Paul Heaton, chats with Kevin Cooper about writing love songs, his decision to leave The Beautiful South, his musical partner Jacqui Abbott and the release of their forthcoming new album.

Paul David Heaton is an English singer-songwriter, who was a member of The Housemartins. They had success with the singles Happy Hour and the number one hit Caravan Of Love in 1986 before disbanding in 1988.

He then became a member of The Beautiful South, whose debut single and album was released in 1989 to commercial success. They continued with a series of hits throughout the 1990’s, including the number one single A Little Time. They disbanded in 2007.

He subsequently pursued a solo career, which produced three albums, and in 2014 he released What Have We Become? This was a well-received collaboration with former Beautiful South vocalist Jacqui Abbott. Still collaborating, Abbott and Heaton continue to tour and are set to release a new album, Wisdom, Laughter And Lines.

Speaking to Kevin Cooper before the release of the album, this is what Paul Heaton had to say.


Mr Heaton good morning.

Good morning Mr Cooper are you alright?

I am very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

So let me ask you just how is life treating Paul Heaton?

At present all is very well thank you. I am at a very good point in my life both with work and in my personal life. So I am happy to say that all is very good.

I have been playing the new album Wisdom, Laughter And Lines for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is fantastic.

Cheers Kevin, thank you that is very kind of you.

I have written down ‘uplifting’ and ‘feel good factor’ which I think sums up the album. Does that reflect the position that you were in when you were writing the album?

Yes, I think so Kevin. I think that it perfectly reflects just how the songs came out. I have a very long song-writing process so I don’t know whether I was in a good mood when I was writing the lyrics or the music or both. Sometimes you get a good sound in rehearsals and things start happening but I have to agree with you Kevin, I think that it is pretty uplifting in general.

Are you happy with the finished article?

(Laughter) well you are never fully happy with it but I have to say, probably (laughter). Mostly I never tend to listen back to the material probably until a year after I have finished recording it but with us having a tour coming up in October, I had to decide which of the songs on the album we would be performing on the tour. So I had to listen to the album and I have to say, yes I was happy with it. Usually there are a few things where you will say that’s wrong or the vocals are too loud or whatever. But I listened to the album and it all sounded as it should have sounded so yes, I was pretty pleased. However, you are never totally happy (laughter).

At the moment my favourite track is (Man Is) The Biggest Bitch Of All; I think that it’s great.

Oh yes (laughter). That is a lyric that I wrote around one of Johnny’s riffs. At first it wasn’t working but then we gave it a bit of bollocks to the bottom end of the track and it works now (laughter). I suppose that it is quite an interesting lyric too Kevin.

On the subject of riffs, the single, Austerity Of Love, did I hear a snippet of The Liquidator by The Harry J All Stars in there?

There is Kevin yes. It was the keyboard player who came up with that riff and straight away I said that’s The Harry J All Stars so we actually rang the publishing company that the late Harry Zephaniah Johnson used in order to make sure that everything was alright with them and we paid them a part of the royalty. It’s not a song-writing credit because obviously the lyrics and the melody of the song are not affected. It wasn’t that we thought that they were going to sue us, but we just thought that it was the right thing to do.

Listening to you and Jacqui (Abbott) singing, do you sometimes have to step back and pinch yourself at just how lucky you are? Your voices fit together so well and that sort of pairing just simply doesn’t come along every day of the week.

I do Kevin. I often think that it may have something to do with the fact that we are both from a similar area (laughter). I have tried singing with different females in the past and very few of their diction fits exactly with mine but as soon as Jacqui opens her voice to sing, and I am singing at the same time, our voices do fit really, really closely. I think that where that usually happens, for example The Everly Brothers, The Bee Gees, it is where bands have grown up singing together. Obviously I didn’t with Jacqui but she is from St Helens and my dad was also from St Helens, and my mum was from Liverpool. I don’t know if it is a diction thing in the accent. But to hear both of us speak, but particularly Jacqui, well you wouldn’t put us down as singers really.

Jacqui has a rather deep voice with quite a broad Lancastrian/St Helens accent which you don’t really often think of as being a singing voice (laughter). But as you said Kevin, they definitely both fit together really well and she picks harmony out very, very quickly. With most people if you give them a song they will take a while to work out the melody and then take a while to work out the harmony. But Jacqui gets the melody straight away and then the harmony a split second after. She is very quick to work with Kevin which is a natural thing really I suppose.

