Exclusive interview with Carol Decker
by Karen Shaw
This Redhead Still Rocks
When eighties band T’Pau perform at Wakefield on the 7th of July, lead singer Carol Decker promises “A great rocking show.”
Carol adds: “It’s really great to get together with my band. They’re a great bunch of guys. I love them.
“We’ll be playing all the hits and some tunes from our recent album, Pleasure and Pain, which has been very well received, and also a few tunes from the The Virgin Anthology which we’ve just released.”
Carol’s certainly been busy over the past 20 years, and despite a slump in her personal life this lass has come back with a vengeance and enjoys performing alongside pals Kim Wilde and Paul Young on the 80s Revival tours throughout the UK, as well as playing smaller venues with her acoustic set, sharing stories and songs.
“I absolutely love the more intimate venues. The audiences are almost arm’s length from me you’re very exposed musically and vocally.
“My hair was bright orange. I was very pale and very thin. The boys used to say I looked like a match!”
You can hide a little bit behind the awe of a big festival crowd, just get on stage and shout ‘Alright Wembley!’ and everybody buys into the racket.
“Performing on the 80s tours are great fun. Years ago we were all a bit sniffy with each other, especially if we were on Top of the Pops together as we were competing to get the top of the charts. Now everybody is a survivor. We were part of an amazing era, we’re all in our 50s, and we’ve all got kids and stories to tell. Kim (Wilde) and I have kids of a similar age and we’ll often chat about family stuff and I’ll also help prop up the bar with Go West and Paul Young!”
As a teenager I have very fond memories of school discos, dancing away to hit song China in your Hand, and I remember dancing next to the smoke machine tossing my red hair about imagining I was Carol Decker. This song really propelled T’Pau – who took their unusual name from a Star Trek character – into musical hyperspace, and it’s the song that many of us will sing when T’Pau is mentioned.
However, T’Pau had many other hits so I was interested to learn if, despite its success, Carol finds it frustrating that China in your Hand seems to be the one song we all identify with.
“Yes I do, but I’ve come to realise it’s partly my own fault because I lost a lot of confidence. I ‘downed tools’ and stopped trying to write songs so as Ronnie (her ex-partner and cofounder of T’Pau) said, ‘You didn’t do the bloody work so you’ll never know if you could have had another hit or not!’ Everybody likes it, I can’t grumble about it because I think I played a part in being slightly defeatist about bothering with anything new.
“I’m glad I sold records and wrote songs when I did, because I got some residual but ever-diminishing royalties because of the streaming, but at least I’ve got some. Record companies have got less money to invest in new artists, so it’s difficult. But it’s nothing we’ll ever be able to fix you’re not going to put that genie back into that bottle – ever. It’s difficult to make any money. I don’t know how young artists get off the ground any more. It’s always been a hard business. In my day you got into a Transit van and drove up and down the country hoping to build a following. It’s never been an easy business. I think it’s harder now.” Famed not just for her voice but her flame red hair, I wondered if Carol had found her hair to be more of a curse than a credit in her career…
“When I was young I was very selfconscious about it. My hair was bright orange. I was very pale and very thin. The boys used to say I looked like a match! I was thin, had buck teeth, a brace and I had a turn in my eye, so I had to have glasses with a patch on.
“At that age all you want is a set of boobs, to look ‘normal’ and have a boyfriend. I was always desperately trying to get a suntan and I’d put lemon juice on my hair to make it blonder. But when I got into my late teens and 20s I grew into my looks and developed my confidence. By that time I had a very athletic figure and I loved my hair – I consider it part of my arsenal.”
T’Pau’s first song, Heart and Soul, a huge hit in America, originally nosedived in the UK.
“America loved it and it flew up the billboard chart and stayed there for months. And then that’s when we got a reprieve. It had been a big flop over here so they re-released it and Pepe Jeans picked it up for their advert so all of a sudden we went from being a complete disaster to being really hip.”
Carol’s spell in the public spotlight certainly changed her life dramatically, and in her autobiography Heart and Soul released last year, she shares her experiences of her rollercoaster life.
“It was good going over some of the fun bits and I‘ve included funny moments because I think people tend to think that once you’re successful you have a glamorous life but things can still go hideously wrong. I had to talk about why the band broke up, mine and Ronnie’s break-up and the highs and lows in life. I felt uncomfortable doing it, especially talking about the band breaking up in ‘91 as it didn’t end well. However in the intervening years a couple of us have buried the hatchet – and not in each other’s heads – and we’ve become close friends again.
“Ronnie and I broke up 20 years ago. It wasn’t easy, we had a very intense relationship; we formed the band together and wrote together, we were very much in love. It was hard for both of us when it ended but it came to an impasse, we lost all momentum. My career was down the toilet, my relationship had ended and my dad had just died. I went from having a fantastic relationship with a handsome guy. I was in a successful rock band and then it was my turn for some bad luck.”
A few years later, life was to change for Carol again when she met her husband Richard. “I met my husband Richard in 1997 and in the blink of an eye I was pregnant with our daughter Scarlett. I used to run for the hills at the thought of having children,” she laughs. She was 40 when her first child was born and five years later along came son Dylan.
“I came from a very normal loving family. My mum was a devoted mother but she was on Valium. Dad went out to work and mum kept the house clean. She kept herself to herself; it was also partly who she was as a person, so to me it just seemed if you had children that’s all you could do. It just didn’t look very interesting. Much as I was loved, with all due respect to my late mother, I wanted to take the world by storm, grab it by the balls and I had a pretty good go at it!”