When The Beautiful South called time on a long and successful career three years ago, they cited ‘musical similarities’ as the key factor. Having ‘made essentially the same album for ten years’, vocalist and songwriter Paul Heaton – also formerly of The Housemartins – was ready to give life as a soloist a go. He’s gone about it with customary charisma: Heaton’s first solo tour took in only Northern English pubs and was completed entirely on a pushbike. Over the years he developed a love of Ireland, and Paul’s next tour will take him around the country, performing a blend of his own material and The Beautiful South songs. Before he ventures over in early October (without his bike this time), Goldenplec caught up with the laid back front man whilst he supped an early afternoon ale in a Mancunian pub:
Tell us about your new album, Acid Country…
Well, it was written last year and recorded earlier this year, and I wrote the lyrics in Maastricht, the tunes on Tenerife and recorded it in Burnley. It’s ready for release about now.
Is the title a reference to your mixed feelings about the UK?
Yeah, it’s sort of my genre! It’s a state of the nation thing, examining where we are. It’s also the first time on one of my albums that there’s been a title track, which is a similar commentary.
Have you ever considered leaving the UK?
No, I think the person who loves their country the most would be the most critical. You want to keep it good. There are not many people who would go around on a bicycle trip to support their local pubs. I think that’s just another thing that shows that I’m proud of the English countryside, the culture and the people. There are parts of it I hate. I hate the way things are going, silly language changes imported from America and Australia, other things that drive me mad about the place. I’d never leave here, and I’ll always pay my tax here. It’s a real shame that U2 pay their tax in Holland, a band that has been rewarded so strongly by Irish loyalty. I think it’s a case with Bono and the rest of the band of drifting, of not taking careful consideration of the money and the political effects. I don’t mean to slag them off directly, I think it’s a position they’ve probably found themselves in due to the advice of an accountant. Don’t listen to your accountant. Keep it Irish, keep it real.
When The Beautiful South broke up you talked about musical similarities. Has going solo allowed you to do something very different?
It will allow me to, though I don’t think I’ve touched on it too much. Some of the songs are different, though. The song ‘Acid Country’s a lot more acidic than I would ever be in The Beautiful South. I just wanted to do things a little less safely than in The Beautiful South. We’d effectively been making the same records for ten years, that’s just how we were.
Did you feel you had to be safe for the sake of the other members of the band to some extent?
Yeah a little bit. I think it was enjoyable. I think, as you get older, you just do the things you enjoy, a bit like going to the same holiday resorts. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you need a change. I wasn’t sure about breaking up the group, but since doing it I’ve felt a bit more free.
How did you feel about ‘The New Beautiful South’ coming along right after the break up, with your band mates playing your songs?
I was pretty disappointed really. It ruined a few memories. I don’t begrudge them doing it, because we had such good fun, and just because the majority of the band split up, doesn’t mean they have to stop playing songs. The fact that they rang me up and said can we play a couple of your songs and call ourselves something completely different, and then played a full set of our songs and called themselves ‘The New beautiful South’ is a bit cheap isn’t it, really. It’s a covers band, really. I don’t want to be nasty about them because it was good fun band to be in, but I feel it’s cheapened the name a bit. Not that it was a particularly expensive name!
Has it scuppered any chance of a reunion in the future?
I’d never do a reunion. I don’t know how many ex girlfriends you’ve got, but you wouldn’t go back out with your ex girlfriends, would you? It’s the same as that, really. I don’t mean to cast assertions on your fine figure, but you might do it for one night, but that’d definitely be it. You wouldn’t seriously go back out and expect it to work. I wouldn’t do The Housemartins or The Beautiful South.
We heard you’ve written a 55-verse song?
Yeah, I’ve actually just started recording it. It’s a big project. I’m going to get a lot of different people to sing on it.
Is that going to be an album in its own right?
Yes it is, yeah. The music itself is at least thirty minutes. By the time I’ve got all the bits in between it’ll probably be forty-five, maybe fifty minutes long. It’s about the search for the 8th deadly sin. I find it at the end, but I can’t give away too much as it sort of has a punch line.
You’ve never really acted like a pop star. Is that a conscious thing?
Yeah it probably is a bit. I mean what is a pop star really? I think it helps that I have to go back to a relatively normal community, not a gated place in the countryside or anything like that. Coming back from tour in a limo wearing this and that just doesn’t fit with me. I don’t think it’s as deliberate as it looks, but if I was going to wear nice clothes I wouldn’t wear them on stage for a start. I’d save them for a night out and not get them all sweaty. I think the more you act like a pop star, the more you lose touch.
Between your two bands and your solo work, you average a record in one in every five households in the UK. Do you ever think about that?
Not really. When you get beyond a football ground full you stop thinking about it. When someone told me I’d sold 60,000, I could work that out. When you’ve sold a million… I just wanted to be successful; I’m not really interested in being more successful than that person or that person. I just wanted to be professional and I wanted people to like me if I’m honest. The actual figures don’t really mean that much.
Do you still go down to Sheffield United much?
I haven’t been this season. I usually go about five or six times a season, but it gets more if we go down a league. When we went up to the premiership or whatever you call that one at the top, we’d have people moaning a lot. When Stevie Gerrard or whatever he’s called went passed our defender and scored they’d be moaning at our defender saying he’s not good enough. Well, so what. There’s nothing he can do about it, support another team that’s good you idiot! People won’t stop moaning, and they have the temerity to boo Warnock when we got relegated. He got us there. It’s strange.
I remember reading a few years ago that you have a huge collection of bags of crisps. Are you still doing that?
Yeah, there’ve been a few interesting new ones out recently. When I did my pub tour on the bike, I bumped into a few places that had good packs and kept them as supplies. I’ve kind of started again now, there’s a few independent crisp companies coming up through the ranks. I put my British bags away the other day. I could have collected a lot more, as I go for rarity rather than quantity. I suppose I’ve got about 300 nice bags, bags that you wouldn’t remember. Someone on Facebook pointed me in the direction of a very similar collection, and I looked at it and looked at mine. It was almost like we had the holes in each other’s collections. If we’d put them together we’d have had everything from 1979 to 1999 covered.
Is Hull still your favourite place to play?
It’s one of them, but I’m lucky, I have about four hometown gigs now. Hull, Sheffield, Manchester. Those three really.
What do you make of playing in Ireland?
Well we came over towards the end of The Beautiful South, and before that we’d only ever done Dublin, Belfast and one of the festivals. Right at the end we came out and played Killarney, Castlebar and places like that and really enjoyed it. I’ll probably lose some money on this tour, but I’ll enjoy coming over and just trying to make forty or fifty people happy at each place. I think it’s important to show some loyalty to Ireland especially in these times.
As published on Goldenplec.com, September 2010.