Eric Leimann has previously had a featured audio interview on Sproutology, and was one of the participants in the 2013 promotional interview round to promote Crimson/Red.
Unfortunately – and I have asked – there is no recording of the full 2013 interview available, so all that exists is an article derived from it published in a couple of German outlets (Stimm.de and Weser Kurier), and this short piece broadcast on Deutschlandfunk Radio, for which they helpfully provided a transcript.
The audio suffers a little from having a simultaneous translation, but I applied a bit of intensive forensic listening and got most of the actual words, which in the transcript translation below are more or less verbatim. It’s a bit of a “for completists only” interview, but this site is nothing if not completist, so here it is…
Paddy McAloon, the leader of the British band Prefab Sprout, understands like few others how to express the beauty and pain of youth in pop songs. He wrote the new album “Crimson/Red” because he was contractually obliged to do so. For all that the songs sound as if they were a labour of love.
Here it comes again, the ancient, magical Prefab Sprout sound. But the most amazing part of this beautiful relic of the 80s and early 90s is the youthfulness of Paddy McAloon’s lovely voice. Today, with a snow-white beard, a walking stick, and tinted spectacles, he looks rather like an eccentric Santa Claus.
It’s not at all usual that McAloon gives interviews. The idiosyncratic hermit songwriter hasn’t travelled for a long time. He was afflicted with temporary blindness, and he suffers from severe tinnitus. McAloon receives guests exclusively in the lobby of a hotel in the Northern town of Durham, close to the home he shares with his wife and three daughters. Given the eccentricity of this man, the genesis of the new album “Crimson/Red” is almost mundane…
“The original starting point for the sound was that they would be for voice and acoustic guitar, that’s where I started from. I didn’t have much time to make the record, that might sound silly as its the first record in a few years… But if you’re new to it, I needed to make it for legal reasons, I was told that I owed someone a record. So my starting point was to do this thing on guitar and voice, and after a few days I realised that it wasn’t interesting… from where I stood I didn’t think it was going to be interesting like that so I just built it up in layers as I always do.”
Even though the ten songs on “Crimson/Red” sound beautiful and vast, the critical listener might notice they sound a little synthetic. Which may be due to the fact that Paddy McAloon had to record this album on his own for financial and health reasons.
“And the restriction of what your studio.. of what instruments you have in in the studio, what you can comfortably play, that will form the style of the record. So for me that was to do guitar which I can play reasonably, and I use a lot of old synthesisers so there may be a certain sound to that so you’re not going to hear a lot of natural sounding instruments even though I worked hard to try and make it sound like a balanced recording.”
In the 80s there was perhaps no one who could transform the pain and beauty of youth into such soul-stirring pop as this Catholic son of Irish immigrants who had maybe even wanted to become a priest. All of Paddy McAloon’s sensitivity and gifts are still present now he’s in his mid-50’s even if the songwriter looks back with a different perspective on earlier days. “Old Beard, Young Heart”, as the current issue headlines an article on Prefab Sprout in the current Rolling Stone magazine. Is this music-loving man, disappointed as an adolescent fan would be that his art remains a well-kept secret?
“The way I feel about this is if I look at the the charts and one of my records isn’t there, I’ll always remind myself there’s not many Miles Davis records in the top ten. So like Maurice Ravel or Alban Berg, they wrote music, an unusual music that wasn’t heard much in their lives, and I feel in comparison to classical people I’ve been treated very well… Probably I’m more praised for my words rather than music that’s probably where my talent lies… If I could arrange my life differently I’d like to be thought of as a tunewriter.”
In “Crimson / Red “, the new Prefab Sprout album , Paddy McAloon writes unusually openly about himself. About aging, about euphoria, and about artistic crises. In the song “The Old Magician”, he compares himself to an old wizard who has seen better days. A weary stage persona, with holes in his gloves and a worn hat. He repeats “There was a time we produced doves”. When asked whether the dreams of the young Paddy McAloon have been fulfilled, he concludes in a conciliatory, almost philosophical manner.
“I don’t know what I would think! I’d assume that the younger me would have been very impressed with what I’ve done, he would. But I wonder if back then .. erm.. . I think back in the day when I was younger it was all the beauty of the dream rather than achieving it”