Picture this: I’m sitting down to my breakfast, it’s 8.30am, and I decide to look at EPs email. Would I like to interview Paul Young, there’s times available from 11.30 to 1.30 today, in London? My mind goes rushing back 30 or so years to my teens, I’m listening to this smokey soul-infused voice…”Come back and stay for good this time…” Within a heartbeat, I say yes, I’ll be there, can I make it at 1.30?
The rest of my morning I do a lot of research, and find out what Paul’s been up to since 1983, and naturally, it’s been a lot. He’s released nine solo studio albums, the most recent being ‘Good Thing’, in April this year. Then there’s the two albums he’s released with his band, Los Pacaminos, a London-based “Tex-Mex Americana” band that he started in 1993, from a desire to get back to basics. That’s without even considering the 15 or so compilation albums, the live and other albums, and the collaborations and singles…and then – there’s TV, and his passion for cooking. Basically, Paul Young hasn’t let the grass grow under his feet. He’s also about to tour across the UK next March with Toyah, The China Crisis, and Martika, in the 80s Invasion Tour. You can find the details of this at the end of this interview.
I’m very grateful to Paul Young for having given us so much of his time, and hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.
Lisa: As you might have guessed, I’m of a certain age that would have fangirled at you back in the day (Paul laughs) and I put the word out that I was going to talk to you, and I had all these “forty-somethings” saying OH MY GOD PAUL YOUNG…
So you’re doing this 80s Invasion Tour in March. What’s been the main difference between the music industry then and now? Is it better, or worse? Easier? Harder?
PY: It’s harder for me to understand…it’s turned on its head, there’s no money from making the record itself, it’s mostly money from performing live, and you have to be more entrepreneurial about it, to be able to make your money out of it, to spread yourself a lot wider, the manager’s role has become much more important.
Lisa: You surprise me when you say that, because we work with a lot of independents, who generally manage themselves.
PY: That’s fine, up to a certain point, but when you do become famous, you don’t have the time!
Lisa: That’s true, that’s very very true. Do you do all your own social media?
PY: Yeah, up until about six months ago, I was constantly falling short, I couldn’t keep up with it, but now we’ve got someone who does the retweets for me, they know what I like. I do Twitter a lot better than I do Facebook, so they leave me to do the personal replies, things they won’t be able to do anyway.
Lisa: I like Twitter because it gives you that whole personal, immediacy as well – the whole, “Oh gosh he retweeted me! Is that really Paul Young!”
PY: I know! It seems wild! A new kind of foreplay!
Lisa: Well it’s true! You don’t have to do too much either – you just go “LIKE” or “RETWEET” and you’re anybody’s…
PY: Let’s change the subject! (both laugh)
Lisa: You’re touring with Toyah, and Martika, and the China Crisis, did your paths cross much back in the day?
PY: No, actually, not back in the day at all. You might cross paths on tours, you might do a TV show, I have occasionally – especially in Germany – they like big TV shows in Germany –
Lisa: You’re big in Germany!
PY: I *was* big in Germany! I was enormous in Germany! But they like enormous TV shows too, like Peter’s Pop Show, where there must be about fifty acts on the one show, and you’re all in the bar afterwards in the same hotel, and it gets *very* raucous! (Lisa laughs)
But apart from those nights, you’d probably not see each other for about two years! Nowadays, you actually see more, I see Toyah a lot more, when you’re all doing the same circuit, and occasionally appearing on the same stages as well.
Lisa: I know back in Australia, Maynard, who’s a radio person down there, he’s just hosted an 80s tour, and he took all these 80s people, like Limahl and whatever, on a tour bus – all around Australia – all together, it wasn’t even like a proper tour bus, it was a mini bus, and you don’t have a chance not to get on together!
PY: I did a similar thing with The Cutting Crew, Go West, and Nik Kershaw, we all really enjoyed each other’s company – especially I hadn’t spent any time with Nik Kershaw at all, I really like his sense of humour, and now we’re bumping into each other on a regular basis it seems.
Lisa: Wow! When I read Smash Hits back in the 80s it was as if you were all best friends with each other…
PY: Well I did do a tour with Nik! Nik came out with me in America, but even then it was separate buses, and you only saw each other at sound checks.
Lisa: You’ve got this tour in March – what will you chat about? Will it be respective old days? What do you chat about now?
PY: Business! (both laugh) I suppose there might be the odd venue like the De Montfort Hall, and the Liverpool Philharmonic, so those are going to be familiar to us. Edinburgh Playhouse, which of course, I did ‘I’m Going To Tear Your Playhouse Down’, and I remember introducing it on that stage, and of course they all went nuts! It’s little things like that, that are going to come back.
