In the 1980’s, you didn’t get much hotter than Paul Young. His songs were pop hits that oozed with his smooth vocals and R&B-grooving melodies. His first solo album, 1983’s No Parlez, brought him success with the singles “Come Back & Stay” and “Love Of The Common People.” But it was his second album, 1985’s The Secret Of Association, that shot him up the charts worldwide via his blue-eyed British soul cover of Hall & Oates’ “Everytime You Go Away,” helped no doubt by a music video showcasing the singer’s dreamy good looks, fashionable suits and sexy dance moves. He became an instant sensation.
In succession, he won Brit Awards, sang on the Band-Aid hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and performed at such star-studded events as Live Aid, Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute and the Freddie Mercury Tribute. As the times began to change in the nineties, Young fell in love with Tex Mex music, forming the Los Pacaminos and recording several albums with them. But his obsession with the soul and R&B music he has listened to since his youth was never far away and he continued to record and perform those classic hits, his latest being the 2016 Good Thing album featuring some of his best vocals to date.
Currently out on tour in the States with Ultravox’s Midge Ure, Young called in to chat with Glide about the tour, his undying love for soul music and what happens next for him.
How has the tour with Midge Ure been going?
It’s been a lot of fun. On the East Coast run, we were still kind of getting to know each other a little bit, the musicians and stuff. Now we’re back on the West Coast after a couple of months and it’s really coming along fine now. It’s a lot of fun, the musicians are great and we’re having a good time.
I do mostly songs from the first two albums, with a couple of songs from the early nineties and a song from the last album [Good Thing] I did two years ago. But it’s very geared towards what was going on in the mid-eighties.
Have you got a big band with you?
We’ve got three American musicians. I’ve brought my guitar player over with me cause I don’t play guitar onstage, as you probably know, so I had to bring my guitar player from the UK. So Midge does a show and then I come on afterwards with my guitarist Jamie Moses and we use the same musicians.
Are you pulling out any older songs or are you sticking to ones that are more well-known?
Well, there’s just a couple, now that I’m thinking about it. It all depends on how big a fan they are (laughs). They might know the song “Senza una donna (Without a Woman),” that I did with the Italian singer Zucchero. Or they might not. They might know, but probably won’t know, “Get’em Up Joe,” which was a song I wrote when I was in the Q-Tips. And they might not know “Slipped, Tripped & Fell In Love,” because that was on the last album. So I’m not playing it completely safe (laughs).
When this tour comes to a close, what do you do next?
Straight into rehearsals in the UK, because I’m touring the first album [No Parlez] so we do every track on the first album. I’m doing that for a month, which we start at the end of September and that goes through the end of October. Then I’ve got a Tex Mex band, the Los Pacaminos, and we’re touring the UK in November. I’m also doing a couple of European shows.
Will you be working on any new music?
Well, I’ve never been that prolific with my albums (laughs). In my whole solo career, I think I’ve only released seven or eight so it’s a bit early for that. Also, because I’ve got Los Pacaminos, we’ve just produced a live album and that comes out in November and there will be a fair amount of promotion to do around that. Then I’ve got some free time in January/February/March and then I go to Europe again.
Playing with the Los Pacaminos, has that changed the way you view or interpret music?
No, because the whole idea of doing something like that was to keep the two things very separate. I mean, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the band when we first started. I did a Paul Young album when the Pacaminos were about five years old and that album was slightly influenced by it because I was so obsessed with it. Now, I tend to keep it as separate as possible.
Yeah, I think everybody does. When I first started to sing, I was about seventeen or eighteen years old and I was listening to blues and soul. That was where my influences were at that point. One of my idols was Free, a four-piece group that came from the UK. I loved them. Their singer [Paul Rodgers] was an amazing vocalist. But as a four-piece band they made an incredible sound, you know. Very individualist players and I’ve never really heard anybody that played like them. But they would always say, especially the singer, that he listened to soul music, Joe Tex and Wilson Pickett. So then I started to buy records like that and that kind of became my vocal influences.
What was happening on the music scene when you were starting out in the Q-Tips?
There was a little bit of a revival of interest in soul and R&B in the period I was in the band. We’d had the punk era and punk was starting to fall out of favor and there was a little place in-between the punk and the New Romantic Scene; there was a little pocket there between those two things when there was a lot of bands, a lot of ska bands, Blue Beat bands, soul and R&B bands, and we were part of that.
Even though much of the eighties music was very synth heavy, you always had a great groove in your music. Did that come specifically from your love of soul music?
Yeah, it did. The Q-Tips, they had a life of about three years, and we hadn’t really picked up any record sales. We’d got a lot of fans that would come to concerts but it didn’t translate to sales. So when I did the solo deal, my main aim was not to change how I sang but change the music that I put around my voice, to make it more current, of that moment, you know.
