Paul Young

Behind The Lens

Gill Sherry

The voice that greets me sounds more like a Dalek from Doctor Who than the enormously successful singer-songwriter, Paul Young.

“I’ve got a problem with my Wi-Fi,” is his somewhat distorted opening line.

He and I are from an era when such technical challenges didn’t exist, a fact he demonstrates once the dodgy connection has been rectified.

“There was a moment, when I was in The Q-Tips… I had a message to call Rak Records. I had to walk to the local phone box to do it!”

He’s talking about the early 1980s, a time when the band he had formed with his friends was touring the UK, giving Paul the opportunity to learn and perfect his craft.

“Rak Records were interested in signing me,” he continues. “I must have been foolhardy because they were a big label and I said, ‘Well, I’ve started this project with this band and to be honest, I think I’d rather see where it takes me’.”

Only now, four decades later, has he stopped to asked himself what would’ve happened if he hadn’t made that decision.

“I could’ve dropped the band and gone to Rak Records. Where would I have been now? It’s so weird.”
This is one of many anecdotes included in Paul’s new memoir, written to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his debut solo album, ‘No Parlez’.

Forty years? I’m pretty sure I could still sing every word to ‘Wherever I Lay May Hat (That’s My Home)’.

“I’ve never written any kind of book before,” Paul says, distracting me from the lyrics of his 1983 hit single. “It took so much longer than I thought it would. It’s a long process.”

He also discovered that what he believed to be accurate chronologically, wasn’t actually correct. He has, however, found the experience of putting the book together extremely satisfying.

“It’s been very enjoyable because I’ve had a chance to go back and relive my musical career. I’ve never really looked back on what I’ve done, not at length. I’ve only glanced back. Now I’m having to get into it I think, Wow!”

Fortuitously, he also bumped into his old guitar player and was able to obtain photographs of himself when he was ‘just’ a bass player at 19 years old.

“I look like a long-haired Bay City Roller! I hadn’t got any of those photos. Thankfully I’ve now got them to go in the book.”

As well as his memoir, Paul is also releasing a new album, both of which he will talk about during his 2023 tour. The book, album and tour all share the same name: Behind The Lens.

“It’s an oblique reference to the fact that I’m looking back over some stuff that I’ve done.”

Some of that ‘stuff’ will come to light during this tour which takes on the the style of ‘an audience with’ rather than that of a traditional musical concert.

“It’s a talking tour,” Paul confirms. “I’ll be telling stories that maybe people don’t know. I’ll talk about my life and do a couple of songs. I might talk about how they were written or something like that… and there’ll be a Q&A where it opens up to the audience, that type of thing.”

It sounds very different from what he describes as ‘those crazy 80s’ performances. Is he nervous about opening up in front of a crowd?

“I think the pressure’s going to be on the first few. I’ve never actually walked on a stage and sat down… so that will take a little bit of getting used to but I think once I get into my stride…”

He’ll certainly have lots to talk about. He has been a member of five bands, achieved phenomenal success as a solo artist – including three Brit Awards, three number one albums and an appearance at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium – and is still writing and singing songs with Los Pacaminos.

“We’ve been going for 30 years,” he says of the Tex-Mex/Americana band. “We write songs that hopefully give a feel of living down by the border… Texas, Arizona, New Mexico. That’s the kind of feel we want to give people when they come and see us.”

It’s a far cry from the blue-eyed soul that Paul himself is known for but that, he explains, is part of the attraction.

“It just creates a whole other set of experiences. I’m a solo singer, but with Los Pacaminos I write and play instrumentals. I think Paul Young fans would be pretty disappointed if I came out and played the guitar and didn’t sing but I can do that in the Pacaminos. There’s four people that can sing in the band so I sometimes sing harmonies to back somebody else and I get a big thrill out of that because once again, I can’t do that at a Paul Young concert.”

What about the name? What does it mean?

“Nothing, we made it up!”

I laugh at his brazen answer and I’m still smiling as he explains how it came about.

“We said something like, ‘Do you reckon we’ll pack ‘em in?’ meaning the crowd. And somebody went ‘Packaminos!’ So that became the name.”

It may not be the most imaginative of names but it has a certain ring to it. As do the titles of most of his singles. Does he have a favourite?

“I guess the one that still seems timeless every time I do it is ‘Every Time You Go Away’. I never really get bored with that, there’s something great about it. It was a big number one ballad around the world but… I finish the show with it.

It sounds weird to end on a ballad but it’s a great way to end the show. It’s got everything you want. Yes, it’s a ballad, it’s lovely, it’s sentimental, but it’s also got some dynamics and you can have fun with it.”
It’s strange that his two biggest hits both relate to a wandering soul. Is there something in that, perhaps?

“I think so.”

One thing’s for sure, he’ll soon be wandering from one end of the country to another when his tour begins, including a date in Kilmarnock on 5th April. Audiences can expect a candid account of Paul’s career as well as a musical treat and the opportunity to purchase his book and his album.

“I kind of compiled the album in lockdown,” he tells me. “I went back to these tracks that I’d shelved, and earmarked all the ones that I thought were good. Once I had an album’s worth… I took it into a studio with an engineer. I found a drum sound that I really liked so I basically substituted the drums on all the tracks… making it sound like they all came from the same session. It was a way of bringing it up-to-date.”

He admits it was a quite a laborious task but one that he really enjoyed. Talking of which, has there been one moment in this career that stands out more than any other?

“Not really because… they’re brought up all the time in interviews and things like that, so I’m constantly re-running those moments and I get a bit complacent about it. It’s the other things that I didn’t realise happened or that I recall when I go back and start writing.”

He does, of course, remember the ‘crazy’ time when he rocketed into pop stardom and suddenly became a teen idol.

“I’d been trying to up-date our sound,” he explains, referring to how his time with The Q-Tips ended and his solo career began. “I was writing songs with the keyboard player and the rest of the band didn’t like them. They were writing songs that were still quite retro and I didn’t want to keep doing that. So there was already a separation of camps. My manager stayed with me and the keyboard player stayed with me. They made sure that I kept a level head when everything started to explode.”

I wonder if now is the time to tell him I had his picture on my bedroom wall? I spare us both the embarrassment and ask about his time on Celebrity Masterchef and Hell’s Kitchen instead.

“Celebrity Masterchef was tough… I enjoyed Hell’s Kitchen more. My chopping skills were pretty basic but by the end of the show I was chopping like Speedy Gonzales!”

Are we likely to see Paul in any of the other reality TV shows? Strictly, for example?

“No. I think they would’ve asked me ages ago. They should’ve asked me ages ago… before my knees were shot!”

I doubt he’d have the time, anyway. He is, after all, still running two careers simultaneously.

“Los Pacaminos are still trying to finish their album for our 30th year. We’re falling short because of the Paul Young tour… which is consuming me at the moment. But we did get a single out. It’s called ‘Bitter Blue’. It’s a lovely song that Drew (Barfield) wrote and sang. He’s my co-writer.”

Paul certainly has lots to look forward to and also has plenty to keep him busy. With tour dates running through to mid-November, 2023 is set to be a pretty hectic year. That said, he’s already started thinking beyond that.

“I’ve got a couple of ideas. I might try moving my style a little bit across to something else.”

Whatever he decides to do, I’m sure it will be a huge success.

If you’d like to buy tickets for Paul’s tour visit www.paul-young.com/events.