Paul Carrack, The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, 3 March 2013

Paul Carrack

Paul Carrack has built a regular and consistent fanbase thanks to his long and frequent tours – the latest of which ends this evening after seven months on the road. The only noticeable effect of this prolonged road trip is a slightly rough edge to Carrack’s voice during his between-song chats, and an occasional option to take the middle or lower notes in the more high-register harmonies. The plus is that there is an added gruff and mature tone to his vocals which gives a genuine soul veteran aura to the proceedings on songs like ‘Beautiful World’, with its gospel backing of piano and organ.

The underrated ability of Paul Carrack as a vocal interpreter is his ability to put his own stamp on any song he chooses, but with a subtlety that makes it seem simply normal. It’s the mark of a master craftsman, although it’s doubtful if many of his audiences even notice, much less care.

Critics sniff that Paul Carrack has worn a hole in the middle-of-the-road with his laid-back style, and one even observed that it was music for people who find Westlife too edgy. It’s easy to scoff at a performance that produces no surprises, no egotistical instrumental workouts, no flashes and bangs, just the expected high level of musicianship and vocal expertise.

But that is exactly what Paul Carrack does so well, and that is why his mammoth tours sell-out virtually every venue – including this one. That’s his audience, and they clearly love each other.

Paul Carrack Leeds, 2010

‘Another Cup Of Coffee’ manages to combine some serious social comment in its structure, and this performance was singularly more muscular than the recorded version, Carrack producing the famous legs-apart-knees-bent position that John Lennon used to support some hard acoustic strumming.

Carrack clearly embraces his status as a writer of superior pop music – he points out with no irony whatsoever that his single ‘From Now On’ is played on Smooth Radio, and invites his audience to tune in.

In conversation, Paul Carrack makes light of his abilities as a guitarist, acknowledging that he has learned what is necessary, and little more. That self-deprecating position was succinctly removed during a wonderful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘If I Should Fall Behind’. In the introduction, Carrack confirmed his ignorance of Springsteen’s music, though not his reputation, and his recent conversion to the master craftsman’s ballads including this one. His faultless fingerstyle guitar overlaid a sympathetic band backing from a band that knows exactly when to sit back and let Carrack’s majestic vocals take the lead.

A respectful run through of The Searchers’ ‘Walk In The Room’ reminds us that this level of well-crafted pop songs has been a staple of the musical scene for the last 60 years, and Carrack is happy to acknowledge its influences on his work.

As the show winds up, the biggies come in – ‘How Long’, Carrack’s ace hit was given a thorough work-out by the band, losing none of its bitterness in the vocal, and gaining a Stax-style soul treatment for the band who effortlessly stepped up a gear for the concert’s home straight. Sing-alongs are not only accepted in a gig like this, they are considered essential, so everyone got warmed up with an a capella session on the chorus which got people standing and clapping along.

Paul Carrack York

That set the atmosphere perfectly for ‘Looking Back’, which follows the Carrack template of carrying a sad story in a happy melody. The clapping was enthusiastic, and as always, the concert ended on a wave of euphoria and affection, shared by both the band and audience.

With a nothing-to-lose atmosphere now overcoming everyone, Paul Carrack let rip with the Marvin Gaye classic ‘What’s Going On’. There are few white soul singers who would feel comfortable attempting to emulate the master’s heartfelt delivery, and even less who would embrace the passion and depth of the original, but Paul Carrack relaxed and let is soaring vocal style carry him through with no need to nurse his voice any longer – he has a few weeks off before heading out as a band member on Eric Clapton’s tour.

Paul Carrack is never going attract venue-smashing stage-diving rock monsters to his shows. His songs are never destined to be anthems for disaffected youth to rally around. He has found his niche in superbly played and produced blue-eyed soul with his own understated, but still more than sufficient, acoustic and keyboard playing to underpin his matchless vocals.

Providing an evening out for people who like to know what they are getting, this is an artist who knows his audience supremely well, and never delivers less than they are looking for. That is a recipe for long-term success, and Carrack is more than happy to keep on giving. 

Andy Hughes

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