An icon of the eighties, Paul Young’s blue eyed soul sound saw him score back to back No.1 albums, and numerous top 10 singles, including No.1 ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home’). The lead voice on Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, he also performed at Live Aid. Now fronting Los Pacaminos, he’s still in demand as a solo performer, and has just been announced as special guest to Cher on her ‘Here We Go Again’ 2019 tour. We caught up with Paul at Rewind South, for a chat about all of the above. Always on the roam; Eamon O’Neill and Neil Jones.
How are you today Paul?
I’m very good, thanks. I just did three days with The Pacaminos, and I had the last one last night.
You’re here at Rewind, and I can just spy today’s set list; it’s all hits, with no room for album tracks, isn’t it?
Yeah, unfortunately I’ve only got about half an hour and that’s it. So I’ve got to get them all in.
Going back to the heady days of the 1980s, and do you remember your first ever Top of the Pops appearance?
Well, yeah, I do, but it wasn’t as Paul Young.
That was with the Streetband doing ‘Toast’, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was! The second time it was ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’ [in 1983], and I do remember doing that for the first time. I remember it was going up the charts at a really slow pace. I think it was just inside the top twenty; I think about eighteen or something when I got the Top of The Pops appearance, and then that really started to make it move, and yeah, I remember it very well.
That year, 1983, was a really big year for you, with the success of the ‘No Parlez’ album; did you know going in to make it that it was going to become such a huge hit?
Not at all, no. I went in to record it with just the one idea in mind; to keep singing the way I did when I was in the soul band. I’d been singing in a rock band, and then I was in a soul band, and singing in that way felt comfortable for me. So I didn’t want to change that, but I wanted to change everything else that was going on around me. And then the ideas just got wilder and wilder. I don’t think I thought it was a very commercial album, to be honest.
It wasn’t really, when compared to some of the albums of the era.
No, it wasn’t. If you look at some of the weirder album tracks, it was very ‘out there’, but it just seemed to capture everybody’s attention, I think. It came along at a time when you had had a lot of punk, and then there was a kind of anti-singing singing going on, and maybe they’d had enough of it and they were ready to hear voices again.
Soon after that you sang the opening lines on one of the biggest songs of all time; Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’.
It was just so fluky! Midge [Ure, producer of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’] is here today, and I was touring with him last year, and I said; “I’ve never asked you”, in what is it, thirty years or something?, “how did I get the first line?” And he said; “actually, we tried two or three people”! [*Laughing*] But, it was me, still, and it’s a nice thing to know. I know what it’s like; when I record songs, I think I’ve got the vocal, and I’ll listen and listen, and then; “can I just do the first line again, please?”, because the first line of a song is really important, so it’s actually quite flattering that they chose mine.
Which of your contemporaries did you have the greatest respect for at that time?
Actually, in a strange way; David Bowie. I listened to loads of r’n’b and things like that, and I was looking to artists like him as a way forward on how to change my style; how to be a little bit more avant-garde, a little bit more left field. So someone like Bowie was someone I looked up to because he came from the art school side of music, and he looked at it from a completely different angle to the way I would. To me, everything I grew up and listened to, r’n’b stuff, it was all kind of working class music; whether it be American or English, and so to listen to an artist like him, that was the insight into how I could change things.
Did you ever get to meet David Bowie and share that with him?
Not in such detail. I just met him and it was pleasantries mostly. But the one thing I got from him was he was a gentleman. He was a really nice guy; his manners were impeccable, he was a gentleman, and I thought; “that’s my benchmark”.
You both appeared at Live Aid; what was it like for you to be on stage at that event?
It was quite strange because my career was just taking off in America. We extended the American tour, plus my manager had taken on Alison Moyet and she hadn’t got a band at that moment, so that’s how come we ended up doing a duet [‘That’s The Way Love Is’]. So really, I was not soaking up everything that was happening, because I was a continent away [just before then], and it was quite interesting in a way to come back and just be involved in that whole thing. It was massive, and I think I just got through it in a bit of a haze. I thought; “I know what I’ve got to do, and that’s what I’m going to do”.
Have you watched it back since?
I did watch it. I think there’s a couple of different feeds; in one feed, it sounds okay, but on a different sound feed, you can hear U2’s drum roadie sound checking the drums right across ‘Come Back And Stay’, and it was so hard to keep time, because that was going on in our monitors.
Finally, what’s next for Paul Young?
There’s a lot of work going on. I’ve just been announced as the special guest on Cher’s tour at the end of October. Then in November I’m going to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. I’m hoping for some downtime after that, and I can finally get to some tracks that I’ve been trying to work on for the last couple of Christmases finished. But I’ve had a couple of hard years, and I got ill last year around Christmas time, so once again, I couldn’t really get the stuff done, so I’ve got to turn back to that and try to complete the tracks.
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