heaton

The World of Paul Heaton an adopted ‘Hullie.’

Paul Heaton enjoyed a spectacular homecoming recently in the beautiful Hull City Hall. I say ‘Homecoming’ because, even though he wasn’t originally born here, he is an adopted Son of the City and someone who adopted the City himself in the early-Eighties and spent the majority of his life here. He now lives in Manchester (poor thing) but of course he’ll always have a “Hull in his heart” – because those things never really heal up.

He’s enjoyed years of success in the music industry, firstly with the post-punk pop outfit, The Housemartins and then with the quintessentially English, country-tinged pop, of the Beautiful South. He disbanded the latter 5 years ago and since then hadn’t played a major gig in Hull until this one. He’s teamed back up with his fellow-vocalist Jacqui Abbott – and what a great decision that’s turned out to be! Her sweet but sublime tones are as much reminiscent of the sound of The Beautiful South as Paul’s voice itself. It was great to see him back on stage in Hull, having banter, once again, with his home-town crowd and, alongside Jacqui, delivering a superb performance of brilliant new material complemented by a smattering of classic Housemartins and Beautiful South songs. It was as good as anything I can remember, and I should know, because I first met him when he was on the dole and busking down Whitfriargate in 1982 – and I’ve seen everything since! (I’ve even got one of his Platinum discs on my wall!) So, obviously, we HAD to feature him in Tenfootcity again, considering this is issue 37 and the last time we did it was in issue 2!

So, Paul, my beautiful mate, can you please start by giving us a round-up of what you’ve been doing musically since the end of The Beautiful South?

“The band split up in Jan 2007 and I immediately started DJ‘ing on a community radio station in Manchester for a year. I then got a band together and recorded the album “Cross Eyed Rambler“ in 2008.  As two members of that band didn’t have a sense of humour and had severe mental health problems, I had to form a new one. With the new band I then recorded the album Acid Country 2010. I followed that with a 900 mile cycle ride to help save pubs, playing and staying at selected ones all around England and cycling in between. In 2011, I worked on a Gospel-Opera for Manchester International Festival entitled ‘The 8th.‘ It was performed 3 times in the centre of Manchester with Reg E Cathey [The Wire] taking the lead role. In 2012 I released ‘The 8th‘ and toured the remaining 5 performances bringing it to 8 times it was ever performed. That same year I toured the UK and Ireland by bicycle, covering 2500 miles [50 for every year I’d been on the planet] whilst playing and staying in 40 pubs on the way. This year I released my 17th studio album in 29 years- What Have We Become, which charted at no 3.“

And what was it about the multi-million pound world of popular music that enticed you back to the mainstream circuit?

“Well first of all, as you’ve just heard, I’ve not deliberately been away from the mainstream, and secondly, anybody who knows music these days will correctly tell you that there is very little money in it. In fact I get paid more for my past than I do for my present songs. So it is purely for the joy of releasing records, and annoying people, that I do it.“

What brought you to the inspired decision to get in touch with Jacqui again and was she surprised herself?

“I was already in touch with her because she had a starring role in The 8th but it was my manager Simon Moran who actually suggested doing a whole album with her. I think it was a great and pleasant surprise for us and Jackie, but not as much as the surprise when she realised how much she’d missed singing. There was some really golden moments when she began singing the new material and you could see the joy pouring out of her.“

 You are one of the most successful British pop-musicians of all time and also known as a brilliant lyricist, so can you explain how you actually write and create your music? What’s the actual process?

“I write a couple of ways really. One way I do it, is I’ll think of the tune and basic lyrics whilst I’m out walking or cycling and then write it down when I get back. I then expand on the idea when I go away to write my lyrics, which is always in Holland. These songs usually end up being the singles and I basically write them by myself, but have a hand from my songwriting partner in working out what the actual chords are. On top of this is a pile of lyrics that I have written to a metre, a rhythm, but with just a basic melody. Then when I go away songwriting, which is usually in Gran Canaria, I try and match these words and write a melody to chords that my songwriting partner has brought to the table. I also sing him the ones that I’ve already worked out. When we go away, I take the same tape recorder that I’ve used since the Housemartin days!“

This is a hard question, considering your prolific output over the years, but can you name a handful of your songs which you think are your most stand-out and recognisable tracks that represent the career of Paul Heaton?

“I don’t know, but it’s an extremely boring question that! That could just be looked up.”

Okay, aside from those obviously popular ones, which ones, hidden in your various albums, are, looking back, your personal ‘unrecognised’ favourites – to give people something to go and search out?

