This week’s blog is not about travelling as such, it’s about time travel, or rather how music can transport us back to a specific period in our lives. Music is a powerful memory trigger; and often memories are most potent in our youth, when we are becoming independent and exploring new things. For me the early 80s, when I went away to university, is that period.
The music played during that time included Michael Jackson, Queen, The Police, Spandau Ballet, Human League and Duran Duran. Whenever I hear their music it takes me back to my uni days. But my favourite singer at that time was Paul Young. His strong soulful voice and his boyish good looks won over many young women. He also seemed like a nice bloke. I read every magazine I could get my hands on about him (this is before the internet took off). I learnt that he’d had a stammer when he was younger and had overcome it through singing. I also have a stammer so I felt that we had a common bond.
Most people have a story about their brush with fame, mine involves Paul Young. In 1985, I was at a party in Bournemouth with some uni friends when someone mentioned that Paul Young was playing a concert in the city. I couldn’t settle, knowing that he was so close – I had to try to see him. So my friend Dani and I made our way to where he was playing.
By this time it was late and the concert had just finished. I told one of the security guards that we’d travelled from Cardiff for the concert but we’d missed it because the train had been late. I said we’d love to meet Paul after making the effort to get there, and asked him where he was staying. I must have been convincing because he gave us the name of the hotel. I hadn’t thought about what I would do if he’d asked to see our concert tickets … or our train tickets. Thankfully he didn’t!
I told the hotel receptionist the same story and she asked one of Paul’s road crew to talk to us. I repeated the story and asked if we could just have a quick chat to Paul. He went off to ask him. I was beside myself with excitement, but didn’t really think that the great Paul Young would make the effort to meet a couple of fans when he was probably exhausted after just finishing a concert.
But being the good person that he is, he did! Dani, who was usually very talkative, was star struck into silence. Whereas being in the presence of my favourite star had the opposite effect on me. I told Paul how much I liked him and his music and what a great voice he had. Then I went on about how I had a stammer and what a pain it was, but I was sure he could understand having had one himself … blah, blah, blah. The irony was that I never stammered once! What was that all about?
As soon as he could get a word in, Paul gave us both a peck on the cheek and a signed photograph (which I think I still have somewhere) and politely excused himself.
Fast forward thirty years – I hear that Paul Young is going to play at an 80s Mania concert in Perth, along with the Cutting Crew, Go West and Nik Kershaw. Despite being a massive fan of Paul Young and playing his records ad nauseum, I had never seen him play live so I felt I had to go to his Perth concert.
There was one small problem, the concert had sold out. I put the word out on Facebook and looked for resale tickets on Gumtree, but two days before the concert I was still ticketless. This was ridiculous, surely if I could wangle to meet him at his hotel when he was a mega star I could get hold of a couple of tickets for a small show 30 years later. I put a wanted ad on Gumtree and immediately got two offers. I was finally going to see him live … I was pretty excited.
Just before the concert a friend of a friend told me that she’d seen Paul Young in concert about ten years ago and he’d been terrible, so terrible that he’d been booed by the audience. I had no idea about this. Maybe I should have done some research before I’d got the tickets? But that was a decade ago, maybe he’d be better now?
We had reasonably good seats, about a third of the way back from the stage at the side. The Cutting Crew were on first for half an hour. I couldn’t remember them from the 80s but recognised a couple of songs. They were very good.
Paul Young was next. He looked good; he was trim and his hair, although grey, was still cut in his trademark spikey style. A
three piece suit made him look very dapper. I was hopeful, yet apprehensive.
He started with an old hit, ‘Love of the Common People’ … and mangled it so badly it was hard to tell which song it was for a while. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t hitting the notes, his timing seemed out as well. What was going on? Couldn’t he hear himself? Surely he couldn’t have lost all his talent? He seemed ill at ease on the stage too, lacking confidence – which I guess you would if you knew you were putting on a poor show.
I think everybody was relieved when his half hour set ended. Certainly nobody asked for an encore. During the break, the theatre was buzzing with people talking about him. Most of the audience were there to see Paul Young and they were disappointed. I know Paul had problems with his throat in the late 80s and maybe that’s an ongoing issue, but surely he’d retire if that was the case?
When I got home I played YouTube videos of Paul Young in the 80s. He DID have an amazing voice, I hadn’t been delusional. One of the videos showed him singing at the Live Aid concert in 1985 to a sea of thousands of people. That concert had been watched by billions more people all over the world. He’d been the opening singer on the Live Aid song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’, which was the biggest selling single of the decade. He was phenomenal.
Then I played clips from his recent shows. Some, filmed for TV, sounded suspiciously like his old voice. I watched a couple of home videos of live concerts. In one, taken at a show in a shopping mall in Munich in 2013, his voice was terrible and he was pulling some very unflattering faces trying to get the notes.
Here’s another video of him singing badly at an outdoor concert at Blackpool earlier this year.
This is not the first time I’ve seen previously great singers put on terrible shows. At the Queen’s Golden Jubilee a host of old stars were invited to perform. Most of them, including Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney, put on cringe-worthy performances.
Seeing Paul Young make such a hash of his Perth gig made me wonder, why do singing stars keep performing past their use by date? In Paul’s case, he lost a lot of money on a property deal. That may have forced him back on tour, but surely there are other ways he could have used his name to make money? He’s appeared on a couple of reality TV shows. One was called Splash which, from what I can gather, involved filming him learning to dive. I can’t see the entertainment value in that, but then again I’ve never seen it. He was also on Celebrity Master Chef and seems to have a flair for cooking. Maybe he could bring out a range of sauces like Paul Newman? Or advertise food products?
In a way, I wish I hadn’t been able to get tickets for the show. For a start I’d have saved some money but, more importantly, I could have remembered him as he was – one of the best soul singers of his era.