There was a bit of a vogue in the 1980s for banks and other corporations to produce in-house free music and fashion magazines as part of their campaigns to attract young people as customers. Needless to say, not many of these survived, so it’s always interesting to find copies. In this one from the TSB (Trustees Savings Bank), Martin is interviewed while Paddy and Wendy were in the US.
Prefab Sprout, the band with a silly name, but serious credentials, is trying to cap a year of heady success in Britain and Europe with a breakthrough in the United States. With their two European hit singles behind them – “The King of Rock’n’Roll” and “Hey Manhattan” – they are attacking the American market with a vengeance. Frontpersons Paddy McAloon and Wendy Smith have been despatched to New York to promote their album “From Langley Park to Memphis”. A best-seller in Europe, the album should be helped along In the States by its guest appearances from Stevie Wonder and Pete Townsend
Working in the studio with every musician’s heroes was a bizarre experience for the band. Pete Townsend played guitar on “Hey Manhattan” , the last single: Stevie Wonder’s harmonica can be heard on the album. “They were really genuine, nice polite people – anything to oblige”, says Martin, brother of Paddy and a third member of Prefab Sprout.
“We told Stevie Wonder what to do, which was a bit strange. On the intercom in the studio we’d say, ‘hold on Stevie, you played that wrong.’ It was hard to do, but he just said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it again… yeah give it to me one more time, that’s cool.’ He had about thirty people waiting for him in his own studio, while we poached him for an hour and a half. He messed around on the piano and was cracking jokes – it was great. With Pete Townsend you got the feeling that the guitars were going to come through the screen. Again, he was brilliant”, says Martin, awe-struck.
Recovering from all this excitement, Martin, the most down-to-earth of the Sprouts, stayed at home in Newcastle pursuing less glamorous activities such as home-decorating. “I went on tour to Italy and France, but I managed to get out of most of the trips. The more I can keep away from all that the better really”, says the reluctant pop star.
Meanwhile Paddy McAloon and Wendy Smith were slogging it out on an American TV and radio promotion tour. Prefab Sprout’s songs are brilliantly crafted, but it has taken a long time for them to reach a mass market. “We’ve been on a major record label for five years, it’s just that we’ve not been a household name as, say, George Michael was, but we’re working at it and hoping for greater success,” says Martin optimistically. “I’ve always listened to pop music and the charts, and I think of us as multi-faceted – both a singles and an albums band.
Despite their very late Eighties sound and production, the name Prefab Sprout actually dates back to 1969 when the McAloon brothers were children. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was seven, watching the Beatles playing ‘Get Back’ on a roof for the film ‘Let It Be’ and wondering how they got their chords.” says Martin. Absurd names for pop groups reigned supreme. “Bands in those days had names like ‘Grateful Dead”, ‘Strawberry Alarm Clock’ and ‘Vanilla Fudge’, Paddy chose our name then. It means nothing. It’s just two words 一 and twenty years later we’re still regretting it.”
Once the McAloons had formed their band, they were managed in Newcastle by Kitchenware – a company who also manage Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, The Kane Gang and Hurrah!. Martin McAloon swears that they are all good friends. “We’ve worked with all of them in every capacity, sharing equipment, driving for them. We knew the Kane Gang and Hurrah! before they were with Kitchenware, when they had different names. We’ve even toured with them! There is no rivalry between us. When we do meet up, it’s really good.”
Martin has no intentions of moving from Newcastle now that Prefab Sprout is finally on the verge of the big time. “Here I can quite happily walk around and nobody cares who I am, although they probably wouldn’t know anyway. A lot of people say that you have to go to London to make it but you don’t. You don’t have to be on record company doorsteps twenty four hours a day—London is not that far anyway.”
Prefab Sprout’s last album took three years to make. So is there anything planned for the near future? Not if the indolent Martin has anything to do with It. “We’ve been so busy running around Europe promoting the records, that thoughts of working on a new LP haven’t even been there… Besides, I’m busy decorating.”
Martin may be burying his head in the sand, but in the meantime Paddy – the uprooted Sprout who recently featured prominently on Channel Four’s “Wired” – continues his slow journey into the limelight.