I’ve had hassle in the past about my vast collection of old football and music magazines, not least when moving to a house with less storage space a decade ago.
But now and again I chance upon features trickier to find in this computer-centric day and age, not least when interviewing artists that once made bigger headlines.
That was the case when it came to setting up an interview with Carol Decker last summer, ahead of T’Pau’s planned Pleasure & Pain tour.
As it turned out, those shows were postponed due to a family illness, but a revised 20-date tour to help launch an album of the same name is now set to go ahead.
With that in mind, I felt it was time to blow dust off my copy of Q magazine from November 1988 and remind myself just what a big deal T’Pau were at that stage.
Carol and song-writing partner Ronnie Rogers graced the cover of Q26, joining U2 – on the back of Rattle and Hum – and Amnesty International benefit tourists Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour.
Within its pages, Tom Hibbert met T’Pau’s leading lights at their Kentish Town gaff in a ‘rock’n’roll couple’ feature, in an edition also featuring Billy Bragg, Robert Cray, Siouxsie Sioux and Tanita Tikaram.
The interviewer detailed T’Pau’s elevation from the spit and sawdust circuit, while the pair – an item for many moons at that stage – were photographed by Chris Taylor on their bed with Jessie the Red Setter, Carol playing guitar and singing for the camera.
There followed something of a good-natured ragging from the redhead about what Ron should wear for the photocall, followed by a trawl through the band’s back story and what prompted their move from Shrewsbury to London’s bright lights.
Carol suggested they hardly had a moment to themselves at that stage, with plenty of in-depth warts’n’all detail added about those formative days learning their craft.
T’Pau were on the crest of a wave back then, two years after Heart and Soul helped break them.
And as those of a certain age may recall, next single China in your Hand topped the charts for five weeks, while the Bridge of Spies album sold 1.2 million copies, a stadium tour with Canadian cutaway-t-shirt rocker Bryan Adams helping spread the word.
I think the resultant Q feature reads quite well all these years on, not least as a bit of ’80s pop history. Carol wasn’t convinced when I mentioned it though.
“I thought they took the piss a bit, actually. The music media were not fond of T’Pau. They saw us as a cheesy, mainstream band, and took every opportunity to have a go.
“We were sort of tabloid favourites, really, and sold a shed-load of records, but weren’t cool or mean enough.
“When we got asked to do a big feature for Q magazine and got on the cover, I couldn’t believe it. But I wasn’t very happy with the article. I think they set us up.
“Anyway, moving forward …”
When I caught up with Carol, she’d got in late the previous night from a gig at Scone Palace, a fair trip from her home in Henley-on-Thames, where the Lancashire-born chanteuse and husband Richard Coates had a gastro pub a couple of years before.
“We had the pub for eight years, but let it go two years ago. I didn’t have a right lot to do with it, apart from propping up the bar.
“Richard is such a fantastic chef, and was in the Michelin guides with it all, but could never take a day off. People said they could always tell when he wasn’t in the kitchen. And reputation is everything to him.
“It was all just too much, so he’s a gun for hire now, a consultant executive chef, sorts other people out, and likes the freedom of that.”
So how did Carol, originally from Huyton, Lancashire, before moving with her folks to Shropshire, end up re-locating – after her London days – to Oxfordshire?
“We moved here in 2005. It’s very pretty, and we moved here for all the right reasons, like schools and that.
“Kentish Town was great was I was single or part of a couple, but a little edgy when the kids came along, and we thought it was time to get the hell out of Dodge!”
Carol and Richard have two children, with Scarlett aged 16 and Dylan 12. So what do they make of Mum hitting the road with her music?
“Well, Scarlett loves Muse, and only ever listens to one band at a time. When she was younger it was Gorillaz, and now it’s just Muse.
“But Dylan loves any kind of music and is always singing. I had two shows at the weekend, and he came along to both.
“Unfortunately I sprained my ankle, and said that when I did China in Your Hand he could come on stage and help me back off.
“He loved that, and was waving to the crowd – about 20,000 people. He got a round of applause and loved the attention. He’s very much a chip off the old block.”
