Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - 02 Academy, Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - 02 Academy, Leeds

by Clare Stemp Rating:8 Release Date:2012-04-02

Leeds' O2 Academy serves a 'cocktail' called the Hipster. This is a mixture of two tiny measures of rum, lime cordial and an excessive heap of ice served in a plastic pint. Within minutes this dissolves into a pool of mildly limey brown water. The Hipster was the most inappropriate start to a Paul Heaton gig imaginable. It was a huge relief when the jaunty stage-entrance music began, and everyone could focus more on soaking in the reunion of two highly talented musicians than nursing a drink even students are probably offended by.

Launching dramatically into 'Some Dancing to Do', a track off their new album What Have We Become, it was clear that Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s return was always going to be a good idea. Admitting in recent interviews that the pair were initially nervous to meet again after Jacqui left The Beautiful South in 2000, they appeared more than comfortable together on stage, their distinctive (and impressively, unchanged) voices blending as smoothly as in their 90s heyday.

“I don’t drink, I had to stop... It was getting too much for me” admits Paul in his affable northern twang, “I was getting words mixed up... Gym/pub, leisure centre/off-licence, Waterstones and Wetherspoons”. This is the apt introduction to Beautiful South classic 'Old Red Eyes is Back', an alcoholic's tale met with cries of joy from the audience.

As he later explains, he knows a lot of fans are there for the old material, they crave the nostalgia of The Housemartins and the comfy-slipper familiarity of TBS' greatest hits. He likens playing the new tracks to meeting footballing legend Pele and realising he only wants to talk about the importance of getting life insurance. This may be true for a lot of the crowd, but many of them already know all the words to the new songs and the album's only been out for six days. That's dedication.

More life insurance up next with 'Costa Del Sombre', a lively Latino number with rolled Rs a-plenty, and then back to 1996 with the one that everyone and their elderly dog knows: 'Rotterdam'. Jacqui's deep, powerful vocals haven't changed a bit, and the mass arm-swaying sing-along which ensues doesn't put her off her stride despite her recent admission of feeling nervous during live performances.

A few distractions later and she’s back to belt out yet more gems from her time in the 90s spotlight, 'Dream a Little Dream' and 'Don’t Marry Her'. Once again, the audience does a collective beam and shouts a collective “fuck me!” over the chorus of the latter. It felt as cathartic as it did back in’t day.

As mighty as Jacqui’s vocal presence may be, the 'tween-song banter is always left to Heaton, and the quality remains high despite his sobriety. He explains that 'Prettiest Eyes', another revisited South classic, is not about his parents as he once claimed in an interview, as they are "too ugly". He continues by asking everyone to buy their new album to keep Oasis from the top spot of the charts: "You'll be funding their kids' private school education otherwise... Is that what you want?".

Tax avoiders and sex abusers also appear to be high on the list of topics to vent his spleen on, with various mentions of Gary Glitter (The Housemartins won a competition to support him but thankfully this didn’t come to fruition) and Gary Barlow (“tax-dodging bastard”) cropping up. To top off his hatred of these sorts of folk, new song 'When I Get Back to Blighty' treats us to Jacqui singing “White t-shirt and faded jeans/ Just an ordinary guy/ but prisoner to his tax returns/ Phil Collins, Phil Collins must die”. Quite a highlight, that.

These What Have We Become tracks peppered among the old favourites certainly hold their own. 'When I Get Back To Blighty' aside, standout performances include first single 'D.I.Y', a southern state-style ditty about a woman losin' her may-ern to a determined youngling; and the album's opening track and next single, 'Moulding of a Fool', a Motown-drenched pop-stomp that has everyone clapping along cheerfully to lyrics such as "The revolution won't be televised/ and neither will your death".

Moments like these are why Heaton is frequently recognised as such a solid political force in pop music. It's his most well-worn descriptor, the bitter-sweet lefty lyrics versus jaunty melody combo, but it still holds true. Your nan likes this man and his comrades as much as the local Marxist.

Trade unionists GMB provided sponsorship on this tour, and a nod goes to them mid-set as Paul describes his days in a crap office job aged 15, when a lot of his time was spent wanking. “I was bullied a lot by my colleagues and if I’d have been able to join a union then none of that stuff would’ve happened”. This results in a deservedly huge cheer for GMB and an equally huge heckle of “Stop wanking then!” from one member of the audience. Thirty-seven years after the event, this killjoy advice is probably futile.

Surprisingly, a whole five Housemartins tracks are thrown in for the nostalgia-cravers, songs that Heaton admitted to Soundblab in his 2010 interview that he doesn’t enjoy playing. Now tied once more to a major record label, it seems crowd-pleasing is forced to be higher on the agenda than in his solo days, but thankfully nobody else is complaining.

Excellent performances of 'We’re Not Deep', 'Build' and 'Happy Hour' stir a rush of youthful 80s pogoing, and a lively encore including 'Me and the Farmer' (complete with Heaton proudly playing one string of an electric guitar) and the a capella hit 'Caravan of Love' generate the most heartfelt sing-along of the night. Everybody knows the words and nobody is afraid to bellow them.

Squeeze keyboardist Stephen Large joined Heaton and Abbott’s band for this tour (“he’s our family now”), and his grinning, bespectacled presence helps to cement the evening’s nostalgia factor. The Beautiful South’s 'Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud)' sounds as spirited as ever with him tinkling his electric ivories, and sparks another mass sing-along, as does the first encore’s 'I’ll Sail This Ship Alone', an emotional yet strangely comforting number about the breakdown of a relationship. Paul gives a powerful, (almost) note-perfect performance here and is backed beautifully by Jacqui. Judging by some of the wobbly faces as they mouth along, this song probably saw a fair few of the crowd through similar scenarios.

As the second encore is reached (as scripted as all encores, but well worth waiting for), Jacqui finishes the night with a rousing and genuinely poignant rendition of 'Loving Arms', a piano-only cover of a song performed by many artists previously including Elvis Presley. With the band belting out impressive vocal harmonies beside her, her voice is perfect for this hefty ballad, and the lyrics wonderfully apt: "If you could see me now/ The one who said that she'd rather roam/ The one who said she'd rather be alone/ If you could only see me now".

Their finale plants a satisfying full stop onto the end of an impressive, career-spanning showcase. As the duo exit the stage to a deservedly heartfelt ovation, the Hipster is blissfully forgotten.

SETLIST

Some Dancing to Do
Old Red Eyes is Back
Costa Del Sombre
Rotterdam
Prettiest Eyes
Moulding of a Fool
We're Not Deep
Snowman
Build
Dream a Little Dream
Don't Marry Her
When It Was Ours
Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud)
D.I.Y.
Happy Hour
When I Get Back to Blighty

ENCORE 1
Sail This Ship Alone
Me and the Farmer

ENCORE 2
Caravan of Love
Loving Arms

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