In the 1990s everybody in the world had The Beautiful South’s Carry On Up The Charts album. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with a sample of Tide. Before that, PAUL HEATON was the driving force of John Peel darlings The Housemartins, singing about closing mines and the futility of charity over policy.
Two years ago the Wirral-via-Sheffield-Surrey-via-Hull and now Manchester-based singer songwriter released The Last King of Pop, a career-spanning retrospective with long-time singing partner Jacqui Abbot. Heaton is still going strong. Back in February, Sam Turner caught up with him on his way back from Reading where he saw his beloved Sheffield United edge through to the next round of the FA Cup. The world was a different place then; Heaton was just about to see his new LP go to the top of the album charts and we were all sharing footpaths like it was completely harmless.
Since those halcyon days, Heaton has done what he always does and responded to the crippling pandemic in a proactive, positive way. He headlines a free concert for NHS workers in October as part of his rescheduled UK tour – which will also call in at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Area. Here the former Beautiful South man talked about his creative process, cycling and the new music he is listening to.
How was Reading?
Yeh, it was pretty good, and we scraped through!
Can you explain why you landed on Manchester Calling as the album title for the forthcoming LP?
It was an album that was intended to be released 40 years after London Calling with the same amount of tracks, etc. We eventually delayed it and shortened the amount of tracks. It’s also the first ever album that I’ve recorded in the same place that I actually live. In the past it’s always been a bit of a trip away to record. Also, I wanted the title track MCR Calling [featuring Liverpool’s very own Hogarthian wordsmith Roy] to be an antidote to some of the crap that’s been written about the place.
Is your process still to write your melancholic lyrics in a cold place such as Holland and your melodies in a sunny place like Gran Canaria? Where was the latest album written?
That was roughly the way it went between the years 1990 and 2013. Winters were spent travelling over to Holland by myself, and of course it used to be pretty cold and often severely so. It would freeze over all the canals and folk would skate from village to village. Then two things happened. Firstly I met my wife and began travelling as a couple for the first time; and secondly it became much warmer and so I had to enjoy it in a different way – sunshine, cycling etc. I still tend to go to Gran Canaria to write the music, or finish off the music. Package deal, same hotel, same room if possible. Just getting a bit too old to enjoy the nightlife!
What’s the plan for the tour? Have you worked out a set list and how do you go about narrowing down your huge back catalogue?
I’ve got a rough idea of the songs and have emailed them to the others. I have all the songs written down on little scraps of paper and arrange them on my kitchen table until I’m happy. I do the same with the order on the new albums. Sad but effective.
A cliché question, but do you prefer recording or performing live? And how has your relationship with both changed over your career?
I love both, although more satisfaction is gained from live. The studio is a series of tunes that sound great in your head and then them not coming out quite the same as you thought. Of course, the odd one will grow and grow, and form something better than your original idea but that’s not usually the case. Live, the whole experience has become this joyous thing. We play the songs, the audience beam and clap, and then we become even happier and play more songs. There was a little bit of suspicion with The Beautiful South that maybe we were just taking the piss or being sarcastic, and with The Housemartins I was very young; but, nowadays, I think folk just assume the best, while realising we’re enjoying it as much as they are.
You were born on the Wirral. Do you still have any connection to that part of the world?
I never really had any connection. Our family were all from either Liverpool or St Helens, and my Mum and Dad chose to move there when my Dad began working at Elllesmere Port. We left for Sheffield when I was just four.
You’re on record as saying you like to listen to new music. Who are the currently artists floating your ferry?
Country wise I’ve been listening to Jon Pardi, Thomas Rhett, Caleb Klauder, Marcus King, Tyler Childers and The Lost Brothers. Hip hop and RnB stuff like 24kGoldn, Tiana Major9, Berner, Chris Webby, Tech N9ne, Moneybagg Yo, Kesha, Iyla, Denzil Curry and Kenny Beats. Alt.pop I’ve been listening to this year is William Prince, Rats, Slotface, Piney Gir, Andy Shauf, Temples, Oh Wonder, Half Moon Run. I’ve also been listening to a lot of rockabilly, like The Bellfuries, Fatboy, JD McPherson and Hillbilly Moon Explosion. I listen to music nearly all day every day.
We have a Bido Lito! Cycling Club here in Liverpool. You’ve been vocal about your love for the pastime. What is it about the sport that attracts you?
On a personal level, it’s a time for peace when I’m out on my bicycle and no one can hear me or me hear them. I use senses that I wouldn’t otherwise use in the city. Watching it competitively is a totally different experience to the way I ride. It’s hectic, brutal and fast and the professional riders are unbelievably tough!
You’re approaching 40 years in the music industry. Bido Lito! marks 10 years as a monthly print publication this year. What advice do you have in sustaining success in a constantly changing creative industry?
Don’t chase the change. Be steady, down the middle, and let the tide change around you.
Manchester Calling is available now.
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, with support from Roy, play a rescheduled date at M&S Bank Area on Saturday 24th October.