Are PREFAB SPROUT soon to become the apple of everybody’s eye? Dave McCullough digs around
MY IMAGINARY brief reads: travel to the Columbia Hotel, the hotel where the stars stay when they’re in Town (It is full of twisted, neurotic ghosts) and elevate one Paddy McAloon to the status you elevated Julian Cope, McCulloch, Bono and others two years ago.
For Prefab Sprout have signed to CBS; the imaginary brief sees them being interviewed at length, or rather sees young Paddy being grilled at length, intellectually, stylistically.
In this brief He Is An Individual reads the same thing as He Will Sell Records.
Outside the Columbia, where it is pouring with rain, sits Roddy Frame, one of the ‘line’ himself, couched in the back of a spanking big new Jaguar XJS, peak-capped chauffeur in the front waiting to whiz him off to destinations unknown. These days I find Roddy and his muse about as fascinating as a Berni steak house. Images matter.
Inside the Columbia I approach the sincere nice and affable Paddy with the thought that the day Kitchenware decided to spill the beans concerning the origin of Prefab Sprout’s ‘wacky’ name” (and I don’t intend to help the plan here), was the day, for me, that Prefab Sprout sort of PASSED AWAY.
An illiterate fanzine recently asked Paddy what he wanted for Christmas. He answered an apple and an orange: on the table in front of him at the Columbia is a half peeled orange and an intact apple.
IS IT RIGHT playing with Elvis Costello?
“Yes, yes. Why do you ask? Of course it’s right!”
He’s a ‘Classic Entertainer‘, a ‘Classic Songsmith’ – is that where your own horizons stop?
“Ah ah . . .”
What does it mean to get into the charts?
“What does it mean? I you’ve made something of class, or that you’ve written a song with a wee bit of . . . resonance to it, don t you think it’s fantastic if it gets into the charts?”
I see rock as having three stages, the first is the Cave Man stage, where most musics belong, the second stage is where things are good, musically – where you are. But something in your album ’Swoon’ makes me peek through to the third and last stage, which is . . . the Harrod’s bombing, changing-the-world, the confusion that is around us.
“We’re too subtle to talk about things like that in our songs in the way you suggest. Nobody’ll ever think that way about us. But I’ve got no desire for us to be put into an Acquired Taste category, or under Elvis’s wing . . .”
Would you like to be a respectable Men At Work, your album played by XR3i drivers on the way home from the office?
“No. I don’t have any contempt for that. I know what you mean, ‘Elvis likes you’, you’ve immediately got a little niche there, you’re seen as Elvis’s little band. You can’t help that.
“It’s similar if you’re compared to Aztec Camera. You’ve got to outlive all that, you’ve got to know that if your stuff’s really worthy it’ll outshine that . . .”
Why don’t you outlive it in the present – by not doing it? Kitchenware at present seem to be making certain reflections upon you – playing with Elvis and Aztec. You’re getting strangled in that niche.
“I think when ’Swoon’ comes out all these comparisons will be blown away. Absolutely. I used to get DEAD annoyed at the comparisons – but I understand now that if I were trying to describe a new group to you, I’d have to use certain reference points.
“They’re just reference points: that’s all, leave it at that. I’m not going to worry because I know I’m going to get it anyway. I couldn’t care less . . .
After the album you’ll be seen as Aztec Camera are seen now – something static and respectable.
“How is Elvis seen, do you think?”
As the class version of that.
“What is the alternative to that? Even if you do something radical in its approach, or something beautiful in music, it’ll still get played on the cassette on the way home from the office if it’s THAT radical or that beautiful. WE play ’Swoon’ in the car!”
We want glory, we want fury, we want loudness and guitars this year. Not a dated delicacy.
“How do you define fury? Is it in the way you play your guitar, in the way you tune it? Don’t you see loud and ferocious things in pastel-shaded things like ‘Cruel’ or Elegance’ off our album? Did you hear that?”
Those two songs stand out on the album. The rest of the album seems to reflect a self-deceiving independence you’ve been given by CBS. Because, it was self- produced, it sounds ‘Indie’. It would have been better with a big production and a big sound. Equals glory . . .
“Surely that would have made us even more Men At Work, cassette-in-the-car-like? I don’t know who we’ll work with next time, you see ’Swoon’ was done with Dave of the Kane Gang, he’s great but we’ll maybe want someone to guide it better next time . . .”
Do you think ’Swoon’ could be CBS’s cheapskate way of working with you?
“Yeah, yeah . . . I don’t think CBS see us as a massive singles success. In their words they don’t think we’re going to be Michael Jackson. We’re seen as a tasty albums group. I don’t mind that; all I mind is that it’s going to be PLAYED in places!
“I think that’s great. We didn’t even have to change the name of the group, any of that stuff. I just think I’d rather see us doing it than someone else . . .”
