An ever in-demand musician’s musician, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Paul Carrack has enjoyed a career in music which spans more than 40 years. He brings his 2017 tour to the Ipswich Regent Theatre on 11th March. GrapevineLIVE’s Graham Cleaver chatted to him recently about the tour, recording, and his impressive CV
You’ve had a long career and been described as the man with the golden voice, and the hardest working man in show business – how would you like people to think of you?
Well – I wouldn’t go around claiming to be the man with the golden voice, I must say! That was some bright spark at the BBC who gave that title to the little documentary they did. I would like to think I enjoy a little bit of respect from my peers in some quarters, basically – I think I’m quite happy where I am, to be honest with you – I’ve got a nice little following of people who come to the shows and like what I do.
You’ve got a superb white soul voice – up there with the very best. Who would you like to be compared with – maybe Michael Mc Donald?
Michael’s incredible! That’s not a fair comparison really – we’ve got a different range – he’s got that incredible gift of being able to break into that falsetto voice. He’s certainly someone I admire greatly. He’s a fantastic musician, and a very humble guy. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him, and written a couple of songs.
I’m just another one of those imposters really – those white guys who listened to a lot of soul records when they were young and it kind of stuck, I guess – that’s what you start out with – trying to emulate your peers in the first place. I was kind of late in starting singing. It wasn’t till I wrote the song ‘How Long?’ for Ace – that was the first time I’d sung on a record. Fortunately for me that wasn’t a bad spot – you know, it’s quite a sweet spot in the voice – and that’s when you start on the path of learning and trying to find your voice.
That back catalogue which started with ‘How Long’ is so broad – apart from your solo work, you’ve been a member of Squeeze, co-written a couple of great songs for the Eagles, sung lead with Mike and the Mechanics, of course, – even played organ for The Smiths on their early records! You’ve got a great CV of people who’ve wanted to work with you over the years. You’re working with Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall once again in May, for example.
Yes – I’ll be playing organ for Eric.
There’s a very large organ at the Albert Hall for you to work with!
Ha! No, I don’t think I’ll be playing with that one – it’ll be Hammond organ with Eric. It’s great – I’ve been involved for the last 4 years with Eric’s touring band and also recording with him. It’s been a very enjoyable experience to be honest with you! I’ve played on a few of his albums, but about 4 years ago he just called me up and asked me if I wanted to go on tour with him. That tour went on for a while, actually – initially in the states for 6 weeks, then ended up going all over the Far East and Europe as well, playing with some incredible musicians, and it all neatly dovetailed in with my own activities and touring stuff – it’s been a pretty busy few years actually… It was busy to start with but when that came into the mix it was mad! It was an absolutely great experience.
If somebody came to the work of Paul Carrack, from your vocals on The Living Years, say, and wanted to explore more, where would you say they should start? 17 solo albums over more than 30 years – where’s the starting point?
For me, I would start with ‘Satisfy My Soul’ – the album I did in 2000. I produced that myself, really, well, with the help of Peter Van Hooke, who’s still helping me now – that’s the first one I produced from home and released on my own label. That, for me, was the start of doing the stuff I’m most happy with, most comfortable with. Prior to that I’d done a lot of solo albums; I had a lot of people who had high hopes for me and tried to make the album they thought would enable me to break through, but I would be quite passive in those days, in terms of letting other people have a strong role in the production and things like that, and I would bow to their greater knowledge. It wasn’t until I did ‘Satisfy My Soul’ that I thought “ I’m just going to do it the way I want to do it!”. On the solo front that’s where it started for me; I did a couple of expensive production-type albums, but for me they don’t really stand the test of time, although they were good shots.
Now Ace – they were a proper democratic band. That was great fun – I enjoyed that! On the other hand, with things like Squeeze – I was really only a contributor. Squeeze had already had a very strong identity; they had the great songs, the great singers, and they only needed a keyboard player. They didn’t need anyone aspiring to be a singer-songwriter, which I still was, but I was quite happy to be along for the ride. It was obvious at some point that I would have to leave. Likewise with Mike and the Mechanics I was brought in as a designated singer, so it was a bit of a musical compromise there. We had a lot of fun, and a lot of success – a great deal of success! But again I got to the point where I wanted to be my own boss and I thought I’d earned the right to have a stab at that, so that’s what I started doing around 2000; went independent and gradually built it up.
When you said you were happiest working with a band, does that suggest that you’re not so satisfied with albums like ‘A Different Hat’, your album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?
Oh no – I think I went off-piste a bit there, but it was something I’d always fancied doing.
It’s a beautiful record!
Thanks – I was a big fan of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ album – you know, her orchestral record. I just love that album and that was my attempt to do something as ambitious as that really. No, I’m quite happy – It’s a good album. Not perfect, but it’s an interesting album.
There are some beautiful arrangements on there – ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ is just a sumptuous piece of music.
Yes – well the credit for that goes to David Cullen, who wrote all the orchestral arrangements. It’s incredible to watch these guys work, you know – he just sat at the piano and wrote it. I had to beg him to make a sort of midi mock-up to give me a clue as to what it was going to be like before I turned up at the studio!
Of course, you’re on a lot of Spotify compilations – in fact ‘One in a Million’ has had close on 3 million plays – do we dare mention Spotify?
Yeah – well, I’m on there – I mean, we didn’t put Soul Shadows on there till recently, but a lot of the other stuff is on there – I’ve got to say, I think it’s amazing!
Spotify’s a shop window, isn’t it.
