I never saw myself as a popstar, says Paul Young ahead of Jimmy's Festival gig
Can you believe it's been 35 years since Paul Young released his debut album No Parlez? The 80s icon chats about the album and his career ahead of his latest tour.
Having fronted short-lived bands Kat Kool and the Kool Cats, Streetband and Q-Tips, No Parlez signalled Paul’s solo star status. Reaching number one in the UK charts in 1983, the triple platinum album produced his first UK number one single – a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home), which appeared on the first Now That’s What I Call Music CD in 1983, see pages six-seven - and hits like Come Back and Stay and Love of The Common People.
Q: Can you believe it’s been 35 years since No Parlez?
It makes me think “well, that means I’ve been in the music business for 40 years plus”. As a kid that’s all I dreamed of, that I could make my living as a musician. I’ve managed to do it so I’m pleased.
Q: Do you miss being in a band?
I like being in a band, I like to be able to not be the centre of attention for part of a show. Having Los Pacaminos (his Tex Mex / Americana band) means I can sing lead vocals and then someone else becomes the main man. It’s very refreshing.
Q: Working at Vauxhall Motors, gigging in your spare time, did you ever worry you’d have to settle into a nine to five life?
When I was younger I didn’t really look that far ahead, I was earning money as a musician. In fact more so with Q-Tips because I did occasionally have to sign on and off the dole when I was in my first band. I didn’t look at it as a long-term thing or get disheartened. I just thought things are still going the right way and people loved the Q-Tips. The fact I signed a deal meant people were interested in me.
The only thing I remember is leaving Vauxhall Motors and I went back after six months to see some friends and the people I used to work with said “well, it ain’t happened for you then has it? When are we going to see you back at work?” I said it takes longer than six months, even then I knew that.
Q: No Parlez was such an important album for you; how do you see it now?
Honestly, I didn’t play it that much after about five years because I was on to the next album etc, so I largely ignored it apart from the singles because they were always in my live show. So it’s been left alone for quite some time. It’s only recently when I went back to play it I realised what was involved in trying to re-create it live.
I realised it was a very intricate album. I still I don’t know, actually this is a surprise to me, how it became a proper album. I don’t know how I got away with it. You would’ve felt, if you listened to an album track, “wow that’s absolutely out there”. When people heard Love of the Common People... all of the girls’ vocal parts, girls singers have never sung in that style before. It was nonsense, none of the words made sense, it’s made up phrases, almost syllable by syllable.
Q: You’d never have described yourself as a pop singer?
No, primarily because I wasn’t a big writer. As a writer, what you really want to do is to be able to write a hit pop song so that wasn’t really on my agenda. What I really wanted to do is find good songs. I was more into arrangement, how a good arrangement can change the fortunes of a song. That was the challenge and I got a big kick out of that because I hear things very much in terms of sound.
I wish I could write it down. A lot of the frustration comes out of trying to explain to a musician what you’re after... sometimes the keyboard player working with me has fantastic ideas of his own so I let them run. Sometimes he’d say “how do you want to do this” and I would have to try to explain “I want this sound to be like a toy train...”
Q: Did you feel the pressure with your second album, The Secret of Association?
You always feel the pressure. On the first album I’d already written two or three songs, which was telling me I needed to go in a different direction which was incredibly successful, then I had to analyse why. That’s very hard, especially when, as a solo artist, you want to be able to move on, not be stagnant.
Q: Does the pressure ever go away?
It’s always in the back of my mind. I’ve only just worked out the reason why I haven’t released a Paul Young album for so long. The last one two years ago (Good Thing) was me going back to the roots of where I was just before I did No Parlez. I’ve arrived at the conclusion what my fans expect when they get a Paul Young album are some songs I’ve written, some I haven’t, some pop songs, some not very pop songs, some quite radical arrangements and some quite striking pop arrangements.
Q: Are you an outsider?
There are some people who can read the trend, people like Duran Duran could read it very well and set trends. I don’t think I’d ever set one but I’ll always be riding just outside of that main group.
Q: Do you ever look back?
I’m always thinking about going forward (but) I’m a notoriously slow album maker, I’m not half as prolific as some of the people around me. But then again I do labour over an album when I make one. That was a big thing for Laurie Latham (the British rock producer), we used to labour too much over an album, and it got quite wearing on me. Whether I want to or not, I do that to myself.
Q: Because you’re a perfectionist or always having new ideas?
The song will evolve and evolve, then I think “I’ve taken it too far and should I go back a little bit”. You’ve always got to take a decision when do you think “no, it’s alright the way it is”. Things can always get better, but they can also get worse if you over do it. There’s eventually a point where I say let it go.
• See Paul Young at Jimmy’s Festival, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead, today; Cambridge Corn Exchange, October 1; and Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion, October 17.