industry that feeds on hype, glamour, new faces. new sexual orientations. Heaton’s refusal to pin importance to his music flies in the face of the music-press’s unwillingness to admit the essential ridiculousness of asking a spotty indie band about the war in Bosnia, or a rap duo about Western imperialism.

Behind the veneer of adult-orientated popsters though lurks the murky subject of Heaton’s lyrics. One song in particular. ‘Mini- Correct’, led to the departure of the group’s helium-voiced co-vocalist Briana Corrigan who refused to have anything to do with the song’s aggressive display of misogyny and male sexual violence (the opening line runs ‘T/zey say always use a condom, I say always use a whip. ’).

“Mini-Correct’ is open to misinterpretation,‘ Heaton admits. ‘but as it happens people who have reviewed it haven’t taken it the wrong way so far. They’ve realised the man in the song is a real bastard. That’s what I tried to argue with Briana, that it was like a mini-soap opera. 1 was playing Dirty Den and she was Angie Watts, but she didn’t accept that.’

Rotheray explains that the departure was the culmination ofan ongoing wariness on Briana’s part that had also seen her pointedly leaving the stage on the last tour while the group performed 360, a scathing and sarcastic song about a Page Three girl. For his own part he can’t foresee any situation where he would object to Heaton’s words. ‘lt’s because I’m more offensive in real— life,’ Heaton interjects. ‘Yeah the lyrics come as a breath of fresh air,’ Rotheray agrees, before telling ajoke which requires enthusiastic use of the ‘C’ word in its punch-line.

THE REPLACEMENT for Briana is Jacqueline Abbott, a 20-year-old from St Helens, who Heaton met at a friend’s party. The Middlesbrough show is her first-ever live appearance, and she’s being plied with lager and limes. wind-ups and encouragement in turn by the rest of the group, while her doting parents’ backs are turned. 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 fuckin’ genius.’

The group attract an unusual and peculiarly unstylish crowd who seem as outside the traditional rock set-up as their heroes. You do wonder how many of the following care about the lyrics, or are even aware of their controversial nature. ‘It would be nothing without the tunes.’ says Rotheray. ‘Sean (the bassist) said to me the other day. if Paul put the words out as poetry nobody would buy it. You have to make the music attractive in its own right because the idea of seducing somebody with the music and bringing out a lyrical dagger doesn’t work. A lot of people don’t listen to the lyrics. A lot of songs I like I haven’t a clue what they’re about.’

The trouble is, audiences mightn’t listen to the words but critics do. Another song from Miaow, ‘Poppy’, a deeply sarcastic equation of war with a Beadle ’5‘ About prank, inspired the Time Out reviewer to go over the top with the

boys from the trenches and accuse Heaton of

‘pissing on the memories of dead millions’. ‘Good,’ says Heaton. ‘l’m glad the fuckers

‘The idea of seducing somebody with the music and bringing out a

Iyficaldagger doesn’t work. A lot of people don’t listen to the

lyrics.’ .

‘Musicjust isn’t that important lt’sjust something I piss out in the studio and get paid for.’ - Paul Heaton

‘I’m more offensive in real llte.’ - Paul Heaton. ‘Yeah, the lyrics come as a breath of fresh alr.’ - Dave Rotheray

did that. if I was alive in the 305 and forced to fight the Nazis I wouldn’t. because I’d know they were brainwashed. l’d shoot myself first rather than go out and kill working-class Germans. lt wasjust a load of bollocks. Soldiers weren’t brave, they were just idiots. absolute fucking idiots. The main attack that song makes is on the generals and the majors who definitely

weren’t brave. It’s not as if I’m a pacifist. but if

I choose to light a battle I choose it on my own terms not at the whim of some Queen who’s got a (foul and difficult to verify gynaet'ologieal slur on beloved monarch) telling me to.’

Heaton’s flippancy occasion— ally works against him. The grotesque black ‘Poppy‘ detracts from the heartfelt message of ‘Hold On To What‘.” in which Heaton expresses a more generous sentiment about the last moments of a shot soldier.

‘I don’t think that it’s right to kill anybody. which is why I wouldn’t go to war. That song shows tenderness and that’s a serious song. ’Poppy' was based on an argument I had with an idiot who was wearing these medals. and going on about all the stuff he did in the war. It’s not a serious message. The good thing is most of the people who‘ll take it the wrong way are in their 60s and are going to die soon anyway. The stuff I worry about is talking to people who’ve got a few more years left in them. Like with ‘Mini-Correct'.’


humour of

HIS QUALMS are not enough to prevent the group opening the live set with the song. There’s something unsettling about watching from the wings with Jacqueline Abbott’s doting parents as their daughter moves up to the mike and croons the ‘so you left me with a baby and disease’ refrain, while the front row sings along.

But there’s a lot of moments like that in a Beautiful South show. Like ‘Woman In The Wall’ a bouncy (and topical) oldie about a man who kills his wife and bricks her up in the wall until her rotting flesh starts to seep through the cracks. The crowd sways and sings along with every word, culminating in a particularly funky bass coda. Strange.

Looking around though. there’s a certain logic to it all. These couples in chunky sweaters, the ‘Northern scum’. the bad haircut lads in T-shirts and market trainers. the lumpy Northern girls in too-tightjeans are the people in Heaton’s songs, holding on to what. carrying on regardless, dreaming of the ‘sun-drenched. windswept Ingrid Bergman kiss’ they’ll never get.

That’s the paradox. Critically reviled, unfash- ionably melodious. dully down-to-earth (the shady dealers in the dressing-room after the show turn out to be flogging designer knitwear for God’s sake). The Beautiful South somehow still manage to convey the bitterness. meanness, sadness and plaintive despair of Britain today more accurately and poignantly than any other group in the country at the moment.

The third song is ‘Especially For You’. O The Beautiful South play Glasgow Barrow/and on 15 April. Their new single ‘Everjvbody's Talkin' is released on 16 May.

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