Paul Heaton at Resorts World Arena Birmingham 8.12.2022 with Billy Bragg supporting
Paul Heaton has always appealed to me. A football fan from Hull, with a great voice who likes a pint in a boozer. He put money behind the bar in various pubs around the country to mark his 60th birthday. A few years before that he played 16 pubs in 18 days cycling between them to celebrate bikes and supping ale. Add to that a price limiting ticket, record and merchandise sales policy and this is sounding like very decent bloke. Tonight’s tickets: £30 for standing and any seats throughout the arena.
I thought his early band The Housemartins were great. What wonderful album titles: London 0 Hull 4 and The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death. I’d already gathered some EPs and singles and saw them live in Bristol Bierkeller in March 1986, before that first album in October that year. I was on a block release training course in Weston-Super-Mare at the time. I never could have imagined would be seeing so many gigs in Bristol 35 years later. I remember Heaton getting the numerous football fans in the audience to throw little metal badges at him and I parted with a West Ham one.
When they split in 1988, The Beautiful South was born. I found myself buying most of their albums – hard not to like their great vocals and easy-going melodic pop songs, with two male vocalists including Paul Heaton (and Dave Hemingway, drummer in The Housemartins) and a succession of female vocalists. The first of those, on albums 1-3, was Briana Corrigan, after which Jacqui Abbott took over. (Briana was going out with one of my work mates in Coventry back then and they married later.)
Surprisingly though I didn’t see The Beautiful South until November 1995, coincidentally at the NEC Birmingham where tonight’s gig is (under its new name). I bought a ticket last minute as I was single at the time and a bit bored. The Only Ones were supporting. One of the Beautiful South fell off the back of the stage and injured his arm after the main set and so they dispensed with any encore.
Then in July 1997 I saw them at a Crystal Palace athletics stadium with Texas, Teenage Fanclub and Gabrielle. It was standing, hot and I remember being a long way back. The band packed up eventually in 2007.
When Paul Heaton was playing a support slot on Squeeze’s 2012 tour and I was miffed to arrive to find him doing his last song, Caravan of Love (the last song at tonight’s gig as well). This was at the O2 Academy Bournemouth and one of those early start and finish weekend gigs which allow the youth in after for their ‘proper night out’ once the oldies have cleared of home to bed 🙄
And so you can see why I jumped at a chance, while on this trip to Brum, to pop in to see Paul Heaton, and it was just Paul Heaton as Jacqui Abbott was ill. Refunds were offered if anyone wanted them when Jacqui’s absence was confirmed. Judging by the crowd this wasn’t taken up by many.
We stopped at The Moxy Hotel (I recommend it – good chain) by the lake just opposite the Arena and I was pleased to catch up with old Coventry buddies Rob and Nikki in the Moxy bar beforehand.
The Resorts World Arena is a big, cavernous place with a capacity of 15,685 but I suppose it does the job. I bought the tickets late so we are a fair way back but it’s easy.
The support tonight is Billy Bragg. Quite a bonus – another guy I used to see a lot, usually festivals and supporting, in the 80s and early 90s.
He has a fair-sized band with him, including three on the brass instruments, but still with that clear Bragg voice not lost at all in it. Bragg jokes about his age, our ages – everyone in here is of an age – but when he gets going, he still sounds like he is ready to take on the world. (The week I was writing this, he was outside Dorchester Hospital, as the snow fell, with his guitar to sing for the striking nurses – no bottling his enthusiasm for a revolution despite his earned wealth eh.)
I was surprised how much I knew of his set considering he had left me behind after the first three albums. For me he couldn’t have started with anything much better: Shiiiirleeey… well that’s what I know it as but of course it’s called Greetings to the New Brunette. (The suburb of Shirley is not far from the venue. It used to have a restaurant with the amusing name of The Shirley Temple. Now closed.)
Billy explains himself and contextualises all his songs. He is enjoying this big audience and the reaction is good although I can’t see much of a revolution starting in this room.
The best of the nine-song set is the beautiful Levi Stubbs’ Tears, with that brass. Sexuality gets an update and more explanation. It seems even Billy wasn’t inclusive enough when he wrote that one.
There is Power in a Union is back with angst as a song of the 2022-3 Winter of discontent. Not much power in the one I was in and left in 1986. Enough said.
He finished with Waiting for the Great Leap Forward. He’s been waiting a long time now. Good to see him again anyway.
On to Paul Heaton, with band but without Jacqui Abbott…. carrying on regardless eh. He thanks us for hanging in there with him and explains how various band members will try and fill in for Jacqui. Some noble attempts but for me it underlined how much the songs are Paul Heaton.
It’s ten minutes short of a two-hour set and the quality and quantity of material he can draw on just means the time flies.
I love the decent five song helping of Housemartins: Happy Hour, Me and the Farmer and the wonderful People Who Grinned Themselves to Death being those high spots.
With the NK-Pop LP having been released recently I was expecting more that the three songs we here from that. Maybe this is Paul Heaton backing off the new duet songs as Jacqui is ill. So 13 Beautiful South songs.
It’s pop. It’s familiar. My favourites? Prettiest Eyes, Keep It All In and Old Red Eyes is Back. (YouTube at gig.) There is also the gruff vocal of A Liar’s Bar which holds a special appeal to me – I used to try and sing it with my roommate Sean after our drunken nights out on our Weston-Super-Mare block release course.
Prettiest Eyes has that oh so poignant line as 60th birthdays loom:
“Sixty 25th of Decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of Julys
Not through the age or the failure, children
Not through the hate or despise
Take a good look at these crow’s feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes”
(Prettiest Eyes: Rotheray/Heaton)
I was wondering if I would find this gig just a bit too light and poppy but you can’t help get carried along with it all. These are happy sounds and for me nostalgic sounds. The new album is good listen but this wasn’t really about that. It had that small gig in a big place feel with both Bragg and Heaton really engaging on a chatty level with the audience. The test is would I go again tomorrow – certainly yes and I’d take a standing spot near the front.
(A visually dry write up I’m afraid. No camera with me and too far away to do much with my phone which is surely up for replacement. That is my 2022 gig going wrapped up. 100 nights of live music. I doubt I will ever top that……..well?)