T'Pau's Carol Decker talks 80s, paying her employees with pizza and new music

Jenny Lee chats to 80s musical legend Carol Decker about making new music, returning to play in Belfast and being a proud mum despite having once been 'allergic to children'

Carol Decker of T'Pau whose biggest hit was China In Your Hand
Carol Decker of T'Pau whose biggest hit was China In Your Hand Carol Decker of T'Pau whose biggest hit was China In Your Hand

CAROL Decker is one of the most recognisable faces of 1980s music. The flame-haired lead singer of T’Pau is best known for their hit China in Your Hand, which spent five weeks at number one in 1987.

“It still an all inspiring song and so enjoyable to sing. Everyone loves it, especially at big festivals – seeing hands wave side to side is such a joy,” she tells me.

Decker is hoping to witness that scene in person again this summer – with a number of gigs planned. These including Let’s Rock Belfast, at Boucher Road playing fields on August 7, where, all being well, they will be joined by other 80s legends such as Adam Ant, Wet Wet Wet, Marc Almond, Sister Sledge and Chesney Hawkes.

“Back in the day we’ve great memories of playing in Belfast and staying at the Europa Hotel. I can’t wait to go back, though I don't know how to do my diary anymore because I haven’t done anything in over a year, so I need to get booking flights and hotels,” laughs the 63-year-old, who lives in Oxfordshire.

T’Pau cancelled 60 gigs in 2020 and Decker admits the Covid lockdowns have been difficult emotionally and financially, as her husband Richard Coates is in the hospitality business.

“It's been such a weird, dystopian and frankly bizarre time. I never thought I'd see the day where I was told I couldn't leave my house and go for a coffee and that kids would have to wear masks in school.

“To be completely honest, I've been very up and down emotionally. I've been angry and upset – but never frightened. I've been angry about how it has descended upon the world. I've been out for the residents in the care homes and I've been angry for the kids – my daughter had to graduate via email. I think the only thing our government got right was a vaccination roll-out, thank God.

Last May T’Pau released a lockdown single Be Wonderful, and have followed that up with their new track Guess Who’s Sorry Now, which Decker describes as “a catchy, sunny song that will really cheer you all up”.

The powerful, upbeat new track has the traditional T'Pau sound of layered guitars and Decker’s distinctive vocals

“I have put a bit of life experience in there, as well as universality. We have all been there when we have been taken for granted or taken a loved one for granted. It can be a romantic partner, a friend or a family member,” says Decker about the lyrics.

While its a modern fresh production, Guess Who’s Sorry Now uncannily transports you back to the 80s, with T’Pau’s familiar identity firmly intact, something Decker partly credits to her bandmate and co-writer Ronnie Rogers.

“Ronnie is a great engineer and he’s always fiddling around for a different sound for us, though we’ve both always liked great jangly guitars and big string sounds," she says. “I always do my own harmonies and background vocals and I think that gives a particular to sound to my voice which is very identifiable.”

So is the plan to release a new T’Pau album?

“We have another single called Stupid Love Song which we are going to get out later this year and then we are thinking of either doing an EP or finishing the album.

“I have quite a few ideas, which I’ve been screaming into my phone this past year. I’m not very technological in terms of working remotely and file sharing. I’m a collaborator, so I can’t wait to get back into the studio with the band.”

The Covid pandemic has given mum-of-two Decker the opportunity to collaborate with her children, Scarlett (22) and Dylan (18).

Together they produced and filmed a music video to accompany Be Wonderful; Dylan put together the video for Guess Who’s Sorry Now and Scarlett, an animation graduate, illustrated the cover of the latest single, with a purple hyacinth (the flower of regret).

“They both did a BTEC in Creative Media Production and can film and edit, so I put them to work and paid them in pizza,” says the proud mum.

Her son is currently completing a foundation course in art and design, following in his mother’s footsteps.

“When I was 22 I went back into education as a mature student. I didn't know what to do with myself and my friend was going to art school and I thought it sounded like a laugh. That's where I started to meet musicians so it changed my life really,” says Decker, who is grateful to have enjoyed the heights of musical success in the 80s and 90s.

“I sold records in the day where you did make a living out of it. I don't know how I would survive now. I don't know how anyone makes any money, because streaming has decimated the income of musicians.

“I'm probably going to sound like an old fart in that I thought it was better in my day, but it was. You got in your van and you drove up and down the country doing gigs. You eventually got a record deal, you made a record and you went on to tour.”

While in recent years enjoying the “creative freedom” of not being controlled by a record company, Decker admits that not having the budget to spend on promotion is difficult and the band have had to “rely upon social media”.

She has offered her online fan base plenty of laughs during the past year including singing a revised version of China In Your Hands, rewording it Wash Your Hands.

Recently she posted a picture on Twitter of her daughter holding up an old newspaper article, with the headline 'I don't want children. I'm not the maternal type'.

“I'm having a clear-out and we were going through loads of stuff and found it. I was positively allergic to children back then. I was just really ambitious and I said many times that I couldn't think of anything worse. But timing is everything and I met my now husband in the late 90s when everything had quietened down.”

As well as her music, Decker has acted on both stage and screen, including the film 9 Dead Gay Guys and the comedy series Trigger Happy TV and she took part in season 13 of Celebrity MasterChef in 2018.

“My husband is a chef so he coached me, but I screwed up my cheesecake and got thrown off the show,” laughs Decker, who wouldn’t mind having a go at Celebrity Bake Off or The Great British Sewing Bee.

Most recently she featured in the Channel 5 retrospective series Greatest Hits of the 80s.

“They send the cameras and lights in a flight case and then I access an online link and the producer, engineer and everyone is there. I shouldn't really say it in a Belfast newspaper, but it's a bit like bomb disposal opening the case and putting the yellow cable in the black hole,” she laughs.

“It’s amazing how it all works, but still no substitute for all getting together. So roll on live gigs this summer.”

:: T’Pau’s new single Guess Who’s Sorry Now is available on digital platforms now.