7th November, 2008

Promoting his new solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, Paul Heaton takes some time out to chat to Student Direct about how to write a great song, using Wikipedia to get a record deal, and the evil that is Walkers crisps.

Paul HeatonPaul Heaton, for those who are wondering, was the chief singer, songwriter, and all round communist of The Beautiful South, one of the biggest British bands of the late ‘80s and early 90s. Formed by ex Housemartins members Paul Heaton and Dave Hemmingway, the band became well known for Heaton’s dark, sarcastic and whingeing lyrics played over chirpy indie pop melodies. Songs such as ‘A Little Time’, ‘Song for Whoever’ and ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ gained the band a devoted following, and Carry on up the Charts, the band’s first “best of” album, went down in history as the fastest selling British album. The band split up in January 2007, citing “musical differences” as the cause, but Heaton didn’t take retirement.

You’d think with that kind of résumé, getting a deal for a solo album wouldn’t be so hard. “It was devastating”, says Paul. “I finished the record, went on Wikipedia, and took down all the still going independent record labels”. He emailed 30 different labels (along the way finding out that 10 of them weren’t actually independent, but had recently been swallowed), and got two good responses. Five said no, without even listening to the record, stating that they “didn’t think there was a market for it”. Without listening to it. Yes, without listening to it. From that perspective, it’s interesting to consider how independent record labels that do this can survive, a notion that prompts a characteristically guard-dog like reaction from a man who, in his youth, was “left of Stalin” in terms of politics. “They exist on ripping bands off, and the bands you can rip off are the bands without managers or lawyers. Young bands. They sign them to a dodgy deal, before they [the band] know what a dodgy deal is.” “There’s also a bit of a John Peel ethic, you know, don’t touch somebody who’s had such chart success.” But to not want to listen to it first? “Bizarre”, he says.

Heaton has long been known for his song-writing. With lines like “with a choice between loneliness and love-sick QE2’s, well tonight I choose self-abuse” (‘Tonight I Fancy Myself’) to “Life my girl will take away that optimistic skip, stick its big foot out and try deliberately to trip, substitute young hope with arthritic hip” (‘Deckchair Collapsed’), for anyone looking for tips on how to pen an interesting chart topper, he’s your man. “I don’t think you can be too specific” when writing, he says. “If you’re too exact you start sounding like you’re punching the air a bit. Leave a little bit for the listener. Like ‘The Pub’ (a song from the new album). Let them think, “yeah, I know that pub”. Don’t fucking call it the Green Dragon, call it The Pub”.

The great British pub is one of the many issues close to Heaton’s heart, and with its mention springs a good five or six minute conversation about the “5000 pubs closing down a year in the UK”. “That makes me angry”, he says. “Everything about that part of our society has gone skew-wiff”. Preferring a rough pub filled with varied characters and the risk of a glassed face to a “bar full of business suits and wankers”, Heaton attributes the slow death of the “centre of the village society” to a rise in bar culture, and Tesco’s vending of cheap booze. Oh, and the Tories.

The Tories have caused Heaton much anguish, but ranking right up there is the inadvertent forcing of him to terminate his crisp packet collecting. “I do have an incredible collection, and that’s putting it modestly”, he admits. But those days are over. “When I was a kid my politics were to the left of Stalin” he jokingly states, but “I was always told “if you vote Tory then you’d have more choice”. But they didn’t have anything against monopolising everything”. “In my life, Walkers…my fucking daughter will never taste a packet of sausage and tomato crisps…Walkers have taken over. It’s Walkers everywhere.”

Politics is a “real strong vein” through Heaton’s life, as is arguing. “Everything is political”, he says, “and I can argue with that bottle over there. You can leave me in the van by myself and I’ll have a political argument”. “So it’s good to put in songs. Every song is a political song. If you look at charts and you look at a particular month when there wasn’t a song about anything, but there was a big crisis, say the Iraq war. All those people have decided not to talk about that in song. That’s a political statement, not to write anything.”

If you did know who the Beautiful South and Paul Heaton were, then you probably would have been wondering (before 2007) if they would ever go away. But Heaton has plenty left in the tank to rant about. Plus, when asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t putting his politics to music, he looks visibly worried. “Err…err…when I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman, but I was scared of fire. I think I would’ve just been a real sad loser, I can’t imagine anything else I would’ve done.” So, when he writes that “nothing’s black and white no more, just permanently tanned”, the future for Paul Heaton is quite definitely orange.



14th September, 2008

the-automatic-this-is-a-fix-443526THE AUTOMATIC’S debut album was essentially one track repeated twelve times, with a few week shrieks thrown in for good measure. Is This Is A Fix any better?

