The Eternal Stars
Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout has a problem with rock music. With his white shirt, his attache case and a cigar smoking discreetly in the ashtray, Paddy McAloon looks more like a salesman than a pop star.
But the Prefab Sprout songwriter isn’t selling. In fact Prefab Sprout’s record label has good reasons to be tearing its hair out beyond McAloon’s lack of talent for selling himself. Prefab Sprout doesn’t tour. Paddy McAloon is loath to be photographed. You might believe it was necessary to be a little gimmicky and extrovert when breaking a silence of seven years with an album that to many ears sounds pretty much the same as the previous proposition.
But fortunately for Prefab Sprout and the honour of pop music, it’s going swimmingly anyway. Prefab Sprout’s new album went straight to number 7 in the UK Charts.
During the 90s, Paddy McAloon delivered a number of songs to artists including Jimmy Nail and Cher. Otherwise there has been a profound silence. But it’s certainly not because he has been idle. A project with the immodest title “Earth: The Story So Far” ended up taking much of McAloon’s time. A musical suite telling world history from Adam and Eve to the Moon landings in 28 songs.
“I ended up getting lost. I could see that the shape was good and the songs were as they should be. But the very act of arranging the music was an extremely slow process. It’s not as exciting to arrange the music as it is to write songs,” admits Paddy McAloon. “I organised the work and arranged it, but the arrangement felt like I was working in an office rather than a studio. The songs were written and sequenced, but I soon realised that it would still take several years to complete. I became depressed. I know it sounds completely ridiculous – as if it’s a wildly overambitious project – but it’s really not so bad or hysterically overcomplicated. On the other hand I simply forgot you have to be able to earn a living from what you are doing!” explains Paddy McAloon, who although soon turning 40 is still living at home with his mother. His brother Martin, and Wendy Smith – the other two members of Prefab Sprout – long ago realised they needed to have a civilian profession outside the band.
Two years ago, Paddy McAloon decided to plunge into a more manageable project. This became Andromeda Heights, named after McAloon’s new studio just outside Newcastle. But the unfinished history of the world has an echo in Andromeda Heights. Andromeda also deals with love and stars.
“I love to use stars as symbols of the eternal. I used to use God,” explains McAloon, who in his youth spent several years in a seminary, “But I was afraid that people were becoming bored with all these songs with God in. In 1993 I wrote a record I didn’t put out. It was called Let’s Change the World With Music, and it was a record of distinctly religious songs.”
But Paddy hasn’t put God out to pasture. He would rather reflect the trends of a time that would rather take its pleasure in the created rather than the creator. God’s stars rather than God Himself. On the terrace in front of the Planetarium, the man who doesn’t even want to be a star speaks of the stars that light up the whole of Andromeda Heights.
“My biggest challenge is to create lyrics that have a musical life of their own. If you speak of the eternal using many constellations, you can conjure them up in the studio. I’ve gradually had a decided problem with rock music. Rock bored me, and with Andromeda heights I’ve moved even further away from the traditional rock formula, which says that noisy guitars are about passion, tension and spontaneity. I don’t see it like that. I think rowdy guitars sound very traditional, cosy, and not very challenging,” says Paddy McAloon with a neat little smile in the sunshine.
“I am modern. I want to try new things. I know what is going on and I take advantage of all the new technology. I can master it. I am modern. But I’m very careful not to dress the music in modern clothes. Nothing dates your music faster than aping outdated samples.” declares Paddy, who with records such as Steve McQueen and Jordan: the Comeback has perhaps done more than any contemporary pop artist to create the concept of timeless substance.