The sounds of the jingling, jangling “Daintees” and the spanking soul of “The Kane Gang” have, for the moment, made way to the pride of the kitchen “Prefab Sprout”.
Paddy McAloon, ably aided by brother Martin and the unassuming Wendy Smith form the core of Prefab Sprout and releasing through Kitchenware three quality singles “Lions in my Own Garden (Exit Someone)”, “The Devil Has All The Best Tunes” and “Don’t Sing”; each one emphasising the musical and lyrical genius Paddy McAloon.
So with bated breath we eagerly awaited the debut LP released in March of this year, through CBS via Kitchenware. “Swoon” was a great disappointment to many, especially after the many plaudits that preceded its release. To others it highlighted that Prefab Sprout are not just any old pop group but something of a cultured nature, requiring a few listens to adapt to their unique sound. In short, they are an acquired taste.
Taking time off from what is probably the most hectic period of his short lifetime Paddy “Macaroon” McAloon spoke to “Falling and Laughing”.
SINCE YOUR FIRST SINGLE YOU HAVE BEEN THRUSTED INTO THE LIMELIGHT FAIRLY QUICKLY; HAS THIS ADDED ANY EXTRA PRESSURE, TO COME UP WITH THE GOODS EACH AND EVERY TIME?
PADDY – Yeah, to do it every time, Yeah, but in terms of the band’s history we’ve been going quite a long time in one shape or another but I would rather that sort of tension than to linger in obscurity. I don’t mind people expecting us to come up with the goods all the time because record-wise we’re quite capable doing it. That’s no idle boast, because having been around for a while we’ve accumulated enough material to make sure there aren’t going to be any duff LP’s, there aren’t going to be any duff singles. However, live and things like that, we don’t have a permanent drummer, y’see, so then you can fall flat on your backside and when people have heard a lot about you they intend to judge you on every little thing you do. They’ll hear “Don’t Sing” and say that must be the best that band can do. Or they’ll see a gig and presume that’s the best you can do; so if we play a duff gig somewhere then that’s that. And I think what’s happened with us so far is that we were rushed into doing some support gigs with Elvis Costello at Christmas and we didn’t want to say ‘no’ because we were greedy. So we auditioned a drummer very quickly and mmm we weren’t very thorough. He learnt the LP very, very fast indeed but he didn’t have it. He was a nice enough lad but it didn’t work out and so when we finally hit London in our own right, at the ICA we weren’t very good that night; it wasn’t atrocious that’s the thing, we went down well, but to all the people expecting perfection it was like “what’s all this”. Sounds especially went to town y’know, ‘oh they’re not very good! It’s rubbish we are good, it was just that it didn’t work out that night….. Also the trouble is that our reputation was made on advance cassette copies of the LP (“Swoon”) which lots of people had y’know Elvis Costello, journalists, so when they talk about it journalists who haven’t heard it or people, just ordinary people who hadn’t heard it presumed we were something really special. Then if they see you and you’re not good they say it’s all hype. The thing is it’s not hype, the LP takes a few listens, almost everything we do takes a few listens.. It’s definitely not ‘oh I love that‘ first time through music.
IS THERE AN UNDERLYING INFLUENCE IN YOUR WRITING?
PADDY – There isn’t no. There is nothing in particular I‘m trying to go for or any particular feel I’m going for; or any particular writer I’m trying to imitate. I think the main thing I would like to do is to make records that when you hear them a couple of times it might make you went to make records; it might make you think what type of person makes music like that. When a record really gets in your system, you don’t think “oh yeah nice bit of music”, it’s sort of earth shattering. And it would be good to do that sometime in our career. Y’know “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” that’s the sort of record that when it was released loads of people can remember exactly what they were doing. For me it was “Richard the Lion” [sic – mistranscription of “Wichita Lineman”] sung by Glen Campbell who isn’t a particularly hip name, I know. But when I first heard that I didn’t know anything about music, I was eleven but it meant more to me then than loads of things. I listen to lots of people more than Glen Campbell but that particular song – what it did to me inside is something very special and I’d like to do that.
IS WRITING A RELAXING VOCATION FOR YOU?
