Paul Young: It all goes to show that music is still my first love

Paul Young will be performing in Glasgow on Tuesday
Paul Young will be performing in Glasgow on Tuesday

As the 80s hit-maker tours the UK, he reflects on his years in the spotlight, Band Aid and the lessons he learned along the way.

Paul Young reigned during the 1980s. With his mop of glossy hair, tight jeans and roguish charm, he looked the part - and his songs weren't bad either.

After singing in new wave band the Q-Tips, he topped the charts and launched a solo career with a powerful cover of Marvin Gaye's Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home). The hits kept coming and in 1984 he found himself singing the opening vocals on Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas?

Like his contemporaries such as Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet and prog rock behemoths Genesis, Young, now aged 66, continues to play to fans.

"We've got this back catalogue of songs that people want to go and see - and they hear them and they get off on that," he explains. "It's like the Stones - still touring, still a massive ticket. And I think there's a lot of people out there who want that.

"Because although they have got maybe a decade of teenagers, we have got three decades of people that remember songs from the 80s. Whether they were 15, 25 or 35 - they know those songs. You've got a bigger demographic."

Born in Luton in 1956, on leaving school he worked, as did his father and brother, for Vauxhall Motors while trying to forge a career as a musician at night.

He fronted a series of soul and new wave bands - Kat Kool & the Kool Kats, Streetband and Q-Tips - before striking out solo. Only the latter secured any kind of meaningful success, supporting the likes of The Who.

When the Q-Tips disbanded in 1982, Young signed to Columbia Records and began writing and recording songs for his debut album, No Parlez. It was a smash hit and went to number one in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and more.

Overnight, Young became a pop heart-throb but it was a reputation that would sit uneasily with him as he tried to evolve as an artist.

"I felt that transition," he recalls. "I was trying to move on from just doing pop. Those kids were getting older and probably getting married and having to go out and do a job and earn money.

"So it becomes less of a part of their lives. But then as the children get older, it starts to become a part of their lives again. I think that's why you get a resurgence of interest. And so there was that natural dip there and I was trying different things.

"The good thing about that is maybe (the songs) didn't do so well at the time they came out. But then they hear the ones they know and then they dip into the ones they don't know and discover that I always tried to move on from one album to another."

No Parlez was only the first of three UK number one albums for the burgeoning star. And those early hits such as Everytime You Go Away and Love of the Common People still serve him well.

"They grew up having those songs on in the background when they were children, so it's still in there," he says of his fans. "I still get the occasional tweet where you see that someone is quite young and they go, 'Oh yeah, that guy, I love his stuff'. There's a certain percentage of rediscovery of older artists by younger people."

Young won three Brit Awards including best new act in 1984 but singing the opening line on Band Aid remains one of his career highlights. He tells me David Bowie was originally the first choice of organisers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who penned the song in reaction to the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia.

"Bob Geldof doesn't remember it that way at all," he offers. "But I remember being told after I'd got the first line and the record came out. Somebody said to me they were trying to get Bowie but he was in the middle of a world tour and he was on the other side of the world.

"It makes sense that they would grab whoever was around. And obviously the bigger the star, the bigger the pull to get people to buy the record and help this charity. So I kind of believe that it was like that. But there were so many things going on at that point."

In early 2019, Young revealed he had been suffering from pneumonia and was struggling with simple tasks such as waking up stairs. However, he was fighting fit by the time his first post-lockdown tour dates came around in 2021.

"It takes a bit of time to get into it," he says. "There was a little run over the summer where I had quite regular work and then you get your confidence back and it feels great.

"You're thinking, 'Yep, this is my job. This is what I do and I love it'. It was good to be back at it."

Of course, there were some nerves, especially when he took to the stage with Los Pacaminos, the Tex-Mex and Americana band he formed some 25 years ago as a way of getting back to basics outside his solo pop ventures.

"It was actually quite scary," he says with a laugh. "I have spoken to a lot of people in very different industries, from the music business down to someone we know whose dad is a cabbie.

"After the first lockdown he was going, 'I can't wait to get back into it' and after the second he was going, 'I don't know, I feel like I have lost my mojo'. People started to overthink it so it's been tough on everyone.

"The first shows I did actually were Los Pacaminos - my other band - where we can't afford to go in and rehearse it because we don't make enough money. We just had to go on blind, which was pretty scary."

Luckily, Young was back on top form in no time. Reflecting on his continued passion for music, he adds: "It's been my life and my hobby.

"I'm proud of the big things like Live Aid, Band Aid, the Freddie Mercury Aids concert. I like the fact that I started another band as a hobby. It all goes to show that music is still my first love."

Paul Young is currently on tour with Go West and will be appearing at the O2 Academy on Tuesday at 7pm. https://paul-young.com/events/