Nick Kelly, Hotpress – April 13th 2000

They once famously conceived an album based on the idea of Elvis being alive and well and living in . . . the Middle East. However, fans of Prefab Sprout have often been made to wonder just what far-flung part of the globe the band themselves have disappeared to, such are the ever-lengthening gaps between records.

And as a live proposition, the band s schedule could not really be described as punishing , seeing as they haven’t toured since the album referred to above, Jordan: The Comeback, was released a full decade ago.

So it really is time to get out the genetically modified calf and throw a party as the Newcastle-based band are set to return to the city where they ended that last tour back in 1990: Dublin. The group’s forthcoming two night stand in the Olympia Theatre follows on from the release of a magnificent compilation double album, the 38 Carat Collection, which gathers together the band s finest moments.

With the Sprout s lead vocalist and songwriting genius, Paddy McAloon, busy in rehearsals trying to “learn how to sing the songs in a lower key”, his brother, Martin, who is a founder member and the group s bassist, spoke to Hot Press.

Listening to the 38 Carat Collection must make anyone involved in such an impressive body of work immensely proud? “Oh yeah,” beams Martin. “I don’t listen to it . . . once a year, perhaps, I’ll hear something like Jordan: The Comeback, which has to be my favourite record. I m immensely proud that I even took part in it. I think, fantastic, I’ve played on that record!  If I never play on another record, so what?!”

The idea for the new Best Of came from Sony who have since, McAloon tells me, parted company with the band only a matter of weeks ago in what he describes as an amicable separation. This leaves the Sprout free to seek suitable suitors for their new material as well as freeing them up to release what is rumoured to be a truckload of unreleased concept albums that have been busy gathering moss in a bunker underneath a disused shed in Paddy McAloon s back garden, or wherever.

How many are we talking about?

“There s at least ten LPs there,” he states. “Three years ago, there were ten different drawers, each with a title on the outside, full of tapes, demos, computer programmes and lyric sheets, as well as any conceptual ideas that went with them.

Needless to say, Martin has had to, er, supplement the income earned from being one of the Prefab Four with a job that involves more reliable remuneration lecturing in the colleges and universities around Newcastle (“everything from production to business to actual playing of instruments to composition and arranging: you name it and I can bore you with it”, he says).

Few of the students are aware that their quietly spoken, 38-year-old teacher has a past life that involved, as Giles Smith’s witty sleeve notes for the new compilation tell us, playing live on one of Bob Monkhouse’s nefarious game shows.

“He s a pro, Bob,” gushes Martin. “I have to admit, as I get older, he does make me laugh more and more. He s gone past the let’s be cheesy kind of comedy. We were talking to him before the show and he started to talk to us about how he used to run this club in Newcastle; how he used to live in Clontyland in Newcastle in the 60s. He put on bands like Wishbone Ash and . . . that guy who’s married to Toyah now . . . what s his name . . . Robert Fripp. He was great! Don’t dis Bob!”

There have been other, er, colourful moments during the band s career which are conspicuously absent from the band s press biog. These include appearances alongside Roland Rat and Mickey & Minnie Mouse in Portugal, episodes which Martin is too embarrassed to discuss!

“I’m not giving you the dates!! I’ll tell you this though: we once appeared on Denmark s equivalent of This Is Your Life! We didn’t even know. We went on to this TV show and some doctor was being honoured and we were apparently one of his favourite bands. We only found this out when they drew back the curtains and we had to perform.

When not appearing alongside Danish doctors, Mickey Mouse and Bob Monkhouse, Martin and Paddy McAloon keep a close watch on their beloved Newcastle United, recently reinvigorated by the appointment of local hero, Bobby Robson, as the new gaffer.

“Bobby Robson was born in the village next to us in Langley Park,” says Martin. “When he was manager of Ipswich, I once served him petrol in his Jag and he had the FA Cup in the boot of his car and he brought it into the garage!

“His nephew comes to all our gigs . . . not that we play that many! We’ve bumped into Bobby a couple of times on TV shows and he always talks about the good old days when The Bridge existed in Langley Park. But you re going back a long time there!

Who knows, with Newcastle on course to appear in a third successive FA Cup final this summer, the trophy could yet make a return trip to the boot of Bobby’s Jag. I can see the headline already Robson: The Comeback.