Paul Heaton - Interviews - Soundblab

Paul Heaton

by Clare Stemp Rating: Release Date:

Paul Heaton has had a long and meandering musical career. Initially finding fame in the 80s with indie socialists The Housemartins, he went on to become one of the most successful songwriters of the 90s, along with writing partner David Rotheray, in The Beautiful South. Following the group's split in 2007, Paul has released solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, and is releasing his latest work, Acid Country , on September 13th. Soundblab managed to pin him down for a grilling during his recent 'Pedals and Beer Pumps' tour, a nationwide shindig of pub-only gigs, each of which he reached by bike alone. Sweaty yet content in Leeds' Original Oak, he chatted over a beer, and pondered the tour so far, the cheek of the New Beautiful South, and things with only a face and an arse.

How's the tour going then? As hard as expected?

It's lasted longer psychologically, but it's been a lot friendlier than I expected. As far as gruellingness is concerned, it's about what I thought would happen, apart from one particular day. But it's just been really friendly, really nice weather and really nice countryside, it's been brilliant. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about doing a normal tour now. The cycling part of it's been great, and it's been good to go to places where they don't normally get a gig. Normally you just go to places where you get ferried into the arenas. Take Shropshire, I can't imagine Shropshire's got anywhere good for gigs. Maybe artists occasionally play Shrewsbury but...

(He stops to comment on the pissy smell of the toilets next to us: "It's blowing out, can you smell it? Can you smell the smell?". We can definitely smell the smell).

Anyway, yeah it's just been really unusual and it seems... strangely fitting for someone like me. I mean my mum; she thinks I shouldn't be playing in pubs, 'cos she thinks people who play in pubs are rubbish singers.

You're a little more established than some...

Well yeah, but I think people who see you live can tell the difference immediately between you and a pub singer, and the guitarist, y'know, the loud guitars. So they can tell straight away, 'cos in their local they've probably only seen a blues band or a pub rock band or whatever. So it's nice for them to hear professionals. That's not to put a downer on fellow blues rock musicians...

There's a photo of you from the start of the tour outside the Rovers Return. What happened there?

Nothing! Today was fantastic 'cos we went to Emmerdale today and they were dead friendly.

Emmerdale won your heart in the soap war?

Yeah. The cast were all sat down and we played in the Woolpack to about thirty people, of which I recognised about ten or fifteen from my occasional watching of Emmerdale. It's me' favourite soap anyway, I don't watch soaps in general but it's my favourite soap. And it was really pleasant, they showed us round and really looked after us. Whereas Coronation Street, maybe their schedules were tighter, but we just had a photo opportunity, which is fair enough. Eastenders didn't allow us anywhere near.

So you planned a stop at all the main soap sets?

Yeah, that was the plan. We went down to Hampshire and then on to Surrey and then I'd planned to see whether we could go there as well.

Bloody Londoners. Why wouldn't they let you in?

I don't think they can. They can't be seen to be endorsing a particular tour.

But they play Beautiful South songs on Eastenders all the time.

Yeah, they played 'Dumb' at the point when it had the "cunt-word" as my mum would say. She says things like "Paul, you're gonna have to stop using the "fuck-word", and I'm like "Mum, you just said it!". Anyway they played it, and it was when Dot was in the launderette. So yeah they were quite big fans. It was when 'Dumb' was a b-side, too.

And then you re-did it for Quench. I preferred the b-side version.

Yeah, you're probably right. You did strike me as the sort of person who would prefer a b-side.


I'm right though aren't I? But that's alright, that's fine. B-sides are disappearing as well so it's a shame.

True. I do like a good b-side. Back to the Rovers Return photo - you were wearing the full cycling gear. Is that what you've always done, or did you get more serious because of the mileage?

Yeah, I had to get more serious. And I had to be seen as well, 'cos I've got young kids and I didn't want someone to knock me off 'cos they hadn't seen me. So I bought something bright and red from a cycling co-operative and, er, y'know, the lycra trousers...

I wasn't expecting that.

Ha! I know, but I was expecting the weather to be bad and the water just flashes off those. It is quite unusual. I've only just got changed, you just missed me in them. It's a subject that divides ladies right down the middle, I was saying this to my girlfriend, it really does. It's like a Marmite moment. It's split the female nation, 'cos some people are into that, and some people just think, "fuck off".

