Carol Decker, lead singer of T’Pau is taking the band back on tour again for the first time in 15 years, in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Bridge Of Spies album, which brought T’Pau massive commercial success back in 1987. We spoke to Carol a few weeks ago about the impending tour and the documentary called The Story Behind The Tracks (reviewed here) where her and T’Pau co-founder Ron Rogers looked back at their route to success.
SuperDeluxeEdition: Let’s talk a little about “Story Behind The Tracks”. How did the idea of doing it come about?
Carol Decker: Fan forums, and contacts [getting in touch] saying, we’d absolutely love to hear the early demos. True fans are really interested in the whole process. They said they’d love to hear how me and Ron wrote the songs, the history, how we developed them, the whole process. We resisted it for ages, because it’s your first attempt, your first draft, your mistakes, the note you didn’t sing properly before it got all glossy, you know? So I was very protective of that for years and I only wanted everybody to see the glossy side of me and then my vanity abated a little and I thought, well actually it’s really quite interesting.
You end up taking notice of your fans when they’ve stood by you for many years. Like most artists I’m quite arrogant about what I do. I hope you buy it, I hope you like it, but if you don’t like it, then fuck off! I don’t want your opinion on how you think I should do it. I used to be like that, but I’ve mellowed and there’s a lot of people out there with some really, really good ideas. The guy who runs my website is a fan, and the guy who runs my blog and official T’Pau Facebook page is a fan. They know more about my career than I do. I never documented or collected my stuff methodically, and I wish I had. I’m a bit of a clearer-outer! I gave a lot of my stage gear away to charity – some old pants they might want to auction, but I wish I’d kept it, it means so much.
Also, I’ve now realised that some people have some very valid and interesting opinions and I now listen to what people have to say and act on it, but I don’t share any of the money with them – I just want to make that clear! (laughs).
SDE: How was it, going back through your past? Did you find it emotional, especially working with Ron?
CD: I found it very emotional, because I can’t speak for Ronnie, and I’m cautious to speak about it, because we’re both married now, with kids and we’ve genuinely moved on and both have very happy lives, but I’m never going to turn around – and neither is he – and say we look back on the day we split up and laugh, because we don’t. We were together for 13 years, we went through a lot together, not just T’Pau – we lost his mum, we lost my dad – a lot went on in our personal lives when we were young, and we built this huge dream and we saw it tumble. So it all took its toll on us, it was awful. So I did find it hard, especially going back to the flat where we lived for seven years and wrote all the songs, I felt quite tearful at times.
Some things went wrong. They clearly went wrong with me and Ronnie, and clearly went wrong with the band. T’Pau were so awesome, in all of our lives, and it just disintegrated, like so many bands do. And they’ll all tell you the same story about the in-fighting, the exhaustion, the shitty management that ripped you off, the record company that worked you into the ground, the lack of your own foresight and good judgement, at times, and it went from being glorious to being torturous. So to go through all that again, was hard to do. It was drawing a line under it as well. But Ronnie like so many blokes… we were talking about something and he didn’t remember it, and I just looked at him and I said “Please tell me you remember some of our 13 years together, because if you don’t I’m going to be really fucked off…” but like a man he wasn’t as emotional as me, or maybe he didn’t want to admit to it.
SDE: Where did all those demos come from, did Ron have all them?
CD: Yeah, Ron’s got them all. We always had a home studio and they ranged from four-track when we were so broke we’d use his reverb spring out of his guitar amp for the reverb on my vocals, through to glossy 16-track when we got a production deal down at Rockfield studios.
SDE: Presumably, these must have all been recorded before you signed your record deal? In other words, you own them, so there’s no legal issue with you releasing them.
CD: No there’s no legal issue whatsoever, and what they are, obviously the demos for the album tracks are on there but also the additional demos are those that didn’t make the cut but were in the pot to be selected, so we totally own those as well. Also the re-recording restrictions to all my back catalogue ended back in the early nineties, but what I can’t do is anything with the masters of my albums that Universal own
SDE: A lot of these demos could have gone on an expanded edition of Bridge Of Spies, was that originally a plan, that then fell through for some reason?
CD: Basically, I knew I was going to do this tour, and I said to Ronnie at the time, we should save Story Behind the Tracks and release it with the tour, but we didn’t know if it was going to be possible, so we thought we can’t wait…. We’re always waiting for someone to give us permission to do something with our stuff, so we thought sod it, let’s just put it out. So we just sold it quietly on the website, but now I’ve given it an official press release and I’m going to tour it and sell it.
