FOREWORD: It’s a shame the Beautiful South never made it in the US. Perhaps their singers’ British accent was too strong for mainstream American tastes. But singer Paul Heaton (ex-Housemartins) and guitarist David Rotheray formed a truly melodic partnership that rewarded true pop fans of all stripes. When they came to Manhattan to promote ’97s Blue is The Colour, I got to share many drinks with them at their hotel bar and then joined them at WABC’s East Side studio and watched them perform a short in-studio acoustic set and answer intermittient questions. Heaton’s satirical comments were precious. When asked about his sense of humor, he jokingly quipped, “I have no humor.” What was really exciting was getting to see the old soundboards and turntables used at the old 77 WABC – once the biggest pop station in New York City (lasting at the top from ’69 to ’78). Christ, I used to listen to those top 15 countdowns on Tuesday’s from ’71 to ’75, so those turntables really meant something to an avid music listener such as myself. Anyway, Beautiful South never had a US hit, but continued to roll along as superstars across the pond. ‘98s Quench and ‘06s Superbi I’m not the least bit familiar with. However, ‘00s Painting It Red was up to snuff and ‘03s Gaze wasn’t bad. This article originally appeared in HITS magazine.
Formerly a pub band from Hull, England, the Beautiful South write cynical folk-rooted songs that balance refined soulfulness with stoic neo-Classical arrangements. Singer Paul Heaton, formerly of the Housemartins (best known for the quirky liquor-ish anthem “Happy Hour”), and guitarist David Rotheray melt delicate imagery on top of soft, introspective compositions for their latest compelling work, Blues Is The Colour.
Although the Beautiful South gained superstar status in England with excellent singles compilation, Carry On Up The Charts, stateside attention has thus far been difficult to attain. Recorded in Holland, Blue Is The Colour features their 17th British pop hit, the pristine “Don’t Marry Her.” A seductive come-on sung by newest member, Jacqueline Abbott, it tests the boundaries of radio as she gently caresses the concubine sentiment, ‘Don’t marry her, fuck me.’
If Heaton and Rotheray’s wry humor was sometimes too British too comprehend, I was at least able to make it through the twisted colloquialisms. So it’s time to go to Hull and back with the Beautiful South.
Give me some background about your hometown of Hull.
DAVID: The best thing about Hull is it’s a backwater town that doesn’t pretend to be anything more. It’s a one-horse town and the horse has only three legs.
How do you explain the massive success of Carry On Up The Charts in Britain?
DAVID: There’s an electoral system in the Republic of Ireland that allows you to convert your party affiliation through a single transferable vote. That’s the same thing that happened to the Beautiful South. We always finished second to all these vogue-ish bands. Then, from the momentum of all our previous records, we finished first with the compilation. Instead of getting this silver medal again.
Do you think it’s difficult for the Beautiful South to get American airplay because the music cannot be easily pigeonholed?
DAVID: Possibly. It’s political. And non-exposure may be due to the white rascists who praise the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s pop bands without altering the culture. But it’s not the fault of the listeners.
The elegant, delicately imbued first single, “Don’t Marry Him (Fuck Me)’” seems a bit extreme lyrically. Are you hoping that conservative American radio gods won’t be able to understand Jacqueline Abbott’s thick Brit-accented lyrics?
DAVID: It’s not a very acceptable word for a song, is it? Oh wait, I was thinking about our next single, “Big Daft Cunt.” (laughs) The danger in arranged marriages is you could fancy someone else and be stuck with this bitch forever. What Jacqueline is saying in the song is, ‘before you get into a life that sucks, fella, have a good time and party a little.
How does Blues Is The Colour differ from previous albums?
DAVID: It’s a bit bluesier. You can hear the vocals and guitar more. Instrumentally, we went into the studio and tried to make sounds we never did before.
Paul, how does your previous band, the Housemartins, compare to Beautiful South?
PAUL: To me, the Housemartins were always under pressure to complete an album. But with the Beautiful South, we had time to spend in the studio. Both bands are completely different entities with completely different sounds. I can’t remember what inspired me to write the Housemartins tunes the way I did. But I’d always say music was something that came naturally to me. I was comfortable with what I was recording and didn’t let someone else pull the strings to our production. You just stick to what you know and not try to be so conservative. Soundwise, my music may be conservative, but not lyrically.
You look more like the typical English bloke who’d hang out at the pub guzzling whiskey rather than a sensitive lyricist.
PAUL: Don’t you think that’s a typical American attitude of what a guy should look like? I mean, all a poet like Bob Dylan needed was a pen. Dylan means a lot to me. Fortunately, he had a great talent to write and that’s what he got judged on. It didn’t matter what he looked like. The people who rebel against the rural agricultural lifestyle take on the establishment and set the pace for those who come afterwards.
Why did you decide to record the new album in Holland?
PAUL: We did most of the writing in Holland, too. We went to different smaller towns to write songs. We woke up fresh in the morning with no hassles from the night before. It was very comforting. But the lyrics are so down and moody. It wasn’t like there were 600 girls waiting for us to finish up.
What artists do you think are taking risks making innovative music nowadays?
PAUL: I think some of the new English dance music is brave. Much braver than us. They take risks in the studio. They’re middle class kids who realize this is their chance. That’s why white working class music in Britain is much more conservative compared to these black American artists. The working class black people take risks and show their soul. When you look at the Country/ Western market, it’s so conservative. But the black market is so hip to taking further steps. That’s why rap’s short history is so amazing. Outside of ‘60s artists like Joe Tex and Taj Mahal, few people ever rapped to their music before rap came along. It has taken so many more steps. America is brought up on the music of the ghetto communities. We don’t have that in Britain.
Should Britain get rid of the royal family?
PAUL: Absolutely. To have a king and a queen in Britain is like having a fuhrer run Germany. What have they ever done except hang people, cut their heads off and invade half the world? But they act real quaint now. We should get rid of them. Why would somebody decent like Princess Diana marry into that family? You’re not given a chance to speak out.