One of Britain's most beloved and talented voices, renowned for bringing a little soul to artists as diverse as Mike + The Mechanics, Nick Lowe and Squeeze, singer's singer Paul Carrack follows up last year's well-received album of soul covers, Still Groovin, with his latest collection of original material, It Ain't Over...
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As with Still Groovin' and 2000's acclaimed Satisfy My Soul, the new album is released through Paul's own Carrack-UK label. The first single from the album, "She Lived Down The Street", is available from April 21st: the most seductive result so far of Carrack's occasional songwriting partnership with Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford, this infectiously catchy pop number seems certain to mark Paul's return to the singles charts. The B-side is a live version of "When You Walk In The Room" - the Jackie DeShannon song which was a huge 1964 hit for The Searchers - which Paul recorded at his triumphant Royal Albert Hall show last November.
Paul was first bitten by the music bug as a small child back in his native Sheffield, where he would bash away at a home-made drumkit up in his parents' attic, playing along with an old wind-up gramophone. By the time he reached his teens, the Mersey Boom was in full swing, and the young Carrack proceeded to inveigle his way into a series of local bands, learning to play the organ and following the gig circuit to Germany, where he underwent the obligatory Hamburg nightclub baptism, as pioneered by such as The Beatles. In the early '70s, his progressive rock outfit Warm Dust released a few albums, but it was only when his pub-rock band Ace had a huge global hit with his song "How Long" that Paul's career really started to take off. Immediately, the band were catapulted from the British college circuit into huge American arenas, as "How Long" soared into the US singles chart, eventually reaching #3.
When Ace broke up towards the end of the '70s, Paul found himself wrong-footed by the punk-rock boom, but secured some session work, playing on albums by Frankie Miller and Roxy Music, and touring with Roxy, an experience which gave him a taste for the big time. Paul's 1980 solo debut, Nightbird, failed to establish him as an artist in his own right, so he continued playing sessions, biding his time and honing his talents as musician and songwriter. As the '80s proceeded, Paul reached a rapprochement with the new-wave scene, playing on albums by The Undertones, The Smiths and The Pretenders, and joining Squeeze for their masterwork East Side Story, helping redefine the group's profile with his soulful vocal on the hit single "Tempted".
After leaving Squeeze, ostensibly to pursue a solo career, he hooked up with Nick Lowe, an association which, though resolutely out of step with public taste and radio formats, would nevertheless generate five albums for Lowe and another for Paul, 1982's Suburban Voodoo. Though largely ignored in the UK, the album was a critical success in the US, where it was cited as one of Rolling Stone magazine's Top 20 Albums Of The Year. "I Need You", a Carrack composition lifted from the album, provided him with another US Top 40 hit, and was subsequently covered by Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville.
The biggest break in Carrack's career came in 1985 when he was invited to contribute vocals to a solo album being recorded by Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford. Despite the apparent differences in their musical styles, the very first track Paul sang on, "Silent Running", became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Encouraged by such instant success, Mike + The Mechanics developed into more of a group, touring America extensively and securing a string of hit albums and singles over the next decade. Before they could produce a follow-up album, however, Paul found time to sing and play on Roger Waters' Radio KAOS album and record another solo album of his own, 1987's One Good Reason, scoring another couple of hits through the title-track and "Don't Shed A Tear", which again broke into the US Top Ten, staying on Billboard's Hot 100 for nearly half a year.
Even better was to come when Mike + The Mechanics resumed recording. Sung by Paul, the title-track of their second LP The Living Years was a huge worldwide hit, peaking at number one in America, and hoisting the band to megastar status. Further touring was followed by another Carrack solo album, 1989's Groove Approved, whose standout track - the Motown-flavoured Carrack/Lowe composition "Battlefield" - was later covered by Diana Ross. The following year, Paul was co-opted to perform at Roger Waters' grandiose presentation of The Wall in Berlin, where he sang "Hey You" in front of over 250,000 people.
A third Mike + The Mechanics album, 1991's Word Of Mouth, saw Carrack's creative input increasing, with four songwriting credits; the band also donated a performance of "Ain't That Peculiar" recorded with Paul Shaffer's house band on David Letterman's late-night chat show to Nobody's Child, a charity album for Romanian orphans. Between tours again, in 1993 Paul busied himself with Spin 1ne 2wo, a classic rock covers collaboration with Rupert Hine, Tony Levin and Steve Ferrone, and rejoined Squeeze for their Some Fantastic Place album. The next year was spent touring the world with Squeeze, working on an ultimately abortive band project with Don Felder and Timothy Schmidt (which nevertheless garnered Paul an award for the most played song in America that year, when the reformed Eagles covered "Love Will Keep Us Alive", a song he co-wrote with Peter Vale and Jim Capaldi), and recording another Mike + The Mechanics album, ‘Beggar On A Beach Of Gold’. This contained another couple of Carrack co-compositions, including his first collaboration with Mike Rutherford on the hit single "Over My Shoulder", which revived the band's flagging fortunes in the UK and Europe, paving the way for a subsequent Greatest Hits compilation.
Paul's fifth solo album, Blue Views, appeared in 1995, and despite problems occasioned by the collapse of the record label, it was still highly successful in Europe, earning him a gold disc in Spain. When it was finally released a couple of years later in America on another label, the single "For Once In Our Lives" became a Top Five hit on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, cementing Carrack's growing reputation as a singer-songwriter of class and distinction. He was also developing a parallel reputation as an able and accomplished sideman to the stars, playing keyboards on albums by Eric Clapton, BB King, Simply Red, Van Morrison and Elton John, and being invited by Elton to play on "Something About The Way You Look Tonight", which, as the B-side of "Candle In The Wind '97", is officially the biggest-selling single ever.