Of course. But that’s not an end in itself – ‘I’m pleased we’re playing Madison Square Gardens instead of someone else.’ It’s a spiralling wrong.
“How do you change the world? The only thing I hope to do is to make people feel about records the way I once felt. The way I felt is, the world is a beautiful place if people can do this, if it can give you a certain feeling.
“I hate using words like ‘inspiration’ or ‘positive’ cos they’re so corny, but there’s so much negativity about it almost makes you want to.”
You’re right. It’s today’s chique. From the Cramps to Julie Burchill to the current Orwellising. . .
“Julie Burchill! She’s got that type of attitude, which we all have at times, of I’m better than most other people. That’s dangerous because when you do meet someone as strong as yourself you tend to thrash them to bits like you have done everybody else.
“She plays a game of tennis with no-one. I’m sure she’s insecure. Have you heard her voice? It’s so weedy. But when she writes! Think of the rigorous self-examination she must undergo every time she fries an egg, makes toast . . .”
I’m disappointed with your album.
“I don’t know how you can be disappointed with ‘Swoon’! I don’t understand this line of questioning, at all!”
The synth sounds so weedy on it . . .
“I don’t think it’s weedy at all. I think it’s dead sparse and refined.”
“DAVE! It was DONE cheaply! Dave, it was done before we signed to CBS. What did you want us to do?”
A voice says: you should never play live.
“That’s just (slaps thigh in frustration) . . . That’s such a music journalist thing to say. Why should we never play live? That’s a really insular thing to say, that’s putting us above everyone else. Why not play live?”
Groups don ‘t realise how grotty gigs are for an audience. Understandably, because they enjoy playing so much.
“You’re speaking to the wrong person here on this. From a personal point of view, I never go to gigs, I’m your totally arch ungigging person.
“I like records, that’s all that interests me. I was so snotty when I was younger. I wouldn’t play in pubs because I don’t and still don’t make beer-stomping music.
“Gigs are fun, I enjoyed Birmingham last night, but I’d rather be at home writing. I’m a writer, gigs take up time.”
Why aren’t you at home writing?
“That’s such a precious attitude! – You can’t yet round it, that’s why.”
Prefab Sprout should be as special as their name (once was).
“Did you read James Joyce? Someone once asked him, ‘Where are you going for your holidays?’ and he answered, ‘Where honest people make an honest living’. I think that’s bloody great.
“Let’s get away from this precious attitude! Let’s get back to the, dare-I-say-it, to the streets.
“I’m out there earning a living for several people. I’ve got my brother, Wendy, Keith, Paul to think of – these are noble names to me and to have them working in 1984, that in itself is great.”
It sounds bloody terrible to me.
It sounds like Mensi. There’s something much more noble which you have to go towards and which you are capable of getting – in ‘Cruel’, ‘Elegance’. ’
“I’m not going to lose that, don’t worry. It all takes place in the writing; gigs I admit, if you want to talk in priorities, are secondary. That doesn’t mean that when I play I’ll be lackadaisical though . . .
“Keith says we lack the sense of bread and circuses when we play live – geeing up the crowd. That’s just not me. I think it should be enough that I just go out there and play for people. I wish I could afford not to go on the road.”
End of statement. Good statement.
“WHAT DO I do when Elvis Costello goes around saying he likes our records? What do I do?. . .”
Tell him to F. off.
“Why should I do that? . . .”
He’s a modern fake. He’s his own little Camden Town ‘Good Music Society’. . .
“I daren’t say this or I’ll get shot. In Costello’s songs sometimes and in my own song-writing, thing’s like ‘Diana’, there’s something I don t like . . . I don’t like songs that create their own little Us and Them syndrome. Bob Dylan stopped doing it thirty years ago . . .”
What do you mean?
“Triggering a response in an audience live. You mention Ronald Reagan and they’ll cheer. You play a song called ‘Diana’, which is our song, and they’ll think it’s anti- Royalist. In fact, it’s not!
“That’s my attitude, you know, ‘we’re all vaguely left wing, we alI go home after the gig to the nice Hi-Fi, smoke a bit of something – I hate it. I don’t understand how I’m going to get round it.”
PADDY MCALOON, destined for stardom, probably possessor of Album Of The Year in lesser minds than mine, is self-flagellating nice. The good thing is he knows his problem. The bad thing is the problem is there at all.
How is he going to get round it?
He might get round it by TRYING to do so and letting it be seen that he’s trying. Although that in itself could be dangerously static and posed.
Paddy McAIoon is twenty six years old. He hopes to marry his girlfriend who teaches in a secondary modern school in the North East. His father owns a garage which he and his brother used to work in. If Paddy contributes to the aimless continuance of middle spread rock ‘n’ roll then he ought to be damned forever more.
Have you met Billy Joel?
“I’ve met people who’ve met his girlfriend. Tenuous rock connections here folks!”
At the close of the interview the intact apple is still intact.