You could say that Paul Carrack is the hardest working man in show business, who now ranks among our most successful, respected and popular solo artists.
There’s his performing as a member of several bands, his songwriting for other artists, being the industry’s go-to organist for session work and tours, and his career as a solo artist, touring, releasing albums (his last LP Soul Shadows was released in January and in the Top 25) and running his own record label single-handedly. Not to forget his current charity work.
A true national treasure and one of pop’s best kept secrets, not everyone knows that the Sheffield-born musician’s outstanding 40-plus-year career has included working with legendary artists including Elton John, Eric Clapton, Squeeze, Roxy Music, the Eagles, Diana Ross, The Smiths and Nick Lowe.
Hailed “The Man with the Golden Voice” in the 2012 BBC4 documentary of his career, Carrack’s is the stunning voice behind many significant British pop songs of the past few decades: blue-eyed soul hit ‘How Long’ by his band Ace, ‘Tempted’ by Squeeze, and Mike and the Mechanics ‘The Living Years’. The first song he wrote and sang was ‘How Long’; it was also the first cover he ever had, with Bobby Womack’s version - the first of many of his songs to be recorded by other artists.
Diana Ross covered ‘Battlefield’, which he co-wrote with Nick Lowe, and his other tracks have been recorded by the likes of Tom Jones, Jools Holland and Michael McDonald.
'I Don't Want To Hear Any More' he wrote especially for the Eagles. Timothy Schmit, the band’s bassist, who he met in 1975 when Ace were touring America for the first time, called and asked if he had anything for the new Eagles album Long Road Out Of Eden. “I didn't, but after I put the phone down I started to write 'I Don't Want To Hear Any More'”, recalls Carrack. “I personally think it's a better song than 'Love Will Keep Us Alive', which I co-wrote with Jim Capaldi and Peter Vale and which Timothy Schmit sang on Hell Freezes Over. Don Henley included a version of ‘I Don't Want To Hear Any More’ on his recent solo tour which is quite an accolade.”
That’s about as much of a personal trumpet-blowing as you’ll get from modest Carrack, who won an award from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) for the most performed PRS song in 1995. He says in wonder: “I’m quite amazed to have been involved with some of this stuff.”
That he is always in demand as a session musician, and has contributed to the records and/or tours of Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, The Pretenders, BB King and The Smiths, is testament to his immense skills as a singer and keyboardist.
He played organ on tracks for Elton John including ‘Something About the Way You Look Tonight’, and contributed keys to The Smiths’ debut album, receiving a rare compliment from Morrissey: “He said it sounds like Reg Dixon on acid which I took as a compliment.”
“What I have always had to rely on is my musical instinct rather than any technical or theoretical ability”, he explains with typical modesty. “It’s the fact that I empathise with a lot of different kind of music. Often I could get away with doing what was required because I’d play with some empathy.”
Carrack has toured with Eric Clapton’s band ever since Clapton called him up out of the blue three years ago and asked if he fancied joining him on tour. At the time, Carrack was doing his own 60-date tour, and he found himself finishing one day, and hopping on a plane to the States the next for the start of Clapton’s extensive world tour. His collaboration with Clapton goes back a while – he’s worked on previous albums and performed in house bands for charity events alongside the star. In May 2017, he will guest perform with Clapton for three nights at the Royal Albert Hall. “You can’t take that for granted, but I seem to have got the organ chair at the moment”, smiles Carrack.
He toured with Roger Waters on his Radio K.A.O.S. tour of America, having sung lead vocals on tracks from the album, and in 1990 he was invited to sing ‘Hey You’ at the live stage show of The Wall on the bringing down of the Berlin Wall, in front of a 250,000-strong crowd. His performances have been seen at some of the most legendary venues around the world including Glastonbury, Roosevelt Raceway in New York, Wembley Stadium (including Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute) and the Hollywood Bowl.
Such longstanding work with fellow musicians means that Carrack can always call on his peers and he still songwrites with Chris Difford and Nick Lowe.
