Paul Young was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England. He has an older brother, Mark, and a younger sister, Joanne. As a youth, after school, he played football for the Vauxhall Motors factory and in his spare time played in several bands as a bass guitarist.
The first group for which he became lead singer was Kat Kool & The Kool Kats. In the late 1970s he joined Streetband, who had one Top 20 hit in the UK, with the humorous, novelty track “Toast”. In December 1979, Streetband disbanded.
The ex-Streetbanders added new recruits Dave Lathwell on guitar and Baz Watts on drums. In addition, a four piece brass section was created by Steve Farr (baritone saxophone), Richard Blanchchard (tenor saxophone), Stuart Van Blandamer (alto saxophone) and Tony Hughes (trumpet) who all hailed from the North London and Hertfordshire area, while organist Ian Kewley lived in Essex. Q-Tips’ name derived from a well-known brand of cotton swab.
Q-Tips’s first rehearsals took place in November 1979. Their first gig was on 18 November 1979 at the Queens Arms Hotel in Harrow. This was followed by another at the Horn of Plenty in St Albans – a regular gig for Streetband during 1978 – and a total of sixteen in their first month of existence. Some personnel changes occurred during the first six months, with Blanchard’s departure leaving a three-piece brass section, and Lathwell also leaving the band.
By 1 April 1980, the band had recorded two tracks, “SYSLJFM (The Letter Song)”, and “Having A Party”, both recorded at the Livingstone Studios in Barnet. Constant touring and concert appearances had built up a strong fan base by mid-1981, when the small amount of soul music cover versions were outnumbered by the band’s own tracks. The professionalism of the band had attracted the attention of several record labels, with the late Mickie Most (RAK Records) confirming on BBC Radio 1’s Round Table programme that Q-Tips “…are easily the best live band working at the moment”. In August 1980, the British music magazine, NME reported that Q-Tips had just released their debut, self-titled album.
In time, Garth Watt Roy replaced John Gifford on guitar and Blandamer was replaced by Nick Payne. This line-up remained for the rest of the band’s career. They appeared on BBC Television’s In Concert, Rock Goes to College and The Old Grey Whistle Test in the latter part of 1981. Other television appearances included children’s Saturday morning TV. Q-Tips opened for The J. Geils Band, The Knack, Thin Lizzy, Bob Marley and the Average White Band.
The band toured with After The Fire, and supported The Who on their twelve date UK tour in 1980. In 1981, Q-Tips played the Montreux Jazz Festival. With poor record sales after the release of two albums and seven singles, the Q-Tips broke up in early 1982 when Paul Young signed a solo recording contract with Sony/CBS. In late 1982 and early 1983, the brass section and drummer of Q-Tips toured with Adam Ant on the UK and US legs of his Friend or Foe tour, and some remained for Ant’s 1984 Strip tour.
Young briefly teamed up again with Q-Tips for a reunion tour in 1993.
The Q-Tips disbanded in 1982, and Young was signed by Columbia Records as a solo performer.
Young’s new backing band ‘The Royal Family’ included keyboardist Kewley, fretless bass player Pino Palladino, guitarist Steve Bolton, drummer Mark Pinder, and backing singers Maz Roberts and Kim Leslie AKA ‘The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts’. Helped by the driving sound of Pino Palladino’s fretless bass in his backing band, his first two singles, “Iron Out the Rough Spots” and a cover of “Love of the Common People”, had no success, but the third, a cover of the Marvin Gaye song “Wherever I Lay My Hat”, reached No. 1 in the UK singles chart for three weeks in the summer of 1983, the first of 14 British Top 40 singles. The song was included on the soundtrack of the 1992 British comedy film Peter’s Friends.
Similar success followed all over Europe. In the UK, follow-up single “Come Back and Stay” reached No. 4, and a re-release of “Love of the Common People” made it to No. 2 and even received radio airplay in the United States (thanks to its soundtrack inclusion in John Hughes’s film “Sixteen Candles”), while his debut album No Parlez was certified platinum in various countries.
Young’s style at the time was a warm, approachable blue-eyed soul, though he sometimes received playful criticism for his fashion decisions. However, his choice of an Antony Price leather suit for the cover of No Parlez proved to be impractical for the concert stage, where his energetic shows dictated more robust clothing.
Paul Young performing in Budapest Hungary on 18 June 1987
The year 1984 was a difficult one for Young, as his first heavy promotional and live concert tour of America strained his vocal cords severely, to the extent that he was forced to rest his voice and did not sing for much of the year. He recovered sufficiently to become involved with the Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, an all-star charity project put together by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure for Ethiopian famine relief. Young sang the opening lines of the song as a replacement for David Bowie.
He returned to the UK Top Ten with a version of Ann Peebles’ “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The latter appeared on his second album, The Secret of Association, released in 1985, which secured his future success in the United States, Japan and Australia. The album went to No. 1 in the UK. However, he continued to have occasional voice and throat difficulties. That year, Young scored the biggest worldwide hit of his career with “Every Time You Go Away”, a version of a Daryl Hall song from a 1980 Hall & Oates album. “Every Time You Go Away” topped the pop charts in the US, and was his biggest success in the US. He would perform the song during the London segment of the Live Aid concert.
In 1990, he released a cover of The Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl”, which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
He continued to have a successful career, with some highlights such as singing the Crowded House track “Don’t Dream It’s Over” at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988, producing a popular duet, “Senza una donna (Without a Woman),” with Italian blues singer Zucchero in 1991, and singing “Radio Ga Ga” with the surviving members of Queen in 1992, at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert soon after Freddie Mercury died. In 1991, he recorded a duet with Irish group Clannad for the Blake Edwards film Switch, a cover of the Joni Mitchell song, “Both Sides Now”.
“Don’t Dream It’s Over”, “Senza una donna (Without a Woman)” and “Both Sides Now” were all featured on his first greatest hits album, From Time To Time – The Singles Collection, released in 1991. The album included the most prominent hit singles from Young’s first four solo albums, the three above-mentioned songs, and a previously unreleased selection called “I’m Only Foolin’ Myself”.