Tempted by a Good Feeling. Paul Carrack, one of the most in-demand voices and songwriters of his generation and creator of a catalogue of household hits returns with a much-anticipated new solo album.
If the appeal of a career in music loses its appeal for Paul Carrack – unlikely given his ever-increasing fan base and recording and touring success – surely a career in voiceovers beckons. Blessed with a singing voice of depthless soul and passion, Paul matches it in conversation with a vocal sound of enough warmth and sincerity to sell sand to Egypt.
Recently, those velvet vocals have sailed through another sell-out national tour, after which Paul will embark on another series of dates playing keyboards and singing with old friend Eric Clapton. For those who know Paul’s career prior to his tenure with Mike And The Mechanics, it is his fluid soulful Hammond sound that comes to mind, and he is a reasonably recent convert to the magic of the acoustic. ‘I think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none to be honest. I did start off playing the drums but I sold them and bought an organ. Someone showed me a few chords and I bluffed my way as a keyboard player. I think if you do something for long enough, you can get good enough at it.’
As owners of Paul’s latest solo outing will attest, his acoustic playing is somewhat above his nonchalant “bluffing” level – his description being more genuinely modest than musically accurate. ‘That’s good to know, because I don’t really practise very much.’ Paul responds with a grin. ‘All my learning of the guitar, and any music, has been more or less as a working musician. I don’t practise, although I went through a phase years ago of learning some scales, simply because I had never done it and I wanted to see what it was like,’ he admits.
‘There was always a guitar lying around the house, because my elder brother, who is four years older than me, played the guitar. He came home one day with a Gibson J45 that he had bought in town. Someone had butchered it, they had tried to put a pickup on it and as a result there were holes bored into it. It cost £45 which was still a fair bit of money back then; I think he borrowed it from our Grandma. My brother still owns that guitar now, and it was the guitar I grew up with,’ Paul remembers.
‘So as I joined various bands playing keyboards, there were always guitars knocking around, and I would always pick them up and have a play here and there. But to be honest, I didn’t really own a guitar of my own until we did the song ‘Over My Shoulder’ with Mike and The Mechanics. Around that time I was working with my own band, and I figured that playing a guitar was more approachable in terms of interacting with an audience, than sitting behind a keyboard all night. So I decided that it was time to get myself a guitar. I had the little Washburn that I was using with Mike And The Mechanics, which was okay, but I figured I would go out and buy a guitar. I went out with my good friend Alan Rogan who is a legendary guitar technician to the stars. He has worked with Eric Clapton and George Harrison, he’s with Pete Townsend at the moment, and we decided we would go out and find a Martin guitar. That was the intention, but I actually came back with a Collings. It is a fine guitar, but I think on reflection it really suits a bluegrass picking style, it has quite a hard action, and I am a strummer really.’
To be honest, Paul is neither the first or last acoustic player to go shopping with a firm idea of the instrument he is going out to buy, only to be seduced by that special magic waiting in all guitars – if it speaks to you, it has to be yours. ‘I did go out with the Martin in mind, and I tried quite a few in the shop, and the guy said try this, which was the Collings, and I was just knocked out with it. It is a beautiful guitar, and I still have it, but over time I have decided that it works best for a fingerstyle player, and that is not really my style. My favourite guitar is my 1963 Gibson Everly Brothers model. For me, as a strummer, that is just the most fabulous guitar, it’s instant rock and roll. It has that feel about it when you pick it up, which is what you want from any guitar you play and love. I got it six or seven years ago in Hamburg, I found it in a vintage guitar shop over there, and apparently it used to belong to one of the guitarists in the Scorpions. I have always wanted an Everly, but with some models you have to be careful, some of them are really good, and some of them are not so good, but mine is a good one, I love it. I wouldn’t say I am nerdy about guitars, I’m not discerning enough for that. I don’t have an obsession about certain models from certain years, as long as it feels good to play, sounds good and looks nice, that’s all I’m looking for really.’
Paul may deny being a guitar buff but he is certainly a collector – and enough of a buff to have a custom model from Gibson. ‘Alan Rogan has this gorgeous cherry red Gibson with white scratch plates on it, it’s gorgeous, and I have always desired it, I think it’s a Dwight Yoakam model. So Alan hooked me up with Gibson, and they seemed to know who I was. Acoustically, it’s not as sweet as a proper vintage model, but it does the job on tour for me, and I usually play that on stage.’
Then comes the age-old, but always essential question to any guitar collector, what makes you collect guitars? Paul smiles the smile of those who love the lure of the chosen instrument, and find it impossible to resist.
‘I collect guitars because they are such lovely things, and I can afford to have them now. I get them in different ways. I came across the Everly when I was browsing in a guitar shop, it was there saying “Daddy, take me home!” So, of course I did. Others come to me because people need to get rid of them for various reasons. I have a Gibson Blonde J200 made in 1964, which has the double scratch plates on like the Everly – that was a trademark of the Everly guitar. I have a letter from Gibson saying that this J200 came from the factory, with the double scratch plates. I guess someone must have ordered it, I don’t know who, but it is seven serial numbers away from Elvis Presley’s Blonde J200 which was one of his favourite guitars. Those are my really special guitars which I love owning. I also have a 1930s blues guitar which my wife bought me for my 60th birthday, so that is very important to me as well. There are between 30 and 40 at home at a rough guess. There are some pretty ropey ones in there, but there are some good ones as well,’ he laughs.
The advantage for anyone lucky enough to own more than one guitar is the influence on the writing process, as Paul explains. ‘I appreciate different guitars because they do different jobs and suit different styles. The Everly is rock and roll, the Collings is fingerstyle, so sometimes I may come up with a song idea that I know will suit a certain guitar in my collection, and sometimes its the other way around, I am playing one of my guitars, and it sends the song idea in a certain direction. On stage, I am a percussive player, on guitar and keyboards. I am not that dexterous a player on guitar, I can’t play a decent solo off the cuff, I would have to build it and rehearse it, and play it the same time every time, rather than just making it up on the night. I do that sometimes for my album tracks, I will construct a solo that I can record, and then get my band guitarist to play it when we are live on stage, and do a far better job of it! I am pretty economical with the notes, my musical style doesn’t call for lots of burning solos, and I can’t really do that sort of thing anyway, so that’s fine.’
Paul’s latest album Good Feeling is out now. Paul will be touring throughout January, February and early March.