Big South Strikes Again
t’s not the South, and it’s far from disused chimneys from the chemical works are crumbling into the canal. inside the inappropriately-named Middles- brough Arena (a small edge-of—town club). Paul Heaton and guitarist Dave Rotheray have shuffled in for a soundcheck to be greeted by two (the two?) hardcore Beautiful South fans wearing identical black bobble hats proudly bearing the legend ‘Northern Scum’.
The Beautiful South have chosen to begin their UK tour in a setting strangely suited to the
their new record. Miaow, their fourth and finest album, is a collection of bitter love songs. brimful of despair and frustration. set. as you
expect from this group, to pristine pop melodies, tasteful brass sections. languid arrangements and Paul Heaton’s ever-so-
slightly irritating choirboy on downers delivery.
A couple of weeks ago the do-gooder Catholic priest in Brooksia’e revealed that his name was Paul Heaton. This caused much hilarity in the offices of The Beautiful South’s ' record company (30! Discs who had already been in the habit of referring to the band as a batch of Brookside characters. Heaton had been marked down as Ron Dixon. Both sides got it wrong. Paul Heaton is Barry Grant, wise- cracking and menacing by turns. one of the lads who manages at the same time to convey a deep sense of frustration and lingering personal tragedy. Still waters run deep and all that.
They ran deeper than ever during the writing of the new record. ‘1 was in a fairly depressed
Beautiful. Over the road. a couple of
grubby realism and tarnished romanticism of
state of mind when i wrote the lyrics.’ Heaton remembers over his first pint of the afternoon. ‘It was a pretty serious. miserable sort of time. It wasn’t like we set out on a voyage in that direction, it just seemed natural to write that way. It’s a lot less jokey than the first two records.‘
Written inside a month. the record does have a consistent bleakness oftone. Even the ostensi- bly positive love songs like ‘Prettiest Eyes’. ‘Hold Me Close’ and ‘Worthless Lie’ have a morbid fascination with death. it’s the most cohesive of the group’s records. mainly due to the fact that Heaton sings lead on eleven of the twelve songs. itself something of a gamble as the biggest Beautiful South hits to date. notably the No l ‘A Little Time’, have come when the distinctly smoother tones of Dave Hemingway were to the fore.
‘l’ll never have a hit will I. not in this band,’ Heaton moans. ‘Our producer has a theory about that that seems convincing, that with Dave’s voice you can lose yourself in the music, whereas with mine, you always know it‘s me. and however seriously l’m singing you can tell there’s an element of sarcasm. With Dave’s you can sit back and enjoy it without always associating it with a big-nosed. big-chinned fucker. But with this record we thought the songs we‘d written suited my voice and the theme of the album was so personal, it made sense just one person singing
In the pub next to the venue Beautiful South fans are. drifting over to pay their respects in a
blokeish kind of
way. ‘See him,’ says one pointing at Heaton, ‘he’s a
The Beautiful South are on the surface a wilfully prosaic outfit in an industry that feeds on hype, glamour, new faces, new sexual orientations.
Critically reviled commercial pop music has never been so lyrically provocative as THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH’s new album Miaow. Tom Lappin heads for Middlesbrough to witness the ﬁrst night of the UK tour.
it. I wanted this to be more of a statement.’
It’s a statement that has received the usual degree of vilification in some critical quarters. Since the group’s inception they have often been whipping-boys of a music press suspicious of the smooth, adult-friendly populism of the music as much as the provocative nature of Heaton’s lyrics.
‘Me/ml)‘ Maker reviewed the single and said i should be taken to the nearest river and drowned,’ he says. ‘1 don’t know why they think music is that important. I don’t understand it for a minute. l’m just doing it as a paid hobby. and they’re doing their job as a hobby but they won‘t be paid for it long because they’ll go out of business. The music papers won’t last that long. Nobody collects back fucking issues of Melody Maker or NME do they, but they’ll collect our records and keep them much longer than their crummy bits of paper. 1 don’t know about you, but when i run out oftoilet paper, i use newsprint. That’s about all it‘s worth. But it annoys me both' ways. Even when they’re really over the top and say this is absolutely fantastic, that’s just as pathetic. Musicjust isn’t that important. lt’sjust something i piss out in the studio and get paid for.’
Heaton isn’t exactly on the short-list if we ever need someone in the diplomatic service. but he’s got a point. The Beautiful South are on the surface a wilfully prosaic outﬁt in an
10 The List 8—21 April 1994