And then I got in touch with a friend of mine, Simon Watson – he manages The Human League and Belinda Carlisle – and I said, look I know I won’t benefit from any sales and stuff, because – unbelievably – I’m still unrecouped on my record sales [i.e. sales royalties have not paid back original advance] because we spent so much money, but if we could persuade them to put out a really good box set, that would be brilliant. When I toured Red in 1998, Virgin/EMI, as it was then, just bunged out a very badly packaged greatest hits because I was going on tour and they wanted to jump on the bandwagon, on the back of that. My then manager said to them, let us give you brand new photos – at no cost to yourselves – let Carol do the sleeve notes, and please let us have some input on this because it always reflects on Carol, and she’s still out there working. They didn’t even reply to our emails at all. They put out this awful, cheap, greatest hits album with a very bad picture on the front, so what I want to do is prevent them from doing that again – the fans were emailing us saying we love you Carol, but please don’t put out the same album again, and I had to make them aware that I had no control over that. So I was trying to a) get control of that and b) get them [Universal Music] on-side, get them with us, say look this is a ‘win-win’ situation, I’m out on tour, and I’m going to be hiring PR, I’ll be promoting. I’m happy to promote what I do and I’m happy to promote yours as well. Obviously they don’t want to spend a lot of money on me anymore.
So [last year] I had this brilliant creative meeting, the guy was very savvy, he said I’ve got all the information on B-sides, the foreign releases, the videos that never got shown. This could be very interesting stuff. He then ended the meeting by saying, unfortunately I don’t know if I’m going to have a job in three months and neither does anybody else [due to the Universal takeover of EMI]. So we’re caught in this maelstrom. But the other thing is, we have had excellent offers from Demon to license it. Demon are champing at the bit, Universal could just hand it over and someone else will make the money for them, but they won’t do that either, and I can’t get an answer out of anybody. It’s very frustrating for me and people who want to buy the record, and it makes no sense. I don’t understand what’s going on at all.
SDE: Universal appear to be holding on to more reissues for themselves. They did Nik Kershaw last year and they are working on a Kim Wilde reissue at the moment, so they do seem to be licensing out a little less..
CD: That’s okay, but in that case I don’t know why they won’t do my album themselves, because it’s a quadruple platinum album, it sold two and a half million copies in the UK alone. One in ten households owned it, so I don’t understand why they’re not doing something with Bridge Of Spies, or a complete box set? Poor old Rage [T’Pau’s second record]. Rage is a platinum album. Artists today would sell their kidneys to have a platinum album. They could do a boxset of Rage, The Promise and Bridge Of Spies, with videos. If they’re prepared to do Nik and Kim, then a Bridge Of Spies set would be extremely viable. It’s frustrating. I don’t know if I annoyed somebody 25 years ago and they haven’t forgiven me!
SDE: Have you got any plans to record a new album?
CD: I’ve got Story Behind The Tracks, I’ve got the tour, and hopefully I’m going to start work on a new album. I’ve met a great guy called Chris Corney – he’s an artist who’s signed to Southern Cross Music, he’s a really good producer and writer, and he loves my voice and I like his style. So hopefully I can mark my anniversary, put a line under it and start to move forward as Carol Decker, singer. I want to be Carol Decker, Chanteuse, not that bird who used to be in T’Pau. I’ll always sing my hits, because I wrote them, and I’ll always do an eighties bill, but I’ll want to go out and have people come to see Carol Decker.
SDE: What kind of sound would you be going for?
CD: The thing about me is I’m really quite ecletic, and I can hear stuff and go oh my God I love that, I want to sound like that… but I really like something between, Tom Petty and The Pierces. My voice does lend itself to that country rock vibe, but very modern, rocky West Coast feel to it.
SDE: You’re going back on the road. What can fans expect from the T’Pau 25 tour?
CD: It’s obviously small, intimate venues, as they say… I’m compiling the set as we speak and it will comprise of the big hits from Bridge Of Spies, favourite album tracks and there’s a few of the tracks where fans prefer original versions like the original demo of Thank You For Goodbye, so I’m looking at that. There’s a couple of surprises that we’re looking at – real ‘early days’ stuff. We’ll also cherry-pick a few tracks from Rage, The Promise and Red.
SDE: So Ron will be playing some dates?
CD: We’re trying to get him on all of them, but I don’t mind discussing the fact that clearly, it’s patently obvious that we’re not an arena headline band anymore, so money is a factor. Ronnie’s got his own thing, he’s got his own studio, he’s very busy, so I almost can’t afford to carry him on the entire tour – he’s getting paid like everybody else – because I’m putting this together, so if Ron wants to share all the costs, then he can share the profit as well, but as he doesn’t want to do that, he’s on a wage (laughs). But he’s hoping to join us for as many gigs as he can. [Carol later confirmed that Ron will be on ALL the dates].
