Singer Paul Carrack, ‘the man with the golden voice’, is back on the road with a Best Of and a lot of hits. He spoke to Chris Broom about his career in the music business.
When you look at a list of the artists Paul Carrack has worked with over the years, it’s an impressive roll-call of talent.
Just to cherry pick a few, he’s sung or recorded with everyone from Roxy Music, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Diana Ross to The Eagles and The Pretenders, as well as being the voice behind huge hits with Ace, Squeeze and Mike + The Mechanics.
He’s also a well-established artist in his own right – last studio album Rain or Shine featured four singles that scored major airplay.
So when The Guide asks him, is there anyone you haven’t worked with? He chuckles and says: ‘I don’t go around looking for work to be honest, I’m quite happy – my main focus is my own little thing and keeping the show on the road with my own little label, putting out an album almost every year.
‘I’ve worked with quite a number of people, but it surprises me sometimes, and I find myself name-dropping quite a bit: “You know, when I was working with Eric it was like this...”
‘It is weird how it’s evolved, but I don’t think about it too much, because I’m pushing on with this.’
And the ‘this’ in question is a massive 60-date UK tour that swings by Portsmouth Guildhall on November 23, to promote a new 19-track Best Of album.
‘It seemed like the right time,’ he says of why he’s releasing the album now. ‘I’ve been busy with this tour, and I have been on tour with Eric (Clapton), so I haven’t had the time to relase an album of my own this year, and it dovetailed beautifully.
‘I’m refurbing my studio at the moment as well, which is my excuse. I think a Best Of is about due though – there’s been a couple of compilations, but they’re not that up to date.’
And Paul is bluntly honest that finances play a part in the new album.
‘There’s a couple of tracks on there, things like The Living Years, and Over My Shoulder, they’re versions I own. I hadn’t recorded them specifically for this, they’re other versions I had – The Living Years is a live one, and it’s a good one, while Over My Shoulder is from one of my earlier albums.
‘There’s so many versions out there on compilations and recordings out there that I have no rights to whatsoever, and that’s one reason for it. The other thing is that it’s going to be in mainstream outlets like the supermarkets. The idea is to spread the word a bit in that mainstream area.
‘I’ve got some good solid support and fans who buy all my stuff, but it’s trying to get into those mainstream areas.
‘People going around buying their sasusages or whatever might see this for £5 and give it a go, then if they like it, they might try something else. It’s a bit like that cornershop mentality.’
And this ruthless pragmatism extends to the picking of the album’s tracklisting: ‘These aren’t necessarily my all-time faves of what I’ve done because there are other tracks, much more obscure, that I like, but I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve done over the years.
‘To be brutally honest, we went for the jugular with the most commercially accessible, obvious stuff.
‘It’s no use crying about it, it’s the way it is. Obviously the revenue from that stuff is a lot less than it used to be, but the good thing is that the live side is thriving.
‘And that’s where I came in – I’ve been making a living from it ever since I left school at 15.
‘It’s where our bread and butter is, taking it out live.
‘I enjoy making records and it is a lot easier in many ways. We’re doing 60 shows on this tour, and I’m not happy if standards slip - you’re putting yourself on the line, so there’s a bit of pressure.
‘At the end of the day if you’ve done a good gig and everyone’s enjoyed it, then it does give you that sense of self-worth.’
And he laughs: ‘After going on the road, I was pretty unemployable anywhere else, I didn’t have any qualifications or skills so I had to make this work.’
Described in a BBC4 documentary about his career as ‘the man with the golden voice’, Paul has racked up 17 albums in his own name, but has notched up appearances on an impressive 60 or so efforts by a wide variety of artists.
‘I have played on a lot of stuff, but it’s been over a lot of years,’ he says. ‘I was never a session guy as such, someone who did sessions all day long – I was in bands, I was in Ace, I was with Nick Lowe, I was with Squeeze – and occasionally I would get asked to do a bit of keyboards.’
Paul’s lengthiest, and perhaps best-known stint with an act was as the two decades he spent as singer with Mike + The Mechanics. But the band has toured with soul man Roachford on vocals since 2010. Is there any chance Paul might work with them again?
‘No, not at all,’ he says, before becoming noticeably more measured, ‘I don’t think it’s great. There’s no original members in the band apart from Mike.
‘I’ve got respect for Roachford as a singer and an artist, but I’ve got mixed feelings about The Mechanics thing.
‘I put a lot of time into it, into helping build that brand, and then you suddenly realise you don’t have any rights to any of that material.’
But for now he’s focused on the tour, and then he’s back on the road with Clapton, with whom he toured earlier this year as keyboard player and featured vocalist – at the legendary guitarist’s own invitation.
‘I’m quite happy doing what I do,’ says Paul, ‘but getting the call from Eric was a bit special. I did his last world tour and it’s been a great experience.’
...playing keyboards on The Smiths’ debut album
I used to live in Shepherds Bush quite near Eden Studios. I knew the producer, and he called me up and asked if I could nip round - I didn’t know anything about them.
... Jools Holland
I replaced Jools in Squeeze. I have been on Later, but only as part of his band, basically, I’ve featured on a couple of his albums when he gets guests in. I’ve got a lot of time for Jools, he’s a good lad.
...Co-writing The Eagles comeback hit.
I was working with three of the band, but then The Eagles reformed. Timothy B Schmit asked if they could record Love Will Keep us Alive, and I was like, too right you can!
Where & when...
Paul Carrack is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday, November 23, doors 7pm. Tickets are £26.95 or £31.35, Gold Tickets £42.35. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call 0844 847 2362, which is open 24/7.