Tony Cummings catches up with hard rocking trio the PAUL POULTON PROJECT
Every few years the hard pressed hacks at Cross Rhythms Editorial shrug their shoulders and say, "Isn't it about time we did a Paul Poulton feature?" For the truth is, the Brummie singer/songwriter has been a fixture of Britain's Christian music scene as long as there has been a Cross Rhythms. He was featured in the very first issue of the CR magazine in fact and since then has clocked up literally thousands of gigs and a steady flow of independently released albums. In recent times though things have changed for the veteran songsmith in that Paul no longer goes out to gigs clutching an acoustic guitar but tours accompanied by two hard rocking cohorts. The Paul Poulton Project (as they are named) consist of Paul (vocals, guitar), Ross Lander (bass) and Joe Blanks (drums). There was in fact an earlier version of the Paul Poulton Project (with Rob Allen and Paul May) who recorded one album, 'Flaky' (1999). But it's Paul Poulton Project mark two who have been attracting much praise for their high energy stage performances and, in 2007, a fine album, 'Dumb Dogs' (a track from which, "I've Never Met Bob Dylan", was named by Cross Rhythms as one of the Best 20 Tracks Of 2007). Now PPP are hard at work at Raindance Studio, Amblecote, recording a new album, 'Looking For Someone To Blame' with engineer/producer Chris Smith.
Paul spoke about 'Looking For Someone To Blame', which should be released in the autumn. "It differs slightly from 'Dumb Dogs' in that most of the tracks are radio friendly, catchy and melodic, all of them, as usual, are guitar-driven. The songs have a message, which people seem to appreciate where ever we play, whether it's a rock venue or a church organised event. We try not to shout at people with a message, but rather engage them with an interesting perspective. God's love is very broad, it has something for everyone whatever stage in their lives they're at."
What promises to be one of the outstanding tracks on the new album is "Hypocrite's Blues". Paul explained the song's unusual genesis: "One day in the studio I was messing around with an old spiritual hymn called 'Ain't It A Shame'. I added some of my own verses to it, it's a funny song. Chris recorded it while I was playing it on my acoustic guitar. Joe Blanks walked into the studio to put some drums down on another track we were recording, but heard 'Ain't It A Shame' and immediately put the drums down for it. It was all so spontaneous, his playing was great, accentuating the country/blues/gospel feel of the song, it all went down in one take. We ended up with a song for the album in just a few minutes without even trying. Normally it can take a loooong time to get a song right. I put a rough mix version of the song on our MySpace site and people immediately started talking about it and pasting it onto their sites. Radio stations across the world have already got a copy and have been playing it. When my wife heard the song she thought it was a bit risqué so I called the song 'Hypocrite's Blues' to help explain the song to anyone who didn't think we should beat our wives."
Another unusual track on the album is "Don't Blame Me" which, believe it or not, features a famous mainstream song in each verse, namely Billy Paul's "Me And Mrs Jones", the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". Explained Paul, "To engage with people you have to talk about things they will relate to. Christians sometimes struggle to get people into church because some churches have a language all of their own. They don't relate to ordinary people very well, so the song as with most of the songs on the album relates to people about ordinary things. 'Married People' for instance talks about married couples have fun in bed when the kids are asleep, and all the other things married people do, they shout at each other, they get counselling, they stay together but it takes work. That song relates to people and people have let me know. There are ways of talking about the Bible without it being boring. I think God relates to us in ordinary ways but we complicate things and they end up unable to be understood, we don't even understand them ourselves. I've been working on another book that looks at that very theme, it's called An Ordinary Life. But I need to finish the album before I get stuck into writing the book."
Writing books isn't a new activity for Paul. Last year American publisher Resource Publications published his work Fishing For Praise. Explained Paul, "The book looks at the question why do people praise - is it a weird thing or is it a normal aspect of life that we all engage it? The book sets out to show it's a normal thing that we do every day. Like, we praise our wives when they look nice, we praise the guy who cooked the dinner in the restaurant, we praise the filmmakers of a good film, we even praise our dogs when they go to sit by the door and don't leave a little puddle by the sofa. Praise is a normal part of life and so when Christians get together in church, it's what we do. It's a normal thing. If somebody's been to a good football match they say, oh you missed a great match the other day. It was a really great game. And we will talk about the good players. So when Christians get to church, what we kind of do, some of the songs are aimed at Christians. We sing to each other, 'Come, let's praise the Lord,' or something like that. What we're saying to each other is, 'Isn't God great. He's done so many good things that I can't express myself properly I've just got to sing this song. So this will do for me to praise God.' So that's what we do.