SDE: How will the gigs be different from what you do at the ‘80s Rewind type festivals?
CD: What I like about Rewind, is that they are low pressure, I go on do four or five songs – and trust me I really enjoy not topping the bill – and it is rather nice for the old ego, like at Rewind Henley they played to 40,000 people across the weekend and I played to 20,000 on the Sunday. My own tour is going to be much more gritty and I can interact a lot more with the audience and have a laugh. I get a sense of that when I do these Butlins ‘80s weekenders – I take the band, and they’re excellent. We manage to turn it into a good old T’Pau rock gig most of the time, and it is nice when you can see that everybody in the front know the words to the album tracks and not just the big hits. They really come to see you – they’re not just remembering your one shining moment. It’s deeper, if you like.
SDE: With the Rewind tours, do you go with a band, or is there a house band?
CD: No, there’s a fantastic house band… would that I could afford them! No, that will upset my actual band! (laughs loudly) – no my actual band are great, half a shandy and they’ll do anything, they’re wonderful. What’s great about the Rewind band, which I can’t afford to do, is that we recorded our albums, particularly the first two, with Roy Thomas Baker, in high style – 80 channels, SSL… We couldn’t bloody mix Bridge Of Spies anywhere because there wasn’t a studio big enough when we left the States, that’s how crazy it was. We had multi-layering and tons of keyboards. So when I do a Rewind gig, there’s two keyboard players, backing vocalists, a brass section, they provide guitarists – although I always bring my own guitarist – but it sounds amazing.
When I go out on my own, completely due to finances, we strip it right down – there is often only five of us, but it still absolutely kicks ass. The only thing I do insist on is that almost everybody has to be able to sing, so we don’t lose on the backing vocalists.
SDE: How do you balance touring – particularly this forthcoming T’Pau 25 tour – with family life?
CD: Well I haven’t toured like this for 15 years. I had an album out called Red in 1998 and I recorded that when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now 14. I toured it up and down the UK, and then I went across Europe with Status Quo and I left her behind when she was six months old. I sulked my way across Germany – it was just awful. I hadn’t been a mum before. Scarlett was incredibly healthy, my mother moved in to help look after her. I left her safe and sound and well sorted, but I didn’t take into consideration being a new mother, separated from her daughter after six months, with hormones raging… I was in bits. So consequently I haven’t toured, with a capital ‘t’, since then, which is where all these eighties shows have come in brilliantly. I do another set-up called “Here and Now”, and Rewind has gone from strength-to-strength in four years. It’s annually in Henley, South Africa, Dubai, Bangkok – and there are a lot of European promoters. You’re in and you’re out in 48 hours, so that’s brilliant for family life. I travel the world, I sing, I still get paid well.
SDE: Sounds like a quite a nice lifestyle!
CD: It’s been fantastic. I would say that I was getting a bit bored creatively. I haven’t written anything or released anything for ages, because, with the state of the music business and the cost of everything, I didn’t know who would buy another record from me. People only seem to be interested in my past, the ‘soundtrack to their youth’ and a trip down memory lane. So I started moaning that I was fed up of getting wheeled on to do 20 minutes and wheeled off again. So one of my friends, a promoter, she called my bluff and booked this tour… so I’m fucked really, aren’t I? (laughs). I’m nervous. I’m nervous about who’ll come. I’m nervous about whether I have the energy now at my age, I will worry about my kids… will I have to drop the keys of the songs down to my boots, you know?
SDE: You’ve still got a great voice. You can hit the notes more or less, can’t you?
CD: I can actually, I can. Thank you for saying so. I’m quite lucky, I’ve never really had any vibrato in my voice, and that’s the thing that can start to age your voice… I’m quite young for my age. I don’t mean I’m immortal – I can see bits getting wrinkly and dried out (laughs) but I think physiologically I’m quite fortunate in certain areas – I’ve got a bit of bounce and a bit of pep! And what you need is that solar plexus energy, to perform and support the notes, and – touch wood – I’ve got that.
Carol Decker was talking to Paul Sinclair for SuperDeluxeEdition.
The Story Behind The Tracks CD+DVD set can be ordered here.
The T’Pau 25 UK tour kicks off on Tuesday April 9th at Buxton Opera House, and Ron Rogers will rejoin the band for these special anniversary live performances. Booking information can be found here.