It depends how much you enjoy "safety". So you had a bike made for you by Enigma. Are you enjoying riding that more than you did Ernest Lumley (Paul's pet name for his own bicycle)?

Ernest Lumley the Second? Well, I have to be careful what I say. Ernest Lumley was a classic. The Enigma bike is hard work for me, it's a racing bike and I'm not a racing cyclist. So the last couple of days when the wind's been behind us you just shoot along. The other day we were cycling along, we cycled from Rotherham to north of Hull which is 82 miles, and we were just on fire, (makes "shweeoooo" sound and hand gestures) like that. We were doing about 24 miles per hour average that day, which I couldn't have done on me' other bike. But comfort wise, I mean, I don't race against anyone, me and Gus (lead singer of his support band) don't race...

There's really no competition between you?

No, not at all. We've both had bad days. I've had days where I've just felt slovenly, I don't know whether it's something I ate or whatever but it's strange how your body works. I had a late night last night so I started off badly today.

I'm guessing that's happened a lot since you've been staying in the pubs you're playing in?

Yeah. That's why we have the late nights. I know Martin and Maureen who run this pub, but you develop a bit of a holiday friendship with each place you stay in, it's quite sad leaving. Like they were all down to see us off this morning and clapped us off, and it was a nice night for them. And we've had people cycling with us from pubs and people coming to meet us at pubs the day after. We've also had e-mails saying that the pub picked up after we've gone.

So it's actually working?

Yeah, some of the pubs have doubled their takings in the week since we've been there. The idea wasn't to isolate different pubs. I hoped that the framework could be set up for other artists to do it. They don't have to do it by bicycle, but it's a really easy tour to do, it's just fifty or sixty miles from each gig to the next one. And the hospitality is there. I'd like to do it again next year and do it in places I haven't been. I don't want it to be about my endurance, I just want it to be about the pub. So I think I'll do it again next year and maybe do a different side of the country. We'll have to see eh?

You celebrated your birthday during the tour. Was it a good one?

Yeah it was thanks. I had to do an 80 mile bike ride on it, so it wasn't a day off. But it was good. The pub in Berkshire baked me a cake with a bicycle and a pint on it. It was really nice, quite touching.

You've got a new album coming out soon, Acid Country. Are you mainly showcasing songs from that on this tour, or is there some Cross-Eyed Rambler or Biscuit Boy's Fat Chance (his first solo album in 2001) stuff in there too?

No Biscuit Boy stuff! I will do it when I get the chance to rehearse. We came straight out the studio after finishing Acid Country and decided to do about six off there, about four or five off Cross Eyed Rambler and we're doing two Housemartins' songs as well.

Really? Didn't expect that…

No, I don't feel like doing them. I think it'll be the last time I play them. I got a bit of pressure from management, well not pressure, but more "Why don't you do it?". They'll probably go down well but it doesn't feel right, it feels like a backwards step. So I'll see how things go, it depends how Acid Country does. If it does well I can drop them, but if it just does alright I'll just stick with playing the odd one. Otherwise people will expect them every set. It would be incredibly soul destroying. I really enjoy playing new music. If Cross Eyed Rambler and Acid Country were weak, I would be worried, but they're not. And it doesn't really matter how it's sold or will sell, people will like them if they're good, and they are good. I've had a lot of problems with the radio but I don't care about that either really. I've had a really good run on the radio, and there are a couple of people who don't like me' voice, but what am I gonna do I can't just go and alter my voice.

(Paul's drummer Pete interrupts to remind him the food they ordered is now ready to eat. Paul explains it will be too hot for him for at least ten minutes).

You've got a thing about hot stuff, haven't you? You hate tea and coffee? And kettles?

(Pained) Oh God, yeah. Hate them.

Have you ever even tried tea?

I didn't try it until my 36th birthday. I didn't finish it. I had it written down as something I'd do on my birthday when I was 36.

Ah, part of your list of things to do at specific ages. Do you still follow that list?

I lost the piece of paper thankfully, 'cos I think one of the things was to top me'self when I was about 45. It was either top me'self or start taking heroin, one of those two. It was pretty important that I lost it. I didn't deliberately try to lose it. I think I missed out on another one, starting to drive. I don't drive, I don't wanna drive, I don't wanna eat hot food. I like salads, and I like food that's gone cold as well.

