The voice of many hits for many different artists over the last forty years, and a session musician on even more, Paul Carrack has just released his latest solo album, Good Feeling. 17 Seconds finds a man who shows no signs of stopping, and who is very modest about what he has achieved in the music business.
I start by asking him about his new record. How long did he work on Good Feeling for?
‘I did it in two stints,’ he reveals. ‘I did five tracks before our last tour, and then I picked it up after the tour. Three or four months. I did it all myself,’ he says.’
I ask -as someone how has worked with a number of producers over the years -how he finds producing himself.
‘Producing’s a funny thing,’ he says refletively. Working in his own studio at home, ‘I go in and mess around until it’s ready. I play a bit of everything,’ but reveals that he doesn’t mix his albums as he feels he doesn’t have the competence (his word, not mine). He is full of praise for Robert Cobb, whose task it was to mix the album.
His first big break was in the mid-seventies, when as lead singer of Ace, he scored his first hit with ‘How Long?’ One of the few pub rock bands to make it in the states, he also had a meeting with a man called Jake Riviera which would prove fortuitous several years down the line, when the young Riviera was the roadie for another pub rock band called Chili Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. Ace went to the States – but when they came back punk and new wave was taking off. And Paul decided to work a session musician.
One of the acts that he worked with closely was the reinvigorated Roxy Music, on their hat trick of albums that was Manifesto, Flesh and Blood and Avalon. He doesn’t elaborate greatly on this period, commenting that ‘During the Roxy Music Period, I was trying to develop as a musician. The guys I respected were session muscians.’ Rather than being a full-time member of the band he says that he ‘toured with them. We were a bit sniffy about playing with Roxy Music, we thought of ourselves as jazz and blues players.’
Nevertheless, the session work continued. He knew producer John Porter, who was working on the debut album by a then emerging Manchester band called The Smiths. ‘Just the one session!’ he explains. He also played with The Pretenders around the same time, featuring on the single ‘Thin Line Between Love And Hate’ from their third album Learning To Crawl.
But he also joined another established band, Squeeze, featuring as lead vocalist on one of their best known songs ‘Tempted.’ I ask if he was Squeeze’s first choice to replace Joolz Holland.
‘No, I was the last port of call!’ he laughs. At the time, Squeeze had split from their then-manager Miles Copeland -then riding high with The Police (for who his brother Stewart was the drummer). Jake Riviera – the one-time roadie for Chili Willi- had by now been involved with setting up Stiff Records and becoming Elvis Costello’s manager. Incidentally, the latter was producing the Squeeze album East Side Story. ‘It was Elvis’ call,’ he remembers, of the decision for him to take lead on ‘Tempted.’ ‘Squeeze had already recorded a version with Dave Edmunds that sounded like Supertramp!’ Although he left Squeeze after East Side Story, he returned to the fold for the Some Fanatastic Place album in the nineties, and returned once more to sing ‘Tempted’ on the Spot The Difference album in 2010.
But, despite the number of acts that he has worked with, he’s keen to point out that ‘the stuff that represents me is the solo stuff,’ and indeed he has had a career as a solo artist since the early 1980s. With Good Feeling featuring him holding a guitar, I ask if he considers himself more of a guitarist or keyboardist.
‘Well, I started out on drums!’ he explains, ‘then I sold my drums to buy an organ. I play more guitar live, it’s less of a barrier!’ He’s modest enough to describe himself as a ‘Jack Of All Trades’ but it’s clear that as a singer, musician and songwriter he’s certainly seen and done a lot over the past four decades, and that he’s happiest plying his trade as Paul Carrack, producing his own brand of blue-eyes soul.
Good Feeling is out now on Carrack-UK.