Pretty soon after that, you might have chanced upon Carol on our screens again, on the BBC’s addictive quiz Pointless in a celebrities special, partnering former Kajagoogoo singer Limahl.
Then, there she was again just before Christmas, this time claiming the show’s coveted trophy with none other than Paul Young. Yes, it appears that The Secret of Association still stands for something in this day and age.
And now T’Pau are set to return with that brand new album and UK tour, Carol and Ron having teamed up for the first time in nearly 25 years to re-ignite the spark that brought us all those old hits.
As I put pen to keyboard, I’ve only heard the first single, Nowhere, all set for download on January 18 and avaialble for pre-orders now. But it’s fair to say you won’t be disappointed, a powerhouse of a song with those unmistakable vocals to the fore, and a strong hook. In short, an assured return.
Maybe there will be no surprises either that overall the pair’s newly-finished songs provide a rock ‘n’ roll tale drenched in Pleasure and Pain.
As a brief reminder of times past, T’Pau’s first album, Bridge of Spies, spent several months on the UK and Billboard charts, going four-times platinum and starting a journey that spawned two more top-10 albums and a raft of hit singles.
That all ended abruptly after four years amid ill health, bitterness and marriage disintegration. Carol and Ron remained friends, but their personal relationship had run its course and each had went their own way.
And although Carol built a new T’Pau around her in 1997 and released new album Red, it wasn’t until the band’s 25th anniversary in 2013 that co-writer Ron re-joined the band for a celebratory tour.
They then got to work on songs they started a quarter of a decade earlier, those faint chances of a brand new T’Pau album slowly becoming a reality.
During the final stages of recording though, Carol’s mum – who she saw as her inspiration and No.1 fan and supporter – was taken ill and passed away, but not before her daughter was able to play her Demolition Man, one of her favourite tracks, but unrecorded until now.
It duly received the thumbs-up, but in typical T’Pau tradition the moment’s pleasure was mixed with immeasurable pain.
Yet Carol reflected: “We’re no different to anyone else. Our story and our lives reflect what happens to everyone, everyday.
“We’ve reached the stage where there’s nothing in the way anymore. We can go out and be ourselves, and that’s what these songs and this tour are about.”
Talking of loyal fans, in recognition of the band’s continued support, the brand new album is initially exclusively available to those showing up for the upcoming gigs, before a wider release.
And as well as a selection of the new material, the new tour will feature all the big hits and several past album tracks.
As Carol put it, “We’re immensely proud of what we’ve achieved both in the past, and particularly with this new album.”
The Pleasure & Pain tour comes on the back of a busy 2014 for Carol, including plenty of appearances on the ‘80s revival circuit, as I learned when we spoke in late July.
“Well, yes, there are all these ’80s festivals now. They’ve sprung up everywhere. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s just about making hay while the sun shines.
“But this will be my first studio album in 15 years, and we’re right in the middle of recording that up at Ronnie’s place, his studio in Wales.
“We formed the band together and wrote all the songs together, but have some great guys working with us too.”
I put it to Carol that she must feel a little constrained by all those ’80s roadshow gigs, with their shorter greatest hit sets, when she’s still writing plenty of new material.
“Well, I have mixed feelings about it all. Sometimes I think, ‘What a laugh!’ I’m getting paid for singing four songs for 20 minutes in places like Scone Palace, or in the grounds of some other fantastic stately home, with the whole thing just such an enjoyable, no-pressure experience.
“But it’s all about the old hits, so yeah – you’re right. Creatively, it’s not fulfilling. Yet we’ve got some great new songs, and I’m really excited about the album, and it would be nice to have new songs to sing.
“The target audience that want to come and see us do other stuff are excited too, with lots of comments on Facebook and those following on Twitter.
“So it would be nice for the audience and us to have some new things to do.”
At this point I mentioned to Carol that my better half says a gig she did at Birmingham NEC in 1987 was the loudest she’d ever been to.
She laughs at this, and I put to her that if that’s still the case they may bring the house down at some of the venues on the forthcoming tour – not least considering that their two London gigs are not at The O2 Arena but an old pub haunt of mine, The Half Moon in Putney.
