Dave Hemingway, (seen here second from the left), an English musician and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about the good times with The Beautiful South, playing the main stage at Glastonbury, leaving The South, his new band Sunbirds and the release of their debut album, Cool To Be Kind.

Dave Hemingway is an English musician and songwriter, and was a vocalist for the Hull-based band The Beautiful South until they disbanded in 2007. Previously he had been a member of The Housemartins.

Hemingway was in the same class at school as Hugh Whitaker, who later became the drummer in The Housemartins. The two shared an interest in drumming, and one day, when the class were asked who would like to learn drums, they put their hands up first. Hemingway and Whitaker subsequently joined several bands; the first being the Newpolitans with Dave Rotheray on bass, and then the Velvetones. Whilst at university in London Dave was the drummer and a founding member of The Shoppers, a well regarded post punk band.

His break came when he got a call from Rotheray telling him Whitaker had left The Housemartins. Rotheray recommended him to Housemartins guitarist Stan Cullimore, who phoned him and asked him if he wanted to join, and he soon found himself in the studio, recording the band’s second album, The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death.

After the Housemartins disbanded, he and Housemartins founder Paul Heaton put together The Beautiful South, which lasted for nineteen years during which time they recorded ten studio albums. When the band split in 2007 Hemingway formed The New Beautiful South. In 2008 the name was changed to The South where along with Alison Wheeler, Damon Butcher and Phil Barton they sang the songs of The Beautiful South as well as recording and releasing an album of their own music, Sweet Refrains, in 2012.

Hemingway left The South in 2017 and is now heavily involved with a new project, his new band Sunbirds.

Whilst involved in the promotion of Sunbirds’ debut album, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Dave, good morning, how are you today?

I’m okay thanks Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Hey it’s not a problem, thank you for being interested in just what I am currently getting up to (laughter).

I must ask you, just how is life treating you in these very strange times?

It’s just like everyone else really, it’s pretty depressing isn’t it; everything is going wrong at this moment in time. But having said that, hopefully a few things will start to go right sometime soon. I’m sure that when all of this is done and dusted, if it ever is, we will all be allowed once again to get out to see live music in pubs and theatres. I’m sure that people will be out there in droves trying to enjoy music once again.

I know exactly what you are saying and all that I can add is let’s just hope that the government finally gets a handle on it.

Yes, exactly, because at the moment they are sending mixed messages all the time, and the world is currently changing every day. You don’t know if you are coming or going.

Have you had your lockdown haircut yet?

(Laughter) yes, I did actually. After the initial lockdown I did, but to be honest with you, there is not a lot of hair to cut (laughter).

We have to talk about the debut album from the Sunbirds, Cool To Be Kind but before we do, may I take you back to 2016-2017 when you left The South. Looking back, was that the right time and the right decision to make?

Yes, it was, most definitely. At that time, I really was disillusioned with the whole music business. One of the main reasons as to why I left The South was that I wanted to write and perform some new songs. At that time, I still felt that I had it in me to write some new songs, whereas they were happy to simply go along performing all the old stuff. Don’t get me wrong, that is all well and good but for me personally, I wanted to try some new stuff while I still could. So yes, I feel that it was the right time for me to do it. I was feeling tired and I really did feel that I needed time to recharge the old batteries and also, I needed to get my enthusiasm back for it. That is why that happened, and it was the right decision for me, I think.

Coming right up to date, what was the catalyst that got you back into the business and behind you forming Sunbirds?

I think that I was waiting for the right songs to come along to re-energise me really (laughter). When Phil (Barton) came along with the songs, we got together, recorded a few demos and I thought that the songs were good enough to get together and record a new album. I was pleased with the songs; it just felt like the right time for me to invest some time in.

You mention Phil, who you had previously worked with in The South. Did you all know each other prior to forming the band?

Yes, we did. As you point out, I knew Phil from his time as a guitarist in The South, so I knew him from there. Laura (Wilcockson) who plays violin and vocals was a regular in a band who supported The South on quite a few occasions, so I had previously met her through that. And finally, Marc (Parnell) the drummer is a pal of Phil’s from down South, so that is how we all got together.

Where did the name Sunbirds come from?

One of the hardest things, I think, whenever you get a new band, is trying to put a name to it (laughter). It really is never easy. We had a few ideas, but it was Phil who came up with Sunbirds, and I have to say that it feels appropriate in some strange way. It seems to work, and we are happy with that.

I have to say that I have been playing Cool To Be Kind for a couple of weeks now and I love it.

Thanks for that Kevin; I really am so pleased that you like it. Thank you. I am pleased that you are enjoying it.

Are you happy with it?

