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Paul Carrack Interview: From "How Long" to "Living Years," a Timeless Voice

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Image attributed to Paul Carrack

Paul Carrack

One of Britain’s most enduringly successful musicians, Paul Carrack’s voice is probably recognized by many who don’t know his name. He is a singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist who has recorded both as a solo artist and as a member of Ace, Roxy Music, Squeeze, Mike and the Mechanics and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, just to name a few.

Carrack sang some of his affiliated bands’ best-known hits, including “How Long,” “Tempted,” “Silent Running,” “The Living Years” and “Over My Shoulder.” He performed lead vocals on tracks from the Roger Waters albums Radio K.A.O.S.and The Wall – Live in Berlin and achieved a major solo hit with “Don’t Shed a Tear.”

"When I look back as a kid, I can’t believe it. But, yeah, I’ve played with a lot of people. It looks good on paper. I guess the short story is that in my heart of hearts, I like to sing."

Following the disappointing cancellation of shows throughout 2020 in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany due to the global pandemic, Carrack will bring his incredible six-piece band together with the full touring production for a special, one-of-a-kind event, streamed from the iconic Victoria Hall in Leeds, UK. This unique performance will be available worldwide to view online for 24 hours, and fans can find streaming information and purchase tickets at Carrack’s website.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Paul, for the streaming event, you pre-recorded the performance?

Paul Carrack: Yeah. We did decide to pre-record it for a few reasons really. One is because we needed to do it before the lockdown kicked in again because things have been pretty much locked down certainly from the point of view of doing any gigs or anything like that. All of the venues are closed. There was talk about getting very restrictive with the lockdown situation, so we thought we better get it down and get it under our belt while we were allowed to.

We also didn’t want any sort of technical issues when it came to streaming it. There shouldn’t be any because these are bonafide streaming specialists. It goes out on YouTube. Actually, I’m not very technically minded, but we do have these people who organize the streaming. So it’s just a little bit scary. But I mean, we’re not going to be messing with the performance other than if we have to do some edits with the cameras and everything. There’s 12 cameras. We have two drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, saxophone and myself.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your son, Jack, is playing drums?

Paul Carrack: That’s right, yes. He’s been with us for maybe five or six years, maybe longer as time is flying by. It’s great having him in the band.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was Jack musical as a child?

Paul Carrack: Well, he started playing the drums fairly early on. I think he was about nine or ten. He has an older brother, Charlie. While I was in the States once, I bought this small junior drum kit. It wasn’t expensive, but it sounded great, and Charlie dabbled with that for a while. But then Jack seemed to pick up on it. He is a bit of a chip off the old block definitely. He has the musical gene, and he’s quite a natural. He managed to get him some tuition. It was a good thing to do. He hated school like I did, and let’s say, Jack wasn’t sure where he was going and was getting into a little bit of mischief. Nothing serious. But, you know.

At 16, he got out of school, and he went to a local college that ran various kinds of music courses, and it was fantastic for him to meet all these other kids who were kind of like him. He was really into it. These kids were into all different kinds of music. He started playing with various outfits. I went to see him play with these two kids, two songwriters, and he was just playing percussion. We said, “Oh, great. They can open for us on tour.” They were writing some really nice songs. So we thought that it would be great to do the two drummer thing at the end of the set, the two drummer Motown thing. We tried that, and it sounded great, and it just became part of the band. We really dig this two drummer thing. It was with Dean Duke’s blessing, my drummer whose been with me for 20 years. Dean and Jack kind of just work things out together. They don’t play the same things. They work stuff out together, and we let them get on with it.

It’s been just a fantastic thing because Jack’s changed from this teenager getting into a bit of mischief and being unfocused to being this really wonderful young man now. It’s been great for him. It would be great if he could find a good young band to play with because we’re old codgers, but he thinks we’re funny. We crack him up. But he’s not ambitious. He’s not pushy. None of my kids are. I have four kids, and they’re all grown up.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were any of the other kids interested in a music career?

Paul Carrack: Not really. No. I never pushed that on them. I always encouraged them to do what they wanted to do, but nobody was particularly interested. My oldest daughter was keen to learn to play piano, and she had lessons but no aspirations to be a performer or to get into the music business, which I was delighted about. I hoped that they would find what they really wanted to do, and hopefully it would be a regular occupation that would appreciate them for their talents or their gifts or whatever they had to offer. The music business is just too flaky. It was all I could do, so I had to make it work. But they had more brains than I did. They took after their mum. But this Jack guy takes after me quite a lot.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: When you say that’s all you could do, what does that mean?

