“I picked it when I was a kid,” says Paddy McAloon. “There were all these bands around with names like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Grateful Dead and Moby Grape and I just thought ‘that’s what grown-ups listen to’. The name’s not coy or precious or anything; it’s just me laughing at my younger self. I think your dynamic short name like The Alarm or The Clash or The Jam is even more pretentious as it sets you up as some sort of youth messiah rebel ﬁgure. It’s very easy for someone in our position to say all the correct Left Wing things and, at the same time, have all the money and the holidays in the south of France.”
This seems a bit over-complicated to me. A bit too subtle. Maybe he thinks about it all too much.
“Well, maybe I do, but I’m always suspicious of guys who go for an obvious image and a name that’ll appeal to 17/18 year-olds. The Alarm. The Clash. They bolster the kind of things you’re into when you’re that age, that ‘if only everybody listened to the Sixth Form, the world would be all right’ way of thinking. I think it’s a bit of a cheek for people like The Alarm — all aged about 27 — to try and pretend life is as simple as they make out.”
Nothing is particularly simple about Paddy, apart from his off-duty National Health specs and sturdy green corduroy suit. The songs on Prefab Sprout’s “Swoon” LP are, in fact, so intensely elaborate that even he is forced to admit that some are “a bit wordy at times”. With their twisting rhythms and strange wistful chords for scenery, little dramas are acted out like extracts from some long-forgotten romantic novel. Men leave their women to go back to the war. Outlaws and priests are pursued beneath the Mexican sun. Mysterious planes touch down to drive the Russians out of town. It’s marvellous stuff, though just a little pretentious.
“I reject that. I reject that totally. To me it’s having fun, being playful. Which doesn’t make you easily understood on Mike Read’s show. That’s not being snotty about it, it just doesn’t. You aren’t going to appeal to somebody who’s looking for a lyric like ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’. It’s going to take a little more thought. I like putting words down like a piece of prose. I love sounds and tunes and shapes of songs. It sounds academic — I don’t mean it to. Every sound for me is an event. “There’s nothing small about Prefab Sprout. Nothing bedsit. We get grouped in that Aztec Camera sensitive songwriter bracket, the Everything But The Girl wimp tag. We’ve got nothing in common with these people. Their music’s tame. It’s polite. It’s mild-mannered. It comes knocking at your door. We’ve got passion, but not delivered in the same way as U2 or something — get a good riff going and turn it up full blast. That’s so traditional your mother would like it.”
Passion they have got. A large measure of dry Durham wit as well. And great songs (with Thomas Dolby producing), though there’s no obvious singles among them. The one thing they really could do with is a bit of an image. Not a multi-million pound Indiana Jones — type video and a half a ton of lip gloss, just something to complement their music. Something really simple. Anything!
“Have you seen the video for the new single? (“When Love Break Breaks Down”). It gets across some of the passion that maybe doesn’t come across with just photographs of us in sensible clothes and National Health glasses. If someone could just see us singing, and see that we meant it, I think that would be enough. If something touches a chord in you, you always hope it’ll do the same in someone else. We’re just playing to the gallery, we make songs for everybody. I’d just like that to be reflected a bit more in the chart charts.”