Sylvie Devilette, Rocknews – May 1988

PREFAB SPROUT

TROUBADOURS OF POP

As a fourteen year old, Paddy McAloon was already planning to form a band and call it Prefab Sprout.

“I was looking for an unusual name without any real meaning. So I joined these two words together. I later realised it wasn’t a great name, but I kept it to keep faith¬†with my adolescent naivety.”

The line-up was completed over subsequent years with Martin, Paddy’s younger brother, on guitar, Neil Conti on drums, and Wendy Smith on vocals. Originally from the North of England, they took advantage of being away from the London musical melting pot to develop their own personal style, sheltered from the vagaries of fashion. Their first album “Swoon” went relatively unnoticed, but the second, “Steve McQueen” brought praise and fame. Prefab Sprout is now back with “From Langley Park to Memphis”. If the single, “Cars and Girls” is one of those sumptuous ballads Paddy alone seems to have the secret of writing, his own preference is for “Nightingales”. This is probably not unrelated to the involvement of Steve Wonder and his harmonica.

“We’d tried two excellent musicians but their style didn’t suit the song. We were getting desperate. Then a friend suggested we ask Stevie Wonder. I absolutely didn’t believe anything would come of it, but Stevie, who was touring in the UK at the time, agreed to do it after listening to the song. He works strange hours, he pays no attention to whether it’s day or night. But because of budgets we couldn’t rent a studio for an indefinite period. So we blocked out a day and luckily he came that day. He came in, he played, and he was superb. It’s strange to think that it all happened almost by accident.”

For this album, Paddy decided to call in ten different producers, before eventually settling on three, including Thomas Dolby, who had worked on the previous LP.

“Thomas had his own album to do and couldn’t do all of ours. In the event he worked on four songs.”

This was also to bring the group to Los Angeles.

“We started recording in London, in Thomas’ studio. After he’d been approached by Hollywood to do a film soundtrack, we had to follow him over. We spent five weeks there like perfect tourists. It was interesting, especially when you come from Newcastle. Then we came back to London to finish the album.”

And already, Paddy is thinking of the next album, which he intends to make in the aftermath of this release. That’s why he’s not planning to do any concerts in the immediate future.

“I’ve nothing against the idea of playing live, except that it deprives me of the freedom to write for many weeks. My life is now more about writing than touring.”

So we’ll have to settle for savouring his subtle and emotionally charged compositions on vinyl. Melancholic pop, bathed in an amber light.