I was fortunate enough to see you at The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham last year and I have to say that the two of you simply blew me away.

She’s great Kevin and what is weird is that I have been in bands since I was eighteen years old but Jacqui was never in a band. Her background is simply singing along to the radio (laughter). When I met her she had never been in a studio; she had never sung on the stage, nothing. And that is what makes it even more interesting really.

I have to own up and say that at this moment in time my allegiance lies more towards Jacqui than it does to you I’m sorry to say.  

(Laughter) ok, why’s that Kevin. Tell me more.

At the gig Jacqui was wearing a Nottingham Forest scarf while you were wearing a Nott’s County scarf (laughter).

(Laughter) oh right I see. I apologise for that (laughter). I take it that you are a Forest fan then Kevin. Well you are certainly doing far better than my team at the moment.

I have to say that I am suffering in silence at the minute. Do you still manage to get down to Bramall Lane to watch Sheffield United?

I haven’t managed that yet this season. I was upset when they sacked Nigel Clough to be honest. I just thought that there was no reason for it. I know that you will have experienced it yourself with Forest but it is incredible how much ambition people seem to have when it comes to Managers and lack of it when it comes to buying and selling players you know. They seem to think that selling the whole squad and getting a decent Manager is the answer to things, which I am sure has happened down at your ground as well. Thankfully the music business is not like that (laughter).

Not yet, not yet (laughter).

You are quite right Kevin, not yet indeed (laughter).

Whilst they say that you should never believe your own publicity; when a certain Mr Ernie Isley is reported as saying that The Housemartins version of Caravan Of Love is the best that he has ever heard, including his own version with Isley-Jasper-Isley, then that surely must mean something to you?

Actually Kevin I didn’t know that he had said that. I had not heard that before.

During an interview he was asked if he had heard The Housemartins version and he said that he thought it was better than his version.

That’s very interesting to hear. It was funny because their version only came out a year before ours but R & B at the time was a little bit wishy washy in terms of production. The early 1960’s Isley Brothers records all had that cutting edge Motown sound and their 1970’s stuff was really funky. But when it came to the 1980’s I think that a lot of R & B acts, particularly the ones who had been going for a couple of decades had lost their way a little bit. New artists such as Prince were coming along and they were taking the music into a different direction. So it doesn’t surprise me in a way because if you look at the video to their version, the video says everything about the message but the production of their record is not quite there.

When me and Norman (Cook) heard their 1985 version, we thought straight away that the song had the potential for us to do a cover version. Weirdly enough we had started singing it the year that it came out; we were performing it live for a full year and a half before it actually got into the charts. Funnily enough it was one of those songs that actually sounded better live, but it still sounded alright to me on record (laughter).

You have mentioned Norman; I recently read a quote from him saying that you hated writing about love. Surely that still cannot be the case?

(Laughter) well to be honest Kevin I always struggled to write about love especially when I was in The Housemartins where it was difficult anyway because we had quite an odd audience really you know. It was mainly a male audience. I did get better straight away with things like You Keep It All In and I’ll Sail This Ship Alone when I was in The Beautiful South. But I still struggled to write an out and out love song whereas now where we are today; where I am today, I find it easy to write about nearly everything really.

It’s funny considering that my two favourite songwriters are Smokey Robinson and Elvis Costello who both specialise in writing songs about love; who are fantastic love song writers (laughter). I could never nail it myself but I think that I have got a lot better (laughter). I don’t know why it has become easier, it just has. But in answer to your question Kevin, Norman was right at the time (laughter).

You were in The Beautiful South for 19 years. Was it a difficult decision when you finally walked away?

No it wasn’t Kevin, it was actually a decision that I had delayed by probably four or five years. I maybe should have done it when Jacqui left with all due respect to people who stepped into her shoes. I think that I was just staying in the band for safety reasons really. There were nine people all around me who I knew really well in the band and the management and so it was just easier to carry on working with them. However having said that, it was quite clear that it wasn’t going anywhere. It was at that point that I thought that I may as well do it by myself. I had been writing songs by myself all the way through The Beautiful South, and so I thought that I would just give it a go by myself to see how it would all work out.

Were you not frightened at the thought of being out there alone?

Weirdly enough Kevin I wasn’t. I really did start to enjoy it straight away. However what I did find difficult was trying to find the right band members, but really since I have found the current band I have really enjoyed it. I have now got a fantastic camaraderie with them all. I really should have left The Beautiful South earlier but I was a little bit cowardly as to how it would feel being a solo artist.

