Songwriter Interviews

Carol Decker of T'Pau

by Carl Wiser

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In America, T'Pau is known for their 1987 debut single "Heart and Soul," a dreamy classic that was in hot rotation on MTV. On their home turf of the UK, that song also did well, but the follow-up, "China In Your Hand," became a sensation. The group was on tour as the opening act for Bryan Adams when that one went to #1, where it stayed for an astonishing five weeks. The Bridge of Spies album from whence it came moved 4 million copies in Britain, where the group continued to produce hits ("Valentine," "I Will Be with You," "Secret Garden") all the while being completely ignored in America, where their second album wasn't even issued.

T'Pau's frontwoman is Carol Decker, and she's kind of a badass. The notoriously surly UK music press took every opportunity to slag off the band, with Melody Maker critic David Stubbs leading the vitriol. "He's a ridiculous man," Decker retorted. "If people like him prefer pretentious shit, then there's no way a pop band, particularly one as currently successful as T'Pau, is going to appeal to him."

In 2011, Decker was once again was under attack, this time from UK X Factor judge Gary Barlow, who said he liked a contestant's performance of "China In Your Hand" because it was "in tune." Decker took him to task, defending her perfect pitch and bashing his boy band. "I had to suffer a Take That concert for the sake of my kids this summer," she tweeted. Barlow apologized.

Carol and the group's guitarist Ronnie Rogers were a couple during T'Pau's heyday, and they wrote the songs together. The band split in 1991 after two more albums, but Decker and Rogers have regrouped from time to time, and in 2015 re-emerged with the album Pleasure & Pain and a subsequent tour. Later that year, Bridge of Spies was released in an expanded, remastered edition with B-sides, remixes and other goodies, including a DVD containing their six music videos. We checked in with Carol to discuss the project, talk about songwriting, and find out why T'Pau's American impact was limited to "Heart and Soul."
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): When you revisited Bridge of Spies, what was the biggest surprise?

Carol Decker: "Thank You For Goodbye." It is completely different to the original demo and always comes as a shock as we play it live as it was originally written. It is very rocky live. I think we have enough slow songs in our repertoire, so we prefer to adhere to the demo version in concert, but I do really like the BoS version.

Songfacts: Which of the more obscure tracks is your favorite, and why?

Carol: I like "Giving My Love," which was a B-side I think! It's a great little pop song with a good chorus that drops down instead of going up which is quite clever clogs in songwriting terms.

Songfacts: How do you go about writing lyrics, and has that process changed over the years?

Carol: An idea can come from many places: something I heard or saw or from personal experiences. I try not to be too trite - I hope and always try to find a way of expressing myself intelligently and uniquely. I try not to do the obvious.

Songfacts: Many of us in America first heard T'Pau on MTV. How did you feel about music videos?

Carol: I loved making my videos. They were like making mini-movies. It was the closet I came to being a film star.

I loved the lights camera and action of it all. It's important that the director and artist are on the same page in terms of interpreting the song. Back then MTV was new and all videos made a huge impact. I remember racing home after the pub on a Friday night to see "the tube" and see a Madonna or Michael Jackson premiere.

Songfacts: Why didn't T'Pau have more success in America?

Carol: I don't really know, but it was very disappointing. We were told back then that the stations did not get our stuff as it was too diverse: Are you a rock band? Are you a rap artist?
Songfacts: "Heart and Soul" has a lot of layered vocals, which makes lip-synced performances (like Top of the Pops) rather awkward. How did you handle that?

Carol: I'm very good at lip-syncing and double tracking and pride myself on it. Staying sober is the key!

Songfacts: What are the challenges of performing that song (with a long rap section) live?

Carol: I rap the first two verses then cut to the melody for the verse before the chorus. No one really notices or minds as I cover the essential dynamics of the song. It works well.

When I have several backing vocalists we can cover more parts, but the basic version still works.

Songfacts: When did you start writing songs?

Carol: Around 1981 in my first band The Lazers, pre T'Pau. I wrote a song called "Nuclear Weapon and Lemonade Jennie."

Songfacts: What was it like writing songs with your boyfriend?

Carol: It was excellent. We really gelled in the studio then (still do). We are artistically simpatico but we do bicker and annoy each other also.

Songfacts: Please tell us the inspiration behind the song "Valentine."

Carol: I wrote it about an ex of mine. We would bump into each other after we split and he'd moved on and had a nice girlfriend. We'd smile and say "Hi," but I was still crazy about him so I always had to hide how I felt, and be cool and casual.

Sadly I read in the paper a few years later that he'd died in a motor bike accident and she was devastated for years after. They were really in love.

Songfacts: You've talked about how some T'Pau songs are pure ear candy, while others are quite meaningful. Which is the most meaningful, and why?

Carol: Too many really. "Maggie" is about Mrs. Thatcher and how decimated the miners were by her decisions.

"Bridge of Spies" is about a Russian, Anatoly Sharansky, held in a Soviet prison for 13 years for passing information to the USA. His wife fought for his release and eventually Gorbachev released him as part of a deal in exchange for Czech spies in 1986. His wife waited, at one end of the Glienicke Bridge for him in West Berlin. As he walked toward her, it was the first time they had seen each other in all those years.

The opening lines are:

So long I've waited for you to come to me
Anticipated what I would say
And no one could know how it feels to be in your embrace again

So fucking annoying Spielberg did not put it on the soundtrack to his film!

"Monkey House" is about the lobotomization of American actress Frances Farmer against her will by her mother and her film studio to control her mental health issues and keep her working.

December 3, 2015.
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Comments: 1

  • Jim from North Billerica, MaWow, she doesn't mince her words or take any crap, Bravo for Carol Decker!
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