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.
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.