The house lights go down, a gentle cheer rises from the crowd as the band take their places on stage and ease into the pulsing rhythm of Love Of The Common People. Out of the shadows, the tall figure of Paul Young steps forward to roll back the years, to sing one of the soul classics that made him a household name in the eighties. Paul is back on the road on his first solo tour in nearly twenty years to promote his new album Good Thing (New State Music)
The hair is tinged with grey, as is the goatee beard and, at sixty, he is a little heavier in build, but as he picks up the mike stand and spins on his heel, Paul Young has lost none of the moves that became his stage trade mark all those years ago.
“I’m here, Paul!” cries a female voice, from within the large crowd gathered in the hall. Neither has Paul lost the universal attraction of his younger days – the sex-appeal that made him popular with the girls and the musical integrity that made him cool with the guys.
Twenty years is a long time away from the limelight. What has prompted Paul to return now? “I’ve done a swing album in between,” he says, “and then I tried to work on what the next Paul Young album should be. I’ve recorded tracks with quite a few different people but I’m thinking, I don’t know if that’s what I should be doing.”
It was his love of soul that took him to the top of the charts in 1983 with the Marvin Gaye classic Wherever I Lay My Hat after a long apprenticeship with Streetband and Q-Tips. Soul was the common theme running through his career, so it came as a pleasant surprise to hear that Paul was recording a new album of soul music.
Now, I have a very eclectic taste in music but, I have to admit, some of these tracks were new to me. “They’re not old favourites of mine,” Paul confessed. “I had to hunt hard for them. I’ve got a lot of soul records that I would say are my favourites, the one’s that I liked when I was a teenager, but then there’s no end of nuggets that you can find if you search around. I think, unlike rock and roll where we have heard almost everything, as far as soul music’s concerned there is still stuff that’s in the vaults of certain record labels that’s all high quality material. They keep finding it and they keep compiling all these great albums and that’s where I come across them.”
The result is a great album that sounds really fresh. Many will be familiar with a couple of songs, such as the Bee Gees Words but much of the rest will be new to the great majority of listeners. “Some of them people might know, like L-O-V-E (Al Green), and maybe Your Good Thing (Is About To End) because it’s been done by a number of artists including Lou Rawls.
“Once Arthur (Baker, producer) got talking to me about it, we decided to stick to the Memphis catalogue of songs. I had been struggling to try and think of what a Paul Young album should be for years, so I thought this is probably a good idea. If I don’t know what a modern Paul Young album should sound like, perhaps I should get back to my roots and it just seemed to work.”
And work it does. The selection of material is very reminiscent of his root in the Q-Tips days, up-tempo and full of energy, a time when Paul first established his reputation as a great live performer. Paul has also chosen songs that suit his voice which has deepened a little in the intervening years.
Paul went on to explain how the album was put together, and it sounds like it was fun to record. “Yes it was,” came the eager reply.
“We started with a lot of programming, but then we sat on the stuff for quite a while because the original deal we had fell through, so we had a chance to review what we were doing. In fact Arthur has now taken the executive producer role and he gave the production credit to James Hallawell because he put so much hard work in. James said ‘I think we would be better to replace a lot of the programme stuff with real musicians,’ and that’s when it really started to get on fire.”
In those twenty years Paul has had more exposure on TV for his culinary skills on Celebrity Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, but kept his musical interest alive with his TexMex outfit Los Pacaminos. He formed the band in the nineties and they supported him on tour, but that is in the past.
As we spoke, Paul was heading to Cardiff for the first night of the tour and looking forward to performing the classic hits once again. “Yes, I am! I did three Pacaminos gigs last week and now I’m doing Paul Young stuff. I’m a Pacamino one week and Paul Young the next, but not with them as support. I did that once, it tires me out!”
I expressed my surprise that someone whose career was so steeped in soul should have such an interest in TexMex.
“It’s not that far away,” says Paul. “If you listen to Ry Cooder’s albums, like Bop ‘Til You Drop and Chicken Skin Music you’ll hear that he’s got Mexican musicians playing, but he’s got R’n’B singers. If you listen to the stuff that the Drifters did like Save The Last Dance For Me and Mexican Divorce, they have a very soft Latin rhythm, so it’s not that far away. We used to do a TexMex version of Save The Last Dance For Me and we used to do the Arthur Alexander song You’d Better Move On. The Rolling Stones used to do that one because Arthur Alexander was an R’n’B singer. It’s easy to mix that kind of material up, you know.
With Los Pacaminos Paul shuns the spotlight, just happy to be part of the band. “That was the idea,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be the lead singer. I didn’t want to start another band and still do Paul Young songs. That seemed to be the most stupid thing to do, to start a new project to do Paul Young songs. I’m still surprised when people go ‘Why don’t you do any Paul Young songs?’ – ‘Because it’s a cowboy band!’”
Back on stage solo Paul’s performance included his new songs Slipped, Tripped and Fell In Love, Big Bird and L-O-V-E alongside his famous hits Some People, Senza Una Donna and Everything Must Change, for which he picked up his guitar, before closing the set with Come Back and Stay. After such a long absence, no one wanted the evening to end, so for his encore Paul turned back the clock to Q-Tips days with Set ‘Em Up Joe and to the eighties’ with the ever-popular set-closer Every Time You Go Away and lots of audience participation.
There are opportunities to catch Paul on stage throughout the year. His solo tour continues throughout the summer before he takes in some European dates in the autumn, while Los Pacaminos gigs are slotted in with dates across the country already booked into 2017. Full details of tour dates can be found on the Paul Young and Los Pacaminos websites.
For someone who has been out of the spotlight for so long, there can be few with a busier schedule. And if he’s enjoying this return to his roots, hopefully we won’t have to wait so long again for another new Paul Young album.