Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – All Saints Church, Kingston-Upon-Thames – 31.08.17

On Friday 28th July an album (titled Crooked Calypso) debuted at number 2, only held off the top spot by Lana Del Ray. The act in question have seen all three of their albums enter the top five within the last 5 years – the first of these only missing out due to global phenomena Coldplay, and the late Michael Jackson. Not only this – the duo were previously members of a band who achieved number one singles and albums in the mid-90s, with one LP becoming the second biggest selling of ’94.

For those not in the know, the act in question is Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, formerly of The Beautiful South. While Abbott’s time with the band took place during the middle of their career (but, not by pure chance, their peak), Heaton was of course a founding member, forming the band after the split of his previous group, The Housemartins (featuring Norman Cook AKA Fatboy Slim), and ending them due to “musical similarities”. After embarking on a brief solo career, and dabbling (not dabbing) in the stage during Manchester International Festival with The 8th (based on the deadly sins, and featuring Abbott on one track), we’re up to 2013, with full realisation of how perfect his and Jacqui’s voices are together; working class harmonies and down to earth duets that clearly resonate with a big audience.

Their return could have gone ignored, swept up with the other acts who once formed fractions of a group, still desperate to cling on to a heyday; the “Tom, Dick & Harry formally of Spandau Ballet“s or “Part of Bucks Fizz” acts that you see, and wonder if they make a living out of what they’re doing. It’s worth pointing out that some of the former members of The Beautiful South are still together as The South, constantly touring, and with one studio album under their belt. Their appeal isn’t the same as Paul & Jacqui’s, however, who have quickly switched from pub attics (their first show back together was in Paul’s pub, The King’s Arms in Salford) to arenas.

So what’s so special about these two, who sing from behind stands with lyrics written down, and are more likely to have pie and mash on stage than pyrotechnics? The old songs? Naturally. Their setlists feature numbers from The Housemartins, The Beautiful South and their new material, and is constantly switched up in between shows and tours. The voices? Definitely. Still as strong and distinct as before, Paul belts out Build like no time has passed, while the ballads he’s written for Jacqui – particularly Sundial In The Shade – allow her smoky tones to linger over the audience. The harmonies from all members (they do a few acapella tracks too) are always on point too.

But more than all of this, it’s the fact that Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott appreciate every single person that supports them. Their fans might not be streaming enough (according to Paul, it’s what kept them from the #1 spot – however they were top of the vinyl and cassette charts), but they’re spending their hard earned cash on tour tickets, T-shirts and apparently tapes. So scan that first paragraph again, and ask yourself how many of those acts would put time aside to greet fans before and after shows. (We can forgive Jacko on this one…) At a recent intimate gig in Leeds, where the crowd queued early, Jacqui walked up the line photographing them all and posted it on her Facebook page, alongside shots of shared ciggy breaks with the early birds, and genuine smiles with the new generation of fans. I very much doubt Lana would do the same if it wasn’t part of a meet & greet package.

Her partner in crime, Mr. Heaton, recently revealed that he offered the government his back catalogue for the royalties to go benefit the country, as he’d made enough from them. These are not celebrities doing it for the status; these are musicians doing it for the love. You’d be more like to find them sat at the bar sharing pork scratchings than at a VIP bash, and you can bet if you said hello they’d get you to pull up a stool.

Their acoustic Kingston Church gig sold out in minutes, so how did they deal with the demand? They added another gig before it; affordable tickets allowing more mums, dads and a surprising number of kids to dance and sing to Rotterdam, Don’t Marry Her and DIY. New songs were debuted, with lead single I Gotta Praise sounding perfect from the pulpit, and the band’s backing vocals creating the choir. He Wants To (a disco number on the album, the title of which is usually sung and followed by “put his radar on you”) ended with the original lyrics “put his penis in you”, much to Paul’s daughter’s disgust. He addressed the intimacy of the event, describing it as “live and in the flesh – but too live and fleshy”, and explained how he had to avoid his usual pre-gig snack of crisps for fear of showering them all over an unusually close crowd. (Superfans might be aware that he collects crisp packets, or at least he did…)

This evening was a rare chance to see and hear the band in such a small space – and it was one to remember. It doesn’t seem right to describe a duo so down-to-earth as magical, but their return to the charts and hearts of their fans – more often than not those nearer the minimum wage bracket – is something special. Especially when the band have protested and raised awareness of living wage concerns. If you missed it you haven’t missed out completely though – head out to see them on tour and you’ll find that they’re always up close, personal, meaningful and thankful.

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