Paul Young hangs his hat in Tel Aviv

The Eighties pop legend talks about his latest album, changes in the music industry and Israeli cuisine.

‘I’M A musician and I go places and perform to people that want to listen to good music,’ says British soul stylist Paul Young. (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘I’M A musician and I go places and perform to people that want to listen to good music,’ says British soul stylist Paul Young.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“I joke that performers today are on their way back to the troubadour days. We’ll end up with curly-toed shoes and jester hats, performing and getting in our horse-driven carriages to do it somewhere else.”
Paul Young is describing the modern music business model, whereby veteran artists with gold records and hits galore are only seeing income by going out on the road to play concerts. But the 61-yearold British soul stylist who spent the 1980s at the top of the charts is hardly bitter about the prospects of singing warhorses “Every Time You Go Away” and “Wherever I Hang My Hat” for the foreseeable future.
“I love playing live and I love to travel.
I don’t get bored by either one,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a phone conversation recently ahead of his upcoming show on May 21 at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv. It will be Young’s third time to the country, following crowd-pleasing shows in both 2009 and 2010.
The London-based interpreter of soul and r&b came of age amid the trendy spikiness of fellow Brit new wave-era acts like Spandau Ballet, Go West and Bananarama.
He was so big that in 1984, when Bob Geldof gathered the royalty of British rock to record the Band Aid anthem “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” it was Young’s vocals that were the first to be heard.
But whereas most of his contemporaries fell by the Flock of Seagulls wayside, Young’s music, which was firmly anchored in the classic r&b and soul of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gay, has weathered the musical generation upheavals.
His versions of Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat is My Home” and “Love of the Common People” not only don’t sound dated, they’ve actually improved with age.
Young’s latest album, Good Times – his first in 10 years – finds him mining familiar territory with equally satisfying results.
“I wanted to dig a little deeper below the surface of the songs everyone knows,” he said. “We did try to do some more well-known songs like ‘Respect’ but they didn’t work out. I got far more excited discovering lesser-known songs, like ‘Eloise’ which was always an old favorite of mine by William Bell.
“Some other ones I only recently discovered myself, like Syl Johnson’s ‘Back for a Taste of Your Love.’ And on ‘Your Good Thing (Is About To End),’ I get to use my low-register voice like Lou Rawls. So I’m really happy with the record.”
That’s despite the fact that the days when artists used to sell millions of records and earn ample royalties are long gone. Young sees the changes to the music industry as troubling, not only for veterans like himself, but also for younger artists struggling to establish themselves.
“It makes no sense to me at all to give away music for free. The very fact that we have to do that cheapens the music. And there’s a huge effect to that of music not playing such a big part in peoples’ lives anymore,” said Young.
“So many things have changed. You don’t find musicians soloing anymore, so we’re not going to cultivate any more Eric Claptons. And it’s such a business-led industry now that I wonder if we’re ever going to get another Prince, someone totally in control of what he does and a conduit for great music.”
But rather than dwell on the fate of music in the 21st century, Young has instead decided to make his own. After being dropped from a major label back in 1992, he got together with some friends to form a Tex-Mex, rousing rockabilly busman holiday’s band called Los Pacaminos. They just celebrated 25 years together, and for Young, they are an essential musical outlet.
“It felt strange to be without a recording contract, so I figured I’ll start a band with the goal of just playing for fun. I hadn’t picked up a guitar to just play in ages, and I loved it,” he said.
“We do our little twist on blues and rock & roll, and it’s so easy to play and get inspired by it and get caught up in the whole atmosphere. I love the escape, and there’s plenty of times when I’m onstage just playing rhythm and singing harmony, which is a big kick for me, having been the guy who was in front for so long. It’s therapeutic.”
Although Young said he would like to bring Los Pacaminos to Israel some day, his show next week will be a classic Paul Young concert featuring his well-known groove-oriented material. In addition to looking forward to returning to Tel Aviv for the beaches, Young, an accomplished chef, said that he was impressed by Israeli cuisine on his previous visits.
“We went to some great restaurants – one I recall in particular was Manta Ray [in Tel Aviv],” he said. “It was super.”
With his name out of the headlines for a number of years, Young hasn’t been accosted by anti-Israel activists to the extent that superstars like Radiohead and Aerosmith have been, but he admitted there had been some calls, and admonishments of his Tel Aviv show on social media.
“I choose to ignore that stuff, it’s not worthwhile to start,” he said. “I’m a musician and I go places and perform to people that want to listen to good music. Targeting musicians just isn’t fair, we don’t have very many more ways to earn a living anymore. And why should they focus on Israel? If I don’t happen to like [US President] Donald Trump’s politics, does that mean I shouldn’t play in the Unites States anymore?” It sounds like mission of a classic troubadour, minus the curly-toed shoes and the jester hat.