“I haven’t got any past favourites. I just listen to what I’m trying to get on with now. That way I don’t wallow in nostalgia and instead write new stuff.“

Considering the styles of music that you wrote and produced for The Housemartins and The Beautiful South, I don’t think some people actually realise that you have one of the greatest “Soul” voices in the history of British Popular Music. I know, influence-wise that your early inspirations were people like Al Green, Bill Withers, Clyde McPhatter and Solomon Burke, but from a British point of view, do you realise that you’re up there with the likes of Paul Weller and Mick Hucknall and do you know if these artists recognise that, in you, also?

“Up there with the likes of Paul Weller!” ? I’m not so sure Paul Weller is that sort of singer really. I think there has been a spate of British singers over the years that have attempted to embrace soul music. That goes back to the 50’s and 60’s, through to Rod Stewart in the 70’s, Mick Hucknall in the 80’s and even to modern day singers like James Blake and a thousand two bit singers on X-factor. That was a period of singing that, as I’ve got older, I’ve wisely left behind.“

This is a ridiculous question really, but through all of these years of success can you explain how you look back on it and what are you most proud of achieving during your career?

“I look back on it with total confusion and bewilderment. In many ways it feels that it hasn’t been me that it happened to. Having said that, I’m proud of travelling 3,400 miles on my bicycle and going right out to the sticks and letting people know that music can sometimes come to you. I’m proud of my songs and that they can make some people, many or few, very happy. Other than that I’m just glad I’m here and healthy to tell the story.“

Which other song-writers, past or present, do you love or respect and have any of these been a major influence on your own work?

“I only really listen to modern music. I rarely bother buying music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or whatever. Back when I first started writing, Elvis Costello was an influence, then a little later listening to Country Music was a big help. Nowadays I don’t often listen to the lyrics of other writers but if I was to choose anyone, it would be Taylor Goldsmith from the band Dawes. I also rate The Avett Brothers highly.“

Now let’s get some opinions from Paul Heaton outside of music. Firstly, what are your thoughts on the development of the great City of Hull over the past ten years and would you ever consider moving back here?

“Hull has changed massively, and in particular, since I left in 2002. I usually greet with great suspicion any sort of inflation that happens to an individual place but from afar it’s been quite pleasing and it all looks very positive. To be honest, I saw myself as more from Grafton Street, Newland Ave and Beverley Road than ‘Hull‘ and in many ways it appears that that area has still been left to drift on its own.“

You’ve always been politically-driven and known as a staunch Socialist. What’s the state of the nation at the moment in your opinion? What are your major concerns and how do we need to address them?

“Well pretty obviously, as usual, the power is in the hands of a group of people who are serving the interests of their own class. That is a government of and for, big business. A government that is successfully deflecting the real problems of wealth distribution and public disinvestment, away from themselves and their banking mates, to a new Muslim scapegoat. Five families in the UK own more wealth than the bottom 20%- 12.6 million people, and half of us are voting for parties that place society’s ills at the doorstep of folk who’ve barely been in the country 10 minutes. We must open our eyes and look at what’s happening to our NHS, look at what’s happening to our schools, our BBC, any of our public services. We ARE being attacked, but we’re being attacked from the West not the East. Our society is being Americanised, left, right and centre and the powers that be have got us facing the wrong way whilst they do it.

And what about the general World situation. What’s your analysis and concerns?

“Well the same as what I’ve just said, really. I believe world capitalism is working successfully, worldwide, to shaft the working class. Social Media has made this 10 times easier because now everyone’s just sat joining online petitions instead of picking up a banner or a weapon and getting out there on the streets. Big business has never had it so good because they now know for certain, that if the banks can shaft the public and then get protection from the government, then any crooked practise can expect the same treatment. There’s two important things to remember about capitalism in my book. The first is the story of the longest lasting light bulb in a fire station in Livermore, California. It has now been running for 112 years. The person who made it, you’d think would be a millionaire – but it’s the opposite! When business folk found out that it had been invented, a cartel of companies put them out of business. Something that lasts so well and can’t be replaced is bad for capitalism. This is thought to be the same in nearly everything they sell us. Everything is sold to you on the premise that it has to break. From your cars to your clothes to your houses, Capitalism is at it. The second is, whenever you see public disturbances always remember that there’s a rifle range at the Houses of Parliament. They come prepared, we shouldn’t hesitate in using the same force against them.“

Here’s a few more frivolous questions that people have mailed in…

“Are you embarrassed by the fact that Hull City are now a much bigger and more successful club than your beloved Blades these days?”

