It’s not so easy to interview Paddy McAloon when all you’ve heard are the rumours of his difficult personality, a mercurial Englishman with a strong and vitriolic turn of phrase.
But immediately I called him and he started delving into the composition of some demos for a new Prefab Sprout album, I realised that this rather lean and talented guy at the other end of the wire was radically different from the monster the music tabloids had presented.
“Memories light the corners of my mind… misty water-coloured memories, of the way we were.”
With these words, Paddy opens the foreward to “Greatest Hits – A Life of Surprises”, an album that collects together the most famous Prefab Sprout moments, going right back to the beginning, when the band first appeared on the UK music scene with the song “Lions in My Own Garden”, and the contemporaneous debut LP, “Swoon”.
They had an image fully consistent with a particular sort of pop group, based on traditional notions of lyricism and melody, with no aspirations to modernism. And it’s this very classicism on which the reputation of this evergreen musical ensemble has been built over the years. A name you’re never likely to forget, and five delectable albums recorded between 1984 and 1990, plus the 1992 collection, “A Life Of Surprises”.
“It’s very difficult to pick my favourite song from the collection,” he says, “because all the songs have been recorded over the past ten years, and each one brings back different memories, all of them are different.”
But when will we hear new Prefab Sprout material?
“I’m working on some new songs at the moment. I’m putting them together into demo form, and we hope to record them in the next couple of months. I don’t know when the production and production will be ready so I can’t tell you when it will be released, perhaps in the middle of next year”.
In this “Best Of”, the two new tracks, “The Sound of Crying” and “If You Don’t Love Me” show no deviation from the Sprout’s familiar harmonic writingn style. Are they indicative of the new album?
“I think ‘Love’ will be the message..” (laughs) “…sexy love… Barry White style…” (laughs loudly)
Barry White indeed! Paddy McAloon has been talking more and more frequently about Soul music recently. And it’s well known that although it didn’t eventually happen, their bit hit “Hey! Manhattan” was intended to be interpreted by Isaac Hayes. So are we going to see a sudden shift to blue-eyed white soul?
“It depends on the mood of the moment. ‘Hey! Manhattan’ would actually have suited Isaac Hayes very well. We didn’t meet, but his manager wanted more than we were offering, so that was the end of it. But whenever we work with someone else, it’s always been a good opportunity to externalise our work, to add something to our sound.”
However much Prefab Sprout’s music is appreciated in general, the commercial success has never been sensational. So how does he deal with the charts, and everything else that’s listed there, for example the new Prince album?
“I like ‘My Name is Prince’, but it wouldn’t be one of my desert island disks. It’s great to have a bit of fun.. But I can’t really commment on the charts, because I’m never in them!”
And what is his opinion about clubbing, techno music, and the rave generation?
“I don’t have anything against Prince, but for dance music I’d be happier with something by McFadden and Whitehead or Marvin Gaye, or even Prince. Techno is good if you want excitement.”
The eccentricities of an anti-pop star include some uncontrollable impulses. As an example, he took an entire album to sketch out the portrait of… Michael Jackson. Is it true that last April he wrote an LP called “Beyond the Veil”?
“Yeah, I wrote some songs about Michael Jackson, but I don’t know if I’ll ever release them, because it’s not one of our priorities to cut the album, if it happens, it won’t be for many years…”
Many people put you in the same category as The Beautiful South or Deacon Blue: classic British melodic pop with it’s own distinctive style, without synthesisers.
“Our albums are full of synthesizers, I don’t do anything much more than making music constructed of samples. It’s a mistake to believe that we’re an acoustic band, we’re a tech group made up of technocrats, the truth is that we’re learning more and more about modern recording techniques. But I know why they say that. They think we’re sitting at home strumming an acoustic guitar and writing down whatever comes to us.”
What do you think is the most complete Prefab Sprout album?
“Jordan. “I love it!”
“Life Of Surprises” is a song from “Protest Songs,” although it was meant for “From Langley Park To Memphis.” Why was it chosen as a title for the collection?
“The collection needed something better than just calling it ‘The Best of Prefab Sprout’. And to be honest, the people here at CBS needed a title they could work with. To promote it they needed something easy to handle”.
At about this point I couldn’t resist the challenge of finding out if Paddy McAloon really has the attributes that people say he does: is he a dictator, is he aloof?
“Of course I’m a dictator, but if people call me aloof it’s nonsense. I’m not like that at all”.
And your relationship with the other members of the group?
“My brother Martin is a great guy and an amazing musician, a real charmer, “Wendy (Smith) is also very good, and Neil (Conti) is a amazingly exuberant drummer!” (laughs)
And the cliché question: are we going to see you in Greece? The answer is just as much of a cliché as the question
“I’d love to go there, but it’s difficult to get the timing arranged, because there’s no plan for a tour in the next 18 months.”
You know, you have a big audience in Greece …
“Really? It’s great to hear that!”
Our conversation ended with an exchange of good wishes. And, from, wishes for the best possible luck for a unique band with one of the most unorthodox names ever to grace modern discography, regardless of its undeniable quality .