Paul Young is headlining the Essential 80s tour which kicks off in September 2022
Her debut album No Parlez went triple platinum; Paul sang the opening lines of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?; and went to number one in the US with her exquisite rendition of Daryl Hall’s Every Time You Go Away.
The superstar was there for the taking. Only, it turned out that Young didn’t want it.
“You get to a point where you have to have a security guard,” Paul tells me. “So you must have two…and that wasn’t what I signed up for.”
For him, playing was and remains his own reward. That’s why he’s been happily playing medium-sized venues with his Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos for thirty years.
In 1987, he says, “I made the decision to move away. I got married, I became a dad. I needed normality. I had started making bad decisions. I was thinking about the third album” [1986’s Between Two Fires] “Didn’t go the way I wanted.
His record label, CBS, agreed he could take a break – unusual, but Paul had weight. His debut album alone sold over seven million copies. The hiatus meant Young lost career momentum, but found contentment.
He had signed the contract in 1982 after six years at the head of groups. He had kept his keyboardist from the famous R&B group The Q Tips – Ian “The Rev” Kewley – and their manager Ged Doherty, who had convinced Paul to go solo. Young felt grounded, but fame still hit him like a tidal wave.
“I had had a number one, but we would be staying in filthy cheap hotels with nylon sheets. On stage I was still doing what I had done in the Q Tips only now the whole audience was screaming. We always went to concerts in a small transit van, but the fans were coming in force. We got to a place up north and it was like trying to get through a riot.
“As soon as they saw me, they surrounded the van and started shaking it. They were having fun, but it was scary. We were trapped in a sea of people, and for a moment you think there is no way out.
In the United States, things got stranger. Paul, 66, a Texan fan asked to found his American fan club. “She seemed fine, but then she started writing weird letters, she started pretending we were an object and started sending me weird gifts, like rhinestone cow vertebrae, cow spine silvered and mounted on a wooden base…”
Paul, born in Luton, shakes his head. He’s 6ft 2, still instantly recognizable and remarkably down to earth – a tribute to his parents, Tony, a model maker for Vauxhall, and his wife Doris. Young took a four-year apprenticeship at the same Luton factory, reboring carburettors. His older brother Mark also worked there.
Paul started playing the piano at age eight, but Free steered him towards blues rock. “I used to drive from Luton to London just to go to Dobells, a blues and jazz record store in Charing Cross Road,” he recalls.
Always shy, Paul’s childhood stutter was cured by performing on stage. At 17, he joined his first serious band, Streetband, which accidentally made it into the Top 20 in 1978, when Kenny Everett became obsessed with Toast, the B-side of their first single. “We were a rock band and people started coming to our shows expecting comedy,” Paul explains. “It killed us dead.”
After his apprenticeship, Young had told his father that he was quitting to turn pro. “Dad wasn’t happy, but he said, ‘At least you’ll have a job to fall back on.’ He advised me to work at night to accumulate money. I did it, for six months – it was horrible. But I worked night shifts for the rest of my life,” laughs Paul.
After Streetband came The Q-Tips, a lively eight-piece band that played 250 gigs a year. “The best moment of my life…I’ve never laughed so much.”
With his roots in blues and soul, Paul stood out in the synth-dominated 80s, but says, “I didn’t start pinching until Live Aid. I had had hits across Europe and was looking to make it in the United States. Suddenly it was bigger than I could have ever imagined.
He pinched himself again in Los Angeles. “Ged was taking care of Alison Moyet there. When I landed, he invited me for tea. I arrived and Bruce Springsteen was on the couch.
“I told him I bought myself a Harley-Davidson, a 1971 Electra Glide, and he was like, ‘Want to go for a ride?’ Bruce showed me his collection of motorcycles – he had a lot! – and we went through Coldwater Canyon, to the desert. He was like a historian, explaining all the heritage. A lovely man, what you see is what you get with him.
Paul was still driving a decrepit Vauxhall Viva in 1983.
Paul performing at the Live Aid double venue benefit concert in 1985
Fans who spotted him assumed he was a lookalike. When the royalties rolled in, Young bought himself a limited-edition Porsche 924 Carrera GT and a Dino Ferrari. Now he drives a more humble Lexus 450.
He met his late wife, model Stacey Smith, while filming the music video for Come Back And Stay. They married in Los Angeles in 1987, separated in 2006 and reconciled in 2009.
Sadly, Stacey passed away from brain cancer four years ago. They have two daughters and a son, all adults.
Paul now lives in Barnet, North London, with his new love who prefers to remain anonymous. “She doesn’t like the attention – she says it’s like being robbed.”
She’s family-oriented, he says, and ticks him off if he forgets to phone his kids regularly.
“We see the fun side of everything, you can’t last without it. She likes comedians, I don’t, but I like comedians like Dave Chapelle, Jim Jeffreys and Ron White.
Waking up to despair. “People should be forgiven for things they’ve said in the past. Now you have a chance and you’ve been kicked off the pitch. We need to relax.
He likes to cook almost like he likes American roots music. He formed Los Pacaminos in 1992. “It allowed me to play guitar and let other people sing. I had stopped playing instruments in 1983, because the musicians I had around me were incredible.
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He built his own home studio, “a real cave of men, soundproofed to be able to practice my guitar, sing and write songs”.
He co-wrote his hit Everything Must Change in the 80s. When I ask him what he’s listening to now, his soulful eyes light up and he checks everyone’s name, from Bruno Mars to Mott The Hoople in passing by Lana del Ray and “the incredible” Carl Hall.
Paul will headline an 80s pop heritage tour later this year with T’Pau and Hue & Cry. Before that, there’s an 80s cruise in March, departing from Miami, a Go West tour in April and a possible US tour this summer.
He’s not as rambunctious on stage as he used to be, having fallen in Australia and banged his ribs.
Paul’s best concert memories include performing with Crowded House at Mandela’s 70and in 1988 and with Queen during the tribute to Freddie Mercury in 1992.
He is now working on a new solo album compiled from twenty years of unreleased solo projects. “I remembered them during the lockdown,” he says. “Songs I’ve been obsessing over with artists in Nashville. I’ve been mixing, adding chords, re-recording parts. Looking to master the tracks soon.
“I’m really proud of Tularosa, which I wrote with Paul Barfield in the 90s. It’s a beautiful song, with a hint of Roy Orbison. I won’t stop playing it anytime soon.
- Paul Young is headlining the Essential 80s Tour from September 2022, with T’Pau and Hue and Cry. Tickets from myticket.co.uk.