That old suburban voodoo
When I saw Paul Carrack at Ronnie Scott’s just over three years ago, he did a shrewd thing by beginning his set with “How Long”, the hit that brought his voice to public attention back in 1974. It’s a song everybody loves, he still does it brilliantly, and it put everybody in a good mood. The whole club seemed to relax and open up to him.
Last night at the Cadogan Hall off Sloane Square, closing his UK tour, he went to the opposite extreme and performed it as the final number before the encores. This didn’t work as well. By starting the set with less familiar material, he had to work harder to build a rapport — particularly since the hall, although a beautiful and comfortable concert space with excellent acoustics and sight-lines, is a rather formal setting for what is, in essence, music best suited to a club environment.
It didn’t really matter because it’s always a pleasure to hear his great voice and listen to his excellent six-piece band as they run through 40 years’ worth of fine songs. “Tempted” and “Another Cup of Coffee”, from his days with Squeeze and Mike and the Mechanics respectively, are modern classics; the latter band’s “Over My Shoulder”, which he wrote with Mike Rutherford, is eternally irresistible. I’m only sorry that he doesn’t find room in the set from a song or two from his second solo album, 1982’s Nick Lowe-produced Suburban Voodoo, such as “A Little Unkind” or the sublime “Always Better With You”.
There were also several songs from his new album, Rain or Shine. One or two of the originals, like “Life’s Too Short” and “Time Waits For No Man”, are a little on the lacklustre side, but the deeply soulful “Stepping Stone” is a beauty that should find a permanent place in his repertoire. The album also features several covers, including lovely versions of “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right”, written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson for Luther Ingram in 1972, and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine”, in an arrangement inspired by Ray Charles. An unexpected highlight came in a heartfelt and properly respectful treatment of Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind”, which he recorded on his 2012 album, Good Feeling.
I suppose what I respond to in Paul Carrack, apart from his vocal and instrumental talent, is his unpretentiousness and his deep affinity for the music he loves (demonstrated in the choice of music played over the PA before the start of the gig, including Doris Troy’s “What’cha Gonna Do About It” and Irma Thomas’s “Time Is On My Side”). In between songs last night he told a story of getting a call from his daughter during that afternoon’s sound check. “She’s in New Zealand,” he said, going on to explain that when she told him she was planning a trip through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and other exotic places, he’d expressed anxiety. “Dad,” she responded, “when you were 17, you were getting in a van and setting off for Germany, to play in Hamburg…” That was 45 years ago. You’d have to say he’s used the time rather well.