"But praise is all around us, everywhere. We hear it a lot. We also hear the opposite of praise as well. People get slagged off and stuff but the Bible teaches us to talk up, be positive and a lot of people in the world are positive. When Christians meet together it's normal to praise God. That's what we do because he does so many good things. And God praises us too - that's the thing. Praise isn't one way. It's not like Jesus has got a big ego that he wants praising all the time, or he's insecure or something. It's not like that. We're recognising who Jesus is. Jesus is the creator of Heaven and earth. He wants to help us, he wants to be our friend and he wants to be our brother. We recognise that fact and so we say he's truly great. He's the most excellent of men, like the psalm says, 'You are the most excellent of men.' When we are worthy of praise God praises us too. It's not like it's all one way. The Scriptures tell us we are to seek the praise that doesn't come from men but comes from God. Seek his praise. So he praises us too. And an insight into praise is that it gives us a lot of information on Heaven and Hell. So the book looks at praise as a doorway through to Heaven or through to Hell.
"As I was writing it I just found myself going through these avenues of really, really interesting stuff and it all started from just the one thing, why do we praise. Deists, Benjamin Franklin was a deist, he believed in God but he didn't praise him. He said we don't have to praise him. Just knowing he's there is enough. He also said God doesn't want our praise. He said why would he want our praise? Do we want praise from a monkey? Or a lesser life form. It doesn't mean anything to us if a monkey praises us - what does that mean? And he said that's what it's like to God. So deists don't praise God and there's quite a lot of deists about, even though they don't realise they're deists. I think, and I try to say this in the book, because praise is a normal part of life it's important that we do praise God because some people can't praise. We all know people who have never got anything good to say about anyone. It's just like beyond them to say anything good. All they want to look at is people's bad points and there's lots of bad points to look at in the world. We're not stupid, we know that's the case but there's also lots of good things to look at and the good things should be highlighted and praised. And so that's what Christians do. We see God who is good; he's totally good, excellent, nothing bad about him. In fact Jesus is the one person on earth there is nothing bad to say about. So we can just say good things about Jesus because he's good. So that's what the book's about. But there are lots of avenues and different chapters that look at different aspects of praise. It was originally called Aspects Of Praise - there's about 10 chapters about different things. Now it's called Fishing For Praise."
The powerhouse drummer in the Paul Poulton Project is Joe Blanks. Joe explained how he contacted Paul, "I went to this website and it said Walsall and it said Paul was a clean living guy and stuff. So I met up with him and it ended up that he lived down the road in Rugely." Paul interjected, "Joe told me, 'I'm on the telly next week so you can watch me play. And he was on Let me Entertain You on the BBC.'" For those not familiar with Let Me Entertain You, the audience have the opportunity to buzz a poor performance and if they got more than 50 per cent buzzes the hapless act would be kicked off the stage. Amazingly, solo drummer Joe won two heats and came third in the final, winning three thousand pounds in the process.
Not surprisingly, in view of his TV talent show success, Joe admitted to being a showman. He said, "That's my thing. I prefer doing live gigs rather than studio work. But the solo was varied. I played with four sticks, I stood on the drums, I did animal impressions, I did stick twirling." Paul added his praise for his virtuoso drummer, "He's a great drummer, solid, but he's got this excellent showmanship too. Some people are born to be on stage and Joe's one of them. He was only 16 when he was on the TV show."
Equally crucial to the Paul Poulton Project sound is bassist Ross Lander. Ross is a veteran of the Christian scene. "I have been playing bass in different churches for 18 years now. That's a lot of meetings! I think my record is four in a day. I have also played at services at three different towns in a single day - London, Huddersfield and Bradford. In Huddersfield, I joined a praise party band called RAW (Ready And Willing). That was a lot of fun. We rarely had a planned set list and solos could be requested at any point by the band leader. I also joined a group called Glass around that time. We were featured in Cross Rhythms in issue 49 in 1999 and the EP had a great review. Sadly, the band folded due to a lack of motivation, which was a real shame as there was real potential there. I have been part of the worship team at the Elim national conference a couple of times, and a few other Bible weeks. I have been playing for a jazz/funk/soul function band for the last two years, which has really stretched my playing. I joined the PPP in Feb 2007. I have a friend who has known Paul for ages and he told me Paul needed a new bassist, and was able to recommend me. I sent some MP3s through and that seemed to be enough to land the gig. I first met Joe a couple of hours before we were due to play in front of 1000 people in Sheffield! I had only met Paul once as well! It was something of a baptism of fire, but it went well. We have still never had a band practice to this day."
Like each band member, Ross has plenty of vivid memories of gigging with the Paul Poulton Project. "One of the craziest was at a pub in Huddersfield. We played in a sort of courtyard out of the back of a van. If the setting itself wasn't surreal enough, things got really weird when the power went off in the middle of a song and Joe began running around the place playing window bars, tables and fire escapes. The crowd went crazy for it! The landlord offered us more money if we could keep on playing!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.