Dave Woodhall talks to T’Pau’s Carol Decker about million selling albums, touring the world and avoiding a proper job. They both have one of these things in common.
Think of the eighties and two of the strongest images that come to mind are big hair and power ballads. Carol Decker combined both with her band T’Pau and whatever else might have been discredited about that decade, Carol’s still happy to flaunt her fiery red locks while performing the smash hit China in Your Hand.
The 25th anniversary of the band’s quadruple-platinum album Bridge of Spies has led to a new T’Pau tour featuring Carol’s former partner and co-songwriter Ron Rogers. Was there a problem working together again?
“No, it was easy. Ronnie and I have played and worked together many times down the years. We’re celebrating the 25th anniversary, so it was important that we got recognition for the people involved in the album, but Ronnie’s played guitar for me before and it wasn’t the kind of uncomfortable moment, we’ve been working together down the years and it was lovely that he could commit to the tour.”
You’ve kept busy down the years, with solo work and an acting career as well as playing regular Here & Now nostalgia packages. Was there another reason for getting back on the road apart from the anniversary?
“It kind-of gave me a reason. I’ve been doing the eighties packages and they’re great, they pay the rent and they fit in nicely but they’re a bit frustrating because you get your twenty minutes and then you’re off just when you’ve got going.
“I wanted to revisit the album tracks, not just the singles that everyone knows and particularly China in Your Hand, I wanted to indulge myself in some of the fabulous album tracks Ronnie and I had written and do a proper show with pace, slower stuff, a bit of acapella, be a bit artistic about it as opposed to running onstage and doing twenty minutes of hits.”
Is there also an element of unfinished business behind the tour?
“I think so. Bridge of Spies was quadruple platinum, Rage was platinum, and I know we had our day but everyone else seems to be out celebrating their anniversaries so I thought why don’t we do it? It was a struggle to put it all together. We had to make sure we could make it work financially and to get the right people together for the band, there was a lot of work to make it happen.
“But yes, I wanted to draw a line under everything, give myself a pat on the back for all that, and we’re also going to do a new album. I’ve a lot of new ideas and I’m working ready for it to come out next year.
“I haven’t decided yet whether I should do it under the band’s name or my own. Sometimes I think it should be me, then I get people saying ‘No, T’Pau is a brand, everyone recognises the name ,’ then I get back into it and I think okay, then I think the band is in the past and if I ever want to move forward I should be myself. What do you think?”
Er, I’m sitting on the fence, claiming journalistic neutrality and rapidly changing the subject by bringing up Carol’s early days and in particular her first band the Lazers, who surfaced on the Live at the Barrel Organ album, recorded at the legendary Digbeth venue and now freely available via the miracles of Spotify.
“It’s alright isn’t it? There’s some good stuff on there.”
There certainly is, although apart from the Lazers there’s also some distinctly average pub rock which shows that not everything about the days of yore should be remembered. Which brings us round to the differences between touring the arenas of the late eighties and the modern travelling T’Pau.
“It’s obviously a smaller affair, but it’s still fantastic because people are there, which is great. It was almost in control of us first time round because it was so big, so fast, it was like riding the tail of a comet. Now we’re in control of it, I decide the set, what I want the band to do, a benign dictatorship if you like.
“It was something to sell out arenas, of course it was, and it was enjoyable but it was harder to understand and I’m definitely a better performer now. I’m more confident, I know what I want to do and I can hold my nerve rather than panicking. It was fantastic, and if I could do that now knowing what I know now, that would be the perfect situation but we’re still getting a really healthy turnout and having a brilliant time because we all know why we’re there.
“It’s not like people are coming because we’re in the charts, they’re there because they want to be, and I’m there because I really want to be so there’s a nice reaction going on.”
T’Pau had massive success, then faded from sight as times and tastes altered. If you could change one thing from that era, what would it be?
“I might have brought the third album, The Promise, out quicker after Rage instead of waiting three years. We’d basically run out of songs so we didn’t move with the times very well. I should have been listening to what was going on around me.
“As the nineties began, Stone Roses, the Farm, Nirvana, people like that arrived. The musical climate changed and I wished I’d paid more attention. There’d been a real sea change and I didn’t know where I fitted in.”
You have two children. Would you encourage them to be musicians, or would you want them to go and find a real job?
“I encourage them to be whoever they want to be, as long as I could see that they could manage it. My son Dylan drums, he really enjoys that, and my daughter Scarlet only ever listens to one band at a time, but she’s an artist so she’ll probably go down that route. I wouldn’t tell them to go and get a proper job. I consider my greatest achievement to be avoiding that. Life can be really boring can’t it, if you get a proper job? I’ve had my ups and downs, amazing times and really low times . It’s a rollercoaster ride, it’s not nine to five and the pay-off’s worth it.”
T’Pau play the Robin 2 on 15th June. www.therobin.co.uk