Tomoko Imai, Music Life – September 1986

“What kind of place is New Hampshire (sic) ?” If you didn’t have a reason to be interested in a small town in the northern part of the UK, you probably wouldn’t know it existed.

Four young Prefab Sprouts came from that little town. They have already issued two albums and came to Japan as the third instalment of the “New Artist Showcase.”

There are no gimmicks. I wasn’t alone in being impressed by their humility on stage, where their honesty and serious attitude is apparent. Their first visit to Japan has left a strong impression.

“I’m not completely sure, because it was my first concert here, but we’re always happy if we have a good time.”

When explaining his impressions of the concert, Paddy McAloon, the central figure of the band, replies carefully.

“And we enjoyed it enormously.”

Wendy, backing vocals, flashes a smile next to him. She has enviably beautiful long blonde hair. It seems the tracksuited drummer who is part of the team participating in the interview is about to go for a run; this prospect seems to fascinate the group. Paddy’s brother, the bassist, Martin, who yesterday on-stage had holes in the knees of his jeans, scruffy as a dog, today has no holes. The four of them are gathered together as if for an afternoon tea party.

A keyboard player participated in the show, but he’s not here. Is he a regular band member for stage shows? We start the interview with this question.

“No, it was my first time playing with him, it was the first day the full band had been able to rehearse together. When we started rehearsing originally I had some eye pain and I wasn’t able to continue until I got better. Then Neil went off working in Stockholm. But this keyboard player is excellent, I think he has understood us very quickly, and people tell me it went well.”

It seems the reason the keyboard was added was related to the Thomas Dolby production for the second album, “Steve McQueen”. Thomas’ production creates a much more varied sound but without compromising the essence of the band. That’s how Paddy describes the situation in which he both produced and augmented the band, “It’s what I wanted.”

“Thomas loved our music from the first song he heard from ‘Swoon’. And he joined in with the recording sessions with us. Because he was producing, he didn’t need to ask permission.”

“That’s right.” adds Wendy.

“He didn’t push his way of doing things into my parts, he let me do what I wanted to do, and the same for the drums and bass. And he played keyboards and was able to teach me things I didn’t know in terms of production.”

The relationship of trust born between Thomas Dolby and the band will continue. The word is that preparations are proceeding with the producer for the next project.

“I’ve started writing songs for the next album. If you write all the songs at once, it ends up being unbalanced.. That’s why I’ve been thinking about spending a little time to do a couple of albums, to get a variety of songs written and arranged, and then going into the studio.”

So far the two albums have delighted and surprised with their varied contents. From the country and western style of “Faron Young” to the soulful “When the Angels”, and with richly tuneful arrangements.

“Since I’ve got lots of songs I’ve written up until now, I’m able to include a wide variety of contrasting styles. Even for the second, “Steve McQueen”, I mixed songs I’d already written with new material, and I want to do something like that this time so I can into get the recording studio around September.

Thomas Dolby is currently travelling to the United States to participate in a George Lucas film project, but the word is he’ll return to produce the third album when it finishes.

“But I’ve no earthly idea what will happen…”

As Paddy says this, the other three laugh out loud. Martin and the others are laughing to the point of choking. All I can do is stare blankly because I have no idea what was so funny.

The have, incidentally, already made a third album. But it hasn’t been released. I’m told the title of the album is “Protest Songs”, and I ask why it hasn’t appeared.

“We recorded the album in September last year, and it was planned to be released at Christmas.”

And Paddy begins to speak, talking about the situation. He answers the question seriously, but as he speaks becomes passionate, leaning forward.

“It’s not really the third work, we were planning to release it alongside ‘Steve McQueen’. After Swoon I was planning to make two albums in six months. ‘Steve McQueen’ is a very polished work, that’s to say a highly finished work with a lot of production, but this is a very natural, spontaneous piece made with hardly anything. For example, like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ is a very different work to ‘Born in the USA’. I thought it would be difficult for the public to receive the third work as the follow-up to the second, so I tried to put both out together. I thought it would be meaningless unless it was issued within no more than six months. But that’s only thinking about the British market, and for example in Japan where ‘Swoon’ has just been released, the route we’d considered isn’t suitable. That’s why ‘Protest Songs’ has missed its release window.”

Will this album become a lost masterpiece?

“It’ll be no such thing, we like it very much and we’re going to release it when the time is right.”

Listening to him talk, I feel that Paddy has a highly critical view of his own albums. I don’t see any shred of unrestrained conceit towards any of his works. That may explain why each of his song titles is not very straightforward, and has a twist to it.

“There’s no deep meaning, but because ‘Faron Young’ is like a country song I thought it would be amusing to include the name of the country music star. I’m frequently asked about ‘Steve McQueen’; I like his name and his movies so I thought the album title would interest people. But I don’t want to be thrust into a 1960s image because of that. ”

I’m told that Paddy is a big movie fan so I ask about the band members’ favourite films. Martin says “Hitchcock and ‘Casablanca’.” And also “’Falling in Love’ is good too, I also like that one.” Neil says “’Absolute Beginners’ – I don’t care if it’s a ‘good’ film, and I don’t know whether it’s serious or a joke.” Paddy’s is “The King of Comedy”. When he’s told there is nothing with Steve McQueen he quickly tables “Papillon”.

There’s a book on the table between me and the interviewees. Whose is it? Wendy raises her hand. The title is “The Name of the Rose”. I thought Paddy would find the book interesting. I’m told his favourite reading includes “The Great Gatsby”. As we discussed it, I perceived a link to his music.

With special thanks to Steve von Werder for translation advice.

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