Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

Exactly a quarter-of-century ago I went to my first ever gig. Nothing could prepare this 16-year-old for the atmosphere, noise and excitement of live music. Eyes and ears suddenly wide open to another world.

The frontman at the Liverpool Royal Court on that landmark evening was Paul Heaton with is then new band The Beautiful South. The date 27 October 1989. I remember it all clearly, a gang of us from Holy Family lower sixth form loved this new band from the bottom of our pencil cases.

We piled into town wearing nondescript Marks and Spencer pullovers with scarves tied around our faces. Nothing sinister, we were just replicating the boy-next-door-look favoured by Heaton and his band mates.
The Beautiful South were the total anti-popstars who breathed life into the monotony of mainstream music and took the piss out if it all at the same time.
That night I recall wearing a Smiths Panic teeshirt over my jumper. I must have been boiling. It was my gig debut, I didn't have a clue. The first song was From Under The Covers and I can still hear the opening bars: "It's 6AM and even Big Ben is trying to get his head down for a kip..."
This was the beginning for me. The start of a lifetime of music addiction. From that moment Paul Heaton set the bar for everything else to follow. Yes REM and The Cure were amazing live, but how did they measure up to The Beautiful South?
That night in 1989 hundreds of lads rocked up from Hull and spent the entire night jumping around like crazy while demanding Housemartins songs. It was the Beautiful South's first tour and there was no chance of Heaton turning the clock back to sing songs of his former group. They'd just had a number one single "Song for Whoever" and the follow-up "You Keep It All In" stormed into the business end of the charts too.
I was quite taken. And the group's early seven inch singles with souvenir postcards remain among the most prized in my record collection.
As the albums, band line-up reshuffles and years passed, I'd attend Beautiful South gigs whenever I could. You'd be guaranteed a top night. I loved the sound. Great guitars, lovely poppy hooks, triumphant trumpets, and voices upon voices. Usually three singers, one terrific sound.
But it was the social commentary in the songs that did it for me. The smoke-filled pubs and ensuing battles with booze, relationship breakdowns, shoplifters coming for their entrepreneurial awards, pensioners turning 84 but acting like deranged delinquents...
The most fruitful time in the Beautiful South story was when they enlisted singer Jacqui Abbott. The "whollyback" from St Helens (as she herself quipped) was the best singer to stand alongside Heaton.
She departed the group at the height of their success and you can argue that The Beautiful South never packed the same punch.
Now two decades later, and after sacks of fan mail urging a Heaton/Abbott reformation, the dream pairing is back together. A sold-out tour and top three album "What Have We Become" has thrust Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott onto Radio 2 and into national newspapers.

Paul Heaton
And it's like a long lost love-in at the hot hot hot Liverpool Academy on the first Sunday in June. The crowd, packed with 40-somethings, greet the band with a warm roar. Welcome back.
The songs off the new 16 song album sound as good as anything produced during the South years. The opener tonight is We've Got Some Dancing To Do. Heavy guitars and dramatic piano provide the thumbing backdrop to a tale of relationship meltdown.
And how marvellous it is to see Paul and Jacqui back on the same stage again. Old Red Eyes Is Back has the crowd singing along to every single line.
In between the fabulous new stuff comes a roll call of Beautiful South classics. Don't Marry Her, Rotterdam (or Anywhere), I'll Sail This Ship Alone.
And this lucky Liverpool audience is treated to several Housemartins classics including
Build and Me and the Farmer.

At times it feels a bit like "an audience with" as Heaton engages with tales of yore. Notably a story about being bullied in his first job at 16 and how he wished he'd had a union to help him during that bleak time. The tour is sponsored by GMB union.
Jacqui delivers a stunning rendition of Dream A Little Dream. She ends another emotional song in near tears. Joyful ones. Such a special moment.
It feels like a homecoming gig. Jacqui, seems to have brought half of St Helens with her. Heaton waves to his family members too. Families, friends and singers reunited during a truly special night.

"What Have We Become" is out now. Heaton and Abbott play several UK summer festivals and a sprinkling of dates in December.



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