Paul Carrack grew up watching bands at Sheffield City Hall and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Catherine Scott talks to him as he returns to Yorkshire with his latest solo tour after a career spent playing with some of the biggest names in music.
Most people Paul Carrack was at school with in the seventies ended up working down the coal mine as that was where the money was.
But even at 15 Carrack knew that despite it being good money, it wasn’t what he wanted to do and a school visit to a local pit reinforced his dream.
“When we were coming up to leaving school, they took us to the local coal mine,” he recalls. “I was claustrophobic anyway and it was ‘Get me out of here. Give me that guitar and let me learn a few more chords.’
“I’d see all sorts of bands at Sheffield City Hall, including The Beatles and I knew that was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t that I had 100 per cent belief that I would make it, it was more that I couldn’t do anything else.”
But he did make it and playing music has been Carrack’s life ever since. By 17 he was already on tour.
“I went off to Germany, we auditioned in London and got the gig,” he recalls. “We did two weeks in a club in Frankfurt then two in Cologne, all covers. Then we had a month-long residency at the Top Ten Club on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. Then the progressive rock stuff was coming in. We decided we were going to go for it.”
It took several more years, via the jazz-rock band Warm Dust, before they got the recognition and hits they deserved when How Long, a song with his second band Ace, not only became a UK success but a top three smash in the US, covered by Bobby Womack.
Up until then they had been living a pretty hand to mouth existence, but it was during this time that he met and married the love of his life and mother of his four children, Kathy.
Carrack’s career spans half a century during which time he has played with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Roxy Music, Mike and the Mechanics and Squeeze, where he replaced Jools Holland on keyboards, to name but a few. He was the voice of Tempted, from his tenure with Squeeze. Then came hits with Mike and the Mechanics such as The Living Years and Over My Shoulder, the latter co-written with Mike Rutherford.
Diana Ross covered Battlefield, co-written by Carrack with Nick Lowe, and as an in-demand collaborator Eric Clapton asked him to join his touring band.
Carrack launched his solo career in 1980 and he is one of a rare breed to have managed to be a successful solo artist while still playing with other groups. He has a vocal and loyal fan base who flock to buy his albums and to see him on tour – something he still loves doing, although he says he was never a natural frontman.
“I don’t crave the attention,” he says. “If you are going to be a singer you need to put your head above the parapet and I don’t particularly like it.”
‘The man with the Golden Voice’, as he has been dubbed, may feel happier in the safety of a group but he’s seen plenty of success ‘up front’ over the years. He is hoping to reach new heights with his latest album These Days and a UK tour which sees him kick off a series of Yorkshire dates tomorrow at Leeds Town Hall.
It’s his 17th album in his own name, a run that has been building real, independent momentum since he formed his own Carrack-UK label in 2000 with the landmark Satisfy My Soul release.
These Days features Carrack on keyboards and guitar and regular bandmate Jeremy Meek on bass, joined by Robbie McIntosh (who’s played with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Norah Jones and John Mayer) on lead guitar and drummer Steve Gadd, an Eric Clapton bandmate.
The album’s horn section is hand-picked and overseen by Pee Wee Ellis, the American saxophone ace who was an integral part of James Brown’s shows and records. Five tracks on These Days have lyrics written by Carrack’s friend, former Squeeze bandmate Chris Difford.
There was another moment of reflection when Carrack came to choose the cover image for the album. The image is of Carrack’s brother. “That’s us on holiday,” he says. “We’re living it large there, I think it’s probably the Isle of Wight. That was exotic back in the day. We had pretty humble beginnings.”
It is clear family is still very important to Carrack, now a grandfather, despite his hectic schedule. He lost his own father in a fatal accident when he was just 11.
He says that son Jack is ‘a chip off the old block’. “He hated school like I did. He started playing the drums when he was 11 and left school at 16. He just wanted to be a musician and is successful in his own right, but it is great to play with him now. It has brought us closer together.”
Wife Kathy has always been supportive of Carrack’s career which can see him away from home for weeks on end.
And while he is grateful for the support he has had over the decades he is clearly frustrated by changes in the music industry, particularly the decision by BBC Radio 2 bosses, he says, to drop him from their playlists.
“Radio 2 has always been a huge supporter of me, but they are really changing and I was surprised when they said they wouldn’t be playing my new album. I find it sad, but it doesn’t seem to fit in with their change of culture. They seem to be aiming at a younger audience. My fans are still out there – the album is getting one million streams a month on Spotify and tickets for the tour are selling fast.”
And he is extremely proud of his latest album and the chord it has obviously struck with his fans.
“It’s about 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 not being frightened of it, and just trying to enjoy it.”
Paul Carrack’s Yorkshire tour dates: Jan 20 Leeds, Town Hall; Jan 26 York, The Barbican; Feb 2 Hull City Hall; March 14 Sheffield, City Hall; March 23 Harrogate, Convention Centre. For tickets and more information visit www.paulcarrack.net/tour/