Do you like cold gravy?

Yeah, I like when it's gone a bit cold, not so much with a skin. I like cold custard.

It goes lumpy though.

It does, yeah.

So... Acid Country, what's with the title? Is it referring to the main musical style on the album? Are you steering away from the more guitar-based indie you did on Cross Eyed Rambler?

I just wanted to make a simple sounding record. And I think it describes my genre well, really, and it describes me fairly well in general. Instead of that ancient fucking argument, "Oh it's the sweet melodies with the bitter lyrics"; it's just a good way to put it, acid country. It's just a genre. There are a lot of people like that. Do you know The Handsome Family? They're acid country. So I've got that sort of music style in my repertoire, so yeah, that's why I called it that. I was hoping that a load of people might adopt it into their description of me. It's an easy way to describe things like 'A Little Time'.

(It's finally time for the curry. We join the rest of the band to finish the interview, along with Gus and Tim from his support act Gus Devlin and The Resistance, and his girlfriend Zena).

You met up with the rest of the Housemartins in September for Mojo magazine. Are you still in contact with them all?

It's not affected how things were with Hugh (Whitaker - drummer), I only speak to Hugh when necessary really. Norman (Cook - aka Fatboy Slim) I consulted on this tour, and I do speak to him occasionally. And Stan (Cullimore - guitarist), it was nice seeing him. I got the impression that out of everybody Stan would like to give it another go. It's weird 'cos a lot of people ask "Are you gonna play more Housemartins songs?" or "Are The Beautiful South gonna get back together?". But I'd never go back to that. Apart from playing those two songs on this tour, that's as far as I'd go.

Zena: Don't you think it's nice to do though?

Paul: No. It's nice for the audience.

Jonny Wright (current bassist): Yeah. It's nice for them.

Paul: (Laughing) It's HELLISH for us. HELLISH. If it was up to the audience we'd just be playing greatest hits. But, y'know, fuck the audience. I always liked it when Mark E Smith said he got every single fan letter and threw it in the bin, which is a good point. (Laughs)... No I don't mean that. I wouldn't be doing a tour like this if I didn't want to meet the people who have bought my records, I'm comfortable with that. We're playing some really long songs - two or three, six or seven minute songs. I mean, you have to reward the good members of the audience not just indulge everyone.

How do you feel about the other ex-Beautiful South members reforming as the ingeniously named New Beautiful South? Or The South, as they now appear to be called?

I'm just disappointed really, y'know. I'm in touch with all of them, apart from Dave Hemingway. I emailed them my feelings, all five of us met, and me and Dave (Rotheray) told them what we didn't want. But I think they're on the level where if they don't use that name somewhere on a poster, no-one's going to come. Because all they have is my songs and my name, they've got nothing else. So I don't want to stop them having fun, because they were mates, and I still consider we went through a lot of good times together. But what they're creating, they have to put something on the tin to sell it. And we're basically saying we don't want to be on their tin. Dave Rotheray would like to stop them playing any songs we do, any songs of ours, because he just thinks it's pathetic, which it is.

Zena: I wonder if they'll start doing 'Everything is Everything'? (A Cross Eyed Rambler track).

Paul: Ha! Well if it was a hit they probably would. It's only because my last album did really badly that they're not using that.

Sean (Welch - TBS bassist) stayed out of it. I hear he was involved in your management?

He only helped me out with my MySpace. That wasn't his reason for not doing it, his reason was taste. And Gary Hammond (BS percussionist) stayed out of it. Me, Gary and Sean received phone calls saying :"We're forming this brand new band, playing brand new material, with Alison and Dave singing. Can we play a couple of your old songs?". They didn't even consult Dave Rotheray. I didn't know that every single song they sang would be one of our songs. They've written nothing new themselves. Since 2007 I've recorded two albums, Dave Rotheray's recorded one, so they're not exactly prolific considering there's one of me, one of Dave, and about nine of them.

From recent photos, they seem to have got a lookalike of you as their new frontman as well. Pretty shocking...

Well that's what I thought, yeah. He just wears sunglasses to cover his face a bit.

Anyway, on a lighter note, do you still collect different groups of objects, like shoehorns, crisp packets etc?