“Probably, yeah. We’ve got a fantastic sound engineer, though, so it should be appropriate to the venue. Those big old sheds were noisy, weren’t they?”
The 20-date tour runs from January 22 at Camberley Theatre to March 14 at Selkirk Victoria Halls. And that’s alright by Carol.
“We’re just doing small gigs. When I do the big ‘80s shows I’m on a big multi-bill, so collectively we pull in 20,000 people. Which is great, especially at events like Rewind.
“I did another on Saturday night to 5,000 people too, with Rick Astley and the Bananas …
(Incidentally, I’m guessing that’s Bananarama rather than the Warrington crooner’s new band).
“But individually we’re all in different places now, so on the last tour I did last year we sold out Milton Keynes Stable, so we’re looking at 400 or so people. That’s where I am now.”
Well, for me those gigs are always the better ones anyway.
“They’re different. I do like the shock and awe of a big gig, and it’s quite nice to say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve sold this many tickets!’
“I also do different set-ups like semi-acoustic shows where I take four musicians with me, with a cajon and close harmonies, or I’ll turn up at Rewind and have a fantastic house band that they provide, complete with a sax player for China in Your Hand.
“Then I’ll do the Half Moon or the Bedford in Balham, so it’s very mixed now. It’s very interesting like that, and I’ve learned to roll with the punches. You have to.”
My original reason for talking to Carol was that T’Pau were down to play Preston’s 53 Degrees, a venue that has since been mothballed, one of many we’re at risk of losing across the country in these hard times.
“I just think there were so many more places to play when I was younger, of that kind of size.
“I spent a lot of my childhood in Shropshire, and went to college in Shrewsbury, and every band you could lay your name to played the Arts Centre, where I saw everyone from The Pretenders to The Beat, or the Town Hall. Yet a lot of those places have gone now.”
I mentioned the new single, and it’s clear there’s no less oomph in Carol’s vocal delivery these days. So, on the subject of that big voice of hers, has she always looked after it?
“Absolutely, and thank the Lord, I can still sing. I’ve just had this conversation actually. My best friend, just over from America and my tour manager back in the day, was saying exactly that – ‘You’re so lucky you can sing … at your age’.
“Your voice ages, like the rest of you. I can be incredibly badly behaved at times, yet I’ll feel it in my voice if I’ve been up drinking.
“Last night I’d got in from Scotland, and Jenny was in from LA, and we just sank a few bottles of wine on the patio, and I’m croaky today.
“If I had some work on, I wouldn’t do that. And when I don’t have a sprained ankle, I do work out. It’s a physical job, and you’ve got to be fit.”
Carol came into all this a little late, aged 22 and at art school. Were there jobs before that? And had she not considered this as a career path before?
“I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I flunked my A-levels and went and au paired for my uncle, who lived in Eindhoven, to get away.
“All my friends had gone to uni or college, and my parents moved from Shropshire to Warwickshire. I didn’t know anybody, so just started bumming around, going from job to job.
“One of the jobs I got was working on the art team at Ironbridge Gorge Museum, when I came back to the UK, and I just thought, ‘I’ll go to art school’.
“Another friend was going, so I just sort of cobbled together a very bad portfolio and bluffed my way in, and in that environment I met a different kind of person.
“I’d been to a very strait-laced girls grammar school, but in art school met a whole different type of person, and met musicians from going to parties. I always knew I could sing, so I just gave it a shot.”
It was clearly meant to be. So what were her first band like, The Lazers? Has she still got some old demos?
“Yes I have, but haven’t got anything to play them on! We were a ska band actually.”
Was that what you were playing when you first met Ronnie and poached him for the band?
“No, we went more pop. Ron was more of a melodic writer, and we just sort of drifted into a different style of music.
“The guy who formed The Lazers – Julian, who lives in Australia now – was more into ska meets Wilko Johnson. I kind of fell into that, because this was my first band, but it wasn’t really the style of music I wanted to do.
“So when I met Ronnie we started to create our own kind of thing.”
It proved a great apprenticeship, no doubt. Yet it was still around six years or so before they got that big record deal.
