The Newcastle Cowboy
From the drama of the Wild West, Paddy McAloon has designed a lush concept album, once again unparalleled for Prefab Sprout
Let’s face it: Prefab Sprout are not like other bands. Their records appear just as sporadically as British buses and arrive only when you’ve given up all hope. Their output since the album Jordan in 1990: two “best-of” compilations and the LP “Andromeda Heights” (97), has been rather modest to say the least.
Now the drought has ended, thanks to “The Gunman and Other Stories”. But the work isn’t completely new, because one song was a commissioned piece for Cher, and various others had already been covered by the British comedian and singer Jimmy Nail for a TV show in which he played a would-be Country & Western star from Newcastle, the Prefabs’ home town.
Paddy and Martin McAloon remain today the only original members, because Wendy is currently looking forward to the joys of motherhood, Alexander became a teacher, and Neil is currently working on his own studio project. The two brothers have now made something approaching a concept album with a Wild West theme. Paddy: “I have to be honest, it was rather a result of my panic. How many metaphors can you find for the themes of great love or nostalgia? The figure of the cowboy is truly one of the ultimate images of the hero, and so I eventually decided to use this scenario.”
McAloon is about as dissimilar to a cowboy as you could possibly imagine. His has a professorial look from his thick lensed glasses, the result of several eye operations which he had to undergo since “Andromeda Heights”. “When I was 40 I was threatened with going blind,” said McAloon. “My retinas detached and I could only see the world as if I was looking through thick raindrops. It felt like being in a car where the windscreen wipers don’t work. So I had to have my left eye treated, and then a year later the right.” With his forefinger he pulls the eyelid of his left eye down. “This is silicone, it should hold the retina in place. Now you can understand why I wasn’t in the mood to make new records.”
All the same he didn’t remain completely inactive. He began in the meantime working on an album called “I Trawl the Megahertz”. “This is actually an instrumental work, with the voice of this woman who tells you the thoughts running through her head. It sounds more like a radio play with music. The idea came to me after my first operation when I was sitting at home and doing a lot of listening to the radio. There was this crazy advice programme with audience participation. I was totally fascinated.” When Paddy had recovered, he made the finishing touches to “Megahertz” in the studio and offered it to Sony. The company waved him away politely. Now the album will be released “someday” on a small jazz label
“The Gunman And Other Stories” was recorded in the vicinity of New York. A whole team of American session musicians was involved, with Bowie producer Tony Visconti at the controls, and it pairs the usual Prefab Sprout affluence with sparse overtones of Americana. “I guess I just have a penchant for opulence,” Paddy says, grinning. “I know it’s not rock ‘n’ roll, but I love the sound.”