Gig review and photography by Ken Harrison

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On a very humid Friday evening, The Temple at Birmingham’s Institute is packed to the rafters and getting very hot. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott and band are in the house tonight, touring their new album “What Have We Become” fresh off the presses, only being released on 19th May.

Paul Heaton found fame during the 1980’s with The Housemartins (1984-1987) and subsequently The Beautiful South with fellow Housemartin, Dave Hemingway (1988-2006) producing many huge chart smashing songs during that time. Abbott joined The Beautiful South as vocalist following departure of Briana Corrigan, and left the band in 2000. This period is considered to be the bands best, (and certainly most successful, particularly with the album “Blue Is The Colour”) and several Top 10 singles during this time.

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The reunion of Heaton and Abbott has been a long time coming, but in a statement on Heaton’s website, “both are clearly delighted to be working together again as they explain:”

Paul Heaton: “Working with Jacqui again was like going into your garage and discovering a beautiful, covered up Rolls Royce that hadn’t been started in years. Jacqui is one of the best singers I’ve worked with and is also part of my past. It was only a matter of time before I asked her. I always wrote songs with Jacqui in mind. Even before I met her I pictured a voice that could carry the songs into people’s hearts in a particular way. When I first heard her sing I almost laughed because it was SO right for the songs.”

Jacqui Abbott: “It’s just great to be singing again after such a long time, especially with Paul. We had such a good run together previously and it’s just a real pleasure to be working with him again and singing these fantastic songs”.

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Supporting Heaton and Abbott this evening is Simon Aldred, aka Cherry Ghost, who also has a new album, (their third) entitled “Herd Runners” also released on 19th May (there must be something about that day!) and already receiving positive reviews from NME (8/10) and Q Magazine (4 Stars). Cherry Ghost is stripped back this evening with only acoustic guitar and keyboards present.  They play a short set including “Sacramento” , their 2007 debut single “Mathematics” and finish with their “Elbow-like” Novello winning song, “People Help The People” from their 2007 album “Thirst For Romance.” Their latest single “Clear Skies Ever Closer” is out now and they’ll be playing in Birmingham soon, so go and check ‘em out.

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Taking some refuge outside from the increasing temperature in the Temple, I head out the back and chat to some fans. Out comes Jacqui for a smoke, standing around whilst fans come over for photos or autographs, or to hand over Phil Collins albums for Heaton (more on that later) and she happily obliges. A good ol’ down to earth star with none of the prima donna stuff going on here.

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Just before 9.00p.m the cheers start and the football stadium chants of “Heatuuun, Heatuuun” gain momentum, people are getting impatient for the show. At the front of the stage, two lever arch files, presumably the song lyrics  (a very lo-fi approach) are placed on two music stands. Out comes the guitarist, shortly followed by the rest of the band to huge cheers from the audience. The band performing with Jacqui and Paul are; Jonny Lexus on Guitar, Chris Wise on Bass, Steven Large on Keyboards and Pete Marshall on Drums; Large having been “poached’ from Squeeze following a recent tour. Heaton holds back from his music stand, clad in his anorak, looking embarrassed to be there receiving the cheers from the crowd, whilst Abbott beams at the audience. They’ve not even sung a note yet!

“We’ve got some dancing to do”, and they launch into the song from the new album, and in the short space of time since release, fans have taken the new album well as most of the front row are singing along. There are no fancy projections or multimedia going on here, it’s just the band and an “honest to goodness” performance. Heaton’s voice  introduces the next song.. “Its about getting old..mistaking the pub for the gym..and Weatherspoons for Waterstones” “Old Red Eyes Is Back” from the “Blue Is The Colour” followed by “Costa Del Sombre” from the new album. Heaton and Abbott’s voices sound like they’ve always sung together; a great combination.

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“Welcome to Birmingham” says Heaton, “The home of a thousand canals” followed  by a bit of banter with a (Black Country) guy who thinks Birmingham is a S***hole. Heaton announces that he is delighted to be singing with Jacqui again and then play “Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)” followed by another Beautiful South track “Prettiest Eyes”, the audience respond with loud whistles and cheers.‘Thanks for buying the album, I noticed some not singing the words. Did you buy the Michael Jackson or the Oasis album instead?” Quips Heaton. “If you bought our album, that gets the booze for the band!”