Well I don't collect Do Not Disturb signs anymore, because Dave Rotheray started doing that and that took the edge off it. He actually goes deliberately to countries to get them now. I don't collect shoehorns anymore, but I've got some on my wall. If there's a good packet of crisps, I'll collect them. But people have started sending me those Walkers ones, for the World Cup, and they all taste like shit, so I'm not gonna collect them. I would do normally.

They all taste like Beef and Onion flavour don't they?

Yeah, they do! Tyrell's I've collected a few of. They do a mean packet of Welsh Rarebit, a great packet of Ludlow Sausage. And Salty Dog are good too. So yeah if it's a special bag. But people used to send me a load of bags, and I've always collected just good bags. It was like: "I found these, on the floor, slightly covered in shit. Enjoy". Yeah, thank you.

Have you enjoyed your recent venture onto Facebook? People ask you some pretty stupid questions.

I quite enjoy it actually. Yeah they ask quite weird questions don't they? Things they could find out themselves, like "When are you playing so-and-so, I hear you've got a gig in Sheffield, when is it"? But people answer it for you, which makes it easier. There are one or two people on there who annoy me. There was one last night who, I don't want to mention her name, but she's just rude to me on there all the time. She's constantly having a go. I got there yesterday afternoon and I just felt like I needed something to eat, and somebody turned to me and said "You alright there?". I said "No, I'm a bit stressed actually", so she goes "What are YOU stressed for? All you've got to do is stand there and sing!". And I recognised her manner. And then later I was trying to open a door and the key wouldn't work. She said: "What are you doing? What are you trying to DO?". I was like "What's it fucking look like? I'm playing that game, jiggly key. I'm trying to open the fucking door!". But yeah, she has a go at me on there for everything. She asked for my autograph last night too, she said "I've finally got to meet you after all these years!", and I think she expected to get a reaction from me, weirdo. So I just said "Oh right, yeah, nice one, what's your name?". But I knew her name!

Zena: She's not how I pictured her at all.

Paul: (To Zena) She looks like your mum, doesn't she?

Anyway, I didn't pick on her 'cos she's obviously just a bit batty. She's one of those with monkey eyes. You know when people wear sunglasses and you know their eyes are going [wiggles eyeballs from side to side suspiciously] like that? She had that but without the glasses. I say that when I look at Pete, "Oi, what are you doin', monkey eyes?!", and we play monkey eyes with each other. I don't like it. But yeah she had funny googly eyes. You've managed to draw me into a slagging!

I know, it's great. You haven't said any names though...

No no, and I'm not going to!

Rubbish. You're living in Manchester at the moment. Are you still doing a show for its local radio station All FM?

Yeah, I'll be doing that again when I get back. I enjoy it.

Have any current local bands caught your eye lately?

Well the 'Manchester scene' stuff is bollocks, it's all bollocks. I listen to new music from all over all the time, but I haven't been able to listen to any over the last few three or four weeks, (adopts sarcastic tone) so I'm already going to be behind, because Manchester's so fresh like that. No, I'm not gonna risk me neck. Someone said something to me about music today, and I was like "Really?". 'Cos I haven't watched the news, I haven't watched any sport or anything.

Johnny Wright: They've created the first artificial life form in the last couple of days.

Paul: What about that sheep called Eddie?

JW: You mean Dolly? That was a clone.

Zena: How do you mean, how is it artificial?

JW: It's artificial, but it's…alive. It's just a little thing at the moment.

What, just a blob?

JW: Well yeah. I think the idea is that they can make other things that have a specific purpose like reducing carbon dioxide, helping climate change and stuff.

Zena: Has it got a face?

JW: Yeah, it's got a face. 'Course it's got a face!

Paul: Has it got an arse?

JW: Yeah, it's got a face and an arse and nothing else. That's it.

Zena: Yeah, but everything living has to have a face and an arse, doesn't it? Even plants.

JW: Plants have an arse?

[They stop debating to decide on drinks, and it's time for Paul to get ready for tonight's gig].

Hmm. Well that's about it. Thank you very much, Paul!

No problem.

There's more from Paul about the Pedals n' Pumps Tour here.

Comments (1)

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Awesome interview! 'Plants have an arse' - Maybe I'm biased but the interviews on this site are just the best.

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