Interview: Paul Carrack
Dubbed ‘the man with the golden voice’, Paul Carrack is one of Sheffield’s most distinguished singer-songwriters. After writing his first hit ‘How Long’ for Ace in 1974, he then went on to perform in a number of successful bands including Mike and The Mechanics, Squeeze and Roxy Music, as well as working closely with the likes of Eric Clapton, Elton John and many other greats throughout a sparkling career. And with last year’s release of Soul Shadows seeing his highest charting solo album to date, suffice to say the pop and soul legend has a few more hits up his sleeve.
So with your homecoming show just around the corner, tell us a bit about what life was like for you growing up in Sheffield?
I grew up in Crookes. We lived at the back of the wallpaper and paint shop that my mum ran single-handedly while my dad worked as a self-employed painter and decorator. They worked extremely hard to make a better life for my brother John and myself.
When my dad passed away following a fatal work accident, my mum was devastated and John, who had just left school at 15-years-old, took over the running of the shop until retiring at 69 last year. We had a lot of freedom as kids; I remember riding bikes to play football on the Bole Hills every night after school, whatever the weather. In the winter we would play in the dark until we couldn’t see the ball anymore! My mum’s family, who were incredibly supportive after we lost my dad, ran a small newsagents on Broad Street and every Sunday my cousins and I would take some papers. Our round was on the Wybourn, and afterwards grandma would provide Sunday dinner for us all. I can’t overestimate the values of love, hard work, honesty and humour that I learned from my uncles and aunts.
And what would a music-loving teenager get up to in Sheffield during the 60s? Were there any venues you’d regularly attend or local bands to see?
I started playing drums at school, and in my final year I managed to join a local semi-pro band playing organ even though I’d only knew a couple of chords! I was pretty useless. I stood at the back and learned a valuable lesson: ‘If in doubt, leave it out!’
We were too rough and ready to play the lucrative Working Men’s Clubs circuit, but back in those days there were loads of gigs at pubs, youth clubs, soul clubs etc., and we were often playing five nights a week. In terms of local artists, I saw Joe Cocker many times playing at the Black Swan, Birley Hotel and the Blue Bell in Hackenthorpe. He was different class.
How did the move away come about?
When I was 17 the band I was in set off for Germany, as you did in those days. On our return we moved to ‘that there London’ which was where you had to be for music back then. We lived very hand-to-mouth I can tell you!
What about your musical upbringing? Can you remember the first piece of music you fell in love with?
I know the first record I bought with my brother was ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ with ‘Raining in My Heart’ by Buddy Holly. The young girl at the end of our yard gave us her Everly Brothers singles when she tired of them and I loved ‘Cathy’s Clown’, which John and I used to try and copy. Later it was the The Shadows and ‘Apache’ – but once The Beatles happened it was all over.
How does it feel to have achieved what you have and maintain a relatively low media profile? Have you purposefully aimed to stay low-key or is it just how things have worked out?
Apart from when I was very young and hopeful that fame and fortune might make it easier to attract girls, I have never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to survive as a musician and provide for my family. Simple as that.
You’ve played in a number of huge bands and alongside plenty of talented musicians. Who do you feel you learnt the most from?
I can’t say because I always think it’s hard to quantify what you learn from playing with other people, but hopefully you learn something from every situation and experience.
Is there a particular artist you’d still like the chance to work with, or someone you’re disappointed not to have had the chance to?
I never went looking to work with anybody really. Things have just happened. My focus now, having helped several other bands establish a ‘brand’, is to follow my own musical whims so I’m not really looking to be involved with any other projects. Having said that, I’ve really enjoyed being part of Eric Clapton’s band for the last three or four years, but that was impossible to resist.
With music being such a driving force in your life, how do you unwind away from it?
I’m basically a boring, domestic family guy. My wife and I have brought up four kids who have gradually left the nest so we are enjoying having a bit more time and space together. I’m also a Wednesdayite and spend far too much time online keeping up with the latest!
And with such a huge back-catalogue of music to choose from, how do you get on with compiling set lists?
It’s not easy, no. But it’s great to have a lot of stuff to choose from which is a great advantage of having the same band for twenty years pretty much. All Sheffield lads too, by the way!
Finally, how is the rest of 2017 shaping up for you?
The UK tour takes us up to April, then we have shows in Germany, Holland, Sweden and I’ll be re-joining Eric for his shows at the Albert Hall in May. There are also some festivals lined up for the summer – and that’s about it!
Paul Carrack’s solo tour comes to Sheffield Arena on Feb 24th. Tickets are available from www.sheffieldarena.co.uk.
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