I can still remember the first time I saw Paul Carrack.  It was on Top Of The Pops way back in 1974 singing How Long with his band Ace.  It was their only hit but it has become something of a radio classic, the type of song that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and just listen.  Once How Long faded from the charts, Paul Carrack pretty much disappeared from view as well until he popped up fronting Squeeze’s 1981 hit Tempted, another song that has the power to stop me in my tracks when it turns up on the radio.   Carrack would carry on making the occasional appearance in the charts, most regularly with Mike and The Mechanics.  Between times, he’s been quietly plowing a blue-eyed soul furrow, releasing solo albums and co-writing a song that would appear on the Eagles multi-million selling album Hell Freezes Over. 

Carrack opens tonight with his version of The Searchers hit When You Walk In The Room which is immediately followed by Tempted.  It’s a strong one-two punch of an opener, you might expect songs that strong to be saved for much later in the set, and truthfully Carrack’s own material pales slightly in comparison.  Fortunately, this is more than compensated for by Carrack’s excellent band who play with a deft precision that makes even unfamiliar material sparkle.

The dual drum kits of Deano Duke and Jack Carrack are locked so tightly together that if you closed your eyes you’d swear there was only one drummer playing.  Together with bassist Jeremy Meek they provide a solid foundation for James Locke on keyboards and Andy Staves on guitar.  Steve Beighton on saxes may well be the star of the show, providing several soulful but never self-indulgent solos.

Carrack himself is no slouch, whether rattling out a bluesy groove on Hammond organ, piano or guitar and then, of course, there is his voice which falls somewhere between Rod Stewart and Paul Young; not quite silky smooth, just enough of a rasp to keeps things interesting.

Mid-set, a third, pared down, drum kit is wheeled onstage.  Half the band disappears to leave a trio comprising of Carracks Paul and Jack and bassist Meek.  Carrack introduces his hitherto anonymous son: “Don’t clap too hard, he’ll expect more pocket money” and the three of them launch into a mini set of stripped-down numbers.  The best of these is Dig Deep a song from the new album, written with Squeeze’s Chris Difford but sounding a lot like something Nick Lowe might pull out of his song bag, and all the better for it.  The Carracks and Meek play so well together that the three of them could have played the whole show and I doubt that anyone would have had any complaints. 

The rest of the band return for the show’s final section.  Carrack may have got Tempted out of the way early on but he still has a few well-known hits to wheel out from his repertoire.  In truth, Mike and The Mechanics’ The Living Years and Over My Shoulder would only stop me in my tracks when they came on the radio so that I can turn the radio off but played live its impossible to deny their AOR pop craft and the audience love them.  What sounds like it’s going to be The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone turns out to be a splendid How Long, featuring some of the most tuneful audience participation I’ve had the pleasure to experience. The evening is brought to a close by a lovely version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with another tremendous sax solo from Steve Beighton and some lovely ensemble playing all round.  Paul Carrack’s cchart-toppingdays might well be behind him but he’s clearly still a class act.

John Scott

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