An Interview with Paul Carrack
Nicknamed “The Man with the Golden Voice”, Paul Carrack, whose vocals have graced million selling songs such as ‘How Long’ by ACE, ‘Tempted’ by Squeeze and the Grammy Award nominated ‘Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics, is now firmly established as one of the hardest working, independent musicians on the scene.
Having returned from touring Japan and the USA as a featured instrumentalist with the Eric Clapton Band, Paul is eager to get back to his own set highlighting not only the hits and collaborations with bands such as The Eagles, but also songs from his 17 solo albums.
He spoke to Karl Hornsey ahead of his forthcoming 30 date UK tour and new albums ‘The Best of Live’ and ‘Christmas in Full Swing’.
Judging by your workload it looks like you’ve been pretty busy recently. Is that right?
Well yes, by recently do you mean the last 20 years?!
Just the last few months would do for starters, what with a couple of albums and a live tour in the pipeline.
It’s been a busy year to be honest. I started off doing my own tour with the band, that was 30-odd shows in the UK, and went straight from that into playing with Eric Clapton and his band. That took me to Japan and then over the summer we did festivals, both myself and with Eric across Europe, and I went to America with Eric and some other stuff in between. The last few months have been about putting together the albums, but I’ve not got too involved in that and am learning to delegate!
That’s a very good technique to learn if you can…
It certainly is indeed. I wish someone had told me that years ago.
Do you actually consider all of this as ‘work’ or is it fun. How would you describe it?
No it’s definitely work. It’s work that I enjoy and it gives me a lot of satisfaction, but it’s not all play by any stretch of the imagination.
Is what you do almost addictive? Can you ever envisage giving it up?
Possibly yes. I can occasionally envisage giving it up, but that doesn’t last very long, for a number of reasons. I’ve invested so much blood and treasure in getting it to this point that it’s very hard to say I would just leave it. I only know of one person that actually did that voluntarily. With most people it’s the fact that you can’t get any work or nobody comes to the gates any more, so that’s possible. I once saw a documentary about Artie Shaw, probably the greatest ever jazz clarinet player, a total virtuoso, and he actually one day just said that’s it, and he never picked up the clarinet again, which I found bizarre.
Is it almost an ego thing, that people want to be in the spotlight or take the limelight?
Not in my case, that’s not the bit that appeals to me at all. It’s a funny thing, I’m not really a show-off, I don’t crave attention of any kind, but this has evolved and is the way I’ve made my living, by going on stage. It’s odd because I was always pretty terrified and nervous that I would be found out or not be very good, so it’s not that, it’s just basically what I do and I’ve invested a lot of time into learning how to do it. I do get satisfaction from doing it and from the shows, but it’s not without its stresses and pressures. I don’t want to overemphasise that because the last thing you want to hear if you’re doing a proper job is for some musician to be whinging about singing a few tunes, but it’s a responsibility to stand in front of people when they’ve paid money to come and see you, and you’ve got people working for you, the musicians and the crew, so it’s a responsibility for sure.
“I do have that musical gene”
But it’s also nice that you’re sort of under the radar in the sense that you can walk down the street and know you’re not going to get mobbed or be followed by groupies. Is that a nice level to be at?
It is, it’s a great level, but that doesn’t come overnight at all. That’s come from working and over many years of building it up.
Does it also help that you’ve got so many strings to your bow, so can you almost pick and choose what you want to do because you’ve built your reputation over so many years, and that you can turn down work if you choose to?
Well I was never very good at turning anything down to be honest. I’ve just been that used to doing whatever came up, a) in order to keep a roof over my family’s head and b) because I do like all kinds of music. So even though I’m a self-taught musician, I do have that musical gene thank goodness, because I didn’t have many other genes that were very practical or that were going to earn me a living.
Well one usually does the trick for most people…
I suppose so, yes. It’s just finding it and as you say, everybody has their talents, and I’ve been very lucky to have that bit of talent. I think the fact that I wasn’t very good at anything else meant that I just had to stick at it and make it work for me.
I was going to ask you a little later about the genres of music that you’ve played and the swing album that’s out for Christmas (with the SWR Big Band). Are there any other genres you’d like to move into, as you’ve pretty much covered most of them now?
It just depends what crops up. In recent years my focus has been my own career and keeping that on the road. But I’ve had the Clapton tours and then this Big Band thing, which was unusual because as a kid or a youngster I was never into that type of music at all really. I always thought it too slick and I was into beat groups, but as I get older I’ve started to appreciate what it is. This came out of the blue and they just rang me up, and I thought they were making a Christmas album and wanted me to sing one song, but actually they wanted me to sing the lot. I’m thinking back now to 2006, and then I started to do gigs with them, usually at Christmas, but then we’ve done other odds and sods and a couple of TV specials over in Germany.
It was a challenge, but I loved it, absolutely loved it and they have such a high standard of musicianship. Proper musicians, not like us old cowboys, bluffing away. They’re absolutely spot on and the arrangements are beautiful, so it’s just another kind of string to the bow. The relationship has continued with these guys and I’ve been over to Germany and done these Christmas concerts playing 2,000-seaters. The one we’re doing this year is at the Porsche Arena, which is a really big gig and a nice thing to do. It makes a nice change and last year we brought them to England for a show in London. They were keen to do it and we’re doing it again this year at the Royal Academy of Music, which is a small, but beautiful venue. The album is a bit of a compilation of that original work we’ve done, some live stuff and some new stuff, bringing it all up to date.
