Oh, the elaborate plans I’ve had for marking the sixtieth birthday of Paddy McAloon at one stage or another. A full box set of “Swoon” on wax cylinders with a working player was one. A mysterious package containing a Gillette razor gift set and a card bearing the legend “From your friends at Boots the Chemist”. And so on.
A few months ago I’d settled on the idea of an elaborately bound book containing beautifully printed testimonials from fans. But what can I say? Life gets in the way, I had a murderous travel schedule for work in the early part of the year, the logistical details didn’t quite gel, and the whole thing slid away into something to do tomorrow.
And so here we are, on the eve of the great day, and I’m frantically rummaging in the shelves of the metaphorical service station (perhaps in Witton Gilbert) for the sproutological equivalent of a box of Milk Tray, some slightly wilted flowers, and a card. Borrowing a biro from the slightly distracted kid behind the counter, who has put down his battered Spanish guitar to attend to the transaction, this is what I write, awkwardly:
“Hi Paddy. You don’t know me. I’m just a fan. But I just wanted to tell you how much your music has meant to me over the years. Have a great day.”
It’s not quite what I want to say of course. Somehow putting what I feel about Prefab Sprout into words is impossible… What was the expression used on another site, “it’s like grabbing armfuls of fog”. It’s given me years of enjoyment and obsessive fascination, but I couldn’t tell you why exactly. There’s something in the gorgeous melodies, the way Paddy sells a song with a vocal, the little lyrical flicks and cuts that catch you off guard… and then above all the myth, the lists of songs you’ll never hear, the lost albums. Something in all of that takes you over. And it’s led me in all sorts of unexpected and completely fascinating directions, collecting, learning audio/visual restoration techniques, cut and paste video making, detective work, even translating from Japanese. You can’t say that on a card. It sounds bonkers. But it’s true.
But not saying that has left plenty of room on the card, so if anyone wants to add something more (or less) prosaic, why not leave it as a comment here? Maybe best not ask for tours or concerts or albums or anything else, just write down whatever it is you feel makes Paddy’s music special to you. And in a week or two I’ll maybe try to find a way of getting the good wishes to him.