Paul Carrack: I was interested in soccer and cricket, but I wasn’t academically minded. That’s all. I wasn’t stupid, but I found schoolwork quite difficult, and I hated all the homework and everything. It didn’t do anything for me at all. By the time I was in my early teens, I was into music, and by the time I got ready to leave school at 16, I’d already made my mind up. I just wanted to be in a band. I went through the motions of applying for jobs and stuff, but I had no qualifications really. I missed several of my exams because we had gigs.

I lost my father when I was 11. He was the musical influence definitely. He was a great, great guy. His family was musical. My grandmother played piano, my aunt played piano, and I think to very high standards, but I’m totally self-taught.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was your mother supportive of you leaving school to pursue a music career?

Paul Carrack: No. She had a hard enough time anyway. I was 11, and my brother was 15 when my father tragically had an accident at work. He was a painter and decorator. Not an artist, he painted houses and stuff like that. My mum ran the shop. We lived at the back of a small store, a tiny little corner store in Sheffield. We had one room in the back, a little kitchen, an outdoor toilet, two bedrooms and an attic.

Anyway, my mum ran the shop selling paint and wallpaper. My father had this accident at work, and he didn’t recover. He died there a couple of days later. So my mum was left with two boys and a shop. My brother grew up overnight. He took over working in the shop with my mum. As long as I was going to school, they didn’t really pay that much attention to me. I don’t fault them for that. They had enough on their plate. My mum was devastated.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: That had to have been devastating for you at the young age of 11 years old to lose a parent like that.

Paul Carrack: Oh, it was terrible. It was a massive blow. But this happens to people all the time. It’s a pretty profound event. It had a lot of influence on my life and outlook.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are associated with so many artists – Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Ringo’s All- Starr Band, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters. So are you restless, enjoy variety, or just prefer to do your solo thing and be unattached?

Paul Carrack: I’m not restless actually. This might sound ridiculous, but I’m loyal when I get involved in something, and I do my best. I like to get on with people. I didn’t plan the way it’s gone at all. I’m just delighted that I’ve managed to make a living from it and a life from something I enjoy and really like. It’s amazing really.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have had an amazing career.

Paul Carrack: When I look back as a kid, I can’t believe it. But, yeah, I’ve played with a lot of people. It looks good on paper. I guess the short story is that in my heart of hearts, I like to sing. I kind of fancy myself as a singer-songwriter, and sometimes in the bands I’ve been involved with, it has been a supporting role. But I’ve sung lead on some of these hits, which is a bit bizarre.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have an EP out featuring several interpretations of “How Long”?

Paul Carrack: I believe so. I mean, we just seem to keep trying to feed the digital machine (laughs). So, yeah, I believe there is an EP. I think it was because somebody picked up the original “How Long” and were using it as an advert for Amazon Prime. This was 45 years after the song came out, and suddenly some people were rediscovering it.

Over the years, I’ve done many versions of it. I don’t get fed up with it. It’s a very simple little song. So for me, it never went away. Whatever situation I’ve been in, people say, “Can you do ‘How Long’”? Recently, I did it with a big band, and they did an arrangement of it. I think it was shamelessly trying to jump on the bandwagon of this advert. Shameless, I know.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m one of the millions of people, of course, that thought “How Long” was about adultery, only to find out years later it was about bassist Terry Comer leaving Ace to play with other bands.

Paul Carrack: Oh, so you know the story already. Good. It saves me from telling that one (laughs).

Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Yes. But my question is, were you really upset that Terry Comer had been secretly playing music with other bands, or is the song possibly tongue-in-cheek because he ended up returning to Ace and also singing on “How Long”?

Paul Carrack: We were upset but not in a bad way. It certainly wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. We were just a struggling little bar band really, to be honest. We loved it. We were enjoying ourselves. We had a nice little band going. We were good friends and all played soccer. It was a great time. So it was obviously concerning that somebody was trying to poach him and offering him a salary, maybe 10 or 15 bucks a week steady money (laughs). No. We were insecure about the thing because we would’ve had to find somebody else. I doubt if I would write a song like that now about a situation like that. Anyway, Terry stuck with us, and yeah, he is playing on the record.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You didn’t write “Tempted,” but your vocals are incredible on the song. I was introduced to Squeeze’s greatest hits during the time I was dating my future husband. I’d never heard of the band before that time, but I definitely became a huge fan.