PADDY – It’s not no. It makes me feel a bit of a worker. It’s a reassuring sort of thing but I tend to worry so much about it and I do it in fits and starts. To write is my favourite thing , it’s where everything else is a side-show, y’know the gigs and everything because what you are finally judged on is the quality of your writing. It’s the best writers who are actually at the front of things. I worry about clichés and I worry about repeating myself… I’m neurotic about the actual words, I word each word very carefully. But at the same time that doesn’t mean every song you write has to be a serious statement, you can talk about a light-hearted subject, it can be in a light-hearted manner. I think the trouble with songs today is, most of them tend to have a sociologist approach to music where the song has to be about some external funeral world Or it has to relate to something which can be paraphrased in an essay. A song isn’t that at all, a song can be more than just two halves. It’s got to be more than an instrumental and it’s got to be more than the cold words on the paper. It doesn’t have to necessarily refer to The Falklands or Greenham Common. It should really be timeless.
HOW DO YOU SET ABOUT BEING TIMELESS?
PADDY – It’s a hard thing to define. You can’t just write something that’s gonna last throughout time, you have to be specific. I’ve got to try and cheat myself, I’ve got to try a fresh approach, nowadays I’ve got to try and make the language more…..
TAKEN UP WITH AESTHETIC OUALITIES?
PADDY – Yeah but I’m not ashamed to use very ordinary language because that sometimes has a much more poetic effect or emotional effect than an over-refined kind of verse. If you write something that’s not usually heard in a song or if you write some lines you haven’t heard before that’s usually more effective. That’s what I’m going for now. I mean you are not always going to find that in songs, there are some songs that are too wordy. Like “The Devil Has All the Best Tunes”, I wasn’t particularly direct then, but that was an old song, so I’m really talking about things I’m doing now.
DOES POETRY HAVE ANY BEARINGS ON YOUR APPROACH AS A WRITER?
PADDY – No, I used to read it at school but it has no bearings at all on my approaches as a writer at the present moment. I don’t read much poetry, I’m always a bit scared, I gain much more comfort with novels. I always feel poetry needs the support of music. Some words I try and make them stand by themselves. I’ve tried to figure out why it is that I can’t write verse that would stand-aside from music. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to doing it with songs.
YOU HAVE UNUSUAL TITLES FOR EXAMPLE THE SINGLES “LIONS IN MY OWN GARDEN (EXIT SOMEONE)” AND “THE DEVIL HAS ALL THE BEST TUNES” AND THE NAME “PREFAB SPROUT”. DO YOU AIM FOR THIS SORT OF THING?
PADDY – No, for example, I would never write a song now called ‘Don’t Sing’. I think that’s the most prosaic title you could possibly have and I don’t like that. On the other hand I try to keep away from titles like “Lions in my own Garden (Exit Someone)”.
THEY ARE QUITE INTRIGUING THOUGH.
PADDY – Yeah, it makes people think “Well what the hell is all that about!”… But mmmm “The Devil has all the Best Tunes” was like, a phrase that I liked. I had that before I had the song and what I really wanted to do was a kind of musical boast where you’ve to try to show off, not show off, but try and say “The Devil has all the best tunes? No he hasn’t!”, That’s why it swirls with all kinds of different melodies, clarinets etc. When we do that live it’s a very much one dimensional thing because there is the guitarist, bass and drums whereas on the record there is piano, glockenspiel and clarinet also. I don’t like boring titles, I like things that catch you out, but I wouldn’t sacrifice a good song for sensations sake.
WHAT WAS THE ATTRACTION OF THE CBS DEAL — THE MONEY?
PADDY – No, the thing that attracted us to CBS was they were the first ones to say unreservedly ‘yes’ to us. They liked our musical style. I’m never at any time being pressured from them. They don’t come knocking on the door wanting a follow-up single to such and such, they take them as they come. They will eventually nave a lot of good singles, I hope. They know we’re an acquired taste, they aren’t trying to spark with us like Shakin’ Stevens. Everybody criticises the major record companies for playing safe – well they are not playing safe with us. The money was good but any money which gets you off the dole is good money and if you’ve signed up with someone on a long term deal you’ve got to make sure the money is good. We were offered more money by London records but they were too late.
IS HAVING A HIT SINGLE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
PADDY – It is important to me, people do want to have hit singles. If you’re a good writer and you believe in your stuff, then there is no reason in the world that you shouldn’t think other people are going to like it too.