T’Pau legend Carol Decker looks back on a career touched by pleasure and pain ahead of Arena gig
- Credit: Archant
If I’d travelled back in time to tell my adolescent self that I would one day end up interviewing the flame-haired songstress whose features adorned my bedroom wall then I doubt very much he would have believed me.
To be fair, T’Pau singer Carol Decker was somewhat bemused when I confessed that she was my teenage crush: “I’ve been going through all the old posters [from that era] for the Bridge of Spies re-release, and even our keyboard player Michael, who was ugly, looks beautiful in our promo pictures! It’s hard to live up to now though!”
Carol will be joining fellow eighties legends Nik Kershaw and Go West for a triple header at the Alban Arena next Thursday, but she’s actually been on the road since the start of October, and after gigs spanning the length and breadth of the UK, she’s glad to be back in Herts: “I’ve got family in Stevenage and lived there for a while when I was a kid, and my good pal Kim Wilde isn’t too far away.”
Prior to this current tour she’d been forced to stop singing temporarily after coming down with a bout of bronchitis: “Unfortunately I just couldn’t sing and was on strict vocal rest for months and months. I kept trying to sing through it and push on and I ended up with my vocal chords all swollen up, it’s the worst throat infection I’ve had in a 30 year career.
“Apart from having a cold now and then I’ve not really been plagued by anything bad before then, so it was quite scary and I had to go and see a specialist.
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“He said he couldn’t see any long-term damage at the moment but if you don’t stop now you will get some. I stopped singing in February and did my first gig at the beginning of June, but didn’t really go full-throttle until the end of September.”
T’Pau has enjoyed a renaissance over the past few years following the release of a long-awaited album of new material, Pleasure & Pain, and the return of Carol’s former lover and songwriting partner Ron Rogers to the line-up after nearly 25 years apart.
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Much of what eventually appeared on the new album was actually started back in the early nineties and only completed recently: “When we broke up there were dozens of half-finished, half-baked ideas just gathering dust, and we went our separate ways for a long time and did our own thing.
“Then after the 2013 25th anniversary tour for [debut album] Bridge of Spies, the fans were asking ‘Have you got a new album?’ Our output hasn’t been massive, I’ve largely focused on live work for a long, long time, so we just got together in the studio and found there were so many fabulous ideas we’d already started.
“It was the right time to revisit them, because I’d listened to those demos many times over the years and couldn’t think of how to fix them, but for some reason all these years later Ronnie and I were able to take a helicopter view and say ‘this bit’s good’, ‘this bit needs that’ and all of a sudden it became clear what those songs needed and it was the right time to do it.
“I didn’t change any of the lyrics, I was very happy with the ideas I’d had at the time and the stories I wanted to tell.
“As you can appreciate, when it’s in a song format that song has got to be catchy, and there is no point having lovely lyrics if people have drifted away from the song because the melody wasn’t good enough in the essential parts. And of course now we have a fantastic new line-up in the band, and they’d never heard those songs before, and they had great arrangement ideas to bring.”
Carol also found herself reflecting on the early days of the band while researching her forthcoming autobiography, Heart and Soul, which comes out next year.
“I’d been in talks about doing it but it ended up being a mad panic. I met with a journalist and we sat and I just had verbal diarrhoea for about four hours.
“I took the transcript with me on holiday in August and I had to type it up myself, which left me with square eyes! Then I had the summer festivals and had to rehearse with T’Pau, so I ended up getting very close to the publishing deadline, and was typing on my days off for eight hours a day.
“I literally didn’t have a clue if I was funny, interesting or anything by the time I finished it. It’s gone to the printers now, but I’m so sick of it I won’t look at it again until I get my own personal copy. As a performer, in a way the book’s a bit of a performance, if you like, as we can never look at ourselves or listen to ourselves later without going ‘What was I thinking?’”
As you might expect, revisiting this tumultuous period in her life proved very emotional.
“It was very poignant, because obviously my personal relationship was mixed up in it for 13 years. Even though Ronnie and I work together all the time and we’re a different Ronnie and Carol now, to revisit that Ronnie and Carol was still quite painful in some ways, like two different people.
“It still made me sad that we had something so fabulous in terms of our relationship and the band, and it all went wrong professionally and personally, it still puts a lump in my throat. And yet, when I’m on stage with him, I don’t even think of it.
“I promise you, I am extremely happily married, very much in love with my husband, and I adore my children, I’m very, very happy and a very lucky girl, but if I have to revisit all the things Ronnie and I had – his mum died, my dad died, the band disintegrated, we got dropped by the label, we both got really depressed and it ruined our relationship – it’s not like I look back now and laugh, that will never make me laugh.”
For good or for bad, T’Pau will always be associated with their Number One hit China In Your Hand, a seminal power ballad which spent five weeks at the top of the UK charts, but in actual fact this legendary song only just made the album.
“China In Your Hand was an accident, it wasn’t finished when we got our record deal and no-one had heard it. We got our record deal based on Heart and Soul and Valentine and I Will Be With You, tracks like that.
We were in the studio with [producer] Roy Thomas Baker and one track wasn’t working out, so he said, ‘Have you got anything else?’
“Ronnie and I had started this song, just on the piano with the vocals, and I had the cassette on my pocket, gave it to Roy and he said, ‘That is a great song!’. So it was an emergency rescue song.
“Other times we’d go into the studio and say, ‘Wait until you hear this!’ and it’s been a massive flop. You just can’t figure it out. With fairly few exceptions, most of the songs I’ve put out as singles I’m very proud of and I’m very disappointed if they’re overlooked. I’m confident in my choices, but the public don’t always agree with you.”
But has the legacy of China In Your Hand proved a burden to live up to?
“It’s not a burden because it’s provided me with an amazing career, and it’s considered a pop classic, so that’s a great compliment, but it’s annoying being distilled down to one song when we have so much more to offer.
“For example, and I’m not just saying this, I think Pleasure & Pain is our best album, I don’t think there’s a duff track on there and there are on our other albums, but it will never get the attention that Bridge of Spies got
“People will never get to make those decisions about those songs, because I don’t get on the radio with them, I don’t get on television with them, the level of interest isn’t there any more, and that’s really frustrating because they’re great songs and I’m incredibly proud of them.
“I’ll get spot play on regional radio, our singles got played by Terry Wogan, Graham Norton and Ken Bruce on Radio 2, but none of their producers would put me on the playlist, and the eighties stations won’t play my new stuff because they’re formatted, and the newer stations won’t play me because I’m older than God’s dog now.
“So you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of exposure. If someone would just play new music based on its merits, rather than demographics… I am at pains not to come across as a winger and a moaner, but it is obviously very creatively frustrating when there’s nowhere for them to fit you in.
“I can put things on Spotify and MySpace, but I struggle to monetise it. I can put hyperlinks to direct people to things, but it’s boring, it’s hard work and it’s hard to monetise, and without being vulgar, I’m not motivated by money but I want to make money. I have to be out on the road constantly, because that’s where you earn money, and it’s knackering. I used to put out a couple of singles and an album and tour that a year before going back in the studio to work on the next album, but I’ll have done about 75 shows by the end of this year.”
Perhaps that constant touring has contributed to Carol still looking amazing despite now being in her fourth decade of performing?
“I’ve always looked younger than my years, but the gap is getting smaller! I know how to make myself look nice – I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the best hair and make-up artists in the world and I’ve picked up a lot of tips, so I can do all the smoke and mirrors. But my knees are hurting, I can’t believe I’m 60 in two years, I can’t believe I’m that old!”
Tickets are still available for Thursday’s show at the Arena - click here for details.