THAT over-used celebrity category, a ‘National Treasure’, is about to add another name to its number. That’s according to the BBC4 TV documentary last week on Paul Carrack: The Man With The Golden Voice. About time, many are crying. It’s one acid test of artistry to ask how well that voice carries beyond his own songwriting work into interpreting other people’s work.
Any Paul Carrack gig on a new tour is likely to throw up at least one new cover version. On his previous Worthing visit that I saw (not his last) up came When You Walk In The Room, which was The Searchers’ 60s hit. Since then, he’s floated a relaxed version of Gerry Marsden’s Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying. On Friday, lo and behold, here came another: the Jimmy Justice hit — yet more from the rich 60s seam — When My Little Girl Is Smiling, written by Carole King.
In Carrack’s hands — or rather, vocal chords —these songs are handpicked, treated and delivered with such a sympathetic and enhancing stamp of his vocal personality, that you’d be forgiven for imagining he’d been their actual composer.
Putting your branding convincingly and attractively on other people’s songs is what marks out certain singer-songwriters as great, and that is the extra-respected status we have watched Carrack attain, in maybe the autumn of his most active years, though not yet of his powers.
Excellent live numbers, naturally, these three chosen ones are, and sprinkled into a standard Carrack set as essential and sought-after ingredients, just as are his hits from his well-documented spells in other hit-making bands lying as prelude to the 14-or-so solo years past which have been his artistical crowning.
It might be fair to say that his songwriting development, after probably around 45 years in the trade, and its upward blast of this string of excellent solo albums, sits now on a comfortable and elevated plateau of quality and productivity.
On Friday, the second night of his tour, we heard new material from his latest album, Feeling Good. Long Ago had a slight country feel. I Can Hear Rain stood out, capped by a super tenor sax solo from Steve Beighton, the other key voice in Carrack’s long-serving band. They major on the solo sax sound instead of the rare lead guitar of Chris Garfield, and also Beighton’s textural contributions, along with those of Paul Copley’s keyboard strings, further enhance the collective class of this band.
The rhythm section of bassist Jeremy Meek and drummer Dean Dukes, on a Rolls Royce-grade Sonor SQ2 kit in maple, are one of live pop-soul’s most distinctive engine rooms. For a third tour they were augmented by Carrack’s 24-year-old son, Jack, with a beechwood, glitter-finish Sonor but, arguably more effectively, on various other hand-percussion. Dukes, who got a solo during Over My Shoulder, says: “It’s better with two drummers: it’s more rhythmical and varied.”
Jack sat in with the tour’s opening support duo, Chesham brothers Alex and Rolf Tinlin, who sing their own material to acoustic guitars and mandolin, and who joined the Carrack band on stage in Make It Right.
Multi-instrumentalist Carrack himself introduces and plays the Melodian on this latest album. He explained: “I wanted something like the sound of Stevie Wonder’s chromatic harmonica, which is an instrument I’m finding too hard to play.” A hand-held, mouth-blown keyboard, the Melodion gives the audience a chance to watch fingers playing keys. All other on-stage keyboards stand obscured.
The fans (ironically, mostly twice Tinlin’s ages) clapped and sang, too, rising to their feet for How Long and staying there for the rest of the show.
By then, it was celebration time, having already heard Carrack prove the quality of his own pen by highly effectively re-casting Eyes Of Blue, not on his keyboard this time but on his new red Everly Brothers jumbo acoustic which has been custom-made for him by Gibson. He played the tune himself before handing it on to Beighton as the song gains in intensity.
The Carrack band sound on this tour has a harder edge. The set this night spent less time on intimate material, and Carrack, whose style is essentially improvisational, seemed to leave several key melodies unexpressed in their original, most appealing form. But this is live; this is excitement; this is now; and we can go back off later and enjoy quietly the in-studio control and richness of his deepening vocal legacy on CD at home.
This Paul Carrack tour of mainly concerts revisits Sussex at Eastbourne, Crawley, Brighton in November and January. www.paulcarrack.net