On your Good Thing album, you dug a little deeper into the genre. Did you have to think a bit harder on what songs to record?
Well, Arthur Baker [producer] came up with the idea of going back to the soul catalog. I think it was East Memphis Music he got sold on, the publishing company, so we found out who had got them and we thought, we’re going to go through the catalog of songs. So we were just meeting up now and then – he was working on other projects – and we’d meet and go, I found this song, I found that song, and just play stuff to each other. After we’d done that for a while and had about fifteen/sixteen songs, we started to record those songs. It was a lot of fun to make.
Your cover of “Big Bird” has a familiarity to the Eddie Floyd version but you can hear the little subtle differences you add to it. How did you find that song and why did you pick it? I know it was more popular in Europe than it was in America.
I kind of knew it. I was a bit too young to know it was a hit in the sixties but once I’d heard a couple of Eddie Floyd songs, I bought a couple of albums and that’s when I discovered it and I’d always liked it. Then Arthur Baker came up with this song and I said, “Oh yeah, I know this one.” (laughs) So we were in agreement.
Also, one of the final things the Q-Tips did before they split up, Eddie Floyd had signed to a little label in the UK and he was over doing some promotion for his album and he got up to sing with the Q-Tips. It was a big kick for me at my tender age to be able to sing with what was essentially a soul hero.
But he sings with Bill Wyman, from the Rolling Stones, who’s got like a big band, the Rhythm Kings, and Eddie Floyd is a frequent singer with that band. So I got up at the Albert Hall to sing a couple of songs and Eddie was there as well. I hadn’t seen him for about twenty-five years and he said to me, “I’ve been waiting twenty-five years, Paul, to say congratulations on your success.” (laughs). It was such a sweet thing to say.
It just breaks my heart to see some of these great singers pass away and not be as known as they should have been.
As they should have been, yeah, and there were so many others, so many great soul singers in that era that I’m still discovering people from the sixties with amazing voices. I’m like, why didn’t I know these people? And it was because there were so many of them. They were turning out such great music at that point. Bands like Ollie & The Nightingales. There’s so many. I’ve got a collection of soul, like the Soul Children, Tommy Tate, and these are people I’d never really heard of and they’ve all got great voices and some incredible songs.
When you go to pick songs, what about it draws you in the most?
It’s an intangible thing. If it was just melody, I’d have stuck to certain songs. If it was lyrics then I’d be stuck to certain other ones. There is no criteria. I just know it, like it, sing it on my own for a while. Then some songs I know don’t suit me but other songs I’ll start getting more into it and more into it and I’ll know I’ve got something I can work with. So there is no part and parcel.
There was a well-known songwriter who really wanted me to do a demo of his song and he said, “I really think it would suit you.” He kept calling my manager and saying, “Why doesn’t Paul want to do this song?” And my manager said, “It wouldn’t be right for him.” So he called me and he said, “Maybe you’re wrong, maybe this song might be right for you.” So he convinced me to do the voice on the demo and I took it to him and he said, “You’re right, it’s crap, it doesn’t suit you.” (laughs). So I think I know. I can always be proved wrong but I think I know.
Has there been a song you really wanted to do but it just did not happen?
Yeah, I’ve never even gotten it into the studio. I just can’t find a way of doing it that would make it contemporary. And it’s a song called “Salty Tears” and it’s by Thelma Jones. That’s a really nice old soul song, gorgeous. I just don’t know how to do it.
Which one of your songs has surprised you the most that your fans really latched onto?
I don’t know if I can give you an answer on that but I can say that I do sometimes miss the obvious choice for the single. In the case of “Everytime You Go Away,” when we finished that album, the second album, they said it was obvious what the big hit on this album is going to be. And I went, “Oh yeah, it’s …” and they went, “No, not that song.” I chose another one and they went, “No, not that one. ‘Everytime You Go Away.’ That’s a massive hit.” I really didn’t know (laughs) And it proved to be one of my biggest so it’s funny.
But, I’ve got quite an unusual taste in music. When people ask me what my favorite track is I’ve ever done, I’d rather choose one that wasn’t a single cause I’m sick to death of the single. There’re ones on albums that should have been a single, everybody should love that song, you know what I mean. Those are the ones that I like. I always tend to go for the underdog.
As you’ve gotten older, do you find your love for the older music has gotten stronger or has newer music of today brought fresher inspiration?
Not necessarily newer music. I’m getting more inspiration from music from different areas. It doesn’t have to be new. I’m into Latin music at the moment. I’ve gone through all the Cuban stuff, I love Mexican stuff of course, and I listen to Brazilian music, Argentinian music; so many different things like that. I don’t know if it’ll ever influence anything I do as a solo artist cause it’s so far away from what I do as a solo artist. But that’s what I’m listening to at the moment.
Portrait by James Hole