Yes, very much so. I have to be honest with you and say that the album really was a labour of love. We don’t have a record company, so we had to form our own. Plus we didn’t have any financial backing, so we had to pay for it ourselves, design the sleeve ourselves, we had to do everything ourselves really. It is always very hard to do that, especially when you don’t have any financial backing, record company or promotion. So, yes, in answer to your question, I am very pleased with the album and I am extremely proud that we have managed to get it out there.

Are you chomping at the bit to get it out there for the fans?

Yes, we are because we really do want to get it out there so that people can hear these new songs. Plus, when everything is back to normal once again, we want to get out there, play some gigs and promote the album that way. It will be both scary and exciting as they will be our first ever gigs with this new band.

Do you think that your notoriety in both The Housemartins and The Beautiful South has, in the past, stood in your way?

Yes, I do, I would totally agree with that. I know and appreciate that whenever people come along to gigs they want to hear some of the older songs that they know. However, I thought that it was important that we moved on from that and hopefully people will, by the time that we tour, know some of these songs ready for when we play them live.

I see that you have only co-written one track on the album, the opener Meet You On The Northside. Will you be getting more involved with the song writing for the next album?

Yes I will in fact there are already a few songs written and we are all really looking forward to putting out a second album at some point. Obviously, this album isn’t done and dusted just yet, but yes, once it is then yes, we will be writing for that second album. It is an ongoing thing with us, and hopefully we have got a lot of good things to look forward to, especially another album or two, I think.

I have to say that at the minute I have got four go to tracks; Meet You On The Northside, When I’m Gone, Beautiful People and Gene Kelly, I think that they are brilliant.

(Laughter) that’s good to hear. They are all very different songs within themselves and in my opinion; they are all very good songs. It was always our idea to get people up and dancing once again and I think that Gene Kelly certainly does fall into that category.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

To be totally honest with you, no not really. One of the things that I am proud of is the fact that it is quite a diverse album. There are a number of different types of songs on there, and the one which really resonates with me is Stars Still Shine because of my current situation. It is quite a sad song, but I really do like that one. Having said that, in general, I tend not to get too attached to any particular song. I am just hopeful that they will all have something to offer.

From writing to recording, how long has it taken you to put the album together?

Now this will no doubt shock you but, from starting out with the demos, with me and Phil doing the guitar and vocals, the whole album has taken us around two years, which is obviously a long time. The biggest problem that we were faced with was getting everyone together at the same time in the same place. Also, getting other people on board with it took a hell of a lot of time. As I have mentioned earlier, we did everything ourselves which as you can imagine, takes up quite a lot of time too. It really is a time-consuming process. So, taking everything into consideration, I would say that it took around two years.

Are you pleased with just how well the four of you have gelled together?

Definitely. The four of us get along just great and we have a laugh whenever we are together, which really is important. The most important thing is that the four of us all get along together. We get along so well that we are all looking forward to playing some live gigs, and I have no doubt that we will enjoy them.

You have worked with producer Teo Miller for the first time on this album. Was it a good experience?

What can I say, it was absolutely great. I personally think that Teo has done a fantastic job on the album. After we had recorded the album, Teo found a certain way to produce and mix it and he really has enhanced the album. As I say, I think that he has done a really great job and I can’t speak highly enough of him and the job that he has done on it.

I see that you are not releasing the album on vinyl, is that simply because it is still cost prohibitive?

I assume so. I honestly feel that the cost will be the only reason why we are not releasing the album on vinyl. As you know, we have financed the project ourselves, and to be honest with you, we are trying to recoup what we can. There may be a more cost-effective way of putting it out on vinyl because as you know, vinyl really is making a comeback. These things come in cycles, so I am sure that the album will be released on vinyl at some point, but maybe not just at the moment.

Are there currently any thoughts on you releasing a solo album?

No, not at the moment; nothing at all. I did try a solo album a few years ago now, and for one reason or another, it didn’t quite work out. But hey, at least I tried (laughter). I personally think that I have always been more suited to being in a band to be honest. I like having people around me, rather than trying to do it all by myself. I honestly feel that I am always happiest when I am in a band working with other people. So, I am most probably going to be doing that for now.

Who has musically inspired you along the way?

Well, I have my heroes; people like The Jam, Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, The Beatles obviously were a massive influence upon me. I have always been drawn to people who write songs with intelligence, they write great songs with great lyrics. I also like artists who are not afraid of being a little political, hence my fondness of Elvis (Costello) and Paul (Weller). So, they are the kind of artists who I did, and still do, look up to.

Who are you currently listening to?

To be totally honest with you there is no one in particular. I listen to all sorts of music as I am a true music fan. I will listen to anything that is on the radio (laughter). Without wanting to single anyone out, I would say that there is a lot of good stuff out there at the moment. I know that sounds as though I am sitting on the fence, but I genuinely listen to everything and anything that I can (laughter).