Unfortunately, management changes at EMI resulted in his next album Beautiful World failing to get the promotional push it deserved, and a bitterly disillusioned Paul elected to take matters more into his own hands. After years spent biding his time, contributing to other musicians' projects and allowing outside producers to impose their designs on his material, it was a long overdue move, and one which reflected Paul's growing belief in himself as a singer-songwriter. Accordingly, he recorded his next album Satisfy My Soul at his Hertfordshire home studio, relying on his own musical instincts and playing nearly everything himself. Steeped in the classic soul and funk sounds of the '60s and '70s, but with an ear firmly trained on the future, Satisfy My Soul featured some of Carrack's most accomplished songwriting to date, with three tracks co-written with Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford. The result was a quantum leap beyond Paul's previous work, showcasing his songwriting abilities and allowing his natural soul qualities to shine through with a new clarity and power.
Having re-established himself as a solo artist, Carrack's next album Groovin' was a labour of love on which he paid tribute to his influences with a selection of covers of soulful pop hits from the '60s and '70s - such choice nuggets as the Isleys' "Harvest For The World", Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine", Bobby Hebb's "Sunny", Van Morrison's "Crazy Love", and The Young Rascals' title-track. "For me, that's the greatest era of pop music," enthuses Paul. "You could say it's all songs I've been singing in the bath for the last thirty years! They're all just great songs to sing. It was painless, really - all the graft's been done by the writers. There are a couple of tracks from Van Morrison's Moondance, which is a particular favourite of mine - in the days when you just had three albums in your collection, that was one of them: I know every note on that record backwards. I have big respect for Van, not just as an artist, but for the way he's always done his own thing, regardless of what anybody else thought. I just wish I'd taken a leaf out of his book sooner."
Groovin' was reissued with bonus tracks and an additional DVD the following year to meet the demands of audiences on Carrack's lengthy 2002 Tour, which saw him playing upwards of 50 dates throughout Europe and the UK, accompanied by his new band of young musicians from his hometown Sheffield. "Playing live has become a big part of the picture for me since I formed my own band about five years ago," he says. "It used to be a tremendous burden having to put a band together to promote each record, and I could never seem to get together the top session player mates I used to use all at the same time. It's great playing with the Sheffield lads, though, because they're just so mad for it! It took a little time to knock them into shape, but they've really raised their game now."
"The live thing is really important, it sorts out the men from the boys," he continues. "We play a lot of festivals on the continent, which draw a younger audience than I get in Britain, though we get a wide range of ages and types wherever we play, because of the various associations with Mike + The Mechanics, Squeeze, Nick Lowe, etc. I enjoy the whole thing, signing albums for the fans and so on, and that contact, their feedback, works both ways - you get a genuine buzz of appreciation which encourages you to perform at your best."
Last year also saw Paul receive the accolade of being invited, alongside the likes of Mariah Carey and Phil Collins, to serve as a special guest tutor on Operacion Triunfo, the Spanish version of Fame Academy, filmed at Barcelona's Acadamia. The phenomenally successful show, which goes out live 24 hours per day on its own special Operacion Triunfo Channel, has achieved the biggest viewing figures for any show of its kind worldwide - a whopping 70% audience share. "They asked me to go over as a guest tutor, to give a sort of masterclass and talk to the students," explains Carrack. "I would say the standard is higher than that on the British version, and there's a different vibe to it - it's not as cut-throat, they didn't just chop 'em dead; even those who dropped out were kept involved on another level. And they weren't all fantastic looking either - the main thing was that they could sing!"
In between touring and helping young Spaniards sing better, Paul has somehow found the time to write and record his new album It Ain't Over…, the latest step in his progress towards complete autonomy within the music industry. Not only is it released on Carrack's own label, but as with Satisfy My Soul, he effectively wrote, produced and performed the whole thing himself, playing everything from drums and bass to guitar and organ. "It's almost all me again," he affirms, "apart from the horns on about five tracks, and the strings on a couple of tracks, which were played by Wired Strings, who appear on Top Of The Pops quite a bit these days: they're young and gorgeous and they actually like pop music, so they play with feeling, which helps - sometimes it's hard to get the right performance out of older string players. This one's a bit more upbeat than Satisfy My Soul, which was more of a mature, reflective album. That's largely the result of doing so many gigs - and I know a lot of these songs will work really well live, too."
The album's full tracklisting is:
She Lived Down The Street
Nothin' To Lose
It Ain't Over
Happy To See You Again
Where Did I Go Wrong?
One Small Step
Never Too Late
Just A Little Lie
Ain't No Love
Following the album's release, Carrack and his band will be embarking on another extensive UK Tour later this year - but not until Paul has fulfilled a boyhood dream by performing with former Beatle Ringo Starr at a series of American concerts. "He does a tour every year as Ringo's All-Stars," explains Carrack. "He basically puts together a band made up of people who have had a hit or two somewhere along the line and can do a turn. He does "With A Little Help From My Friends", "Yellow Submarine", "Photograph" and all those great songs, so everybody‘s turn comes round a few times. I've been up for doing it for a couple of years, but for one reason or another it didn't happen, and fortunately he asked me again this year. And when a Beatle calls, you have to say yes!"
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