‘I was the voice of Sugar Baby Love’: Paul Da Vinci on how he sang on the 70s mega-hit
PUBLISHED: 09:51 21 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:59 21 March 2018
As the original voice of The Rubettes visits Norwich for a night of musical nostalgia, Paul Da Vinci tells how he lent his strikingly-high falsetto to their catchy hit even though he wasn’t in the band or on Top of the Pops.
You will… you will remember it…especially if you were a child in 1974, witnessing The Rubettes’ debut on Top of the Pops.
The strikingly-high falsetto voice that began the catchy Sugar Baby Love was like nothing you’d heard before. The song came from nowhere to spend four weeks atop the UK pop charts that May and June, selling millions of copies around the world.
But the irony is that the man with the high voice wasn’t on Top of the Pops…or even a member of the group!
Funny old game, the music industry, as Paul Da Vinci knows.
Ahead of a visit to The Talk in Norwich with his 60s and 70s show, he explained the background to that strange Sugar Baby Love story.
Actually, his own story really begins in the late 1960s, when Paul Prewer (as was) sang with “1984”. The Essex-based group recorded a couple of singles in 1969 before splitting in 1971.
Paul became a session vocalist: making demonstration recordings for songwriters hoping to sell their work, lending his voice to major advertising campaigns for firms such as Smith’s Crisps and British Airways, and singing backup on sessions for Ringo Starr, David Essex and others.
He also did backing vocals for Barry Blue. The falsetto at the end of 1973 hit Do You Wanna Dance is him. Then came a call from a couple of songwriters who’d had a bit of a hit in America and were going to do some doo-wop tracks. Was he interested in doing some sessions? Of course.
“After the first session, they basically said to me ‘Wow. We’d be interested in doing something with you.’ But I’d just signed a deal with Penny Farthing [a record label], ‘so won’t be able to do anything, but thanks very much’.
“Then I did the second session. Sugar Baby Love was recorded at 1.30 in the morning [at Lansdowne Studios in Holland Park]. The high bit was written an octave lower, and it wasn’t working. I said ‘Hey, guys, it’s got to be higher.’ And they went ‘Yeah… right!’ And I sang it.”
And that seemed to be it. Until he learned The Rubettes, a band made up of session singers, were going to be on Top of the Pops.
Paul understands another band pulled out and The Rubettes were slotted in at short notice. And he says the lead vocals to which the group mimed, including that memorable falsetto, were the ones he’d recorded earlier.
“It was very unfortunate timing, really,” he says with understatement.
We won’t rake over all the details of what happened afterwards, four decades ago, but he says a settlement was subsequently reached. “It was a long time ago, but it was a defining moment in my career,” Paul says.
In hindsight, not being a member of the original Rubettes didn’t appear to dent his career at all. He soon had his own 1974 moment in the limelight, when his song Your Baby Ain’t Your Baby Anymore rose to number 20 in mid August.
Paul’s CV also includes being lead vocalist on the 1981 Tight Fit single Back to the Sixties part 2. He’s sung on albums by Ringo Starr, blues legend Gary Moore and Jeff Wayne, and did backing vocals on Top of the Pops for Elton John and Justin Hayward, and on an album by David Essex. We can also hear him sing on some records by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
His long list of achievements includes being the narrator in The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, in the West End and Essex, and having his own band open for Fats Domino at the Royal Albert Hall.
Paul now performs with his own band, but he still sings that song. It will certainly be on the set-list when he comes to Norwich, for he’s not tired of singing it by any means.
“I do have to warm up a lot more now than I did,” he laughs. “But obviously you’re expected to do it, so I do it. I like singing low as well!”