Lisa: So how’s your voice these days? Because I put it out on Facebook as well, and one of my forty-somethings came back and said, “Oh he had all that trouble with his voice, because he was working really hard”…
PY: Yeah! At least they know it’s because I was working too hard! Some people’s voices stay the same, and mine hasn’t. Tony Bennett’s stayed the same, Frank (Sinatra) had to drop keys, but I resisted, and I tried to do it in the original key, but now I’m wiser, I’ve dropped them a tad, and I just have to keep the practice up.
Lisa: Good on you! I was doing my research today, and you’ve got this Tex-Mex Americana Band, that you’ve had for years and years, what are they called again? Los…
PY: Los Pacaminos!
Lisa: Now, I like a bit of Americana…
PY: We keep saying, if we could get the airfares down to Australia, then we’d throw in the return tickets back!
Lisa: You can go to Australia all you like! I live here! I’ll come and see you here!
PY: I think we’d go down in Australia an absolute storm, it’s proper entertainment, drinking music, we’ve got the Tequila babes up every set, it’s dance music, it’s romantic music, it’s fun, there’s a lot harmonies, there’s different lead singers in the band…
Lisa: Yeah, because there’s like seven of you?
PY: Yeah! There’s seven in the band!
Lisa: You all take turns?
PY: Yeah we all take turns! When I started the band I said, I just want to be in a band again, I don’t want to be the centre of attention, it’d be nice to step in and out of that, and it works incredibly well. And also, we’ve got so many choices, because in certain songs, Drew (Barfield) and I will sing in harmony together, because, one of the Tex-Mex styles, Norteño and Conjunto, they sing in duet all the way through, so we do that in a couple of songs, there’s so many variations that you can do.
Lisa: Really cool! I was listening today, and was thinking, this is really good stuff!
PY: Oh you had a listen?!
Lisa: Yeahhh!!! The website’s really cool, I like that it just plays the music.
So – we’re friends with Jedward here at Essentially Pop, and they’ve found it a hard road to reinvention because they’re always remembered for X Factor, even though it was seven years ago, and they’ve done so much since then. Do you find people always want you to be the same as you were, in the eighties? Because you’ve changed a lot!
PY: Yeah I do get a little bit of that! People expect me to sound the same, and I don’t as much. And I can use my mid-range more, I can gear those songs to where my voice is now. At the end of the night we sing ‘Wandering Star’, and every one of us can go (sings really deeply) “I was born, under a wand’ring star”, which I wouldn’t have been able to do back then, but the once nice thing is people go, “Oh you don’t look that much different (thank the lord!)”
Lisa: Well you don’t! You’ve got hair!
PY: And when we do songs and stuff, like ‘Senza Una Donna’, and that was the nineties anyway – we actually do sound the same!
Lisa: So back to songs that you’ve sung, we talked to Trevor Horn a while back (just name dropping!) and you recorded ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ at his studios, and you’re famously the first voice we hear – and for the first time today, I worked out that you replaced David Bowie! How cool is that!!
PY: Well, that’s my take on it! Bob Geldof goes (Irish accent), “No it’s not the case” but if they spent all day, not having the first line, they must have had someone in mind that they were waiting for. And I did hear that they were hoping that David Bowie would be able to fly in, because he was touring Japan. If I’ve got all this memory of it, then it *must* be true!
Lisa: It must be!
PY: So yeah!
Lisa: So how does that feel!
PY: It’s funny that they chose me, because I was probably the newest kid on the block…
Lisa: …Marilyn was there too…
PY: …for them to choose me, they must have thought, well we don’t have the biggest star in the world to do the first line, who shall we ask?
Lisa: Trying to think, who *was* the biggest there? Probably would have been Bono?
Lisa: Ah yes! Sting!
PY: Well they all were pretty big actually, Boy George…they were all at their highest point!
Lisa: So Live Aid – what’s your memories of that?
PY: Trying to get rehearsing, because I was touring, was tough, especially as we said we’d use Alison (Moyet), and I was in America at the time. And we said yes to the English stage, we didn’t know that there would be an American stage at the time, so when we asked if we could go on the American stage they said, “No you can’t we’ve got exactly who we need there, and exactly who we need in the UK”, so I had to come back, just to do that. I think I cut my tour short, so that was an enforced break, because it would have been too much. And I suppose I was one of the lucky ones, because my star was in the ascendence, and by the time of Live Aid, my second album was out, and the Americans had all gone, who was this guy? So I did that and went on holiday for a break. So I was on this little island, I was in a bar in Antigua with about six other people, when we went to number 1 in America!
