By Marty Mulrooney
Paul Carrack is a British singer/songwriter who was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. He has played with many successful bands over the years including Ace, Squeeze, Mike & The Mechanics and Roxy Music. He has also toured extensively as a session musician and enjoyed success as a solo artist. Last year, I reviewed Carrack’s latest offering A Different Hat, which I described as “an album that manages to take a wide range of aging material and successfully bring it bang up to date.” The album also featured in AMO’s ‘Best of 2010 Awards’. I am therefore delighted to present an exclusive interview with Paul Carrack where we discuss his extensive music career.
Welcome to AMO Mr Carrack, thank you for your time! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself please?
I was born in Sheffield, England in 1951. I went to my first comprehensive school in England. Hated it. Then I left school at 16. I was already playing in semi pro bands. Went to Germany with a local band aged 17. Returned to London staying in various low-rent flats. Got my first break with pub band Ace in 1974. My first composition ‘How Long’ was a global radio hit.
I’ve worked with so many great musicians and bands over the years including Squeeze, Roxy Music, Mike & The Mechanics, a band with Nick Lowe and sessions for Eric Clapton, Elton John, BB King, Roger Waters, Ringo Starr, The Pretenders, The Undertones, The Smiths etc.
When did you first realise that you wanted to become a musician?
After seeing The Beatles live at Sheffield City Hall. It was all over. I wasn’t very academic (understatement) and was only interested in sports and music. I had no desire for a normal job and just wanted to be one of those guys getting in the van, driving off to a gig.
You initially found fame with Ace and Roxy Music in the 1970’s. What was that period of your life like?
From leaving school I had been living totally hand to mouth, scratching an existence from music. I had no real alternative. Ace began and we started to work pretty solidly on the London pub rock scene and my girlfriend (still my wife and mother to our four children) was working so, living in our bed sit in Muswell Hill, we’d never had it so good. It was a very happy and simple time.
We landed a record contract (and unfortunately a very poor publishing contract) with a small label, made our first album in two weeks at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth and I thought I was in heaven. Our first release ‘How Long’ was a very slow burner but became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. We toured the USA but gradually burned out (not least through overindulgence).
We were unable to follow up our big hit so we returned to the UK to find the world turned upside down with punk rock. I figured it was probably game over so I started to play sessions on the London scene and played with Roxy Music on their albums Manifesto (1979), Flesh and Blood (1980) and Avalon (1982). I also toured a lot too.
You later became Squeeze’s new keyboard player after Jools Holland left the band in the early 1980’s. How did this come about?
They tried a lot of people but couldn’t settle on anyone. They had just been taken on by Jake Riviera who I knew when he was a roadie for Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. He suggested they try me. I’m not sure they were totally convinced by my beard but time was running out and the studio was booked to record East Side Story.
Tempted is one of my favourite songs of all time. Is it easier to relate to your own lyrics rather than someone else’s?
Of course it’s written by Glen (Tilbrook) and Chris (Difford) but some think I wrote it because at the time it was very un-Squeezelike. I agree its one of the best songs ever.
How did you end up singing on the track?
The band had already recorded a totally different version before I joined but Elvis Costello suggested we re-record it with me singing. Thanks Elvis!
You recently re-recorded the song with Squeeze for their new album Spot The Difference. How did you feel recreating the song nearly 30 years later?
Strange. I always include the song in my show but it was difficult to impersonate myself after 30 years.
Wasn’t the song also re-recorded in 1994?
Yes for the movie Reality Bites.
By 1982 you had left Squeeze. Why was this?
Squeeze had an established identity largely through the singing and songwriting of Glen and Chris and I had no desire to upset that. However I still harboured desires to be more than just a keyboard player, much as I enjoyed being in the band. Jake, who by now had been sacked by the band, persuaded me to leave and work with Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter.
After Squeeze you soon started singing with Mike & The Mechanics, alternating vocals with Paul Young. Would you agree that this is the band you had the biggest connection with during your career?
No, but it was undeniably the most successful in terms of numbers.
How did Paul Young’s death affect the band?
Badly. It couldn’t really be the same and I think we should have drawn a line under it then.
You have written for Tom Jones, The Eagles and Jools Holland amongst others. How does writing for another musician compare to writing for yourself?
Most of the songs I’ve had covered I had already recorded myself. An exception being ‘ I Don’t Want To Hear Any More’ by The Eagles. In some ways it’s easier because it’s less personal.
The Independent described you as: “One of the UK’s most underrated songwriters.” Would you agree with this statement?
Well I think I am a better singer than songwriter. I can sometimes make a mediocre song sound better than it really is. I’m very insecure about my simplistic lyrics and it was hard living in the shadow of Nick, Glena, Chris, Elvis etc… I’m not so tough on myself these days.
What would you say are the key factors that have shaped your career/journey as a musician over the years?
Growing up in austere, post war, working-class Sheffield with a very hardworking family taught me the value of hard work. Although a bit thin-skinned I am resilient and determined. My father, who I lost when I was only 11 years old, was a wonderful guy who could get on and have a laugh with anybody and was a big influence musically. He would be proud I think.
Moving on to your solo career, your latest album is something of a new direction. Can you tell us more about ‘A Different Hat?’
It’s something I’ve been talking about for nearly five years. Not so much a career change, more of an indulgence but thanks for the great review.
No problem! You recorded the album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. How did their involvement come about and what was it like to work with them?
It came from a meeting I had with the orchestral arranger, David Cullen, who works with them a lot. It was a little intimidating at first but I quickly got used to it. They were very helpful and conscientious. Of course they are the cream of the crop.
The album features some amazing covers. Which is your favourite and why?
Moon River. Just a lovely arrangement by David.
Thank you for your time!
Paul Carrack is set to play 3 intimate shows at The Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London on 26th/27th/28th April.
Tickets £65 from www.paulcarrack.net
Paul’s new single ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ – a duet with The Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit – will be released on May 2nd.