We’re on the verge of the release of Paddy McAloon’s 13th album, with the first of what may be several blogger/fan ‘listening experiences’ taking place on September 11th, which could be looked at as 9-11. But I don’t sway to superstition that easy. That said, I can’t help but look at the rocky road that the album release appears to have trodden.In March, the songs from the latest offering, ‘Crimson/Red’, were leaked onto the Internet via Soundcloud. Once discovered by Paddy and his manager Keith Armstrong, a swift program of action was undertaken to remove these files, and other similar links on YouTube, Sproutnet and other sites. Then the album’s distribution deal through Warner fell through, just seven weeks before the album launch. Then I spotted that the name chosen by Icebreaker for their newly-formed record label will be Icebreaker Records – the same name as these guys: http://icebreakerrecords.bigcartel.com/ …bad omens? I don’t think so… read on. The feedback that I am receiving coming from all quarters (fans, journalists, musicians etc.), who have all heard the ‘leaked’ songs (who hasn’t heard them?), is of being gushingly impressed. Irrelevant of these hiccoughs, I resolutely believe that given the right press exposure and radio presence this album could become Paddy’s biggest hit to date… I really do. OK, the recording and mixing could be better – but it truly represents Paddy’s ‘sound vision’ of the songs – and that’s good enough to me. On listening to the leaked songs, some fans dared to question their authenticity… how could they? Those exquisitely wonderful vocals, playful arrangements and humorous, emotive, insightful lyrics – always – are classic trademark Paddy McAloon. I literally experienced a ‘high’ as I listened to them. I think others will, too. As it happens, this album will be Paddy’s 10th album full of original material offering (excluding the two ‘best of’ albums and the 25th Anniversary Steve McQueen album). In his recent promotional photos, taken by Kevin Westerberg (who also did the shoot for Let’s Change the World with Music), he is still sporting the silvering beard and dons a white suit and hat… very stylish and so suited to his taste and age. He is 56 years old now, yet still able to capture the emotions and turmoil of adolescence… “Adolescence, what’s it like? A psychedelic motorbike… smash it up ten times a day, then walk away.” These words could be applied to describe Paddy’s survival post-CBS/Sony. EMI happily sponsored the following two albums, but Let’s Change the World with Music and Crimson/Red have had to rely upon selling license deals via Icebreaker. It’s been a turbulent period, like adolescence itself… I am hoping that despite those new album ‘omens’, Paddy can simply, “walk away”.
A recently formed friendship with a fellow Prefab Sprout fan – and a mutual Manchester City fan in exile – brought us to discuss the parallel frustrations that faced us.
I’ve been a supporter of City since I was a young, snotty-nosed lad. In the days of my paper round, the proceeds of which paid for my season tickets, I supported them through thin and thin. I started to support the club in the year they won the League Cup (1976) and had a rather long wait until the next trophy (FA Cup, 2011). Yes, over that time we won a few season battles, but failed to win any wars. There were some extremely close calls, knocking on the door of success, but frustratingly we never quite got the formula right – it was like watching Tim Henman at Wimbledon, season after season – punching the air with an unclenched fist at every point, game or set we scrambled, ultimately to fail – often at the last hurdle.
Then the Arabs arrived and threw their black gold behind the club. Things started to change. Hope – real hope – found its way into my blue heart. An FA Cup win, followed the year after with a Premiership title… it was almost too much joy to bear… or believe.
It was in 1985 when I first experienced the Sprouts. I was at a friend’s house listening to various LP’s – one of which was Steve McQueen. “Sounds like Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth,” I said. I was hooked from that moment on. I was a not-so-snotty-nosed 25-year-old back then who had been sucked into the Sprout world against the backdrop of a milestone album that was to become the cornerstone of Paddy McAloon’s success for decades to come.
For decades, fellow Sprout fans suffered long silences of impatience, waiting for some new songs to surface, then when they did, not quite achieving the success in the charts or critical acclaim that they deserved.
Manchester City and Prefab Sprout – at least they have always been consistent in their inconsistency! For Prefab Sprout fans after 1990, we felt almost exiled and waited , and waited for the next album. Frustrated by numerous ‘best of’ albums and lack of chart success… how the heck did we never get a Number One?
By contrast, Prefab Sprout have never been ‘rescued’ or bolstered by billionaire pockets; on the contrary. If anything, things have contracted for them in more recent years. Paddy McAloon and his manager Keith Armstrong have extracted themselves from the traditional music industry recording contracts so as to become more able to retain some kind of living from the business – by owning the song rights, by owning the recording rights, and by licensing Paddy’s works to major distributors. In fact when Let’s Change the World With Music was recorded under contract with CBS/Sony, Paddy had done so following the receipt of a contracted advance payment. Sony ultimately chose not to release the album. Once out of contract with CBS/Sony, having matured their contract of eight albums, Keith decided to offer up the album recordings to potential distributors under license. Guess who bought the license… Sony! So in fact Sony paid for the album twice! Let’s change the world with music licensing!
But now the long wait is over, I feel. That Tim Henman feeling has passed away. I now sense that the blood is flowing a lot stronger. The gritted teeth of Andy Murray comes to mind. Could the amazing new album by Prefab Sprout, due for release in October 2013, become the fans’ first Wimbledon or Premiership title for a long time? I really believe so. The wait is over, I feel. Would that really be too much to bear or believe?
Still, I can’t help biting my lip as Paddy calls the album Crimson/Red… what’s wrong with the Sky Blue?
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