In an illustrious career spanning over half a century, Sheffield-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Carrack has become a bona fide purveyor of songs that have become embedded into the very DNA of pop music’s history.
Having risen to prominence in the mid-1970s as the frontman and principal songwriter of Ace – writing the much-covered classic How Long – he gained further recognition for his work as a solo artist and for his tenures as a member of Roxy Music, Squeeze and Roger Waters' backing band, The Bleeding Heart Band. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Paul enjoyed yet more success in the industry as the co-frontman of Mike and The Mechanics – penning the hits The Living Years and Over My Shoulder, amongst a whole host of others.
Dubbed by the BBC as ‘The Man With The Golden Voice’, Paul is as prolific a songwriter as he is an artist – with his songs having been recorded by everyone from The Eagles (the ASCAP Song of the Year-winning Love Will Keep Us Alive, no less) to Diana Ross – and has also served as a touring musician for the likes of Elton John, Ringo Starr, BB King, The Pretenders and, most recently, Eric Clapton.
But now the time has come for Paul to focus, once again, on his career as a solo artist. Having released his 17th studio album, These Days, from his own record label in September, Paul is preparing to head back out on the road as part of a three-month tour of the UK – and he will be returning to his hometown of Sheffield, amongst a plethora of Yorkshire dates.
‘Anyone who has seen us before will have an idea of what to expect from the tour, because it’s similar,’ Paul reasons. ‘But it’s always changing because we are always producing new stuff – we’re not a greatest hits act trolling around the country. There’s a backbone to the set in a way, which is a string of songs that are very well known, that I’ve been involved with over the years – The Living Years, Over My Shoulder, How Long, Tempted – plus some of my better-known solo songs. But we’ll also be including five or six songs from this new album. We’re trying to keep it interesting for all concerned.’
Having attributed the beginning of his music career to the fact that, as a high school student in Sheffield, his careers officer made him an offer he was determined to refuse – taking him down the local coalmine to show him and his classmates the occupation that, at the time, promised them the best income – Paul’s character, resilience, and the honesty and humour in his songwriting remain deeply rooted in his Yorkshire upbringing.
‘I’ve been very influenced by American music – rock and roll, soul, and all that stuff – but I think being from Yorkshire has definitely had a huge bearing on my character,’ says Paul. ‘I grew up in a fairly typical working class family from Sheffield, and our folks had all been through the Second World War, so they were really hard years for them. We know that they had it tough. They tried to instil common sense into you, and I think it was a very important grounding. It was a very down-to-earth upbringing, and people were all in the same boat; you learnt teamwork and honesty and humour, so I’m proud that I’m a Yorkshireman.’
That character has perhaps never been more apparent than in Paul’s latest release. With his trademark blend of accessible pop-soul hooks and lyrics that epitomise aspects of all of our lives, These Days is the product of a truly enviable musical line up: Paul on keyboard and guitar, his regular bandmate Jeremy Meek on bass, Robbie McIntosh (who has played for the likes of Paul McCartney, Norah Jones and John Mayer) on lead guitar and fellow Eric Clapton bandmate Steve Gadd on drums – who has graced the work of everyone from Steely Dan to James Taylor.
’For the last several albums that I’ve done, I’ve more or less played everything myself,’ Paul explains. ‘The difference with this album was that I decided that I really wanted it to be more performance-orientated. Over the last five years I’ve been part of the Eric Clapton band, and I’ve got to play with some incredible musicians – not least Steve Gadd. He’s an absolutely wonderful human being and a legendary drummer, one of the best ever, and I mentioned to him that I would be recording and he expressed interest in playing on the album. So having decided that instead of me toiling away trying to do everything myself we would get musicians in, we organised it around the dates that Steve was available – which were only three days last November. Jeremy Meek has been my bass player for 20 years, and Robbie McIntosh I’ve known for a long time, he’s a phenomenal player. So that was the line up that recorded the basic tracks in those three days.’
As if this musical tour de force wasn’t enough, the album’s horn section is hand-picked and overseen by the mighty Pee Wee Ellis – the American saxophone ace who was an integral part of James Brown's shows and records of the legendary Cold Sweat era.
‘My introduction to Pee Wee was through my co-producer, Peter van Hook,’ says Paul. ‘He was the original drummer in Mike and the Mechanics. Peter played behind Van Morrison for about 10 years back in the day, at the same time that Pee Wee Ellis was the horn player and arranger. Peter was always telling me that Pee Wee was the real deal – and he is!’
Delivering self-termed ‘grown up pop music’, These Days is an album made by, and for, those of us who have experienced the ups and downs that life unfailingly provides – and are still smiling.
‘I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that, it’s just what I do,’ reasons Paul. ‘These Days is a very organic album. But I was just trying to make a better record than the last one, it’s not any deeper than that.
’What it is about is getting to an age and appreciating what you've got. I hope it will resonate with people who are going through the same stuff. It's about not being frightened, and just trying to enjoy it all.’
Paul will be performing in Leeds, York, Hull, Sheffield and Harrogate between 20th January–23rd March as part of his UK tour.
For full tour dates and tickets, visit www.paulcarrack.net