Paul Carrack: I didn’t know much about Squeeze either, to be honest. I’d been in the doldrums for a while after Ace. We had that one big hit, and it was all quite a shock to the system, and it eventually fizzled out. I just came back from London after living on the west coast of America actually in ’76. We came back to London with our beards and our long hair, but we saw it all had changed. The punk rock and new wave thing was happening, and I thought, “Well, that’s it. It’s over.” So I just kept my head down for a while and tried to play some sessions doing recording work, which there used to be quite a lot of.

Then, to cut a long story short, I started to play with a band called Roxy Music. I played on a few of their albums playing keyboards. A friend of mine called Jake Riviera, who was the founder of Stiff Records and who discovered Elvis Costello and others, was a big pal of Nick Lowe. I knew Jake when he was a roadie. But he took on Squeeze, and he became their manager.

Jools Holland had left the band. Jools was the original keyboard player. They tried a lot of keyboard players, I think, and nobody was quite suited. Jake said, “Why don’t you try Paul Carrack? He’s kind of back in circulation.” So I went down and played with them. This is about a week before they were to start recording the East Side Story album. They said, “He’ll have to do.” (laughs) They kind of said, “You’re in.”

I didn’t realize I was joining the band as such. I thought I was just going to play these sessions and that would be it. But anyway, I went in there, and as luck would have it, when it came time to re-record “Tempted,” Elvis Costello, who was producing the album, suggested that I sing the song. I was delighted to comply.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were also fortunate enough to work with Roger Waters.

Paul Carrack: Yeah, but I’m trying to think what else went on after that. After Squeeze, my next stop was working with Nick Lowe. I played with Nick for several years. We had a band, and whoever had the album out at the time was the frontman. We did all kinds of tours, especially in America and opening up for various people in the arenas. We opened up for Tom Petty quite a lot and people like the Cars and all that. That kind of fizzled out.

The next thing was Mike and the Mechanics, and I think Roger came sometime after that. Roger lived quite close to me in London. I can’t remember how that came about, but I went on tour with Roger on the Radio K.A.O.S. tour, which was just after he left Pink Floyd. That was very interesting because he was going through the breakup of leaving Pink Floyd, and Pink Floyd had gone on the road without him, and it kind of coincided. We’d be playing in the arena, and Pink Floyd would be playing in the stadium (laughs). So that was interesting.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: I don’t think it was altogether friendly between Roger Waters and the band at that time.

Paul Carrack: No. I don’t think it was that amicable. It was quite stressful, I think. So from that association, yeah, I did get to perform in Roger’s incredible production of The Wall – Live in Berlin. It was a wonderful experience.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you sang “Hey You.”

Paul Carrack: There’s a story there if I can bore you. By this time, I was with Mike and the Mechanics. I got a phone call from Roger. He told me all about what he was going to do, that he was going to put on this incredible event, The Wall – Live in Berlin, no man’s land, and there was going to be cranes and helicopters. After telling me for 20 minutes about all of it, he said to me, “So the reason I’m calling, do you have Huey Lewis’ phone number?” I said, “Yeah, but what about me? Any chance of that?” Roger said, “Well, you’re not really famous enough, you know.” He had a lot of big names lined up. I said, “Okay. Fair enough.” He had a point.

But then I got another call from Roger right close to when the event was going to be happening. He’d had some problems with some of his artists. He said, “So if you could do me a favor.” And he gave me a list of about five or six songs. He said, “If you could listen to those, and I might just need you to do something.” One of the songs was “Hey You.” About three or four days literally before the event, they were already in Berlin rehearsing, and Roger called me up and said, “I need you to get on a plane and come sing ‘Hey You.’” I said, “Okay.”

Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) It took a while to get to that point, didn’t it?

Paul Carrack: Yeah. Yeah.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did “Over My Shoulder” come about?

Paul Carrack: Phil Collins was out conquering the world. Mike needed something to do, so he decides to make a solo album, but he doesn’t want to sing, so he gets myself and a few other guys in. We do the vocals on the album, and it was good. It was well received, and Mike put basically a studio band together, and it became sort of a touring entity as well. The second album is Living Years. I sang the lead on “The Living Years,” and I still wasn’t really involved in the songwriting. We come to the album Beggar on a Beach of Gold, and Mike decides to involve me more in the songwriting.

