Something to Sprout About
Paddy McAloon is still working despite his failing eyesight.
He could have been a true King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll but, in the end, Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon just wrote the song and settled for staying out of the spotlight. One of the most respected songwriters of his generation, McAloon has a string of breathtakingly beautiful albums behind him, although ironically these days he’s probably best-known as the man who wrote the theme tune to Where The Heart Is.
Prefab Sprout’s latest album, The Gunman And Other Stories, is their first release since Andromeda Heights four years ago, so you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Paddy hasn’t exactly been over-doing it. So what has he been up to all this time? ”
Well, I got married, had two little girls, and then I started to lose my sight,” he says almost casually.
“It’s like a boxer’s injury. I don’t mean to make excuses for not having done as much work, because there was also a long gap between the previous two records. But every time I got around to writing something, I’d try and arrange it on the computer. Then I had an eye operation, and I simply couldn’t focus any more.
“I could have completely panicked, but I didn’t. You just cope. So although I’ve been writing quite a bit, real life came along and gave me a good kicking.”
Although he is still suffering the after-effects of his last operation a few weeks ago, Paddy remains remarkably calm.
“It didn’t even depress me greatly,” he continues. “My wife always goes on about how many books I buy. It’s almost like a fairytale where the guy whose one desire in life is to read everything won’t be able to read. I can sort of see the dark humour of it. You’ve lost that, but maybe it means you can focus more on the actual music.”
While Prefab Sprout have never been considered “cool”, the critical acclaim heaped upon McAloon has kept the band afloat and helped them survive the lengthy gaps between albums. These days, he has attracted a new set of fans thanks to his work with Jimmy Nail on the TV series Crocodile Shoes, for which Paddy wrote most of the music.
“Jimmy interested me from the point of view of my vanity,” he says. “He’s a huge fan. He told me, ‘The protagonist of the series is a Geordie who goes to Nashville. These songs must be believable’. So I sat down over a three-week period and wrote the songs to order. I gave myself room to manoeuvre in using corny cowboy images that a Nashville songwriter would never go near. But I thought, I’m supposed to be an English songwriter who’s trying to work in America, so as long as you can make it romantic, it kind of works.”
Was he worried that working with Nail would damage Prefab Sprout’s image?
“No, I’m ‘cred’ free,” he says with a grin. “I think you’ve got to not care. My take on it is this. For a while, John Travolta isn’t ‘cool’, because it’s a long time since Saturday Night Fever. Then he does Pulp Fiction and suddenly he’s hip again. It’s the same with singers.” So when Paddy was asked to write the theme to ITV’s Where The Heart Is, it didn’t take him long to make up his mind.
“I wanted to do it as soon as I heard that Sarah Lancashire was involved, because it was the first thing she did after Coronation Street. The show has a feeling of the ultimate small town. I don’t know what the audience makes of Prefab Sprout, but I’m pretty broad in how my music can be applied. You know the old cliche of hearing someone whistle one of your songs? I love that idea.”
At 44, he still hasn’t lost his passion for songwriting and doesn’t look like slowing down. He’s even considered following the Pet Shop Boys by writing a musical.
“I’ve often wanted to do that, but then I realised there are too many low-key moments,” he explains. “The best pop music is full of intense moments, but there’s a lot of waffle with a musical. I’m sure they might even realise that in time.
“The Pet Shop Boys are very good at doing those intense little things that move people, and that’s probably what I’m good at, too.”
The new Prefab Sprout album, The Gunman And Other Stories, is out now.