Nondescript clothes, discreet look, talkative and restless as shy people sometimes are, Paddy McAloon is not exactly consistent with the image of the average rock star. That’s unsurprising, since they don’t exist. He is the leader of one of the most interesting bands of the moment: Prefab Sprout, and a high-class songwriter. A man of words and music more than action who has unfortunately not risked performing them on a stage for a long time.
Paddy McAloon – We were subjected to a lot of pressure to put a tour on, but I don’t want to. I never understood the relationship between the making of a record and then having the obligation to take it on the road. I did it because I had to, I even enjoyed it, but it’s not what I want to do today. I’m not the sort of person who goes to see a lot of concerts. The whole circus of a rock band on tour is too far from my normal life. And I want to stay normal.
I want to devote all my energy to write songs instead. A tour would dissipate that. And the day you play in stadiums, well you compose songs for stadiums and your creativity takes a hit.
R & F – However you enjoy studio work.
P.McA – Yes and no. I’m terribly anxious in the studio. But I totally love the magic of making a disc. This whole idea of Phil Spector concocting his pop symphonies …!
R & F – Who did you dream of being when you were fourteen?
P.McA – Marc Bolan. I had a deep admiration for the Beatles but if one day I’d wanted to be someone, it would have had to have been Marc Bolan.
R & F – Do you feel that your writing changes with age?
P.McA – It’s inevitable. In general, I think my lyrics are more “reserved” more modest than in the past. I find it hard to listen to intimate artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I prefer the approach of a Prince where words create an atmosphere.
R & F – Between “Steve McQueen” and “From Langley Park To Memphis” you recorded an album that was never released?
P.McA – Yes, “Protest Songs”. We did it right after “Steve McQueen” very quickly, not really a product, more like a postcard we were sending to our fans. CBS didn’t want to release it straight away to avoid confusing people with two albums at the same time on the market. A year later, they didn’t want to talk about it.
R & F – Where does the title of this album come from?
P.McA – It’s from a verse of “Venus Of The Soup Kitchen” and it imposed itself as the title. It’s about the idea that however far you go, you find that the problems are the same everywhere … And then it amused me to make the world know the name of Langley Park which is a tiny village in the area where I come from.
R & F – How did you recruit Stevie Wonder to play the harmonica on “Nightingales”?
P.McA – He listened to the song and that was it. I was completely terrified How do you tell someone like Stevie Wonder he’s fluffed a take? In fact, he did it flawlessly and quickly.
R & F – And Pete Townshend on “Hey Manhattan”?
R & F – It was serendipity. We recorded in the studio and there was a guitar part to do on this title. But I was sick that day. Wendy went to ask him to play, he hesitated, claiming he hadn’t touched a guitar for months, and then he did it. Since it was perfect, we kept it.
R & F – Your immediate plans?
P.McA – I’d love to have fun making an album centred around a theme. For example, an entire disk of funny songs in the vein of “King Of Rock’n’Roll”. I have at least one more album of songs for a project on Christmas that I would get others to sing. I’m also interested in cinema. I’d find it exciting to be able to write music that would be conceived simultaneously with the film instead of as a piece added at the end as it usually happens. And then, of course, another Prefab Sprout album…