Their singer used to work in a garage but now reckons he’s “probably the best writer on the planet” And he’d like to be invisible . . .
Paddy McAloon, Prefab Sprout’s 28-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter, is obviously relieved that “When Loves Breaks Down” is a hit, even if they did have to release it three times before it finally made it.
Paddy, who has been known to refer to himself as “probably the best writer on the planet”, has been trying to get his songs noticed ever since his schooldays in a seminary (“a catholic training ground for priests”) near Newcastle. Here, he formed lots of bands with daft names like Grappled Institution (who used to play songs like the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and David Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes” as well as a few of his own early efforts to old ladies on Wednesday nights). After that he went to Newcastle Polytechnic where he “scraped through” a degree in English and History and wrote some more songs. Then he moved back home to live with his parents and spent the next five years working in a garage.
“It belonged to my dad, a small village concern that we couldn’t really make anything of,” he explains. “I had no interest in it- l can’t even drive a car – and I hated having to work there but what I used to do was read and play the guitar all day in between serving people. All my famous songs – like “Faron Young” – I wrote either while I was at Poly or working in the garage.”
Eventually the garage got so in debt that they had to close it. Luckily, after being on the dole a while, Paddy’s brother Martin (the group’s bass player) got £800 for two months work as a night-watchman which they spent on releasing a single, “Lions ln My Own Garden (Exit Someone)”. This got them the attention of the local Kitchenware label and by the spring of 1984 they had signed to CBS Records, released their first LP “Swoon”, and were widely tipped to take the charts by storm. But it didn’t happen. instead the group (at the time Paddy, Martin and Wendy Smith on backing vocals – later joined by drummer Neil Conti) were slagged of for being wimps, “laid back,” writing sixth form poetry, having a silly name and just about anything else imaginable. Even Paddy, usually extremely shy and soft spoken, gets worked up about that.
“Wimps? It’s not even worth answering,” he scowls. “If people mean by that the opposite of strength then they’ve picked exactly the wrong word because what we do is immensely strong.
How about “laid back”’? “Forget it! People who say ‘laid back’ are the boys crew who like their rock’n’roll loud and sweaty – music to them is wearing a pair of jeans or meeting a good-looking blonde girl – stereotypical masculine images. I suppose l should beat someone up who calls me that – maybe that would establish my masculinity.”
Erm, ‘sixth form poetry”?
“We are literary – in the sense that we are “wordy” – but if we wrote sixth form poetry we would talk more about ‘mystic seas’, ‘visions in the night’, and ‘clouds swirling across . . What we are is lively language, though I’d admit that some of it is a bit top heavy.”
It is a bit of a daft name though, isn’t it? Paddy shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve said that l regret the day l chose it because I’ve spent too much time answering questions about it, but I don’t regret it really. I’m just annoyed and amazed that it’s attracted so much attention in a world that’s full of daft pop names and daft pop groups. Like The Thompson Twins – why are they called that if there’s three of them? Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Echo And The Bunnymen, Tears For Fears – those are funny names.”
And so, he agrees, is Prefab Sprout. e used to try to convince people that it came from mishearing a Nancy Sinatra song that goes “we got married in a ever / hotter than a peppered sprout”. In fact, it means “absolutely nothing”, Paddy having picked it years ago when he was around 14. “All the bands then had heavyweight names which meant nothing. I thought profundity lay in slapping two separate words together.” Now he’s stuck with it and with lots of “terrible pun headlines” like “From Brussels With Love”, “Cabbage Patch Idols” and “Rotten Veg”.
Still, after they’ve been successful for a while, people will get used to the name, he reckons. Whether Paddy will get used to being successful ıs another matter, however: he’s rather in two minds about the benefits of being a pop star. The worst thing, he says, is that he doesn’t get enough time to go home (he, Martin and his younger brother Michael all still live with their parents) to do what he really enjoys more than anything else – writing songs. And he can hardly think of anything he’d like to do with lots of money except maybe get a place in the Outer Hebrıdes. “I’ll always live in the north of England but I went to the Outer Hebrides for a holiday and really liked it. It’s really remote, cold and bracing. I’d like to live somewhere like that
No New York penthouses? Swimming pools? Servants? Apparently not. Paddy says he’s not at all keen on that side of stardom – he hates being stopped in the street, making videos or even having his photo taken. He’d rather just carry on making records like the current (and rather excellent) “Steve McQueen” LP, and its follow-up “Protest Songs” out early next year. And if it ever became all too much for him, he claims, he would just disappear. “It’d be no problem,” he says thoughtfully. “I’ve got the right temperament for it. I could be dangerously happy – very very happy – not to get out of my bedroom.” In fact, he says, “if we could be successful and I could be invisible that would be the perfect equation”.