Putting you firmly on the spot, do you think that the music business will ever recover?

What can I say; I think that it is going to be tough, very tough. A lot of the live music venues that we both know and love will be going under never to be seen again. We have already seen a hell of a lot of pubs which used to host live music go under during the recent pandemic. The music venues are really struggling badly and, in my honest opinion, a lot of them will not survive. We really are in a sad situation at the moment. Hopefully, most will survive but sadly, a lot of them wont. I’m trying to put some sort of positive spin on the situation, but I can’t. There is not a lot of positivity out there at the moment.

What are your views on streaming platforms, are you for or against?

What can I say; I personally feel that it is wrong to be paid peanuts for your music when millions of people have heard it for next to nothing. Surely that can’t be right. If you write a song and it’s out there and people are listening to it, then I honestly feel that the artists and performers deserve to get paid for their work. In my opinion the streaming platforms should not be able to supply your music for nothing. Obviously, the famous bands and artists are not struggling but there are a hell of a lot of bands and artists out there who are not getting paid for the use of their songs. I personally do not feel that is right. Back in the day, you went into a record store, bought yourself a CD, and percentages would be given out to various people, but it simply doesn’t work like that anymore.

It doesn’t help when the likes of U2 are giving their latest albums away free of charge does it?

They can afford to give it away free (laughter). They are okay. It doesn’t help because then everyone expects all of the bands and artists to give away their music for free as well. What can I say; everyone is not in the same boat as U2.

I can’t speak to you with mentioning a certain Mr (Paul) Heaton. In 1988 you and Paul formed The Beautiful South. Were they good times?

Yes, they were, they really were great times. We were together for nineteen years, which is a hell of a long time to be in a band in the music industry, as you well know. There are not that many bands who survive that long (laughter). We really did have some great times along the way. We played some great gigs and we even managed to have a few laughs along the way (laughter). Those are the days that I look back on with great fondness. It was a great time to be in a band, and The Beautiful South was a great band to be in.

Fast forward to 30th January 2007 when The Beautiful South finally split. Was it amicable; were you all in agreement that you wanted to call it a day?

Yes, we were. I think that Paul had, for some time, wanted to call it a day with The Beautiful South. When he finally told us, I just thought ‘that’s fair enough; I will go off and do other things’ (laughter). We all just sat down together and agreed that we had had a good run, it had been brilliant, and yes, in answer to your question, it was all perfectly amicable.

Just how did you and Paul meet?

Paul and I had been in a lot of local bands in Hull. Then he got quite a bit of success with The Housemartins. My friend from school, Hugh Whitaker, was the original drummer with The Housemartins, and when Hugh decided to quit for whatever reason, which I still don’t understand fully, he put me forward and that is when I really met Paul properly.

Are the two of you still in touch?

No, not really. It’s sad but people go their own ways. Good luck to Paul in whatever he does.

Putting you firmly on the spot, The Housemartins, The Beautiful South and The South. Which was your favourite period?

Well, I suppose that it would have to be The Beautiful South, simply because of the longevity. Having said that, I have always thought that The Housemartins were a great band, and I was really chuffed to be asked to join them. And when the band finished after I had been with them for a year I thought ‘well I have had a year of success in a band which is pretty good. Not many people manage to get that so I will be happy with that’ (laughter). However, then Paul and I formed The Beautiful South which immediately took off, and we had all those years together so, in terms of the fact that it was a longer period of time and we had such a laugh and such a good career I would have to say The Beautiful South.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

First off, it was getting on Top Of The Pops; that really was a magical moment. As a kid you watch it on the telly at home, thinking ‘I would love to be on there’ but never really thinking that it would happen, so that really was great when that happened. After that, having a number one single was another dream come true. I would also have to say that playing the main stage at Glastonbury was really something special. We were second on to R.E.M. and I have to say that will take some topping. All of those are great memories and are actually highlights of my life, not just my musical career. I never lose sight of the fact that I have been very fortunate during my musical career.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Ben by Michael Jackson.

Who did you first see playing live?

(Laughter) don’t laugh but that was Mud at The New Theatre in Hull back in 1974.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I went to see Stevie Wonder at the Manchester Arena and I have to be honest and tell you that I absolutely love Stevie Wonder. One of his songs which had never really been a favourite of mine was Lately. It was one of those songs that I could take or leave really. However, at the Manchester Arena he sang it, on his own, sitting at the piano in front of fifteen thousand people, and I literally cried my eyes out. It really was an incredible moment.

On that note Dave, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You stay safe and I hope to see you playing live next year.

No problem Kevin. I hope that we will get to speak again once we get out of this pandemic nightmare, but until then you take care.