“Oh God, yeah, we got turned down all the time, but finally got some management, who got us a showcase with Siren, who were a Virgin company.
“It looked like it was an overnight thing, because we took off like a rocket, but it was a very hard slog.”
I recall records in my collection from Faith Brothers and It’s Immaterial on that same offshoot label. And then my old Undertones hero Feargal Sharkey was in the Virgin camp around then.
“Yeah! I used to hang out with Feargal! We used to end up in various states in hotels and that.”
Are there many artists from that era that Carol still talks to regularly?
“No, in fact I’ve made more friends in the last decade since I’ve started doing all the ‘80s shows. Back then it was more competitive.
“Nowadays, I’ll go backstage at an ‘80s concert and we’re all in our late 40s or in our 50s, all got kids, and sit around having a glass of wine. It’s a great camaraderie.
“We’re all very supportive. But when we were all young, we were all viciously competitive and wanted to fire up the charts.”
So who’s in the band these days?
“Well, Ronnie’s back, which is great, and our guitarist is James Ashby, who’s just turned 25, then there’s Carsten Moss on keyboards. He’s Norwegian.
It’s interesting with the writing, because Scandinavians have great pop sensibilities and I love Swedish and Norwegian bands. Karsten brings a whole new dimension.
“Then there’s Kez Gunes on bass, a fantastic player with a great soul voice as well, and Dave Hattee on drums, who’s been with me 14 or 15 years.”
Incidentally, I believe Odette Adams adds backing vocals too. So it’s just Carol and Ronnie from the original line-up. Was it odd getting back after sharing so much over the years?
“It was for the first couple of gigs, him being back on stage with me, because we hadn’t gigged together for 15 years, but we quickly fell back into stride, and it’s all good.”
Of course, it was a jeans commercial that gave you that first big break, wasn’t it?
A jeans advert … a stadium tour with Bryan Adams … it all screams ‘the 1980s’ to me there!
“Yeah, well you need your lucky break. Even if you’re talented! And the jeans commercial was incredibly helpful.
“Everyone thought, ‘That’s such a cool song, then the Americans loved it. Like I say, you just need your lucky breaks.”
At that point, Carol was ready to party a bit more with her LA visitor, and keen to be away, but there was still time for a couple more questions.
I believe China in Your Hand is on more than 150 compilation albums. Ever get fed up playing that song?
“Err … sometimes. Yes. But I really like Heart and Soul, which is my favourite, and sometimes I’m just not in the mood to sing a big old ballad all the time.
“But you mustn’t grumble! That just sounds so bratty. At least my music still gets played and I’m remembered for something.
“And I’m still in gainful employment as a result of it. But yeah, sometimes you just think, ‘I don’t want to sing this one’.”
Finally, confidence has been an issue at certain points in your career. Do Carol’s experiences over the ’80s and beyond make it easier to take on the modern pared-down music industry (not least seeing as the band weren’t overnight successes first time)?
“Absolutely, yeah. But I’m not in the industry with a capital ‘I’ anymore, and we’re in our own little bubble now.
“I’ve come to be proud of myself, and do shows like Rewind with people like Tony Hadley and other pals like Martin Fry and Kim Wilde.
“We were the big-hitters of our day, and we’re still going strong. And I’m proud of that.
“You will get people who’ll knock it, and say ‘give it up’, but I’ll just shrug it off, because there will always be some twat, especially now.
“But I’m proud of myself and proud of my friends as well, and I’ve now been a professional singer for 27 years.
“I’ve earned a good living, and I provide for my family, the phone’s still ringing, and the bookings are still coming in – so I must have got something right!”
And if the mighty Nowhere is anything to go by, you just know that Carol will be giving plenty of the old Heart and Soul when she’s out there for the Pleasure and Pain tour.
“Definitely, and I’m very much looking forward to playing the new songs to everybody too, so … see you there!”
This is a revised and expanded version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature/interview with Carol for the Lancashire Evening Post, first published on January 8th, 2015, with a link to the original’s online version here.
For all the latest from Carol and T’Pau, plus details of the forthcoming tour and how to get hold of a Pleasure & Pain album, go to the official website.