The best-known singer you’ve never heard of

Paul Carrack talks about going it alone and with some special collaborators.

Everyone else has spent the past eighteen months doing nothing much, while you’ve stepped up a gear. The new album One on One is something you’ve worked on during lockdown and it’s a solo project in more ways than one.

“I kept myself occupied, let’s put it that way. I managed to make an album that kept me busy, kept me occupied and kept the voice ticking over. Musicians have to roll with the punches.”

You say you made an album. You wrote, recorded, sang, played on it, mixed it. That’s a bit more than just making an album in the conventional sense.

“It’s a lot of hours. It’s a long way of doing things but needs must. I’ve done similar things in the past when I’ve produced tracks myself so I’m not really a foreigner to that. In a way the good thing is that I had even longer to mess around than normal.”

You released some live albums, the Independent Years, in 2020. You’ve had that sort of hands-on approach for a long time.

“That was a series of live recordings from the past twenty years since I started my own label. I’ve been in a number of bands, I like collaborating and getting on with people but as far as a record label goes, it’s about twenty years since I started doing it that way without any record company involvement.

“The writing was on the wall back in those days that the record industry was contracting and I valued the independence of that route. I decided I needed my own catalogue of music because a lot of these recordings I’ve been involved with I had no rights to.”

The independence thing is a bit of a throwback to the early days of you band Ace and the pub rock scene, where it wasn’t so much independent labels as the independence of the live circuit and the promoters.

“The business side changed so much. When I started the label I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I knew about making records but I had no idea how the nuts and bolts of getting it to the market worked and it’s been a steep learning curve. We didn’t start off with any intentions of being a major label, it was really a corner shop type of affair but we’ve gradually built it up and carried on doing stuff, doing gigs constantly and building up a nice sort of following.

“It’s a hard route to go down; one good thing I did have is that I had a bit of a story to tel. A lot of people didn’t really know the name Paul Carrack even though they knew the songs from Ace and Mike & the Mechanics so I’ve had to explain that but at least I had something to talk about.”

You started off with pub rock, which seems in hindsight a convenient label to put together a disparate group of bands, you ended up playing the same sort of thing but now it’s called blue-eyed soul. It’s all music really, isn’t it?

“It is, but it’s interesting you say it’s almost gone full circle. I’ve gone round all kinds of circles, different styles, from Squeeze to Mike & the Mechanics and I know it’s all rock & roll. The Mike & the Mechanics thing was a bit of a double-edged sword, I’m a fan of rootsy music – soul, r&b, country, that sort of thing and I’ve meandered a bit but it has gone back to getting a simple sound.”

Something you alluded to earlier – it’s a cliche but you are perhaps the best-known unknown singer around.

“We’ve made some inroads just by constantly touring and putting out new stuff so it’s a lot better than it was but even to this day I have to explain who I am until I play one of those songs. That’s the way it’s gone – it wasn’t planned but it’s the way it’s been and I’m quite happy with it. Up until last March things were going very, very well. We were playing to full houses, I’ve had plenty of stuff on the radio, things were moving in the right direction and I was quite happy. I didn’t particularly want to be famous, anyway. Just famous enough to fill a room is enough for me.”

And what rooms. Anyone who’s playing the London Palladium one night and Symphony Hall the next has pretty much got it right.

“You have to pace yourself for a tour. It’s important to be good every night, not just one in three, but that’s a good week. Symphony Hall is a beautiful place, my favourite venue. The Palladium’s got vibes and ghosts but I’d say without a doubt Symphony Hall is my favourite.”

You also mentioned collaborations. Working with BB King, Ringo Starr, Roger Waters and Elton John would be enough for many musicians but is there anyone else you’d like to play with?

“Not really. I was never looking for that anyway, it’s just the way things turned out but at the moment between my own stuff and working with Eric Clapton is enough.”

That’s another understatement – casually dropping in that you just played with Eric Clapton.

“I’m going to the States with him next week, all being well. A month over there playing organ with Eric, that’s great really but my bread and butter is obviously keeping my show on the road. It’s been very difficult the past eighteen months so we hope we can get on top of it and get out there next year.”

Paul Carrack plays Symphony Hall on Friday 11th March 2022. Tickets.