I went down to his house, and he said he had a couple of ideas, and he played me this little chord sequence. I said, “Great.” He had the little cassette player going, we set the drum machine going, he strummed the chords, and I just thought to sing. I’m thinking, “He’s probably not digging this. It’s maybe too simple a pop song for Mike.” But he got to the end of the tape and said, “Yeah. There was something you did in the beginning.” We rolled back the thing and played the tape, and I’m going, "Looking back over my shoulder,” and I’m just jamming. Don’t ask me why. But he said, “Yeah. That sounds like a shape of a song.” I don’t think “Over My Shoulder” was a hit in America. It was a big hit over here and in Europe. But I don’t think it really caught on in the States.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Man, you’re a fine whistler.

Paul Carrack: (laughs) I’m a compulsive whistler actually, which gets me in a lot of trouble because it annoys some people. In fact, Chris Difford from Squeeze, who I used to share a room with on tour, bought me some birdseed once trying to help me keep quiet (laughs).

My dad was a whistler you see. He was a painter and decorator. That’s what they do, whistle away. There was this break in “Over My Shoulder,” which I assumed was going to be a guitar solo or something, but when I was doing the vocals, they hadn’t gotten that far. So when it came to this little break, I just started whistling, and I was amazed Mike actually kept it in.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ve heard that you were often mistaken for Phil Collins in the 80s.

Paul Carrack: Yeah. It used to happen all the time actually because I did look a bit like him. We’re both ugly. We’ve both got no hair. It was kind of funny because it was so close, you know, and then singing next to Mike. I don’t think I got the job because of that. But it used to happen quite a bit. It was a little bit annoying. You don’t want people to think you’re going to emulate somebody else. That’s for sure.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tell me about the new album, Another Side of Paul Carrack.

Paul Carrack: It’s a kind of a side project. That’s what it is. I’ve had this association initially with a big band from Germany. They’re very, very good actually. They’ve had tons of Grammys and everything. They’re based in Stuttgart, Germany, and about 10 years ago, out of the blue, they invited me to make a Christmas album. I said, “Oh, I’ve never done anything like that. I’ll give that a shot.” I made this Christmas album in two days, and it sounded amazing. It was a bit of a challenge, but I loved it. So over the years, I’ve kept going over there doing those gigs at Christmas, and we kept the association going.

Then they called me up a year or so ago and invited me to do some other non-Christmas repertoire, and they picked up a bunch of songs. We went over, and it was recorded live for a television special. It was a full big band plus a 12-piece string section in the round, and I was in the middle with the mike. It was broadcast on German TV, and a lot of people liked it. Again, for me, it was a learning thing and a challenge.

I don’t think it’s my best vocals. I know I could’ve sung all of those songs a lot better in a studio environment. But it was broadcast, and they gave me the rights to release it as a CD. So it’s in my catalog. It’s not a career move. It’s a side issue. For the last 20 years as an independent, I’ve been trying to build up my own catalog of work because up until that point, I realized I didn’t have the rights to a lot of these songs. For instance, when I started my own little label, and I wanted to make a compilation of my stuff with the various bands, I had to license these things and go through hoops. Actually, I wasn’t allowed to use the original version of “The Living Years.” That’s when I thought, “You know what? I’m not going to be doing anything else for anybody else in the future. Anything I record from now on, I’m going to own. I’m going to have the rights to it.”

So over this 20 years, I’ve been building up a nice catalog of my own stuff. I had this opportunity to do things with the big band. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea even with my own fans. It’s not like the album was planned for a year to be on a major label. You just say you’re going to do it, and then next week, you just do it. It was recorded over two days, and there you go.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: I thought the music and vocals were …

Paul Carrack: I mean, the band sounds great. I know I could’ve sung it better. I can tell you that now. You know, I’m on the spot there. I’m in the middle, and I’m not that familiar with an arrangement or anything. I’ve sung it better live. But it’s not bad. The problem is I can usually make a good fist of anything, but it’s not always my best, do you know what I mean? I shouldn’t have stopped you because you were going to say it was good (laughs).

Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) As a matter of fact, I did think the music and the vocals were extraordinary. Apparently you have a pretty large hat collection. Are you choosing the hats to correspond to the type of music you’re performing?

Paul Carrack: No, not really. I do have a large hat collection, but there’s only about three of them that look any good on me. So I need to start getting rid of them. Funnily enough, you mentioned looking like Phil. In the 1990s, apartheid in South Africa was ended. Mike has a connection there. Think he has family there.

