So if we take ourselves back to around 1986, Prefab Sprout had come off the road from a gruelling tour and Paddy was starting work on the next album. “Swoon” had been state of the Sprout art at the time it was laid down, but recorded hurriedly; intense, frantic and wonderful, but a little unsatisfying. Like teenage sex. And “Steve McQueen” was a collection of old old songs, beautifully cut and set by Dolby the master craftsman, but songs Paddy had moved past creatively years previously.
That’s perhaps an over-prosaic introduction, but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that what was really different about “From Langley Park to Memphis” was it was the point at which Paddy finally took control of what Prefab Sprout sounded like. It would have been quite easy to repeat the formula and producer, yet he very specifically didn’t do that, he spread the work around hired hands. He needed someone, but he didn’t need a Svengali.
On that basis the demos for the album are fascinating. The little collection from here are mostly from a cassette I was given to transfer with a pile of others from one of the endless series of lock ups these things always seem to end up in.
It was labelled “Peel Sessions”, and because I have loads of recordings of the Peel Sessions I nearly didn’t bother with it. But on putting it on it was immediately obvious that it was Langley demos – the first song on the tape being “Cars and Girls” which although having been performed and recorded (for the Peel Sessions) in 1985 was clearly far closer to the album version. Then “Knock on Wood”, “Life of Surprises”, “I Remember That”, “Hey Manhattan”. “Life of Surprises” was later released as a B Side to “Nightingales” in the demo version and then on “Protest Songs” so not included here. I’ve replaced it with the demo of “King of Rock N Roll” which was on the vinyl “Nightingales” and presumably came from the same recordings.
Not the greatest of cassettes, with a lot of irrecoverable wow and flutter, and drop outs and variation. But such treasures don’t usually drop down from the holy mountains to us mere mortals, and it’s a bit of a missing link in Paddy’s development, so we should be grateful. These aren’t quick sketches in the manner of the tape handed to Dolby for “Steve McQueen”, they’re very complete and fully formed arrangements on which Paddy had clearly lavished a great deal of time and effort. A little “sit up and beg” and stiff in comparison to the finished album, but well on the way. And you’ll find some remarkable lyrical variations to “Hey Manhattan”…
It leaves you wanting more, in that the demo of “Venus of the Soup Kitchen” would be an astonishing comparison with the final Andrae Crouch infused realisation if only it was on the tape, but maybe something is lurking somewhere? I’d like to think so. Half the album is a decent start anyway.