Tuesday, February 17, 2015


OK, it's BAND SOUTH in this case, but that's allowed, and is probably a pretty good opportunity to give this bigintheUK band a buzz, not least given my equivocal and almost love-hate relationship with them. Are they known of across the pond? Somehow I doubt it, except to the core of anglophile anglophone addicts whom I know exist in no small number. But their whole identity is rooted in a dingy lacklustre version of northern England, their name being wholly ironic, marrying kitchen sink reality to luscious, silky tunes and arrangements. And thereby lies my issue, as the sharpness of the lyrics may often be missed within the sheen given to the songs, sometimes leaving a faint lingering taste of saccharine where the vinegar should be.

Paul Heaton, because they were basically his band and brand, even if ably supported by a core of regulars and a float of occasionals, formed the group in 1988, along with fellow Housemartin, Dave Hemingway. Within that earlier and quirky, shortlived group, also including Norman, later "Fatboy Slim", Cook on bass, they sent a bizarre mix of marxism and christianity to the top of the UK singles charts with an acapella version of Caravan of Love. His abiding acerbic style was well characterised by the title of their first LP, "London 0, Hull 4" , Hull being, shall we say, one of northern England's less glamorous cities.

Rather than a traditional jangly guitar based quartet, The Beautiful South started life with an altogether different vibe, with shared vocal duties between the two ex-Housemartins and the first of three subsequent female vocalists, with often lush keyboards. Songwriting duties, largely Heaton's forte, were shared with Dave Rotheray on guitar, and they hit the ground running with this song, "Song for Whoever", which neatly sets out the stall for their aforementioned sweet cynicism, the theme of the "self-serving industry of lovesongs" being a recurring motif.. The front cover, above, also gave some clue to those prepared to search beyond melodies alone. In 1991, they also won the Brit award (think British Grammy) for best video, "A Little Time", their only actual number one single, reproduced below:

Following this there followed a steady stream of successful albums, with a change of female vocalist between their 3rd and 4th, and the sound increasingly embellished by added horns. However, before Briana Corrigan left, the band managed their biggest US exposure with this, "We Are Each Other" in 1992.

Jacqie Abbot, who replaced, had a slightly less astringent style and lasted for a further six years, the sound gradually becoming more influenced by country and/or soul stylisations, which her voice suited well. Here is a good example, "Perfect 10". The group called it a day in 2000, before a desultory final incarnation in 2003, with now 3rd female singer, Alison Wheeler. Whilst the thrill had largely gone, this line-up did produce a last-gasp covers record, in 2003, with "Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs, largely successful major transformations of well-known popsongs of the past 30 odd years, and a lasting favourite of mine. Knowing we like a good cover over here on Starmaker Machine, here is a key track, Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper". Citing "musical similarities", maybe the irony of this irony being beyond them, they folded for the final time in 2007.

Interestingly, at the time of writing, Paul Heaton has reunited and put out new material with Jacqui Abbott, whilst Hemingway and Wheeler, together with some of the core erstwhile musicians, have re-grouped as The South, basically a tribute act to their old selves. One suspects that neither Heaton nor this version have each other on their respective christmas card lists..........

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