While contributing vocals to Mike and the Mechanics during the years 1985 to 2004, Carrack sang hits ‘Silent Running’ and ‘Over My Shoulder’ (which he co-wrote), in addition to ‘The Living Years’. But people often assumed Mike Rutherford was singing.
“I wasn’t always recognised as singing No 1 songs for them. When I started the solo trip in earnest I was almost starting from scratch; even though I’d sung a lot of big hits for several bands, people didn’t know it was me. In a way it suited me because I never liked the idea of being famous. I would have felt uncomfortable.” Feeling the need to establish his own identity, Carrack devoted himself to his solo work. “Through constantly touring, writing and producing new stuff I've worked very hard to establish myself as an independent solo artist.”
And what a solo career he’s accomplished. Carrack has an impressive critically-acclaimed body of solo work, with 17 albums spanning the decades from 1980 to 2016.
Paul Carrack’s musical empathy as a keyboardist and outstanding vocal ability means he can adapt to vastly different styles. His sheer versatility saw him turn his vocals to the Great American Songbook for the 2010 album A Different Hat, a collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Lending his vocals to classics such as ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’, Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ and Frank Sinatra’s ‘All The Way’, firmly placed his warm, velvety voice amongst the greats.
To add to his list of accomplishments, after decades on record labels, in 2000 Carrack went independent, and ever since has run his own label and publishing. Recently he refurbished the studio he’d set up in his home garage.
“I grew up in a corner shop with a corner shop mentality”, says Carrack. “My dad was a painter decorator and my mum ran our paint and wallpaper shop in Sheffield. So I had a bit of a mentality for being independent and not dependent on companies. The benefits are that you’re your own boss.”
Established and emerging independent artists could do no better than to follow his example.
He started off by making his album Satisfy My Soul at home. “I was producing it under my own steam in my garage and just thought to take it one step further and release it. I didn’t know the nuts and bolts of marketing an album. I’d worked with managers and record labels who took care of everything. There was a bit of a sea change happening in the music industry. It was obvious that it had started to struggle and shrink so with hindsight it was a really good thing to do it that way.”
His beginnings in music are remarkable. His talent for vocals was first spotted by a teacher at primary school, and he started playing drums after discovering a snare and old bass drum in the attic above the shop his parents owned. They’d belonged to his father, a music fan who dabbled in drums and encouraged his son’s musical enthusiasm.
“I used to go and bash on these as a kid and I was playing along to a wind up gramophone.” Tragically, his father died in an accident when he was just 11, affecting the young Carrack’s dedication to music. “It was the single most profound experience in my life so it was a massive blow. Music meant a lot to me. I think it even had an effect on my musical style because I was quite a melancholy kind of kid those days. The melancholy aspect in music was something I could identify always with.”
The Christmas after his father’s passing, his mother’s side of the family clubbed together to buy him a proper drum kit. But the ambitious Carrack later sold these aged 15 to buy an organ in order to join the local soul band. “But I couldn’t play. I knew about two chords and they said ‘he’s got an organ, get him in the band’. I just stood at the back quietly trying to figure it out. Amazing really, I got away with murder.” And the rest is history.
Now 65, how has he achieved such a long career? “Longevity is more a state of mind”, he contemplates. “I have always been prepared to take the rough with the smooth. In 1990 I performed live in Los Angeles when the band was up for four Grammys including Best Vocal for ‘The Living Years’. The front row was Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Mike McDonald. I flew home and the next night I was playing with Nick Lowe at The Half Moon pub in Putney.”
This Christmas a new version of ‘The Living Years’, which he has re-recorded with the London Hospices Choir, will be released with all proceeds going to the Hospices. Somehow, he will also find time this month to participate in Children in Need, The Forth Awards and Celebrity Mastermind.
A staple of the Radio 2 playlist with millions of Spotify plays, including two million alone of his single ‘One In A Million’, Paul’s relevance and increasing popularity as a solo artist is undeniable. A 24-date tour playing major venues is scheduled for February and March and will be the most extensive and significant solo tour of his career. Luckily for us, there’s no stopping Paul Carrack.