RON-ROM quizzes Prefab Sprout mainman PADDY McALOON. Is he simply a walking Oxford dictionary? or have our preconceptions been (pre)fabricated? Taking notes and making his 1600 word analysis: NEIL ANDERSON.
It has to be said, so I will say it here, that Prefab Sprout run up against extremes more than most. The fan gushes, the non-fan sneer.
Both however, seem content to hold the band at arms length. The former glossing over the faults often displayed in the bands work. The latter rendering objective criticism obsolete with a few clichés chucked in the bands general direction. Such as?
Such as The Sprouts play The Dominion, not The Palais or the Odeon, note, but the largest gig to date manifests at that bastion of British entertainment “La Theatre” (the theatre) everyone seated? Here comes the band, notebooks out! Paddy?
“Well I’ll give you some of the pre-conceptions, that we are going to be some intimate little jazz band.”
“Yeah, there is that one, there is the ‘clever clever’ one. I have my own definition of clever and we certainly aren’t it. It seems a minor point to pull some-one up for being over ambitious, we have written that are over wordy but I think it’s like a small fault.”
What about the 40’s 50’s image?
“Well obviously you’ve got that history there. And you can’t ignore it, at the same time I think what I’m doing is very forward looking, I mean, no way am I trying to wallow in some past image of the world, coming back to your point about the seats at the Dominion, I think it would be ideal that people can actually come and listen to what we do but I hate the sterile….. ‘everybody sat down’, I mean we are not a dance band but at the same time it’s not supposed to be like that. Be an ‘intellectual experience’ – I really do HATE that one.”
Paddy relates how a girl fan came to him after a show and told him how much she reminded her of her old University professor.
“I just… oh God y’know!” he laughs exasperated. His voice is softspoken Geordie, reminiscent of Neville from ‘Auf Wiedersein Pet’ though far more intense and literate then his screen soundalike.
Back to those hoary old misconceptions though while he may never rid some of the misplaced notions towards the current work, it looks like even the die-hard dullards might have to think twice in the future. “People shouldn’t judge from the things we’ve done. I know with a lot of bands if you hear the first album and their second album you’ve’ got the mood of their whole career, with us I have a large background of stuff and I’m always looking for.. not change for the sake of change but…
“I am perverse and I would do something just because people may expect something else, there is a bit of that, but really you’ve got to draw a balance between that and what it is you’re essentially trying to do. Basically there is a main thread that is always going to be melodic, even though some of it may seem it’s not in any way instant. The idea is you are trying to talk to people; I’m not trying to put up a barrier that people can’t get through. That’s pointless.”
Enough, hopefully that should have laid most legends to the band to rest. On now to ‘Steve McQueen’ the latest album , if the Dominion shows were judged as critical flop then their second long-player has been the critical magnum opus. Bagging the largest set of accolades for a follow L.P. for many years. As a fan, when they are on song, I found it even patchier then their debut ‘S.W.O.O.N.’. Side 2 especially presents Paddy’s voice floundering in mid-air, with little in the way of musical assistance to support him. Paddy says he’s “pretty damn pleased” with it but at least has the grace to admit he’s none enamoured with the horrendous “Blueberry Pies” (cringeworthy slang for a fib if I have ever heard one). Hereabout in the discussion Ron weighs in with the statement that he much prefers side 2 (diversification of opinion huh readers) of the album due to the more intimate moments, Paddy as a singer above the man as a writer. He seems surprised.
“I think it’s rare that anything I do, the voice is the main carrier of the sense of the song, I would like it to be like that. I would like to be a stronger singer so that the sound of everything is the thing that comes across, because that is what I like in other people’s music. I like the lyrics but I like a lot of music for the sheer sound of it.”
Paddy seems to hold a rather poor opinion of white vocalists generally. When Ron asks him who he would like to cover his songs the only white singers he mentions are Alison Moyet and Paul Young who are simply praised for sounding like black soul singers and the latter of whom massacred “Love will Tear Us Apart“ by equating ‘soul’ with showing how many notes he could sing in a single line. More on this later though back now (hoho) to the future.
“Steve McQueen’ I’m very proud of it, obviously I think it works, but there’s some things in my life and the way I am that don’t really come out in the music and that is sort of erm…. the lighter side of things, it doesn’t come through. Maybe the next LP will reflect a real lighter thing, I think it will be very different to ‘Steve McQueen’.”
Does Paddy reckon this will be a better bet commercially?
“To be honest, no. Some of the criticisms of ‘Swoon’ I agreed with, you know, I just thought ‘yeah that is very dense, packed language’ so then I went through this extreme phase of really wanting to write something that was very simple and pure. That was the idea of ‘When Breaks Down’. Then when I’d wrote that I thought ‘God’ this could be covered’. I always what I’ve done is commercial, so I never even worry about having hits.’ I worry about having them, but I never worry about trying to do it. I just think it is going to crack one day…“
Back to the point raised earlier of can white boys sing soul. Paddy came in for some stick in the song ‘CRUEL’ which went “There is no Chicago urban blues more heartfelt than my lament for you.”. A slight contradiction to what Paddy was saying earlier, yes?
“It was meant to be ironic and amusing, it was meant to be playing around with the idea that blues is supposed to be the most honest form of music, right. But what do you do when you’re a white English boy who hasn’t got that sort of voice right? And you haven’t got the experience and you haven’t got the background. People with really great voices you warm to them immediately because there is no kind of device in-between you and the sentiments, there’s no self-conscious, the words draw attention to themselves. It would be dishonest for me to pretend that instinct and bare ‘I love you baby’ or ‘why is life a bitch’, I know it goes down well, I would listen to Motown records that would express this beautifully without being too wordy. ‘When Love Breaks Down’ is about as direct as we have got so far and as a personal ambition, the idea of getting directly to you without making you think I’m all for, that is really the aim of it. But now I’m trying to defend things that I wrote a long time ago and which at the time meant a lot to me and I still think there is a viewpoint there that should be expressed making people aware that every song is an artificial device.”
Well plenty to answer there, firstly, it would be sad if Paddy let the credo of ‘white English boy’ cloud his ambition. It’s not the colour of the skin, it’s what inside you, As for the blues ‘background’ there is quite a few middle-class black families now in the State; and at home, poverty is a black and white thing though to base that as creed for being able to sing the blues is ludicrous. As B.B. King said recently everyone’s got the blues. Nick Cave , Ian Curtis, Martin Bramach (not Brammer) are three great white blues/soul whatever you want to call it singers that comes to mind, alongside the more obvious black vocalists. Also trying to make people aware that every song is an artificial device seems a stupid thing to do and does rather smack of sour grapes on Paddy’s part. Still Paddy on firmer ground:
“One of the problems is that you fall into repetitive clichés so that after a while the complete outpouring of emotion becomes standard, it stops teaching you besides you ‘think that’s a love song’. Songs like ‘Technique’ (from Swoon), some of that music comes out of the situation when we were a pup band and the idea of people saying ‘there’s another band in the corner’, so I wrote music that would make them upset or maybe make them think what is he on about.”
Finally on writing.
“You can have it all worked out intellectually, that is what interests me, the fact that you know the way things are supposed to be and go right? You know the score and you know the scene, but when it actually comes to real feeling it can totally contradict, now that’s what’s interesting ground to me. Good writing ground. Mystery and things are very important, I like that in music. Not in a Kate Bush sense ha ha ha……”