T’Pau: Reformed 80s chart toppers on tour

Carol Decker of T'Pau
Carol Decker of T'Pau
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They were one of the most successful bands of the 80s and now T’Pau have a new album out. James Nuttall spoke to singer Carol Decker.

Despite only being in existence for four years, T’Pau certainly managed to embody the rock and roll saga: number one albums, fame and fortune, heartbreak, spectacular highs and devastating lows.

After years of struggling, 29- year-old frontwoman Carol Decker, along with her partner and guitarist and co-writer, Ronnie Rogers, suddenly found themselves at the top of the charts in 1987 with the now classic single, China In Your Hand.

There followed four more years of hit singles, arena tours, and awards. T’Pau hold the rare bragging right of having both an album and a single at number one at the same time. Even more impressively, they managed to keep both George Harrison’s album and Paul McCartney’s single from topping the charts.

Disbanding in 1991, Decker kept the name T’Pau alive by performing at huge 80s festivals and package arena tours with the likes of The Human League and Kim Wilde. In 2013, she teamed up once again with Rogers, along with a new line-up of T’Pau, to tour the UK to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Rumours soon circulated that the ex-lovers were planning to get back in the studio, and next week will see T’Pau release their first new studio album in 17 years, Pleasure and Pain.

The record has been a long time coming for Carol, 57, who says that being back in the studio was a great experience. “The process felt the same, I really enjoy it. I love being in the studio, I have to say, I love creating songs.”

Pleasure and Pain’s lead single, Nowhere, is new a composition by the band, but there are also quite a few old tracks that were never committed to record. For Carol, songwriting is about disguising the meaning a little, so that the listener can interpret it how they want.

That being said, she does comment that all of her group’s hits like Valentine, Only the Lonely and Heart and Soul, were stories taken from her own life. “A lot of it is autobiographical, and I do pull on my own experiences, and some of those stories can be quite old stories in terms of when they occurred in my life; I might express them fifteen years later, but then I try to abstract it out a little so it’s more of an everyman experience.”

This knack for crafting hits brought T’Pau huge success in the late 80s. Their début album, Bridge of Spies, was certified quadruple platinum. Rage, released a year later, also went platinum. However, this success was not to last forever.

Despite a third top ten album with The Promise in 1991, the band’s label decided that they were a spent force. “The record company, charmingly, dumped us.”, Decker recalls. “I thought they would have stuck with us, everybody has a dodgy album, and (The Promise) still went top ten. I was devastated, and my career meant so much to me. I was 28 when I got my deal, it took me years to get there, and finally I get success beyond my wildest dreams, and then the minute there’s a hiccup we were dumped.”

This stress would take its toll on the personal relationship between Carol and Ronnie, who eventually called it a day after the band broke up.

“We were very, very close, but when it all came crashing down, it was a real struggle and all our dreams were shattered,” begins Decker.

“I took it particularly badly, and I think I was very hard to live with, so it was probably my fault, looking back. I had one of my psychotic episodes for about a year, and I think I just drove him away, in the end. A lot happened: we had a huge falling out with the band, we found out our manager had taken £100,000 out of our publishing money, and my dad died.”

After her split with Rogers, Decker pursued a solo career, but was never able to recreate the same success she had with the band that made her a star.

In the late 90s, she released an album, Red, under the name T’Pau. Around this time, she met her now husband, chef Richard Coates, and their first child, Scarlett, was born.

Decker and Rogers worked through their struggles, and Carol says that their working relationship is now stronger than ever. Rogers has collaborated with her on several tours and projects since T’Pau’s split. “Painful though it was on a personal level, we always stayed good friends. I think the first thing he did for me was he mixed Giving Up the Ghost off Red, he did an edit. That was 1998, we broke up in 1993, and by then I was very happy with Richard, and I think, possibly, Ronnie had met his wife; so there was nothing in the way personally anymore, so we were able to reconnect.”

T’Pau is currently on tour again, promoting Pleasure and Pain. Although they may not be selling out Wembley Arena and travelling in opulent tour buses anymore, Carol says touring is still a pleasant experience. “It’s not a hardship, I’m not sitting on an amp in the back of a van, anymore. The splitter buses we get, we always try and get a nice deal on the higher spec one... and travel taverns!”, she laughs. “But I tell you what, when I was doing modest budget tours when I was young, it was awful, so things have vastly improved. If it was that uncomfortable I wouldn’t do it.”

Despite her immediate commitments of touring and promoting a brand new album, as well as being a full-time mother of two, Decker and Rogers are already planning ahead for next year. After two decades of confidence issues, Carol certainly seems to be getting her second wind.

“Ronnie and I were talking, after this goes out, next year we might put some EPs out and do a smattering of shows; just keep the momentum going, but not in such a massive way.”