Los Pacaminos, fronted by ’80s superstar Paul Young have been peddling their Tex-Mex sound for the best part of three decades, becoming a fixture on the live circuit and at festivals across the UK.
And they are at the Guildhall on May 29.
Paul, renowned for huge hits such as Love of the Common People, Wherever I Lay My Hat and Come Back and Stay, pulled the band together in 1992 as a back-to-basics reaction to the smooth pop-soul sound that made his name.
Bar the tragic death of keys player Matt Irving from cancer in 2015, the band’s line-up has remained the same throughout.
It has become Paul’s most enduring musical project.
‘It's amazing,’ says Paul, ‘and it's essentially the same people. We lost one of our dear friends to cancer, but aside from that it's been the same line-up, and I've known some band members even longer than the Pacaminos – our drummer (Mark Pinder) been playing with me since 1982.
‘But it's amazing that we all still get on so well and love to see each other. I was around (guitarist) Jamie's yesterday and he was putting a little bit of guitar on something I'm working on. And it's always so great to see each other.’
They’ve kept in close touch during the pandemic, and they all performed together last month for a livestreamed concert.
‘It was in a venue, but no audience, just cameras,' Paul recalls. ‘It's kind of weird, but we set ourselves up in a horseshoe shape so we were all looking at each other rather than outwards into an empty venue.
‘We all enjoy each other's company – anyone who's seen us will know that the fun is there on stage – and the audience can join in with us. That's the way we tend to approach most gigs, so we did the same with the livestream but it was a little different.’
Looking back at the origins of Los Pacaminos, why did Paul decide to go down the Tex-Mex route?
‘Because nobody else was doing it!’ he laughs.
‘I love Ry Cooder – he's one of my favourite artists, and there was a period in the late-’70s, early-’80s, where he had a Mexican drummer and Flaco Jimenez playing the accordion, and a Mexican bajo sexto player – which is a guitar I play as well. It's kind of a rhythm instrument – halfway between a bass and guitar – it fills that little middle section with sound.
‘But he'd still got these three R&B singers with him, so you'd got the soulful vocals with this kind of Mexican twist. I started exploring that side of it and buying CDs by Mexican artists and listening to it in its pure form. It wouldn't be to everybody's taste but it's interesting when you can take something like that, and put it in a line-up... because we don't live in Texas it comes out in a slightly different way.
‘After a few years we started to develop a sound of our own. I always fight to keep that Tex-Mex side of it in the mix. It's very easy to go more Americana, and I try to fight that if I can because there's plenty of bands who do that, but not a lot that do the Tex-Mex side.’
The band mixes covers and original material, with all the band members bringing something to the table.
‘I say that we play border music – so whether it be from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, they're all on the border there.
‘Sometimes if I feel it's just getting too rock, then I do pull rank,’ he chuckles, ‘and say we're getting too far away from what we are.’
While Paul still also performs as a solo act, he enjoys being part of this band of brothers, rather than always being out front.
‘I get to take a back seat sometimes with Los Pacaminos. When I'm not singing lead vocals I can concentrate on my guitar playing.
‘I put the guitar down in the ’80s and never really played it – I just sang.
‘I had about 12 years of success and it got the point where I'd come to the end of a contract with Sony, so I thought I won't be recording anything for a while and I might not get a deal straight away, I think I'll have some downtime, try something different and pick up the guitar again.
‘The good thing about it is that I'm playing the guitar again, and that's improved. I'm learning a bit of harmonica and I get to sing harmonies – which I never do as a solo artist. We also get to write instrumentals, which I could never do as a successful singer.
‘It's great that there are all those other elements I could never get to do if I didn't have Los Pacaminos.’
Paul initially resisted the lure of the nostalgia circuit, but now he’ll often be found on the bill of the Rewind festivals, et al.
‘It's quite nice to see everybody, especially when you've all been in the business a long time.
‘It's not just a celebration of the longevity onstage, it's also offstage – we're all seeing each other and thinking: “We're all still around and we're still doing it”. I wonder if every one of them thought we'd still be doing it in our 60s?!’
He also did a 35th anniversary tour in 2018 of his triple-platinum debut album No Parlez, playing it in full.
‘That was great because I got to really work on the songs and get them to sound like the record. I got two girl singers in so I could resurrect that sound of (original backing singers) The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts.
‘We only ever did Iron Out the Rough Spots, which was my first single, on a little support tour with Tom Petty back in ’82, and I don't think we ever did it again on stage. I don't think we ever did (deep cut) Tender Trap either, so it was nice to be able to work on that too.
‘You have to work out how to recreate the sound – Iron Out has got about four different synthesiser sounds on it, which was a real challenge, but they all enjoyed it.
‘Because my band were a bit younger than me they said it's such a gas to be play to play these songs they remembered from being teenagers.’
But don’t expect to hear any of Paul’s solo hits at a Los Pacaminos gig.
‘We consciously kept them apart. When Pacaminos had only been going for about a year, a lot of the small venues that we played would ignore what we told them to do and put my name on the poster. Then a lot of people would turn up and they'd get irate because I wasn't doing Come Back and Stay or anything like that!
‘A lot of things, like Wherever I lay My Hat, rely a lot on synthesisers and electronic drums which we don't carry – we're 100 per cent organic. We did try Wherever I Lay My Hat like a sea shanty and they all complained,’ he laughs at the memory. ‘It just doesn't work.’
There is, however, another Los Pacaminos studio album pending.
‘We've got some recordings down. We haven't been songwriting for ages – I had my first day yesterday for ages. It took a really long time because your brain's not used to conjuring up the ideas out of thin air.
‘It's like anything, if you don't do it, it gets rusty, so now it's getting back on that horse and learning to ride again.
‘We've got about four-five songs that are halfway there, so we need a few more because we want to put an album out on our 30th anniversary next year.
‘That’s an album every 10 years – we're not very prolific are we?’ he laughs. ‘But that's not what we're all about – it's the live thing.’
Los Pacaminos are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday, May 29, doors 7.30pm. Tickets from £27. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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