“Moulding Of A Fool” the opening track from the new album and “The best track on the album” according to a booming Brummie voice from somewhere in the stalls,  comes next: a catchy upbeat track with good drums and piano intro that belies the at times sombre lyrics “the revolution won’t be televised and neither will your death”.  Heaton recounts the story how his first band won a Battle of the Bands competition and the first prize was a support slot for a “legendary pop star” and £200. The “legend” turned out to be Gary Glitter, and he wanted £200 from the band to be his support act.

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The Housemartins “We’re Not Deep” is followed by “The Snowman” with delicate Country-style acoustic guitar and poignant lyrics tugging sat the heart strings and then back to The Housemartins for “Build” with Heaton picking up his harmonica. Next up is “When It Was Ours” a beautiful track from the new album with Heaton’s voice hitting the high notes. More between song chat with Heaton as he draws the audiences attention to a painting hanging up on the rear stage curtain. “I get the band members to paint their dreams every day..this is Chris’ dream; Bannockburn 1314AD.. Chris you’re brilliant!”

Abbott sings solo whilst Heaton steps back, and she holds the audience enthralled with “Dream a Little Dream”, before upping the tempo with “Don’t Marry Her” ( and not the clean radio version either!), Heaton picks up the harmonica again and the audience join in the final chorus. This song gets the loudest cheers (and a few screams from one rather loud girl) of the night so far and rightly so. “Thanks for all your loyal support… and all the bundles of letters telling me to get Jacqui back you useless Tw**!”

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“The Right In Me” from the album is debuted tonight, and hasn’t been played live anywhere before, another very catchy, rocky, upbeat track. The Phil Collins album then makes its appearance “another work of art..Phil Collins must die!”  Heaton quotes from “When I Get Back To Blighty” and then offers the audience some World Cup stickers taken from a Special Needs unit (not by Heaton of course).. “it don’t feel right”.

“Heres a song we’ll all know” introduces “Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)” and more audience participation as they join in for some call and response. “D.I.Y” is announced as a new single, and is another upbeat countryfied break-up song. The final song of the set is “Happy Hour”, “I’d like to thank the GMB (Union) for sponsoring this tour. I was bullied in an office, if I’d been in a union I’d never have written this song.” They leave stage with a “Thank you and goodnight” to more shouts and screams.

For the encore, before they start singing Abbott get the audience hands (and the lights) up for a photo.. the result is on Twitter. Heaton straps on a guitar for “I’ll Sail This Ship Alone” then compliments the crowd;  “A brilliant audience.. like Leeds without the Knobheads!” before finishing with “Me and The Farmer”.

Another encore, and a final brace of songs as the band (except the keyboards) abandon their instruments and line up while Jacqui announces “Loving Arms” as “the first song I sang in front of Paul when I was 17”. The final song of the night is the classic Housemartins track; “Caravan of Love”, a slightly speeded up acapella version which then turns into a happy, clappy, singalong gospel rendition.

Tonights performance has been a great show, clearly enjoyed by the crowd and drawing on Heaton’s successful back catalogue, with a good mix of the old and new, (and judging by the response) the new material has already been embraced by fans. Heaton has always been able to turn the most downbeat and sad life experiences into fine songs, often hiding the lyrics behind the most upbeat and catchy tunes and the new album featuring this renewed partnership is no exception. Go and buy it, you’d be mad not to.

Setlist:

  1. Some Dancing To Do
  2. Old Red Eyes Is Back
  3. Costa Del Sombre
  4. Rotterdam
  5. Prettiest Eyes
  6. Moulding Of A Fool
  7. We’re Not Deep
  8. The Snowman
  9. Build
  10. When It Was Ours
  11. Dream a Little Dream
  12. Don’t Marry Her
  13. The Right In Me
  14. Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)
  15. D.I.Y
  16. Happy Hour

Encore 1

  1. I’ll Sail This Ship Alone
  2. Me and the Farmer

Encore 2

  1. Loving Arms
  2. Caravan of Love

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