Lisa: I like that you can sit there and say, “this is exactly where I was when this happened!” (PY: Yeah!) So what do you like to do away from music? I hear you like to cook? What’s your perfect evening?
PY: I like to try different things. There’s various types of food I like to do for other people, I stuck with Cajun food for many years because it’s one of the cuisines that never really took off in London, so therefore I can cook that around my house and have people go, “I’ve never had that before, it’s great!” I love Santa Fe cuisine, which is pretty much unknown here…
Lisa: What’s Santa Fe cuisine? Describe that!
PY: It’s like a very classy version of Tex-Mex, that’s fused with a bit of Asian and American Indian and Mexican. But it’s beautifully clean – it’s very clean tasting, the salsas are pretty much raw, they’re not always cooked, and the food is done in interesting ways, really nice, and very vibrant on the plate, lots of reds and yellows.
Lisa: You described it, and I could see all the colours! (Paul laughs)
So your latest album, ‘Good Thing’, came out in April, tell us a little bit about that. What’s it like?
PY: I’ve got so many demos I’ve done over the past 10-15 years, where I’ve done 2-3 songs with one person, and 2-3 songs with a certain band, and another few somewhere else…I should probably bring out a “basement tapes” CD…
Lisa: That’d be cool! Put it on vinyl!
PY: …because there’s one or two tracks…I’m never sure what a Paul Young album should be, in 2016. And it’s kinda hard for me to know, so therefore, I wasn’t sure about that, and so when I started this project with Arthur Baker, he said “we’ll put you with a publishing house” and it makes sense to put Paul Young in a publishing house that’s got all the R’n’B and soul songs. So we went to Almo/Irving who’s got all the East Memphis catalogue, and so that was the plan, and as we were doing it, and I thought, well this makes perfect sense, as I can’t make the decision as to what I should sound like, so now I find myself going back to my roots, which is probably the best thing I can do at this time. And I might be able to bounce off this and have a better idea of what I should do with the next one.
Lisa: So you’ve got this European tour coming up next month, a mini tour, Germany….(PY: Yeah Germany Holland and Belgium)…what can fans expect to hear? Is there any song you won’t sing? That you refuse to, like, “nope not going to do it, that’s IT”.
PY: No not really, in fact what I was thinking was, the show we’ve been doing at the moment isn’t featuring anything from the fourth album – there’s nothing from ‘Other Voices’, there’s nothing from ‘The Crossing’ – oh we do ‘Otis Blue’ sometimes. There’s nothing from the ‘Paul Young’ album that was on EastWest, so maybe I should introduce some of those to the European audience, so it encompasses the whole forty years.
Lisa: So you’ve not worked out your set list yet?
PY: Oh no, I’ve got a set list, I’ve been touring since May.
Lisa: So what’s your audience like in that part of Europe? Is it mostly the people from back in the day, or are you bringing in a lot of new ones?
PY: It’s hard to tell, because I’ve been doing a lot of work in Scandinavia, but it’s mostly been festivals, I’ve not done that many solo shows, so I can’t judge my audience from that. If it’s anything like the UK, it’ll be people who grew up in the thick of the 80s – actually they’re less likely, because they’re getting older and older and don’t go out to concerts much – but the ones who were *so high* (mimics height of a small child) and remember them, down to the ones who can’t be bothered to go to concerts anymore, but their kids will. So let’s say, from 45 down to about 25.
Lisa: Do you prefer singing solo, or do you like your bands?
PY: I took the solo deal because it was shoved in front of me, but if you ask me, “do I prefer being in a band?” I do – I loved being in the Q Tips, I like being in the Pacaminos, I love being with my friends, I’m not very much a…
Lisa: …because you’re a very shy person really underneath it all…
PY: …yeah I suppose that’s where it all stems from…the stutter…is this a psychologist session?
Lisa: No no no no…I just read Wikipedia! (both laugh) And it’s a very thorough entry for you! But also, sometimes, it’s easier to shine in a crowd if you’re not…if you’re not Bono, or Sting! (both laugh) So yeah, it’s easier to shine in a crowd if you’re not put out there and you HAVE to.
PY: Well yeah! And I got put out there, and I had to, I think I did a pretty good job, I lasted a long time! But I guess I’m just as chuffed with the skills that my friends have, as I am with my own.
