
Did you not want to produce it yourself?
“I could have, but it’s hard work and I don’t think I’d enjoy it.”
But it seems Prefab Sprout records are very complicated.
“Well they are very complex. Making a record like ours takes more work than even Michael Jackson. Our work is like a complete film, while theirs are a union of fragments.”
At least there’s an abundance of recorded material; Jordan: the Comeback has no less than 19 songs.
“Is that too many? That’s what the record company thought, they came to me and said it was a mistake to record so many songs, and it would be very expensive. But I had a clear concept and said I either I recorded this one or I wouldn’t do any more records.”
Among the the other members of Prefab Sprout, Martin is your brother, and Wendy your girlfriend. But you write the songs, sing and give interviews. It seems like you’re the only one in control, and the others are merely extras?
“The relationships between band members are often complicated. Me stopping someone having a greater role doesn’t mean the others do nothing. There are bands where all the members want to stand out, contribute songs even if they’re not good, and all for reasons of personal ambition or the desire to earn extra money in writers royalties. But there are also cases, such as ours, in which it’s allowed that the most qualified person holds the reins. The other members of Prefab Sprout think I do that best, and that’s why they support and help me. It’s like a film where there is a leading actor, but everyone has to perform to get a good result. Sometimes Martin, Wendy and Neil were commissioned to do interviews and the journalist has felt a little disappointed because he wanted to speak to me.”
You make many allusions to films.
“It’s most practical way I’ve found to explain how the group functions.”
And does the cinema tempt you?
“Yes. The truth is I spent four years composing music for a film project of Warren Beatty on the life of Howard Hughes. I’m attracted above all to work with Beatty because I share with him a fixation for certain subjects and I can’t stop until I’ve succeeded. For instance he was determined to make Dick Tracy and he did it, and I always write about things that appeal to me.”
What inspires you?
“Anything, and then I try to make it into a song, not only looking to entertain, but I want people to enjoy listening to it.”
Prefab Sprout are not a very seasoned live group. Are you not afraid to disappoint?
“I don’t think people will care if we don’t sound like the album, and will be surprised by our show, because we play very well and we convey many different sensations.”
Will you one day release a live album?