Photo: Athena Anastasiou
It’s 1974 and as usual we have Radio 1 on in the morning. I am seven years old but already a music fan. Amongst all the Gary Glitter, Slade and Mud I hear a song with a simple but additive bassline, some subtle keys then come in and then in comes this voice that is so laid back but to me so perfect. “How Long” by Ace was all over the radio and I loved it.
Move on a few years to 1981 and I am 14 and into bands such as The Jam, The Specials, Madness and Squeeze. How I loved Squeeze, that voice, Glenn Tilbrook’s voice was so distinctive you always knew when it was a Squeeze song. Then I hear their new single, “Tempted”. “That’s not Glenn singing the lead vocals” I thought to myself. Indeed it wasn’t. It was a guy called Paul Carrack, who used to sing with and play keyboards in Ace. I found out either in Sounds, NME or Melody Maker that Paul Carrack had taken over keyboard duties from Jools Holland in Squeeze and was indeed singing the lead vocal on the new single. Two of my favourite English voices on one song. It became one of my favourite tracks of all time and still is to this day.
Move on to 2017 and I am off to see Paul Carrack live, incredibly for the first time. I cannot believe it has taken 36 years to finally catch up with Paul.
Carrack is a Yorkshire boy (born and bred in Sheffield) and on Sunday he brought his latest tour to the Victoria Theatre in Halifax. I had been lucky enough to be invited to have a chat with Paul after the show (more of that later). Let’s see if he can still do justice to his amazing catalogue of songs running from Ace, Squeeze, Mike and The Mechanics and his impressive solo albums. I shall start by saying that musically this is an amazing bunch of musicians and they all hail from Yorkshire.
The first half of the show focused mainly on the best of his solo albums and at times, during some amazing instrumental breaks, it felt like I could almost have been watching the classic STAX lineup. The impressive bass playing of Jeremy Meek and the equally impressive guitar from Andy Staves was reminiscent of the legendary Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper. Some spine-tingly good, almost Junior Walker-esque sax breaks from Steve Beighton just added to the impression that this was a fine collection of musicians. The two drummers Dean Duke and Jack Carrack (Paul’s talented son) was unexpected (how often do you see two drummers working in tandem these days?) and lifted the overall sound to even greater heights. And, of course, there was Carrack himself switching between guitar, piano and Hammond organ. The soul influences he picked up as a kid in the 60’s just as important to his sound as ever.
However, through all the musical dexterity of the band, the most impressive and most memorable part of any Paul Carrack performance is of course that voice. Pure soul, so true and beautiful that there were more than a few times when a tear tried to escape from my eyes particularly when Paul launched into the opening chords of “Tempted”. That’s what it can do to you when it evokes memories of something that actually meant something to you. A song, a voice, that’s all you need and if you have a soul it will stay with you forever.
The show finished with a massive version of “How Long” and followed by an encore of Mike and The Mechanic’s “Over My Shoulder”. I got the feeling that Paul Carrack and his wonderful bunch of musicians genuinely love performing and indeed they confirmed as much when I met them back stage.
Q – Great show Paul, what’s it like to be back in Yorkshire and do you still feel connected to Yorkshire?
Paul – Of course I do yes, the band are all from Sheffield, I am a big Wednesday fan so I still go to games. I am not getting any games in at the minute as I have got to save my voice, they don’t trust me cos I shout so yes, my family are all there.
Q – What was the first music you loved when you were a kid?
Paul – As a kid I loved The Shadows, all those kind of bands, I am talking about when I was a little kid, The Everly Brothers. My brother who is four years older than me was into Ray Charles and all that but really I was listening at about 11 and 12 when The Beatles happened. I used to play drums along to records, such as Gerry and the Pacemakers but then after that I became obsessed with soul music. The normal suspects, mainstream soul.
Q – When did you first start singing?
Paul – I really didn’t sing until we formed a band called Ace, we all sang. If you wrote the song you sang it.
Q – And is it true that you wrote “How Long” about your bass player who was secretly performing with other bands?
Paul – Yes it is, good research!
Q – Finally, can you tell me about “Tempted”?
Paul – They (Squeeze) had already recorded a different version but we started doing it in that style and it was Elvis Costello’s call for me to sing it (Costello was producing the track). Since then, I have written some songs on most albums with Chris (Difford of Squeeze), one or two songs at least on every album. Chris is great, Glenn is a bit harder to get to know. He is ridiculously talented you know. It took me ages to learn “Tempted”. It’s a fantastic song, I can’t believe I got to sing it.