Well, no, it isn’t. The opening melody of ‘Steve McQueen’ has been lifted from ‘On the Campaign Trail’. The vocal rhythms vary little from song to song, and “if you’re looking for answers, if you’re looking, don’t look here” sums up the lyrical content on offer. ‘Make the Mistakes’ is nauseating, and ‘Secret Police’ sounds almost exactly like “By My Side”, just worse. The Automatic seem to be living off of three different ideas and their endless permutations. If Not Accepted Anywhere packed all the punch of a five year old, then This Is A Fix carries the force of a two month old baby’s tiny fist. And it isn’t even cute. It will satisfy anyone looking for the second coolest sound for the first half of this week, but for the rest, treat it as if it was a nuclear power plant about to explode.


25th May, 2008

beautiful-south-choke-230277Welcome to the Beautiful South introduced the world to jangly indie-pop with a twisted lyrical edge. Choke continues this theme, and cements Paul Heaton’s reputation as an incredibly gifted song-writer.

‘Tonight I Fancy Myself’ sets the tone of the album perfectly. A song about a couple in denial set to ridiculously upbeat guitars and joyful trumpets, Heaton’s disturbing and bathetic lyrics are the main showpiece;

“Later in the evening, the sun came rolling down
And they talked about their fantasies and fears
Between the heavy breathing and those lighter licking sounds
I heard him whisper this question in her ear;
‘Would you still love me if I lost my legs?”

Vocal interplay between Briana Corrigan and Heaton intensifies the storyline, ending with the admittance that;

“With a choice between loneliness and love-sick QE2’s
Well tonight I choose – self-abuse”

And with that ends the template for the album, an album which seems determined to give Morrissey a run for his money. ‘My Book’s instrumental work might be refreshingly jazzy for an indie fan, but again the lyrics stand out, with “there was going to be a film but the camera person slipped”, “we’ve had some ugly babies but none were quite like you” and “it looks as if the nose and chin are definitely here to stay” being the highlights. The video’s worth checking out, too. ‘I Think The Answer’s Yes’ beautiful trumpet melodies and piano harmonies show that the band has more than one creative avenue, and their ability to compliment yet not distract from…

I’m walking through these pastures
I’m picking up sweet fruit
I’m shaking hands with people
That previously I’d shoot”

…is a brilliant display of restraint mixed with creativity. But this album isn’t all about grumpy-old-man English sarcasm.

The Beautiful South’s only number one hit in the UK, and possibly the best example of Heaton’s strong storylines, ‘A Little Time’ tells the story of the end of a relationship, perfectly presenting feelings of anger, indecision, hate and despair, all to the background of lush keyboard and guitar arrangements, with no clichés whatsoever. Seemingly written for Briana’s voice, the pair pull off a heart-achingly emotional performance, creating the best track on the album by far, and possibly the band’s best song.

Moving away from ruined lives and relationships, ‘I’ve Come For My Award’ enters the world of business and dodgy-dealings. The guitar lines sound very much like they were lifted from a Smiths album, and then given some of the band’s trademark jazzy swagger, and the lyrics, as ever, are exemplary; “I took on your free enterprise and your pretty little shops; walked in with empty bags, and walked out with the lot”.

Choke was a reference to the number of bands who put out a promising debut, only to follow with an absolute disaster. Perhaps this album was titled with a degree of irony in mind; The Beautiful South’s second offering does nothing of the sort. Three tracks from this album made the band’s first best of, Carry on up the Charts, and the album itself hit number two in England. A must for any fan, but also a great starting point too.


Published on sputnikmusic, May 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=8478

2nd March, 2008

ACCORDING TO NME, DIOFYY are ‘masters of energetic genre crunching pop songs that hit you like a battering ram, stay lock in your head and get the heart pumping’. Liars.

does_it_offend_you_yeah-_you_have_no_ideaAn apparently innovative band, DIOFYY are actually taking a dead-for-a-good-reason 80s craze and dressing it up in modern production and bland indie. There is nothing innovative about that. Tracks like ‘We Are Rockstars’ and ‘Let’s Make Out’ are clearly the products of copying every good electronica band from the past 30 years and stealing the sound of the frankly abysmal The Automatic. The only thing this album gets pumping for me is the part of my brain that is extremely irritated by hearing the same drum beat for an entire CD and would also tells me to commit multiple, brutal homicide. Why yes, this overly-commercial clubber-arse-kissing rubbish does offend me.


Published in Student Direct, March 2008