About a year ago Elvis Costello was touting a young man called Roddy Frame as the bright hope for the future. Now he’s heralding a Newcastle band called Prefab Sprout as the name to watch out for in ’84. A lot of people are confident that they’ll’ repeat Aztec Camera’s success too. Karen Swayne is one of them.
Their name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but Paddy McAloon would never think of changing it.
Paddy is the impish young singer/songwriter with Prefab Sprout, and ever since he was 14 he’s dreamt of the day when he and his brother’s imaginary band would become a reality.
They’d taken the name from a line in an old song which they misheard – they were nearly Peppered Sprout!
“At that time bands had really odd names,” explains Paddy. “They were called things like Electric Prunes and Moby Grape, which you thought must mean something, they sounded dead profound.
“It’s like a childhood thing which has grown. Me and Martin used to sit strumming our guitars and think, One day we’ll have the Sprouts. . .”
Now with the addition of the delicate vocals of Wendy Smith, a major deal with CBS, a new single ‘Don’t Sing’ and loads of skilfully crafted songs, their future looks bright.
They’ve kept a fair amount of independence too, by keeping their links with Kitchenware, the small Newcastle label run by their manager Keith Armstrong.
They also recorded their debut album ‘Swoon’ (due out in February) in a small studio on a low budget before signing with CBS, rather than waiting till they had more money.
“We wanted to prove that folks in Newcastle could do the job,” Paddy explains.
“There’s a very condescending attitude – everyone thinks it you A come from there you’ve got to wear flat caps, go pigeon racing and drink brown ale.
“Anyway, we were dead pleased with it even though it was done pretty cheaply. I was well prepared tor it too because I’ve got a big back catalogue of songs. I’m well ahead of myself- I’ve probably got enough for the next four albums!“
A fascinating and articulate talker, Paddy has strong opinions about most things, but when he talks about his work his lace lights up.
“I’m a real perfectionist- I’m neurotic about things, but I want to be a great writer and make great records,” he enthuses.
“There’s been a hundred years of bad love song writing so you’ve got to aim tor something which makes you shiver, which gets you there.”
He clutches his hand over his heart.
“The trouble with people like Barry Manilow is that you know they don’t mean it. Every line‘s a cliché.
“I’m obsessed with words. It I hear a record I’ll always think about it from a writer’s point of view. It sounds like I think too much, but it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment- it’s how l get me kicks!”
He doesn’t have much respect tor most current bands though.
“I’d love to have a string of No. 1 records, but l couldn’t do it if it was at the expense of my writing.
“You can do so much in three minutes with a good tune though, you don’t have to bland out. The charts are crammed with people who just don’t try, who always take the easy way out.”
Paddy is clearly not intimidated by the thought of competition. “Sometimes we’re dead nervous,” he admits. “But if I ever need reassurance l just think about all the bands who are doing things which l absolutely despise, and l know I’ve got more to offer.
“In Newcastle there is a very provincial attitude. You get little musicians’ circles whose horizons don’t extend beyond being a good live band.
“If you want to get anywhere you’ve got to set your sights really high and aim tor something more . than that.”
There are times though when even someone as sell-possessed as Paddy McAloon wonders it it’s all worth it.
“There is a little part of me that’s not attached to it in any way, which would love to just get married and sit at home,” he admits
“But I’d be terrified not to have tried, and to wake up one day when I’m older and think, Well, was I any good?”