After selling millions of records with The Beautiful South, Paul Heaton is going solo. Chris Bond talks to one of Hull's adopted sons about his new album.
WHEN The Beautiful South split up last year it was, they said, due to "musical similarities". It was a humorous footnote to the "fourth best band in Hull" which during the previous 19 years had enthralled music fans with their witty and wonderfully-crafted records.
But all good things must pass and after 10 studio albums and umpteen gold discs the band's leader Paul Heaton decided it was time to move on. Now Old Red Eyes is back with his first proper solo album, The Cross Eyed Rambler, which is released next month.
Heaton is one of the foremost British songwriters of his generation and also one of the most popular – it's been said that one in seven households in the country owns a Beautiful South album. Despite this, he says he doesn't feel the need to try and compete with the past.
"I just wanted to write songs that were a bit more raw so we went to the studio and recorded everything very quickly. I think perhaps one fault with The Beautiful South was we tried to iron out any creases." Having said that Heaton remains good friends with his former bandmates and admits he misses the banter. "I don't have the same camaraderie with the new band yet because they're different people but I'm sure that will come."
As well as busying himself in the studio, he's played a couple of small gigs in readiness for his forthcoming tour. "It wasn't as daunting as I thought it would be and I'm a bit more confident than I was a few years back, so if someone says something when I'm up on stage I take it with a pinch of salt."
His new album has a rockier feel, without losing any of the trademark wit and melody. "It's observational in my usual way, but it's bitchy as well. I walk around a lot and I often end up writing a song about someone just because I don't like the cut
of their jib."
Heaton has long sought inspiration in the pubs and clubs of Hull and the characters who populate them. "I try and capture life as it is and I suppose it's a slice of life that I feel comfortable with because it's what I know," he says. "But I don't see myself as particularly British even though I'm often seen as the most English of English songwriters, perhaps it's because I don't use words like 'freeway' and 'sidewalk'."
Comedian Johnny Vegas once said that the appeal of Heaton's songs lay in their "innate Northern-ness" and he admits he has a close bond with Hull, where he lived until recently. "The thing I've always liked about the place is you don't get many people who sell advertising. We're constantly bombarded with people
driving big cars on TV these days, but in cities like Hull there's still a suspicion of people who are flash."
Just as he has a deep affinity for the North, so he feels passionately about his country's musical lineage. "Pop music is our folk music, it's indigenous to England. But I think this has been overtaken by European pop music to a certain extent and I would love to reclaim it. For me, people like Ray Davies, Paul Weller and Richard Hawley are our great pop musicians."
After more than a quarter-of-a-century, Heaton says he's happy to still be selling records. He's happy, too, with his new album, not that he's actually listened to it yet. "I never play records I've made, at least not for a few years. So I'm probably ready to listen to one of the Housemartins records now."
Paul Heaton plays The Cockpit, Leeds, on July 5. The Cross Eyed Rambler is released on July 7.
Paul Heaton – Story so far
1962 Born May 9, Bromborough, Merseyside. Spent his childhood moving initially from Merseyside to Sheffield and then to Surrey.
1983 Finally settled in Hull, forming The Housemartins.
1985 Signed to Go! Discs, with Norman Cook (later Fatboy Slim) joining the band on bass. Third single, Happy Hour, reaches No 3 in the charts, with a video leading to the band being dubbed the new Madness.
1986 Caravan of Love becomes a surprise Christmas number one.
1988 Heaton and Dave Hemmingway form The Beautiful South. The first album, Welcome To The Beautiful South, reaches number two, as does the single Song For Whoever.
1990 A Little Time puts Heaton and the band at the top of the charts again.
1994 Greatest hits album Carry On Up The Charts goes to number one.
2007 The Beautiful South split up due to "musical similarities".