Lisa: Yeah! That’s a really good attitude!
So what’s your favourite song to perform live?
PY: Well for years, it was ‘Every Time You Go Away’, there’s very few ballads that you can put the dynamics into it, so much so that you can close the show with it, there’s not that many people who close their show on a ballad, but ‘Every Time You Go Away’ has that certain dynamic to it, where you can actually do that.
Lisa: Well it makes sense too! Because, everyone’s going away…
PY: YES! True!
Lisa: Have you never worked that out before?
PY: I thought of that before of course…(both laugh) Now, for some reason, I’m really enjoying ‘Senza Un Donna’, we’ve just changed the drum pattern slightly, it’s a very nice melody, and we give the guitar player a double crack of the whip in the middle, and he’s a great player. You can act that song out, same as ‘Every Time You Go Away’.
Lisa: So you’re like a democracy when it comes to your band. (PY: Yeah!) So are there any other collabs you’d like to do? I was looking through all the things you’ve done, and Chicane even, has done a remix. Did you re-record that, or did he just sample it?
PY: No, it just appeared!
Lisa: So is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
PY: I don’t know! Whenever I’ve collaborated with anyone, it’s just come together like that, and it’s been a lot more than people think. Most people only know the singles, like Zucchero, and that’s it, and you’ve got the Clannad one, which got a little bit of notice…
…but I’ve dueted with Chaka Khan…
…I’ve dueted with Kathleen Turner on an album…
…and there’s even on YouTube, although it’s hard to find, back in 1985, I got up with Dire Straits when they did a run of sixteen shows at the Hammersmith Odeon, and I did ‘Going Back’ by Dusty Springfield, and someone recorded it warts and all straight off the decks, and it’s up there somewhere on YouTube, and I found it the other day, and it’s pretty good! And I think, when I got up there with Dire Straits, that they thought, “He’s going to pick a soul tune”, but Dusty Springfield!
But then I hate doing the obvious! It’s a good quality and a bad quality, as well, but I hate being predictable, so I didn’t do a soul song.
Lisa: Well you’re clearly *not* predictable, because if you *were* predicable, you’d be singing Soul the whole time, instead of singing Tex-Mex Americana…
So – only a few more questions to go – where do you lay your hat these days?
PY: I’m in North London, and I have been since 1985 or 1986.
Lisa (laughing): My friend wants to know if it’s possible she’s bumped into you in Sainsbury’s in the Stansted area?
PY: That far out?? I’m not sure…You will find me in any one of those, because I do do the shopping in the household. I don’t trust my wife, because she picks up all these random things…
Lisa: Last one! This is my favourite question I ask everyone. What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does?
PY: “Can you pick a track that we can play on our radio show, that’s not a single?”
Lisa: Can you?
PY: Yeah! I would pick ‘Tularosa’, that was off the ‘Paul Young’ EastWest album.
Lisa: So why would you pick that?
PY: It’s the song I’m proudest of. A country artist did a cover of it that was very nice, I think it’s one of the most tender songs I’ve ever written, and I love the lyrics.
Lisa: You’ve written one song for Tony Hadley, and not for anyone else…
PY: Not technically correct. I co-wrote a song with Richard Drummie, and we had a little project on the go, with me, Pete Cox, and Tony (Hadley) that fizzled out when Spandau reformed, so I co-wrote the song with Richard, and all three of us sang the song. I don’t know where that came from! It’s an internet nugget!
Lisa: You need to get in and change your Wikipedia page!
PY: Is it on there! Same with the leather suit on ‘No Parlez’. Not leather!
Lisa: What was it?
Lisa: Now I was going to say, have you ever thought of writing for more people?
PY: Yes! I’d like that! I wasn’t into writing when I was a kid, I couldn’t sit down in a room for long enough, I’d be bored out of my brain. So I really found it very hard to write. And also, I didn’t know anything when I was a teenager, and I only started writing properly from the third album on, so like I say, ‘Tularosa’ was covered by Ray Vega, in Nashville, and I did a song called ‘Then There’s You’, which was covered by The Wilkinsons, out in Nashville, and I did a song called ‘The Last Time I Ever Have To Say Goodbye’ that was covered by Blackhawk, so I’ve had a few!
Lisa: So who would you write for, if you had the dream person you could write for, who would it be? Living or dead?
PY: Well, to be a breadhead, I’d chose the person who’s selling the most! Beyoncé! She’d never cover a song by me!
Lisa: Thank you very much for talking to me Paul! It’s been amazing!