A Life of Many Pleasant Surprises – Growing Up with the ‘Sprouts’

His name was Vinnie and he was manager of the ‘record department’ at WHSmith in Sutton Coldfield in 1985. I owe him a debt of gratitude for 2 reasons:
1) He gave me a very welcome part-time job, mostly on the back of an interview where I was able to name both members of Tears For Fears and recall that the number one single of that particular week was ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge.
2) He introduced me to Prefab Sprout and the creative musical genius of Paddy McAloon.

Vinnie was heavily into the Pogues and from the little I knew of this group (an album called ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’, lyrics with ‘fruity’ content and last but by no means least their ever over-indulging lead, Ewan MacColl), I was more than a little sceptical about any recommendations he made.

However, a few plays of side one of the then recently-released ‘Steve McQueen’ and I was reeled in. To my naive young ears it was well-crafted, intelligent, unique-sounding pop music.

Prefab Sprout.
I liked them.
Nobody else liked them.
(I liked them even more)
True, the name was odd.
I could just about live with that.

I was not totally sure about the Steve McQueen bit and the misty motorcycle picture on the cover meant nothing to me either.
At this point though, I was drifting around with the intro to ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’, Wendy’s echoing vocals on ‘Appetite’ and the bursting chorus of ‘When Love Breaks Down’ worming into my mind. Nothing else really mattered and has not since.

If there is a band that has provided the soundtrack and been the accompaniment to the intervening 28 years, it would be Paddy and Co.

During this time, the Prefab Sprout canon has ranged from the decidedly quirky (‘Farmyard Cat’) to the chart-bound (‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’) and has touched most bases in between, but the theme that constantly inspires Paddy is love.
Love is …. the fifth horseman, the gunman. It will ‘find a place for you.’ ‘All the world loves lovers.’
I believe that he is a true romantic, not wrapped up in teary-eyed sentimentality, but confident that love is an overwhelming power for good. His songs are written with an inherent optimism, a desire to see love triumph and a marvelling at what life has to offer and how music can interpret and even enhance it all.

This week sees the release of the first Prefab Sprout album in four years, ‘Crimson/Red’. I have not heard it yet, but I can guarantee it will be innovatively constructed with each musical phrase and lyrical nuance there for a reason. As such, I know I will love it. Of course.

I have often played the after-dinner game of ‘Which celebrities (alive or dead) would you invite to dinner?’
Always included in my answer is Paddy McAloon.
When I consider that almost every note and word ever recorded by Prefab Sprout has come from the mind of this one man, then he makes my invite list every time.

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Tripping to the city of light – fantastique!

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Top lunch location 1

OK – it’s ‘cards on the table’ time.
I’m in two minds about running trips.

Exam classes are clamouring (quite rightly) for my presence.
Controlled assessments are screaming for precious preparation time and the GCSE course is keen to muscle in too, pleading to be completed in full.

With this as a backdrop, the decision to take a week out in mid-September to take 34 Year 8 and 9 students to Paris (as well as squeeze in both legs of a Spanish exchange before half-term) is one of loss and gain.

On the one hand, classes are left to fend for themselves and this is never ideal. However, for those students on the trip, visiting a city like Paris is surely an experience unlikely to be forgotten quickly.

We travelled with PGL and, from start to finish, the support this company gave was first-class. We stayed 20 miles from Paris in a rural ‘château’ where students were able to walk in the grounds with freedom. Activities were expertly staffed and the evening pressure of keeping students ‘entertained’ after a long day out was taken away thanks to PGL arranging a disco, pancake making and a camp fire amongst other enjoyable events. Highly recommended.

Our time in Paris avoided any encounters with Disneyland Paris or Parc Astérix. Nine school visits to the former had left me in search of (for want of a better term) a more ‘cultural’ experience. So, Montparnasse Tower, lunch at the Eiffel Tower, a boat trip, Paris Story, Notre Dame, lunch at Sacré-Coeur, walking around Montmartre and then visiting the Musée d’Orsay gave students a two-day taster of what the ‘City of Light’ has to offer.

Grumbling about the lack of ‘Disneyfication’ was only occasionally heard and these students were certainly open to the ‘wow’ factor of all they saw.

One key moment brought home the value of what we were doing though. One student came over to the teacher’s table at dinner and said, ‘Sir, me and my friends have already decided that we are going to come back to Paris when we are older to see more of it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve decided to take GCSE French next year now too.’

I have stated previously (“A little Global Understanding goes a long way” http://wp.me/p3bDa7-B ) that raising the levels of cultural literacy and appreciation amongst students is a passion of mine. Organising and running trips like this one helps to fuel this passion. When students are as clearly motivated and changed by them as this, then this only serves to underline their value to me.

How can I give them up?

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Top lunch location 2