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Rock and Pop: Interview - Former Housemartin and Beautiful South founder member Paul Heaton

Paul Heaton

Published: 24 March, 2011
by ROISIN GADELRAB

I'M like the Elton John of iTunes. I live in a fairly modest house, don’t have a car, don’t holiday in Barbados, but I spend a ridiculous amount – hundreds of thousands – on iTunes,” Paul Heaton explains of his guilty vice as he sips alcohol-free lager at the pub near his Manchester home.

The former Housemartin and founder member of The Beautiful South is relaxed following the recent birth of his third daughter, Meredith, and exclusively recounts the time he nearly caused a diplomatic incident in an ill-advised quest for beer. But more about that later.

Heaton first scribbled his monthly alternative Top 20 in a notebook in May 1980 but now his personal charts are held on iTunes.

“I only listen to music that’s not in the charts,” he says. “I root around deep and as soon as something gets in the charts I drop it, which is pretty bad, apart from old soul songs. It’s a hell of a lot of work – the one thing I fear losing in a house fire.”

He plans to publish them, alongside song lyrics, notes of daft office conversations (78-81) and collected crisp packets and beer mats (80-90).

He plays Koko on April 1 and will dredge up a couple of old Housemartins songs for the set.

“We’ve got a support band called Admiral Fallow,” says Heaton. “They’re absolutely brilliant. It would scare me that people will feel slightly deflated when they see me after them.”

Camden brings back memories for him. He says: “MTV, is it still there? That’s how popular I am these days, I wouldn’t even know. We’d go drinking in The Elephant’s Head before and after MTV. In general, The Beautiful South would drink in central London and The Housemartins would go home because they couldn’t afford to have a drink in London.”

He says he’s finding it hard to get national exposure as a solo artist – Radio 1 won’t touch him, and he’s not current enough for 6Music, so Radio 2 is the only station who realistically will play his music, he said, adding: “It’s quite a struggle. I can’t get on radio very easily. A couple of people in radio who don’t like my voice are quite high up, which is fair enough. 

“Either I’m making shit records or they’ve got shit taste. I’m not one of those people who thinks I’m making brilliant records, so perhaps it’s a mixture. I’m not making records as commercial and their taste isn’t as good as it used to be.”

While he may have fallen out of mainstream consciousness, Heaton has been busy.

He’s just written a 60-verse song based on the Seven Deadly Sins. 

“I just wanted to throw a curveball,” he says. “I wasn’t getting any airplay, I thought I’d write a song that’s an hour long.”

Last year he cycled more than 1,000 miles playing gigs in pubs including The Monarch on his Pedals and Beer Pumps tour, accompanied by support and bike guru Gus Devlin.

Next year, Heaton will mark his 50th birthday by cycling 50 miles for every year he’s been on the planet across Britain and Ireland.

But it’s his adventures in London that really capture the imagination.

He recalls the time he and Beautiful South lead guitarist Dave Rotheray were here after a gig. Their hotel bar was closed so they returned to the Columbia Hotel opposite Hyde Park, where they stayed the previous night, but were turned away from the 24-hour bar. As they walked away miserably, Heaton noticed scaffolding on the side of the hotel.

He says: “There was a window open. I said, ‘we’ll get up the scaffold’, which is several hundred feet high, jump through the window, run through the person’s room, leg it downstairs and we’ll get served at the bar as residents.

“We climbed up, got on to the ledge and suddenly this bloke, he must have been close to 7ft, in full white robe and hat, an Arab, grabbed my neck, flung me to the edge of the scaffold and started saying, ‘I’ll kill you’. 

“Dave legged it, went straight back down the scaffold, didn’t help me. I’m being pinned back looking down below at the streets of London and the traffic. Next thing the police come, I’m being taken to a cell. He’d been the bodyguard to a high ranking Saudi princess.”

Heaton was questioned in Marylebone police station and released 14 hours later – but miraculously kept the story out of the papers.

 

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