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Paul Heaton

+ {Biscuit Boy} + {Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott}

Frontman/singer-songwriter PAUL HEATON (formerly of The HOUSEMARTINS and The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH) was – in his creative heyday, along with Stan Cullimore – to the 80s and 90s, what Difford & Tilbrook’s SQUEEZE were to the 70s and 80s. The pressure to fulfil their potential and indeed fill a void left by an awol SMITHS, saw The HOUSEMARTINS fly into various directions in 1988; Heaton’s literate wit and down-to-earth approach suited his subsequent venture, The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH.
For nigh on two decades, this 5 or 6 piece proved popular with romantic indie-pop lovers and, significantly, their success was heightened when the band brought in female singers to enhance either Heaton (born 9 May 1962 in Bromborough, Cheshire) or his all-new songwriting partner-in-rhyme, Dave Rotheray. While the first of these co-vocalists Briana Corrigan needed “A Little Time” to work on the irony of Heaton’s lyrics, in stepped Lancashire lass Jacqueline Abbott (born 10 November 1973, St Helens) to add serene touches to their 1994 album, `Miaow’; their fourth. For several years, “Jacqui” was an integral part, or the icing on the cake, to The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH’s brand, only to leave in 2000 to look after her autistic son. While her replacement Alison Wheeler had all the traits of following in her footsteps on albums eight and nine, it’s fair to say that – due to changing trends – The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH were decreasing in their abilities to “Carry On Up The Charts”.
The creatively irrepressible PAUL HEATON had already got his solo career off to a decent start with 2001’s FAT CHANCE {*7}, originally released under the “Biscuit Boy aka Crackerman” banner. Kitted-out with an up-to-the-minute production and armed with as much lyrical trickery as any ‘South fan could hope for, the album updated Paul’s standard musical context without sacrificing the charm. Re-promoted under his own name in 2002, highlights included `Mitch’, another perfectly observed Heaton-Rotheray opal, while the busybody-baiting `If’ found its lyrical target with calculated precision; musicians Scott Shields, Martin Slattery and Damon Butcher (on keyboards) added extra appeal.
Committed to his BEAUTIFUL SOUTH adventures for the aforementioned `Gaze’ (2003) and `Superbi’ (2006) – not forgetting his FATBOY SLIM (The HOUSEMARTINS’ Norman Cook) escape at mixing the desks a la Various Artists project “Under The Influence” (2004) – PAUL HEATON exhumed what was left of his solo career with 2008’s THE CROSS EYED RAMBLER {*7}. A hotchpotch of new wave C&W under a MORRISSEY-like tang, his politically leftism approach was catered for under `God Bless Texas’, while his romantic dream of a land of love was held within `The Ring From Your Hand’. Although humorous and cynical in his own middle-aged perspective, the set was a slight disappointment in terms of Top 50 sales, although `Mermaids And Slaves’, `I Do’ and `The Balcony’ were as infectious as anything he’d achieved for his now defunct BEAUTIFUL SOUTH.
Finding himself knocking on the back door of a fickle music industry after signing to the predominantly twilight-years folk imprint, Proper Records, the title of his third solo set, ACID COUNTRY (2010) {*8}, referred as much to his views on a disenfranchised Blighty as much to the rootsy content therein. Keeping it relatively simple as always, hillbilly HEATON waltzed and whined his way through his battles with the booze (`A Cold One In The Fridge’ and `House Party’), while his twangy, sardonic swipes at American authority in historic terms (`It’s A Young Man’s Game’ and `The Old Radio’), positioned the balladeer as someone who cared about the world.
2012’s PAUL HEATON presents THE 8th {*7} was a different kettle of fish, a doom-laden collaborative concept set that concerned the seven deadly sins, or indeed an added “8th” which linked-in a craven, modern-day society that needs everything now, unconcerned or unaware of our impending “global warming” epitaph. A million light years from Paul’s half-full/half-empty escapades of a timeless past, indie-pop and roots were cast aside for a more redemptive R&B and soul motif; American thespian Reg E. Cathey (from TV’s The Wire) provided the “GODSPEED YOU!-meets-GIL SCOTT-HERON”-esque narration. Appealing to anyone with a knowledge of folk music’s Kenny Anderson (i.e. KING CREOSOTE) and Mike Greaves, who sang on `Gluttony’ and `Pride’ respectively, the record’s direct significance was that the track `Envy’ showcased the long-lost Jacqui Abbott – solo!
Found on Facebook by Paul who’d mislaid her phone number in the decade running up to this part-BEAUTIFUL SOUTH reunification, the pair knew emphatically that it was time for the project to go viral. Billed as PAUL HEATON & JACQUI ABBOTT and boxes ticked for Virgin-EMI, the national treasures unveiled their 60s-styled debut set together: WHAT HAVE WE BECOME? (2014) {*7}. ‘South fans running in their droves to buy into this reflective pairing, their soothing blend of playful, bittersweet sing-a-longs were best represented on `D.I.Y.’, `Molding Of A Fool’, `Stupid Tears’ and the title track.
Not content with one Top 5 album to their name, 2015’s bright-and-breezy WISDOM, LAUGHTER AND LINES {*7} projected them further into the hearts and minds of the British public. Written by Paul in his “boozy away days” and returning to the fray – as usual – fresh and sober to take the songs into the studio and on the road, HEATON and his musical partner took nostalgia to a nth degree on the likes of the cheesy, reggae-fied `The Austerity Of Love’, while the retro-Motown-lite `(Man Is) The Biggest Bitch Of All’ and `I Don’t See Them’ (think TRACIE/The STYLE COUNCIL) had that je ne sais quoi all rolled into one. The HOUSEMARTINS-esque `Heatongrad’ and the MORRISSEY-cloned `The Horse And Groom’, might well’ve been stuck in an 80s time-warp, but the album’s something-for-everybody approach and HEATON’s uncompromising wit was, of course, best served dry.
Intelligent and literate pop was once again in the frame for perfect professional partnership, HEATON + ABBOTT and third Top 5 set in a row, CROOKED CALYPSO (2017) {*7}. Combining crafty R&B, Motown pop, disco and gritty gospel, the engaging pair of singers brought either merriment or heartfelt grace into Paul’s songs; among the profound subject matter were wee gems such as `People Like Us’ (about the cavernous rich/poor divide), `The Fat Man’ (concerning obesity), the lilting `Blackwater Banks’ and the radical anti-Bible-punching, `The Lord Is A White Con’.
Four albums in, but their first to hit the elusive top slot, the hour-long MANCHESTER CALLING (2020) {*7} – the Northern sophisti-pop pair’s nod to The CLASH’s “London Calling” – had enough savvy and brash to tick the boxes for any fan from any genre (soft country, light gospel, cod-reggae!). Songwriter HEATON’s bittersweet, acerbic wit was in tact to counter any syrupy or soulful sheen; best sing-along jaunts spanned out from the playful prowess of `The Only Exercise I Get Is You’, `He’s Got What I Had’, `You And Me (Were Meant To Be Together)’, the Motown-esque `If You Could See Your Faults’ and the Mark E. Smith-ish anchor, `My Legal High’.
© MC Strong 2002-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015-Mar2020

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