In 2017 Paul Young is doing something he hasn’t done in decades. The British singer, best known for the ‘80s hit “Everytime You Go Away,” toured America for the first time in decades as part of the package tour “Retro Futura.”
The hair is a bit grayer and the face now sports a goatee, but otherwise he looks the same. And although his sweet “Blue Eyed Soul” voice has matured, he remains a solid entertainer.
Mr. Young discussed his ‘80s heyday, including Live Aid and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” memories, as well as his Tex-Mex Tejano band Los Pacaminos.
Question: How long has it been since you played America?
Answer: The last time I played was when my greatest hits album “From Time to Time,” came out in ‘91, ‘92.
Q: Why the long time away?
A: It kind of faded away. Radio here stopped playing the stuff I was doing. I was still active in Europe with the hit with Zucchero: “Senza Una Donna.” So there was work to be done there.
Q: When you play a nostalgia tour like this with other acts, is there any competition?
A: Not really. I never really saw anybody back then as competition anyway. We just didn’t see that much of each other except for a one-off TV show now and again.
Germany used to do these massive pop shows that would go on all night, but we never really toured together until recently. Now it feels more like camaraderie rather than competition.
Q: Are you more grateful that you can still be here doing it?
A: I think so. Yeah. I’m very happy that it is still my job. I consider myself lucky that I wasn’t a “one-hit wonder” and I’ve had enough hits to maintain my career.
Q: You’ve covered a lot of diverse songs over the years. How did you decide what songs to cover?
A: It would have a quality to it. Sometimes it was a lovely chord progression. Sometimes it was just a great chorus. Sometimes the lyrics as an entity were fantastic. That gave my albums a lot of diversity, but also created a problem in the U.S. because it didn’t give me an identity. The label was forever trying to work it out. They said I needed to be one thing. Coming from a country where the main radio station plays everything and anything, I couldn’t understand it.
Q: How did the fact that they tried to market you as a teen idol sit with you?
A: We did warn them that it wasn’t a great idea. When the second album, “Secret of Association,” came out, they didn’t know how to market it. The magazines said, “No, this is an adult [contemporary] market now. We’re not interested.”
The great thing about it is I’ve had success in every country, and the biggest hit record is always different. It’s “Love of the Common People” in Italy, “Wherever I Lay My Hat” in the U.K., “Come Back and Stay” in Germany and “Everytime You Go Away” here.
Q: How was it decided that you would be the first voice we hear on Band Aid’s “Do They Know Its Christmas”?
A: I cut the bit in the middle first that goes, (singing): “Here’s to you. Raise a glass for everyone. Underneath the burning sun.” And I left the studio. I was just hanging around for hours for when we did the chorus part.
They came back to me after a couple hours and said, “Do you want to come back for a second?” Midge (Ure) and Bob (Geldof) were in the room, and they said, “We’d like you to sing the first line as well, if you don’t mind.”
I had heard from somewhere they were trying to get David Bowie to come in and do the session, but he was in Japan. I think he was their first choice. I ended up taking David Bowie’s place.
Q: Do you enjoy hearing it every Christmas?
A: I get a warm feeling when I hear it. It’s the familiarity because you’ve heard it so much. You don’t hear it for a year, then it comes on and you go, “There it is.”
I suppose it is the single most lasting record. If a teenager today doesn’t know “Come Back and Stay” or “Everytime I Go Away,” if you go (singing): “It’s Christmas time,” they go. “Yeah! Oh, that’s you!”
Q: What is your favorite memory from playing Live Aid?
A: There were only so many dressing rooms backstage, and they had actually brought in small Winnebago things as well because there was not enough space for everyone.
I had to clear out of mine within 20 minutes after I came offstage because Queen was about to go in it. I had been stopped so many times after the set doing interviews all the way back that by the time I got to the Winnebago, I was supposed to already be out. The production guy was rushing me: “You got to get out now!” Brian (May) came in and said, “Don’t worry. Take your time.”
That was the overall feeling of the day. Everyone was being really accommodating.
Q: In recent years you’ve played Tex-Mex music. How did you discover that style of music?
A: Ry Cooder. He did a series of albums in the late ‘70s. The band came about because I was off of CBS and it felt odd to be without a deal. I was delving into Mexican music at the time. I thought, “Let’s have a Tex-Mex band. There’s not too many of those in London.”
Q: What does the name of your Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos mean?
A: Nothing. (Laughs) It means “pack em in” — in the gig. And we added an “O” at the end. (Laughs)