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on Tue, 24 Jan 2017
Interview by Heather Kincaid
He's performed around the world with the likes of Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Ringo Starr; had major hits with Squeeze, Roxy Music and Mike + The Mechanics; done session work for The Pretenders and The Smiths; and had his songs recorded by Eagles, Diana Ross and more. Yet despite being one of the most revered musicians and best-loved singers in the biz, Paul Carrack is also among the most unassuming chaps you'll meet, brushing off his astonishing list of achievements with a Yorkshire down-to-earthness that 40-odd years in London have done nothing to undermine.
In a sense, it's not surprising. That ‘golden voice’ which you'll definitely have heard on tracks like Squeeze's Tempted and Mike + The Mechanics’ Over My Shoulder has never brought him household-name status. But then, this is a man who's much more comfortable in his own household, jamming in his studio with his son. Nevertheless, over the years, he's deservedly built up a loyal following, and if you're lucky enough to catch him on stage in Stoke or Birmingham this year, you can expect to experience something truly special.
“I never wanted to be super famous,” Carrack explains. “I can't think of anything worse, to be honest - other than being poor and skint, which I'm not either! This is a really good place to be - I've got my own little niche going, and every now and then I get a treat, like going out on tour with Eric (Clapton), which has allowed me to play all over the world with some amazing musicians. But you couldn't have planned it. It's just hard work and getting on with the job.”
Now divorced from obligations to the big-name bands he's spent half his career performing with, these days Carrack operates as his own mini-industry, doing almost all of the instrumentation on his solo records as well as producing them under his own label, Carrack UK - often only calling on his bandmates when it's time to hit the road.
“Every time I do an album this way, I always say I'll never do it again. It just takes too long! But I've got a little studio at home, and when I start out making an album, I don't usually have much to go on - I'll just have a few bits and bobs on my phone or something like that, and then I'll start developing it.
“I married a London girl, so I've been here most of my life now, but I'm originally from Sheffield, and the rest of my band still lives there - the only one knocking around is my son, Jack. But I've been in lots of bands and helped lots of people out over the years. I'm quite happy now just doing my own thing.”
Since setting up his self-titled label in the late ’90s, Carrack has independently produced a total of 18 solo albums. Beginning with little experience of the wider business back in the days before social media had started to facilitate promotion was a bold step, but over the years, Carrack UK has steadily gained traction, with successive albums working their way into the charts.
“I think it was a really smart move, and I'm not particularly noted for my smart moves! I've really enjoyed it but it has been difficult. When I did the first one, I didn't have a clue how labels worked, but I'd had some not-so-great experiences with major record labels as a solo artist, and I could sense there was a shift in how the business was working - that things were contracting. I was lucky that my good friend Peter Van Hooke had a little more experience of how the nuts and bolts of it fitted together, and he was very helpful in getting it going. What's interesting now is that it seems to be a model that a lot of people are following.”
Bonding time with Jack, who plays percussion in the band and on the albums, has also been an advantage of going it alone. “He's a chip off the old block! I've got four kids and all of the others have got proper jobs, but he's a bit like me. He hated school and we used to worry about it, but he's been touring with us for the last four or five years, so he's part of the furniture now, and it's been great - he's really blossomed.”
Released in January 2016, Carrack's latest album, Soul Shadows, reached number 25 in the UK album charts as well as taking the number one spot in the Amazon soul charts. Almost all the tracks are original numbers by Carrack himself, but exceptions include a cover of the Alfred Braggs & Deadric Malone song, Share Your Love With Me. The song has been covered by various artists, including Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison and The Band, though it's with the Bobby Bland original that Carrack's version has the most in common.
There's also Bet Your Life, a melancholy ballad about a compulsive gambler, with lyrics penned by old friend and former Squeeze bandmate Chris Difford. In an album comprised mainly of love songs, it mightn't be the cheeriest choice, but according to Carrack, it's one that always goes down well in his live sets.
“The song's just kept growing, and it's one where the band gets to stretch out a bit at the end. We've got a great lead guitarist and sax player and it gives them a chance to show off.”
Though he's already been touring the album during the year gone by, 2017 will mark Carrack's biggest solo tour to date, taking in major UK venues as well as a series of international stops, with solo acoustic support from singer-songwriter Sarah Munro.
Elsewhere, Carrack is keeping his fingers in other pies. As well as continuing as Eric Clapton's keyboardist, he's also recently been gigging with Clapton bandmate Andy Fairweather Low and long-term collaborator and fellow undersung industry stalwart Nick Lowe (with whom he wrote the Diana Ross hit, Battlefield). Last year, a mini-tour for the trio included a set at Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
“I love singing harmonies, and I've always had this idea at the back of my mind that I'd like to get together with those guys. I had a gig at the London Palladium the year before last, and the three of us decided to do four acoustic songs in the middle of the set. We had such fun rehearsing it, and when we did the show, it went down a storm, so we started doing a bit of recording at my place too. We did an album's-worth of stuff and then almost forgot about it, but apparently there’s some interest from quite a major record label, so it might even see the light of day!”
More recently, he recorded a charity Christmas single with the London Hospices Choir, a 300-strong group of patients, staff and families from 17 different hospices who came together to mark the 125th anniversary of the Royal Trinity Hospice. When Mike + The Mechanics hit The Living Years was chosen for the project, producer James Hawkins invited Carrack to sing it with them.
“The whole project was well underway by the time I came in. I was kind of surprised they'd chosen the song, but they felt it was the perfect message for what they're about, which is, if you've got anything to say to someone, say it now while you still can. And it was great - they really enjoyed themselves and got a bit of media attention, including a couple of TV spots. It was the number one selling CD over Christmas, and though they obviously now take downloads into consideration for the charts, I think as far as the hospices were concerned it was a big success, because it did a lot to raise their profile, which then helps them in their other fundraising activities.”
There is talk of a new Paul Carrack solo album being in the works, but with the 2017 tour kicking off in early February, it could be a few more months before it's ready for release.
“I've got about six or seven songs but it's not quite enough for an album yet, and with the tour, I'm not sure when I'll get to finish it, but hopefully we'll be putting out something later this year.”
Paul Carrack plays Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, on Friday 17 February and Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 March.