Resur­gent song­smith talks ex­plod­ing House­martins, be­ing na­tion­alised and only drink­ing when he writes.

Mojo (UK) - - News -

As the leader of The House­martins and The Beau­ti­ful South, and now as half of a duo with Jac­qui Ab­bott, Paul Heaton has been pro­duc­ing songs of heart, con­science and wit for more than three decades, with 16 Top 10 al­bums to show for it. For all that suc­cess, he em­braces a life­style of sane fam­ily nor­mal­ity in ter­raced south Manch­ester. When MOJO ar­rives, we take a quick look at his es­o­teric col­lec­tion of crisp pack­ets be­fore mov­ing on to a nearby pub. If the solo years that be­gan in 2007 were low-im­pact, his rekin­dled as­so­ci­a­tion with former Beau­ti­ful South co-vo­cal­ist Ab­bott has proven more suc­cess­ful: their lat­est al­bum, Crooked Ca­lypso, is Heaton’s first Num­ber 1 since 1998. Com­fort­able with who he is, you can

still imag­ine Heaton be­ing just as happy when he toured pubs by bike for 2010’s Acid Coun­try LP. “I love my job,” he says, sip­ping his soft drink.

Is work­ing with Jac­qui better for you?

Much better. Lyri­cally, you can put dif­fer­ent out­fits on, so it’s given me more scope. And I’ve re­alised she has this voice that per­haps is more suited to ra­dio than mine. Some­times, when I sing, it can sound a bit like, oh that’s Paul Heaton mak­ing a state­ment. You can lose your­self in Jac­qui’s voice and just lis­ten to the song.

Your fealty to the well-as­sem­bled, ac­ces­si­ble pop song is un­shaken?

I sup­pose I’ve writ­ten songs and sung to an imag­i­nary nana for most of my ca­reer. When I liked punk, I was a mas­sive fan of the tune­ful stuff like the Buz­zcocks and The Vi­bra­tors. I’ve never wanted to make an arty record.

You al­ways write your lyrics in the Nether­lands. Why?

For this al­bum I did them in Mon­nick­endam and Volen­dam. Orig­i­nally, I did it be­cause it was the near­est place to go, by ferry, from Hull. I don’t really fancy fly­ing. No­body recog­nised me

and I wanted to be by my­self. I’d go there in the win­ter, find a bar, get into the mood and write from 12 o’clock ’til 10 or some­thing. It’s sim­i­lar now, I’ll do a song and a half a day. I’ll go with my wife now. It’s the only time I drink, so she sort of looks af­ter me.

Do you have to drink to write? There’s a cut-off point, when you start go­ing down the same av­enue all the time, like a repet­i­tive drunk. But there’s a win­dow of two or three hours when things come pour­ing out. Three or four years ago, when I packed in drink­ing, I went to Haar­lem near Am­s­ter­dam and sat in this bar for five hours drink­ing Coca-Cola. Noth­ing. But af­ter a cou­ple of beers, it started com­ing out.

How do you view The House­martins and The Beau­ti­ful South now?

They’re stages of my ca­reer. The House­martins was this band that

ex­ploded – watch­ing the band grow, get­ting a phone call say­ing John Peel wants you to do a ses­sion, it was great. The Beau­ti­ful South was this steady stream, spread­ing a lot of good­will. There were loads of good bits – just singing was one, peo­ple singing along, each time you had a new record.

You don’t see it as a chore do you?

Maybe that’s why I’m not taken as se­ri­ously as some oth­ers. I’m from the sort of back­ground where you’re sup­posed to en­joy things that are good. I’m not in some mid­dle-class strop be­cause things haven’t gone right!

Should you be more fa­mous?

I’m prob­a­bly one of the few artists – or cer­tainly was, and it’s prob­a­bly still the case – where my songs are more fa­mous than me. You could ask 30 peo­ple in the pub, ad­mit­tedly of a cer­tain age, but even back in the day, and say, Do you know that song? Yes. Do you know who this is? No. That’s how it goes for me, I like it like that. My idea was to be a sort of East Ger­man, efficient writ­ing ma­chine. Maybe I’m short of a few ac­co­lades, but I think you give ac­co­lades to peo­ple who want ac­co­lades. They’re a bit wasted on me.

Is it true you wanted the govern­ment to na­tion­alise you?

I asked the Trade and Busi­ness Sec­re­tary, the MP who was re-elected in Tun­bridge Wells. He hasn’t got back to me. I wanted to put the ques­tion to him on the un­likely ba­sis that Cor­byn got in. I’d put my­self on a wage, so they’d take the money from my in­come and put it back into mu­sic. Happy Hour would be a na­tional prod­uct! When you’d be on state ra­dio – the BBC – ev­ery­body would get a bit of money.

Where does your sense of fair play come from?

From my dad, I think. He was one of those peo­ple who just spent his whole so­cial life giv­ing to other peo­ple. Not like, char­ity, but spend­ing time try­ing to help other peo­ple, whether it was rais­ing money for the school, for foot­ball teams. My sense of speak­ing out of turn is def­i­nitely from my mum. They got on really well. I never heard them ar­gue.

Tell us some­thing you’ve never told an in­ter­viewer be­fore.

I was con­vinced, be­tween the ages of about seven and 16, that me and this kid from school in Sh­effield, Robert Hap­good, had writ­ten My Old Man’s A Dust­man. I still am to be hon­est, even if it was writ­ten be­fore I was born. Some­thing else I’ve never told any­body in an in­ter­view be­fore is that I think I’m a good song­writer. I think, con­sis­tence-wise [sic] I’m prob­a­bly one of the best song­writ­ers over the last 33 years there is, in Bri­tain. But my re­ward is just be­ing able to do the job. Ian Har­ri­son

“I‘m from the back­ground where you’re sup­posed to en­joy things that are good”: Paul Heaton, not in a mid­dle-class strop.

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