“I’d be more embarrassed being a fan of a Premier League side that couldn’t fill its ground for a quarter-final…20,047! and also couldn’t sell their allocation for the Wembley semi-final, coming up short by 5,000. I think you meant smaller and more successful. And anyway if successful means sitting there in silence until your team scores, which you all did at the Semi Final, give me failure. If successful means having the name of your team altered just so you can stay in the money, give me Division 1 any day. On a more humorous note, all the kids in my kids school playground support Man United or Man City and recently a group of them asked me who I supported and when I answered ‘Sheffield United’ they said ‘never heard of them’, when they asked me where I was from and I answered ‘Hull’, they said ‘Ah Hull City’! Times have changed and I think it’s an incredibly positive thing that young kids like that have heard of the city, for whatever reason.“

“Please tell Paul that I live in one of his old houses in Grafton Street and I’ve found a collection of his old crisp packets, shoe-horns and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Why did he ever collect these things and would he like to buy them back off me?”

“Unfortunately you’re lying about possessing anything of mine as you would have sold it by now. I’m not sure why I collected certain things but it came from a feeling that I wouldn’t remember a thing. Obviously this was before you had a camera on your mobile – or even owned a mobile – and of a time when only wankers owned cameras, which is still true! So I would grab hold of stupid things to remind me of trips. It didn’t work.“

“Is it true that, in the Eighties, you had an affair with Jimi Somerville of Bronski Beat?”

“Ha ha! That’s from The Sun and is unfortunately untrue. I’ve only ever met him once in about 1996 and he was charming but not really my type.“

“And is it true that you’re a very short guy who wears stilts under your trousers?”

“I would really like that to be true too. Well, it’s partly true, because I‘m only 5 foot 8. Not many people noticed my height in the Beautiful South because Dave Hemmingway was only 5 foot 5, and in some of the early videos had to stand on a box to be seen.“

“What’s Paul’s view on the plastic, manufactured pop-world that people like Simon Cowell create and control – and would he (like Gary Barlow) ever consider being a judge?”

“I’ve been asked to appear on loads of programmes like I’m A Celebrity etc, but never fancied it. I spend enough time making a fool of myself around the house to want to go on telly and broadcast it. As for manufactured pop? Well back when I first started, if you wanted to make music, you wrote some lyrics, maybe learnt some rudimentary guitar chords and wrote a song. You then found someone else to form a band with. Your ambition was to be maybe do a gig and get some friends to watch you. You hoped that one day you might be able to scrape some money together and do a demo or recording. And then you’d fantasise, guess what, maybe if we hand our record in to a radio station someone might actually play it! Then in your wildest dreams you would have it played on radio! Even wilder dreams? Get signed to a record company? Or maybe even get to make a video with you in it!! MAYBE – and this was at the very end of your dreamy conversation – one day people might recognise you in the street and you’ll be famous!!! But that was right at the end of an increasingly fantastical conversation. These days it appears that the whole thing is in reverse. You ask a successful contestant in X-Factor, why they’re there, and they say it’s cause they want to be famous. So they want to be famous  and then when they’ve won whatever contest it is, they want to make a video and sign a record contract. Then they want to be on the radio and they want to actually make a record. Then they say they want to do an actual live gig.  Then they want to be taken seriously, so they form a band and then after that, they want to write a song and learn an instrument and write some lyrics to be taken as ‘real’. So they play the whole game entirely in opposite of how we started, beginning with the plasticity of fame and ending with the desire to be a real musician.“

“You think you know more about football than most people, so can you be honest and tell us who you predicted would be the four strongest teams in the World Cup tournament, before it started?”

“I thought it would be a  Brazil Argentina final, with Germany and Spain 3rd and 4th. Obviously I was wrong about Spain. As I write, there are 16 teams left and the players I predicted would do well at the tournament have partly excelled, with  Raphael Varane, Xherdan Shakiri, Antoine Griezmann,  and particularly James Rodriguez doing well, but Christian Atsu and Enzo Immobile not performing. Predicting the World Cup is incredibly hard and I think that’s partly where its appeal lies. A once great nation like Spain can easily fall on its arse against Chile and a team of relative unknowns, like Algeria, are able to progress from a difficult group.“

Finally Paul, from me, a simple and obvious question; What more can you hope to achieve and what plans have you got for the future?

“I achieved what I wanted to achieve after the recognition of my first album but what I wanted to do after that was to improve as a lyricist. And that’s what drives me. To produce songs and particularly lyrics, of greater quality, of greater depth, of greater meaning and emotional connection to the people who buy it.“

Thanks my old mate! Paul currently has his new album available (with Jacqui) entitled ‘What Have we become?’ and after this massively successful tour, they’ve announced more dates for later in the year, including Bridlington Spa on Saturday December the 6th. An adopted ‘Hullie’ continues.

Nick.