Prefab Sprout’ s latest album, ‘Jordan: The Comeback’, was lavished with even more praise than their previous two classics, and their European dates are inspiring the kind of fandemonium normally reserved for mega- platinum stadium acts. So why is Paddy McAloon less than ecstatic right now? PAUL LESTER met the band in Paris, and discovered the gap between the Sprouts’ immaculate fantasy-pop, and their Mondays-style on-the-road antics. Pics: PHIL NICHOLLS
”I BET YOU DIDN’T THINK IT WAS GONNA BE LIKE THIS!”
Paddy’s right. Several hundred of Paris’ choicest arbiters of taste are quaffing champagne and munching petit fours and vol-au-vents backstage at La Cigalle, minutes after watching Prefab Sprout play a breathtaking set to a thoroughly partisan, furiously devoted crowd.
The legendarily bedraggled frame of rock journalist, Nick Kent, has, apparently, the Prefab Wrecking Crew (the band, plus additional tour personnel) are either busily entertaining the faithful, or attempting to inveigle their way into the affections of a vivacious local blonde.
”The strobe lights aren’t working.”
This isn’t a snippet of inspirational conversation from a member of the road crew, but Sprout-speak for ”Get me the f*** out of here, NOW!”, a code phrase whispered by whichever Sprout-person feels the sudden impulse to ﬂee their immediate surroundings.
Kitchenware supremo, Phil Mitchell, reckons the famous five words have just been muttered, so we grab our coats and begin our speedy departure, by way of La Cigalle’s rear exit. The only problem is, trying to drag certain male members of the wrecking crew from the presence of the aforementioned French beauty is uncannily similar to the painful removal of Elastoplast from bare flesh. Ten agonising minutes later, they’re free, and we’ re on our way back to L’Hotel Internationale for a nighttime’s heavy drinking with Britain’s least likely rock’n’roll animals.
The above is the longest word in Tourglish, the official language adopted by groups while travelling on the road. Roughly translated it means: ”Oh shit, I’ve made a huge mistake – I fancied that girl so much I pretended I was a well-known record producer. Problem is I’ve landed myself right in it because she’s coming to the hotel tomorrow with her manager, plus a tape of her solo material. What the f*** am I going to do?”
While the near-hysterical member of the WC tries to console himself in the back seat of the estate car, singer Wendy Smith shows me a letter given to her by one of the backstage throng of Sprout diehards, who had been waiting for the band after the gig. ”The smooth swords of your words are like tears that rip me apart,” it starts, which isn’t bad for a besotted teenager writing in a foreign tongue. Wendy’s less impressed, not least because she’s got other, less Platonic, things on her mind.
“I want to be arrested by a policeman in a leather uniform,” she sighs, licking her lips and looking out the car window at the matt black gendarmes astride a couple of stationary Harleys on the other side or the road, like extras From ”Diva”.
Yeah, Paddy was absolutely right. This is all a bit unexpected.
OR is it? Last year, sometime between Liz Cocteau squeezing a half-dozen-or-so-pounds baby girl out of her body, and Emma and Miki Lush cursing and cartwheeling their way across Canada, it finally occurred that maybe our favourite stars were mere mortals after all, with the same biological functions and physical needs as the rest of us.
If 1990 was the year of the great divide – between art and the artist – then 1991’s rule of thumb will be: for ethereal aesthete, read Becks-guzzling cranium-crusher with a penchant for stuffing vegetables down one’s undergarments!
Prefab Sprout are a typical example of an outfit whose daily habits and conversational tics resolutely fail to bear any resemblance whatsoever to their unutterably perfect recorded sounds. Of course they’re not nancies! Of course they swear! Of course they can down more alcohol in five minutes than most rugby teams can manage in five months!
Which explains why, down in the hotel bar, Prefab Sprout WEAR gold tinsel in their hair and pretend to be George Clinton, THREATEN to smash up the hotel chandelier by chandelier if the receptionist refuses to bring them chicken salad sandwiches, and STAY UP til the early hours swapping tales of monster raving loony on-tour madness.
And, if you’re still not convinced that those moments of divine inspiration, when musicians make contact with their muse, are a time/space continuum apart from the rest of their lives, here are three unattributed quotations From Prefab In Paris:
1. “If I wasn’t so unscrupulous about their young, trusting faces, I could be a right rampant dog!”
2. ”I wanna f*** your brains out!”
3 “Hmmm, a smorgasbord of 16-year-old girls – lovely!”
IN spite at everything written above, Paddy McAloon is God. Not in the same way that Iggy Pop is God (there is precious little association between Paddy and the hollow-cheeked, amphetamine-eyed outlaw figures of yore), nor is he even God like, say, Bernard Albrecht is (there is still a degree of personal identification and/ or hero worship with someone like Barney). No, with Paddy McAloon, it’s less a question of wanting to be like him or dress like him, more a matter at being struck dumb with awe by what he does, what he’s created. And no amount of prodding or probing will ever reveal just how this Catholic boy from Consett, County Durham, has managed to conjure up more endlessly playable, magical pop symphonies over the past 10 years than anyone else.
”I’m pretty laddish, really,” Paddy says in his soft Geordie lilt, taking a break from the après-gig festivities for some chicken soup in the hotel lobby. ”Wendy would say I was very laddish. People probably don’t realise this, but I don’t care. I mean, why would I want people to know what I’m like anyway? I keep to meself, really, and I don’t particularly want the outside world to know about my private life.
Because it adds nothing to the enjoyment of your records?