Do you find that being settled in Manchester is helping your song-writing?

Yes I really do Kevin. I have at last found myself some peace and quiet here in Manchester where I don’t really know anyone except my girlfriend and my children. I simply keep myself to myself. Weirdly enough I have lived over in Manchester for thirteen years now which has gone really quickly (laughter).

You wrote some absolutely fantastic songs with The Beautiful South. Were you ever disappointed that you only ever had one number one single?

(Laughter) no I was never disappointed by that fact Kevin. You have to remember that we had some tremendous success with albums. We had four straight number ones with albums and also on top of that there was the greatest hits album, Carry On Up The Charts: The Best Of The Beautiful South. So no, we would just always make a joke about it Kevin. Perfect 10 didn’t get to number one; it only got to number two. We were kept off the top spot by B*Witched with C`est La Vie (laughter).

People are always going on to me about The X Factor but it has always been the case that there have always been artists who are sort of, well I don’t want to call them naff because I am sure that the girls from B*Witched were charming, but were a bit more throw away, should we say.

Our other singer Dave Hemingway got really upset by this and would always be saying “oh no I can’t believe that those bastards have kept us off number one” (laughter). It was great Kevin because we would all just keep winding him up (laughter). I don’t know if you can remember the B*Witched single but it had a rap section where one of them would say “What Are You Like” in a cod Irish accent (laughter). Well whenever we saw Dave, wherever we were, we all used to say “I see that Perfect 10 is still at number two, What Are You Like”, and it would literally drive him mad (laughter). He would thump the table with his fists (laughter). But being honest with you Kevin it really never did bother us.

The only thing that I think perhaps should have happened was that Dave and me should have had a little more credit for our song-writing. I have never received a single award for that which I am not bothered about, but it just strikes me as being a little bit weird when people such as Geri Halliwell has got an Ivor Novello Award which is a song-writing award, as has Garry Glitter. The ironic thing was that I was asked along by the Ivor Novello Awards panel to present Norman (Cook) with his award (laughter). A couple of years after that I was invited to join the panel where I was able to judge the Songwriter Of The Year Award (laughter). But I have never ever won anything at all, neither have the bands. The only thing that I have ever won was when we won a Brit video award for The Beautiful South video.

I know what is going to happen Kevin. If you have ever played amateur football as a junior there was always the most improved player award; I will get one of them (laughter). I will probably get the Contribution To Music Award when I am about seventy years old and too fucking old to see it (laughter). So in answer to your question Kevin we were never disappointed; we were just chuffed to bits with the amount of public support and just how nice people were to us really.

You will have to just look on the bright side. You could be Midge Ure with Vienna and Joe Dolce’s Shaddap Your Face (laughter).

That’s right, fancy being kept off the number one spot by Shaddap Your Face (laughter). Me and my ten year old daughter are always running about the house singing “Shaddap Your Face” which is funny because she doesn’t know the record but she knows the expression (laughter). That is the classic example of what you would say to Midge Ure. He was on Question Time a couple of years ago now and thinking about it I should have sat in the audience and shouted “Midge Ure, Shaddap Your Face” (hysterical laughter).

Does it ever feel difficult for you playing here in Nottingham knowing that a large section of the audience could possibly be responsible for the 1984-85 miners’ strike failing?

No not really Kevin, no not at all. I actually feel the opposite really. Yes there were a lot of people who returned to work in Nottinghamshire which also unfortunately launched the fraudulent UDM (Union Of Democratic Mineworkers). But also there was an immense amount of support for the miners in Nottinghamshire, particularly around the pit areas. When I was cycling around Britain on my Pedals and Pumps Cycle Tour in 2010 I saw first-hand just how much those communities had suffered. And also don’t forget Brian Clough who was almost the leader of a huge part of the Nottinghamshire community who came out fully in support of the miners. There were plenty of people who were supporters in Nottinghamshire. Just because some people chose to go back to work didn’t mean that everyone else felt the same way about the cause.

It’s a bit like when you used to go abroad in the 1980’s and you would talk to some bloke in Spain who would say “ah you are from England”, Mrs Thatcher, who was at the end of the day nothing to do with us. There is plenty of support for the Labour Party and good causes there in Nottingham.

On that note I will thank you for taking the time to speak to me and to wish you well with both the forthcoming tour and the album release.

Thanks Kevin, It’s been a pleasure. You take care and bye for now.