Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott perform their What Have We Become Tour at The Royal Concert Hall Nottingham on Wednesday 26th November 2014


Images and Review by  Kevin Cooper

In his parka, librarian spectacles, crew cut and cheeky grin, Paul Heaton could hardly look less like a pop star. Despite this, it is difficult to dispute the fact that he has been one of British pop’s most routinely underrated figures of the last three decades.

Whilst he may have been a permanent fixture in The Beautiful South, lead singer in The Housemartins and having had his own solo career, he was a 15 million selling album pop artist and is the current owner of a Salford pub, The King’s Arms. But that success was a long time ago, and after his old band split in 2006, other members have regrouped as The South touring the hits, whilst Heaton’s two solo albums charted outside of the Top 40. It made sense therefore, that he would reunite with his most popular foil, Jacqui Abbott and with her, their new album, What Have We Become, charted in the top three in its first week of release, behind only Coldplay and Michael Jackson.

Touring to promote their new album, The Royal Concert Hall was a sell out and as they stepped out onto the stage to sing together again, the crowd welcomed them with wide spread open arms.

They were visibly delighted to be together again after a gap of such a long time, and like all great double acts, they soon looked like they had never been apart.

I have previously seen Paul Heaton on a solo tour, and on that occasion, he was reluctant to dust off his back catalogue. Not so on this tour, because for 100 minutes we were treated to a comprehensive list of Heaton’s greatest hits stretching back almost thirty years.

Opening number, Moulding Of A Fool, was a brilliant Welleresque Northern Soul stomp, which set the tone of the evening. With Nottingham Forest and Nott’s County football scarves draped across their mic stands, they raced through classic tracks which included The Beautiful South’s One Last Love Song, Everybody’s Talkin’, and Old Red Eyes Is Back; and The Housemartins, Me And The Farmer, We’re Not Deep and the joyously infectious Happy Hour.

The set list reminded us that all of the songs from Heaton’s lengthy career, illustrate his wonderful song writing, dry wit and his big heart. New track Costa Del Sombre is a sensitive story about a middle aged lady who goes on a Shirley Valentine type holiday romance, and the title track of the new album was a definite crowd favourite, as the audience jumped up clapping their hands in appreciation.

Whilst the set list was essentially a live playlist of Heaton’s best moments, Abbott’s contribution should not be understated. Co-fronting their six piece band, she was vivacious and full voiced on new track D.I.Y, and a stunning new version of Perfect 10. On the gorgeously melodic Rotterdam, she sought to remind us just why The Beautiful South’s Greatest Hits Collection went platinum five times over.

As this 22 song set, with virtually no filler, came to an end too soon, the duo and their amazing band left the audience awestruck following their stunning a cappella version of The Housemartin’s classic, Caravan Of Love, which they performed as part of their impressive, audience demanded double encore.

One thing that is clear from this concert is that Heaton and Abbott need each other, both in the studio and on the stage. We need them too. Together with their songs, sharp lyrics and beautiful voices, they make people extremely happy. They are an unassuming duo, even taking time out to spend the afternoon in the City’s Victoria Centre Shopping Centre, campaigning alongside Union GMB for fairer worker’s pay, before moving onto their sound check.

This was a gig which had sold out very quickly, and left many disappointed fans. For those that were lucky enough to get a ticket, it was clear that we had witnessed something special. Definitely look out for them next time they tour and queue early.