Well, if you just want to have a little bit of music on, it’s all on there. Obviously the downside is, it doesn’t sound great, as you will know, as you’re a vinyl collector. I’m not particularly a hi-fi buff; I just want to hear a bit of music, and it’s quite handy for that. It’s no good fighting it.
So you’re touring again, starting at the beginning of February, and calling in to our town of Ipswich on March 11th. I saw you there a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed that concert. After the London Palladium gig (25th March) you’re off to Spain, Holland, Belgium and Germany. How do they know you over there – are you respected as an artist in your own right?
Well, yes and no – Funnily enough, in Spain, going back about 20 years to the 2 albums I put out on EMI, ‘Blue Views’, and ‘Beautiful World’, EMI in Spain got right behind them. That’s probably my biggest selling album ever, something like a quarter of a million copies, which is quite a lot for me back in those days. For a little while I was pretty hot in Spain, although I let it slide because when I did the independent thing I concentrated on the UK because it was kind of manageable – I could promote the records here myself. We toured like mad, all the time, gigging, gigging, gigging – we’d gone completely cottage industry, you know, and I didn’t really have the strong contacts over there, so I let it slide. Now we’re seeing if we can pick it up – because it’s amazing – when I go on holiday in Spain now, the people still go ‘Ah – Paul Carrack!’ Really – after 20 years!
It’s because you’re the only guy on the beach wearing a hat, Paul – that’s what it is!
Yeah! Ha ha! Germany is another fantastic place to go and play in, but it was a bit of a tough nut to crack independently because it’s a much bigger territory. In the UK, if you can get on Radio 2, that’s a big, big help. But I’ve always been kind of bubbling under over there.
Last year you were touring ‘Soul Shadows’, which is a great record – is this tour a repeat of last year?
Similar, similar – we were doing songs from ‘Soul Shadows’ in 2016 even though people weren’t that familiar with it because it had only just come out. So we will be doing quite a bit from it. We always change it a little bit. We’re going to do a little section in the middle which’ll be more stripped down, acoustic, probably just as a trio, and so that’ll be interesting, I think. I’ve got about 6 or 7 songs that are well on the way for a new album, but I’ve run out of time, really! There’ve been a lot of things going on recently – I did the charity thing over Christmas… [The Living Years, by The London Hospices Choir and Paul Carrack]
… all kinds of little bits and bobs, so there isn’t a new album. So that’ll have to go on hold and maybe come out later in the year.
So is son Jack with you on drums again on this tour?
Yes – he is, indeed.
And the two drummer approach again?
Takes you back to Motown, doesn’t it, the double drummer thing
I’m glad you said that – not Gary Glitter!
No – let’s not mention Gary Glitter. Adam and the Ants – you could mention them – they had two drummers…
Well no – let’s stay with the Motown reference, shall we, please? It’s great. Dean, my other drummer – he’s been with me for 20 years, and it is definitely with his blessing that we enrolled Jack, and it’s worked great. It’s been great for him.
There’s certainly a Motown/Stax feel to several tracks on the record, and for me a standout is ‘Bet Your Life’ – that’s a great song, written with your old Squeeze bandmate Chris Difford – it’s got a strong story, that song.
Excellent story – and the kind of story that I couldn’t write, that kind of lyric, which is why it’s great to get together with Chris. I usually do a song or two with him on each album. Some of the times we’ve got together I think he’s kind of tried to lean my way, and come up with the sort of songs I’d write – souley kind-of lovey dovey stuff! I said ‘Look Chris – I couldn’t wite ‘Tempted’, or ‘Labour With Love’ to save my life – it’d be great if you could come up with one of those sort-of descriptive, third party stories, you know – and he came up with that! I looked at it on the page and I had in mind one of the little jam sessions that Jack and I had, and I thought that would fit really well, and it did. So that’s how that came about.
Great song – kind of a slow groover, isn’t it, very atmospheric…
It’s evolved quite a bit when we play it on tour, now – because at the end now it’s quite extended, and everybody gets a good old blow – Steve Beighton, our sax player, and Andy Staves on guitar, everybody gets to let rip. Yeah, that’s good. Goes down well with the people, you know, they like to see the band play. I know that much is made of the Man With The Golden Voice, and whatever, but they also like to let the band stretch out!
The tour finishes, and then you’ve got Clapton in May, so what have you got planned for the rest of 2017? More writing, or is it Just relaxing?
Well, no – there’s no time to relax! I’ll be in the graveyard before I start to relax…
It’s that ‘Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness’ tag again – you can’t deny it!
Well… after the tour, there’ll be some festivals over the summer, and I’m also doing a couple of festivals as a trio, with Nick Lowe and Andy Fairweather Low. We did a little spot in my Palladium show a couple of years ago and we’ve continued that with a few shows and we’ve done some recordings, also. But there’s a couple of recording slots planned this year – a bit vague at the moment, but we’d like to get some more stuff in the vaults – I think that’ll be the focus for the second half of the year.
Good! So we’re looking forward to a new album, maybe around Christmas time?
Well, I would say hopefully before then – around September is a good time for an album to come out. After that you tend to get mullered by the major artists, you know, so I would hope around September there’ll be a new album. We’re probably going to put a single out – I’ve worked on a single, knocked that into shape, a pretty radio-friendly kind of pop/soul ditty called ‘Good As Gold’, and I think we’re going to release that to have something on radio, to keep the old fires going…
Look forward to hearing that!
Thanks, Paul – looking forward to seeing you at the Regent in Ipswich next month, and all the best for the rest of 2017.
Thanks – cheers, mate!
Paul Carrack plays the Ipswich Regent on March 11th.
His album ‘Soul Shadows’ is out now