Two years ago Prefab Sprout were resurrected from the Eighties to produce a highly acclaimed new album. Now they are about to release their greatest hits, The 38 Carat Collection. Here, singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon, 42, explains why he chooses to live in an industrial town in County Durham and how he spends his free time.
What are your first memories of London?
I came down with my parents in the Sixties and they took me to a Lyons Cornerhouse tea shop. We did all the usual touristy things but what I really remember are the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.
Which is your favourite hotel?
I used to stay at the Gore in Kensington. And of course, there’s the rock ‘n’ roll hotel, the Columbia – or at least it was very rock ‘n’ roll in the Eighties. All the bands of the day would stay there. You’d see Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and Noddy Holder used to prop up the bar.
What’s the attraction of the north?
I don’t set an awful lot of store by my surroundings. It sounds an awful cliché but I live in my head. I was always ambitious in a very limited way. I always had a desire to write and make things that would move people. If you’ve got any common sense then you know you’ve got to do a lot of work to bring those things to people. Sting, for example, is from Newcastle but doesn’t live there. I’ve always backed off from the hard sell. If I can get away with working from home and never going out then I will.
What music do you like?
I don’t keep up with the pop scene at all. I’m 42 and past a certain age you can’t avoid feeling you’ve seen it all before. You recognise generational shifts and so on. I tend to listen to classic things like the Beatles.
What’s your biggest luxury?
I used to be strictly a buses man as I don’t have a car, but now I have a bad taxi habit. That’s how I spend most of my money.
What are you reading?
Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise. It’s brilliant. His prose is beautiful. I’m re-reading Frederic Raphael’s book on Stanley Kubrick. He’s quite a snob. In one passage he comes back from Kubrick’s home and he’s so excited and so overwrought he says he has to write his diary in French. It’s a phrase I’ve now made my own. If I get too excited I say I’m just going to go upstairs and write in my diary in French.
What are you relieved to have left in the Eighties?
When someone says Eighties to me I think lf Margaret Thatcher in her blue suit and Princess Diana. But I’m glad we’ve left dance remixes behind. It used to be obligatory to provide a dance remix.
Do you like the Spice Girls?
I’m a purist. I went off them after Geri left.
Where do you go in London?
Charing Cross road for the bookshops. I like W & G Foyle as well though it’s chaotic. That was a paradise for me when I first came to London. I didn’t even notice the disorganisation – I just loved it. Now I tend to give my brother a list of books and he gets them for me when he goes to Brighton because there are some very good second-hand book stalls there.
When did you last party all night?
It’s so long ago I can’t remember. It’s the bath chair for me now as my children are four weeks and 13 months old. I was a bachelor until I was 40 and now life seems to have stopped for me. Imagine the shock to my system.
Do you read poetry?
I’ve never been interested in poetry until recently. I’ve been doing a crash course on TS Eliot. I like the Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock. My desert island poem would probably be He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by William Yeats. I love the lines, ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’
What was the last film you saw?
Eyes Wide Shut. People were a little harsh on it. It’s stunning to look at. I disagree with the received wisdom that Nicole Kidman steals the show. I think Tom Cruise was very good in it.
I’m a big Stephen Sondheim fan. His masterpiece for me was A Little Night Music. It’s based on the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night and it’s very faithful to it. I’m not driven to see these things because if I’ve heard the music and the lyrics then in my head I’ve seen it.
Which of your own songs do you like most?
I don’t have a favourite. I can hear When Love Breaks Down on the radio and think it’s all right but I’ve grown cool on my own things.
What was the last conversation you had with a cabbie?
The guy was telling me that he absolutely hated students because he’d had one in his cab who was very drunk on vodka and wouldn’t pay him. The student had been threatening and jumped out and run off on the way to the police station, leaving his mobile phone behind. The cabbie was trying to sell me the phone for a fiver.