“Right, and because as soon as you find out anything, it spoils it. I’m the same — I want to know all about Ray Charles. But then again, maybe I don’t, maybe I wouldn’t really want to know the actual person, Ray Charles, at all.”
ACTUALLY, having decided that Paddy’s songs are immortal but Prefab aren’t, it comes as some surprise to discover that, during this European tour, the band have been victims of the most ardent fandemonium this side of Jason Ice On The Block.
”It was like white noise,” says Paddy, describing the screaming at last night’s Paris concert. “It was so loud I couldn’t hear when the others were starting the next song! It was hysterical, I wish you could’ve been there. Tonight, when we ﬁnished ’Faron Young’, it was like, BANG! Then they closed it right down just as quick , like someone had switched the applause off. Last night, though, there was this unbelievable noise faction. Dick (the soundman) said his part of the Floor was moving in waves!”
Tonight, there was also a young lady at the front carving her feelings for Paddy on the stage under his feet. “I thought she was cutting through the monitor cables,” he says “It was weird, cos she didn’t smile once, but she was looking up, and I thought ,oh, maybe we’re not playing her favourite songs, or she’s just waiting for ’King Of Rock’N’Roll’. But then she started writing with this piece of chalk, only upside down so I could read it, and I could see she’d written, ’I Love YOU’, right there in front of me. I couldn’t believe it.”
Apparently, at the Montpelier show, the band elicited a Beatles-esque eruption of yells, while Paddy was besieged at one Italian restaurant by people frothing ”I love you!” over and over at the genius master craftsman.
Fabmania, indeed. Seems as though Paddy McAloon’s a traditional Sex God pop icon after all.
IT turns out, though, that Paddy’s not a particularly happy man right now notwithstanding the success of the tour. Precisely because last summer’s monumental 19-track tour-de-force, “Jordan: The Comeback”, was greeted so rapturously by punters (it went straight into the top 10) and pundits (it received more across-the-board album-of-the year accolades than any other), McAloon is desperate to start writing his sixth LP of stone classic material.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s equally keen to get a sixth album in the shops. ”I’m getting to the point where I don’t care if I make another record or not.”
If you’re one of those Paddy-addicts who doesn’t let a day go by without a glimpse of ”Steve McQueen” (the most repeatable collection of unrequited love serenades ever), or a loving trip to ”From Langley Park To Memphis” (a hyper- modern dazzling white pop LP that ranks alongside ”Dare”, ”Lexicon Of Love” and ”Colour By Numbers”), this reads like preamble to one apocalyptic farewell worth taking very seriously indeed.
”No, really, I don’t care. It just doesn’t interest me. I’m happy writing songs, I love that, but it’s f***in’ heartbreak making records. The consequence of making a record is all of this (promotion, playing live, etc.). People say, ’Oh, what a joy!’ But it’s not, it’s a pain. And it’s not writing songs. I know it’s a thrill for the audience, for people who’ve never seen us, and that carries me through the two hours, knowing that it’s a big deal to some out there. But, in terms of the magic of writing songs, the actual weariness of playing for two hours every night means that my enthusiasm for making records goes right through the floor.”
It’s the gaping ravine between the beauty of the abstract pop ideal – ”You’ve got to keep in mind being a fan of the idea of making music,” he says – and the ugliness of dreary facts-and-figures stuff like money and business and shifting units, that’s giving Paddy vertigo, and making him feel sick.
”I understand why CBS want me to promote the album, cos there’s no point in making records you think are great just to play them to 300 people in some small Italian town. Life’s too short for that. I also understand that our records cost a lot of money to make, and that we’ve got to sell a whole heap of records to get the money back. But I don’t want to make cheaper records, l want to make more expensive and elaborate records, that cost a fortune, because that’s what pop music’s all about.
”But – and I’m not pulling a moody with you – I actually have no desire to make another record right now.”
HAVING said all that, McAIoon’s still writing when he can, when he’s alone and of home in Consett. And he’s especially excited about ”Zorro, The Fox”, a project he’s been working on since autumn 1986. Although it may not be ready for a while, Paddy already knows how he wants it to sound – and look.
”Yeah, it’ll be a film, a series of stories told in songs. It’ll be very different to ’Steve McQueen’ and ’Jordan’. Actually , it’ll be closer to ’Langley’ – more orchestral and colourful. It’s a kinda bizarre notion, about this (Douglas Fairbanks-ish) heroic and distant figure who’s not very in touch with what’s happening and yet has this life that’ s exciting, away from everyone and everything else…”
Ah, so it’s a semi-autobiographical account of McAloon’s unique history as one of pop’s leading mavericks!
”Not at all,” he laughs. ”That would be missing the point. All you need is an empathy for things that happen to people to write a song about them: You don’t need to go through heartbreak to write a song about it… On the other hand, you don’t need to be a mass murderer to write a song about mass murder.
”’Zorro’ won’t just be some escapist fantasy, it’ll be about human qualities. And it’ll be set in 1880 or ’90, but with music that is incredibly modern. It’s a great idea – it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen or heard !”
That’s if he gets the time, and financial backing, to finish it. “It’ll be a long time before it gets done, because I’ve got to make it invincible, and the people with the money have got to agree that it’s invincible, Maybe I should try and get sponsorship,” Paddy considers, before being struck with a brilliant plan. ”Perhaps I could put an advert in Melody Maker – ’Wanted: somebody who’ll give me £10 billion’. Do you think there are any billionaires who subscribe to Melody Maker?”