We were one of the first groups to go down there and perform. I remember we did a press conference, and somebody in the audience gave me this little hat. I was wearing sunglasses because it was sunny down there, and all of a sudden, this guy who never had much of a visual image other than looking a lot like Phil Collins, had a bit of a look! I thought, “Ah, I’m going to go with it.” That was kind of how the hats started. Then I went off the skull cap look because I thought sometimes it looked a bit dark or intimidating or might have religious connotations or whatever.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Next year, you’ll be 70. Will you continue to perform until you just can’t do it anymore?

Paul Carrack: I think so. I think that’s what I’m going to do. Don’t tell my wife, but I think that’s how it is going to go. I mean, to be honest, it crosses my mind that I might get retired. In other words, people might stop coming. But the funny thing is that up until the lockdown thing, I’ve never really had it so good. I was really enjoying myself.

I have my little studio at home. I have a great little band who have been with me 20 years. They’re great guys. They’re a pleasure to be on the road with. I was making my music. I think I was getting better. I have my own little niche. In the UK and around Europe, I can pull a crowd. I can do the theater tours, and I just never had it so good. Yeah, I’m getting a bit older, and you can’t have any fun on the road. You have to go to bed early and don’t drink anything. If I had done it all when I was 40 or 50, I might have been ready to retire, but as I say, I can’t.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Would your wife want you to retire?

Paul Carrack: I don’t think she wants me to. She doesn’t want me to completely knacker myself. That’s what it is. I think I’m in pretty good shape.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: When was the last time you toured in America?

Paul Carrack: As a solo artist? Well, a long time ago. I can’t even remember. The last time I toured would be with Eric Clapton because I’ve been playing keyboards in his band for the last six years. I should be in America now with Eric. I had a whole year of work with my own band. We had a UK tour this past January to March where fortunately, we managed to get about 30 shows under our belt before it locked down. But then we were supposed to go to Holland and Germany. I was supposed to tour Europe with Eric Clapton going to all kinds of places, Scandinavia, even Russia. Then I had more stuff with my own band going to Australia and Japan, and then I was supposed to be in the States now with Eric. Then I was supposed to do some concerts at Christmas with the big band in Germany, and it’s all gone.

So it’s a shame because in a way, that’s been the bread and butter as well. But on the plus side, I’ve got my little studio at home, which I hadn’t had enough time to do stuff. Usually, it’s been a pressure time wise to get something done before the next tour and what have you. So from that respect, I’ve put plenty of hours in my little studio writing new stuff, doing a new album of my regular kind of stuff. I’m doing an album remotely with the big band that will be our next year. So I can’t complain. But it’s a bit of a worry.

I’m less worried about the actual virus itself than what’s happening to the world. It’s getting very extreme and violent. I don’t want to get on to politics. I don’t think I want to because I’m a coward in a way. I think I considered myself, up until recent years, to be in the middle, right smack dab in the middle. I was kind of brought up with a conservative background. I had a mum and dad, a family. They worked hard, all the rest of it.

As a kid, I was a mad hippie. I didn’t know a thing about what I was talking about. I was stupid as hell, but I bought into that. Then I’ve come around that and back out the other side and had my kids. But as I say, in the middle. I want a decent society for everybody. But now, things seem so polarized and extreme, I find it horrible (laughs). So there’s a happy note to end the interview on.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: So how about we wrap it up by you giving us some final comments about the virtual concert?

Paul Carrack: Yeah. We didn’t even mention that (laughs). But this is the important thing because we could really do with some support on that. Our biggest numbers on Spotify actually come from America. It’s bigger than the UK and some places in Europe. We need to reach those people and get them to look at this gig because, as I said, they pulled the plug on us in the middle of March. It’s been six months since we played, and we need to play. I’ve been busy. My band members who normally do stuff when they’re not working with me have had nothing at all. I’ve done bits and pieces online and a couple of charitable things. But we wanted to put on something special. A lot of people were going to come see us on tour, and so we decided we were going to do the full thing. We got a beautiful venue, Victoria Hall in Leeds. It’s just fantastic.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Does the concert include your regular songs and some of the swing songs?

Paul Carrack: No. I didn’t think it was a great idea that the two things coincided, and we haven’t been heavily promoting that album. So it is my regular songs, and you can watch it from the comfort of your own home. It was something that was motivating for the guys, for the band, for the crew. It was something to look forward to. Everybody said it was going to be a bit weird with no audience, but we didn’t mind. We were just happy to play.

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