That style of music has had a bit of renaissance in recent years with even the likes of Robbie Williams doing it and others dipping their toes in it, so to speak.
Yes, although I would say that we’re not kind of playing at it, or doing a pastiche of it. I’m not standing there in a tuxedo trying to be Frank Sinatra. I like to think I’m bringing my slant to it and that it’s real. We’re not pi**ing about and posing, you know. We’ve added a 12-piece string section to it as well and these are real pros, they’re Grammy-award winners these guys. So that’s that, and we’ve got this other thing at the moment which is an anthology of live stuff from the last 20 years of my regular work.
Is that the album or the upcoming tour, or are they both linked in a way?
They’re kind of linked. The 2020 tour is my usual band, the Sheffield guys, but it’s 20 years since we started an independent label, just in a small way, so it’s a celebration of that as well. Over the last 20 years we’ve recorded a lot of gigs and Peter Van Hooke, my mate and producer, has had the unenviable task of putting together a five-CD anthology of stuff. Not for the squeamish!
The tour is coming to Hull next year. Do you have any memories of the place from playing there before?
Yes, we played there last year, although at a different venue (next year’s concert is at the Bonus Arena) and I remember being pleasantly surprised by a decent turnout and a good crowd.
“I’m not a networker, out there hustling for work”
Have you got a preference in terms of venues? You mentioned earlier about playing a 2,000-seater. Does it matter if there’s 50 people or 5,000?
No, not really. Certainly not in terms of the effort or commitment, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. When I go on, if there’s three men and a dog watching I’ll want to do my best. There’s a few on the tour that we always look forward to, including Liverpool. Glasgow, Sheffield and Manchester, because they’re pretty lively, but we like to be consistent. We don’t want to be brilliant one night and burnt out for the next three, and I think we do have that consistency.
Is it a case of balancing the touring with studio work over a period of time so that you still enjoy doing each of those?
Well, this year there was a lot on the road, but it was varied, with the UK tour and then the work with Eric, so that was another change. It does break it up and when we come back to it, it’s always fresh, but it was a busy time on the road which is why I haven’t done a brand new album. I’m not saying the world’s exactly holding its breath, but I do like to put new stuff out and keep trying to write the next one, so I hope to get in the studio more next year.
You’ve worked with a ridiculous amount of stars over the years and I wouldn’t dream of asking you to pick a favourite, but is there anyone else out there who you really fancy working with?
No, my main focus now is my own thing and I still feel I’ve got something to say, I don’t know why, or if anybody’s listening, but for my own personal satisfaction. The Clapton thing’s been hard to turn down, it’s a great gig, but I’ve never gone looking for any of this work, it’s always come to me. I’m not a networker, out there hustling for work. It’s always found its way to me and I’ve been invited to do bits and bobs, so no I’m fine. If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s not a problem.
That’s kind of the highest compliment you could have really, with people wanting to get in touch and wanting to phone you. It speaks volumes for where you are as a musician. Changing the subject somewhat, but it’s a question I have to ask, but as a sports fan from Sheffield (Paul is a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan), you must be particularly chuffed about how Sheffield United are doing in the Premier League right now?
Oh I’m over the moon! Wonderful. Especially as one of the guys in the band is a Blade. No, it’s hard, it really is. A lot of people said they’d struggle this season, but I honestly didn’t think they would. They’ve got a thing and, much as it pains me to say it, you’ve got to give it to them. But it’s a bit like my band. I’ve had these lads for about 20 years now and when I hooked up with them, people would ask me what I’m doing with them, with this provincial band, but we’ve got a thing and it’s a pleasure to go to work. Again it’s the commitment and the work ethic and it goes a long way.
So, Paul Carrack compares himself to Sheffield United would be a very good headline for this article, yes?!
Oh dear me, don’t you ****ing dare! No that wouldn’t be a good idea at all.
Sheffield seems to be thriving as a city and as a sporting city particularly, but obviously if Wednesday reached the Premier League that would be even better.
Well it’s not looking likely at the moment. I still go to games, not so many as I used to, but me, my two sons and my grandson are season ticket holders, but it’s a 300-mile round trip to get there.
Was the allegiance passed down to you through family as well then?
My dad wasn’t interested in football, but as a kid that’s all we did, all night. Not organised football, but on recreation grounds, 20 a side, jumpers for goalposts and all that stuff, playing in the pitch black, it was amazing. I feel bad because I made my sons suffer down here with all the Arsenal and Tottenham and Manchester United fans, and I’m looking at it now as they’re doing the same to my grandson, who’s seven, and thinking ‘don’t do it to him for God’s sake!’ Three hundred-mile round trips for so much pain.
I seem to have digressed a bit there, but just finally, anything in the pipeline for next year once the tour has finished at the end of March?
Yes, I’ve already signed up for a bit more with Eric, we’re going to some interesting places that I’ve never been to before, like Moscow, St Petersburg and Helsinki. I managed to turn down some gigs myself in Australia in April as that’s a bit too far and I would like to get into the studio more. There’s enough going on for me to be honest, so that’s great.