Music interview: Paul Young talks about Los Pacaminos
As career moves go, Paul Young’s decision to forsake warm, blue-eyed soul for life on the road in a Tex-Mex band might seem one of the more unusual paths taken by an 80s pop heart throb.
But, 24 years from their formation, Los Pacaminos remain an important part of the Luton-born singer’s life, still regularly touring the UK and beyond.
Young says that the idea for the group “kind of unwittingly” grew out of the fact that he had missed the band set-up he once had in the late 70s and early 80s with The Q-Tips.
“When I came up with the idea of a band that didn’t have to rely on albums to have to tour that was the primary reason for doing it,” he explains. “Tex-Mex was an achievable music to create in a short space of time, rather than say mariachi, I would’ve had to have gone back to music studies to be able to play that, but this is closer to r’n’b music and blues, it’s got slightly different inflections, so that was great.
“But once the band had been formed it really did feel like it did when I was in The Q-Tips. It’s a big band, there are seven people, and we’re all friends, so I actually sometimes say The Q-Tips when I mean the Pacaminos – that’s how close it is.”
For 60-year-old Young, Los Pacaminos are an outlet for his dreams of roaming the US-Mexico border. “I’ve been there a couple of times and I just love it,” he says. “There’s something very strange about that hot, dry climate down by the border there. You’d think driving through a desert would be pretty boring but there’s something about it that gets into your soul and I really wanted to go back there again and see more of it so we kind of do that through our songs.”
It’s also provided an opportunity for him to delve more deeply into the history and culture of the region. “Particularly when the band first started I was immersing myself in it,” he says. “I was buying everything I could find...I bought a fair amount of c**p before I started to find good stuff from down in Mexico and further into Latin America.”
Having worked at the Vauxhall car factory himself before becoming a full-time musician, Young finds common ground with the blue collar, working man’s aspect of Tex-Mex music. “I must be drawn to it,” he says. “It’s like the blues was really, it’s beyond working class music, it’s a couple of steps down from that even, slave music, really, but there’s something about earthy music styles that do appeal to me.
“Although I didn’t know that’s what I was hearing when I heard the Mexican influence, which is actually called conjunto or norteño, shortly afterwards I found out that norteño music is kind of dancehall style of music that they play. The Mexican way of life is hard working, poor people that want to go our on a Friday and Saturday night and dance with their girlfriends, that type of thing.”
Back in his first couple of bands, Young played the bass guitar, but he admits there was always a part of him that yearned to be up at the front of the stage singing. “I wanted to be a singer first and foremost,” he says, “but the reason I wasn’t getting the gigs was because my mate looked like Robert Plant and that’s the kind of singer everybody wanted when I was young. So he would get the gigs as the singer and I would tag along.
“I thought I’d better do something else then. The first band I was going after said ‘We need a bass player’ and I said OK. But then I started to enjoy playing bass and for quite a few years I modelled myself on Andy Fraser from Free. Even though we were playing some Led Zeppelin songs in the set I still tried to play them like Andy Fraser.”
Soul, Motown and r’n’b influences crept into Young’s repertoire as “a follow on from the blues”.
“A lot of blues bands that I knew, although they were listening to Leadbelly and Robert Johnson and Albert King, Freddie King and BB King, the singers like Paul Rodgers were also listening to Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, so that was my springboard.”
By the time of his first solo album, No Parlez, in 1983, Young had become one of the biggest pop stars in Britain. His cover of the Marvin Gaye song Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s My Home rocketed to No1 and further top 10 hits followed with Love of the Common People, Come Back and Stay and I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down. He looks back on the period with fondness.
“It was a lot of fun, really. I didn’t go nuts. I tell people I owned a Porsche but when they see the Porsche now they go ‘Oh, you didn’t have a 911, all guns blazing?’ I didn’t buy beyond my means. The only time I did was when I bought my first big house and my accountant said I couldn’t afford it then six months later I was No1 in America and that was that worry over.”
In more recent years, Young has appeared on TV cookery shows such as Celebrity MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen. His interest in cooking stems from travelling.
“There were a couple of guys in the band that really loved their food so we’d fly into whatever town, like Portland, Oregon, and then we’d say to the cab driver ‘Where’s a great place to go and eat?’ and bit by bit we started to find really good restaurants,” he says.
“But the breaking point was when I got to New Orleans, I just tasted some amazing food and thought ‘That is something I’ve got to learn how to cook’, so I bought my first international cookbook home in 1984 or 85 and started to learn how Cajun food was made.”
As well as touring with Los Pacaminos, this month Young has released a solo album, Good Thing. It’s a collection of Memphis soul tunes. “Once again I’m still going through the searching process,” he says. “Rather than go for songs that leapt of the tip of my tongue I started to really get to the bottom of the box, as it were, and tried to find some unusual choices.”
Paul Young and Los Pacaminos play at Holmfirth Picturedrome on May 7, The Greystones in Sheffield on May 26, Selby Town Hall on May 27 and Whitby Pavilion on August 11. For details visit www.lospacaminos.com or paul-young.com
Prince was ‘an inspiration’
As a massive fan of the late pop superstar Prince, Paul Young regrets that he never got to meet his hero.
“I really wish I had,” he says. “I was a major fan from the minute I heard I Wanna Be Your Lover. I’ve got all the albums but the first one I bought was actually Dirty Mind, which was before 1999 and all that, and I went to see him live when no one had really heard of him – he played the Lyceum and it wasn’t full, but I was absolutely amazed by this guy.”
Young particularly admires the fact that Prince was able to resist the pressures of major record labels. “He did it his way but he was 100 per cent an artistic person. Me, I freely admit I’m less so. I’ve tried to juggle being a family guy with being a musician. I think you make that decision early on and Prince’s was he wanted to be the consummate musician probably to the detriment of having a proper family life, that’s why he was such an incredible innovator and influence.”