An Interview With Paul Young

Posted on: 23 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

From soul music to soul food, the singer talks to 50connect about his varied career.


It's been 25 years since Paul Young's solo debut album was number one in the chart, and the single Wherever I Lay My Hat maintained the top spot for most of the summer of 1983.

Now aged 52, Paul is still feeling young at heart.

"I suppose I'm growing up a bit slower than I should have done. My school reports always said I was immature and I think that's actually worked in my favour, because to be a musician growing up too fast is not a good thing."

Paul's interest in music dates back to when he was very young, when he learnt to play the piano and then the guitar. On leaving school he worked with his father for Vauxhall Motors and played in various bands at night, going from bass player to singer. He's still as excited as a schoolboy about music.

"I get excited when I hear something really good. A couple of years ago there was an album I heard and I called up our drummer to tell him how great I thought it was. He was in Los Angeles so I said oh well, it doesn't matter anyway, and then I was on the phone for ten minutes telling him how great this album was and playing it down the phone. I'm happy I can still get that excited about hearing something."

Paul sung in various bands such as Kat Kool & The Kool Kats and later in the better known Street band, who had a hit with Toast. In December 1979 the Street band broke up and Paul went on to form the Q-Tips. The Q-Tips went their separate ways at the end of 1982, and Paul began his career as a solo artist.

Although a Paul Young collection was released after 20 years, the re-release of No Parlez as it reaches its quarter century anniversary is a major milestone for Paul.

"20 years sounds ok, but 25 years doesn't sound so good. That means I should be getting a gold watch or something. I'm sure anyone that bought it feels the same way!"

Now the first CD version of Paul's solo debut to replicate the original vinyl album is available, with extra tracks on a second CD. He enjoyed re-discovering these.

"For me the interesting ones were the ones that we never quite completed that got put away, particularly Power of Shelter. I hadn't heard that for 25 years and I had no idea what was going to be on the tape. As it happens it was just my voice, a keyboard and a drum machine, so 25 years later we added just a few other more musical percussion bits."

After No Parlez Paul went on to have hits such as Every Time You Go Away. He cemented his fame by singing the first line of the Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas?, and performing to audiences around the world at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

"It was a rush. It was all over quickly, there was so much stuff going on, it's just like a blink in my memory now. At the same time I can look back and see it was something very special. That was probably the biggest audience I ever played to because it was Wembley Stadium, packed to the rafters. Then halfway through my set Bob Geldof walked on and said, we're now live all round the world or live to America, and all of a sudden it jumped from thousands to billions."

Although Paul had chart success, more important to him is that he was able to "stick at it" for so long.

"I had most of my hits over 15 years and that's very good in this business, because it chews people up and spits them out over a very short space of time. Three to four years is what most people get, so I was lucky to be able to last that long and still be able to chart. I enjoyed it along the way as well. By the time it was the nineties and I did the duet with Zucchero, that was quite a musical journey."

Paul was inspired to work with the Italian rock star after becoming interested in world music.

"Basically any music outside of England and America. We're a bit pompous sometimes about our music here. We tend to ignore what goes on elsewhere and think it's not as important, but I'm not like that."

The artists met and decided to make a record together, though Paul's record company were unconvinced the plan would be successful.

"I heard Zucchero and thought he was an interesting artist, very different to the other Italian artists, and then I met him once or twice. The next time I met him in a restaurant he said that he wanted to do a duet with me."

"At that point my record company were breathing on me heavily to do a duet with 1) a female and 2) a very famous international female. So I felt pleased that I wasn't doing what they wanted me to do. I was doing it with someone whose material I thought was valid and interesting. Also he was Italian, he wasn't a worldwide star, and he barely spoke English, so I thought at least that's a more unusual choice."

The duet Senza Una Donna gave Zucchero his best known worldwide hit.

"That made me even happier when, with an unusual choice of artist and song, it was number one all across Europe. Artistically I felt I made a good decision, and we ended up making a successful record too."

Paul's interest in world music continues with his band Los Pacaminos, established in 1995 to play Tex-Mex music. However fans can hear Paul playing his hits at events such as the Here & Now tour, which features many 1980s chart toppers performing their greatest hits.

"I'm pleased that I have a variation of things that I can do. If I was only doing the 1980s hits it might drive me a little crazy, but because I have another band where we play a completely different style of music, that means when I step up and do the Here & Now shows I can enjoy them for what they are. The variation is good for me."

The Southern United States and South America have long been a source of fascination to Paul.

"I started off with American soul music, which I suppose was Deep South, but there's so much more that was going on down that way, I just began spreading my tastes a little wider."

"First of all I started to listen to the blues and soul that came from down south, then from Memphis, Tennessee and places like that. Then I spread wider to Texas and New Mexico where a lot of Mexicans are."

"Now I've spread right down south through Mexico into South America in general, so a lot of artists from Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. I love Latin American music."

It's not only Tex-Mex music that Paul loves. He also relishes the culinary flavours of the region.

"I love south western food. It's a blend of Mexican and American Indian cultures and then all of the other immigrant cultures. Because America's built up of immigrants all these things mix together. There's a fair amount of Chinese people so it's starting to get an influence from that, and English people, and all the cookery ideas are melding together down there and creating something very special."

"It's the same as music. Mixing different styles and cultures creates something interesting and original."

Last year Paul put his culinary skills under the scrutiny of Marco Pierre White when he participated in the ITV show Hell's Kitchen, finishing in third place. He enjoys being in the kitchen so much that until recently he has been cooking every week in a restaurant. So we are likely to see more of Paul Young the chef in future.

"I was doing a season of cooking at a local restaurant every Tuesday night. I did a Cajun menu that I devised. I'd go in at 10 o'clock that morning, work with all the staff and we'd prep everything for the evening. We served about 30 to 40 people every Tuesday. I'm still keeping it up, because a restaurant is something that quite appeals to me."

As well as his own music and cookery, Paul launched the Etopia Music download website a couple of months ago, helping new artists make themselves heard.

"It's a shop like any other so there's Paul Weller, Coldplay, Bloc Party and all these things, but also it has unsigned bands. They can upload their music onto the site and get their fans to download it, as well as hopefully anyone else that sees it and fancies a listen."

Despite deciding "to run with the pack", Paul doesn't seem convinced that all new technology is good for the future of music.

"It doesn't affect us as much because our fans are used to putting their hands in their pockets and buying a CD, though some of them download. It's the young bands that start up now who are probably finding it much harder than we did because there's loads of bands around, possibly too many, so the audience are spoilt for choice. They also have DVDs, video games, Playstations, X Boxes, and so much more to divide their money between, so I don't think the business is what it was."

However, he says he's "enthusiastic about music in general." With his various live performances, cookery and other projects, the next 25 years could be very interesting for Paul Young.

By Cherry Butler

Web Links

No ParlezPaul Young's official website contains information about his music and cookery: www.paul-young.com

You can purchase the 25th anniversary edition of No Parlez from all good record stores or online at Amazon for £8.98.

Are you a Paul Young fan? You can share your 1980s and other music memories, or discuss concerts if you've seen or are going to see Paul or another artist live, in the 50connect forum.

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