FOR THE last 25 years, the songs of Paul Heaton - whether in The Housemartins or The Beautiful South - have become the soundtrack to many people’s lives.
Indeed ‘Happy Hour’ (with The Housemartins ), ‘Perfect 10’, ‘Old Red Eyes Is Back’, ‘Don’t Marry Her’, ‘Rotterdam’ (with The Beautiful South ), etc, are part of the national psyche of Britain and Ireland.
Last year though, The Beautiful South called it a day, and this summer Paul formally launched his solo career with the excellent album The Cross Eyed Rambler. Paul will be taking those songs across Ireland on his latest tour which takes in the Róisín Dubh on Monday November 17 at 9pm.
Given that The Beautiful South seemed like one of those bands that could just go on forever, why did Heaton and Co decide to bring the curtain down?
“I felt age wise that now was the time to go solo,” Paul tells me, while walking up the stairs of his new house, trying to balance a cup of tea in one hand and his mobile phone in the other. “Later would have been too late and with The Beautiful South we had gone as far as we could. Our last album [Superbi] didn’t receive any support so I decided to be brave and go solo.”
Given the popularity of The Housemartins, the phenomenal success of The Beautiful South and the run of hit singles - that were as artistically successful as they were commercially - the band enjoyed, does Paul feel under pressure to live up to what went before?
“None,” he replies matter of factly. “I don’t feel any pressure. I’m not that kind of person. I never think about anything other than my songs. They’re my jurisdiction. I write them and record them to my best ability. As to how successful they would be I was powerless in what I could do about that. Success actually takes the pressure of you and I don’t have to have hits.”
Released during the summer, The Cross Eyed Rambler sees Paul and a stripped down band running through hard rock, rockabilly, 1950s style English pop, country, and intelligent adult pop, all bearing the distinctive hallmarks of Heaton’s voice and his lyrics - wry, insightful, witty, tragi-comic, and very English.
“Other people will write about ‘the freeway’, or love on a beach, and have a kind of American sentimentality in their songs,” he says, “but I’m more honest. I just look out the window and write about what I see. I will only write about what I have experience of and my surroundings and I think that’s what make it very English.”
The Cross Eyed Rambler is well up to Paul’s highest standards and perhaps finds him fresher and with a new zest. Many of the tracks, such as ‘The Pub’, ‘Deckchair Collapsed’, and ‘Everything Is Everything’ are laments (shot through though with pleny of wry humour ) for the way society, the human body and the ageing process, and popular culture are all assaulted in some nefarious way or other.
“You write yourself into your lyrics,” says Paul. “In ‘Everything Is Everything’ I wanted to write about how I feel about shops, music, the media... I wanted to give out about a lot of things so I knew it was going to be a long song.”
That comes as no suprise as Heaton has always been outspoken and his strongly left wing stance has long informed his world view.
“I remember in The Housemartins we were playing a gig and there was this guy in front wearing a ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ badge,” recalls Paul. “That wasn’t on so we took direct action against him - which we did a lot of those days, or at least I did.”
The back cover of The Housemartins’ debut album London 0 Hull 4 contained the message: “Take Jesus - Take Marx - Take Hope”. Does he still abide by that maxim?
“I’d be less Christian now,” he says. “I did believe in the left wing part of the Church but I don’t think I was ever that Christian. I’d be afraid to read the Bible now as I fear I might get sucked in!
“I’m still a Marxist. People say it’s not applicable anymore but with the latest extravagances of capitalism being exposed with the collapse of international markets it’s more applicable today than ever. I’m often thought of a miserable writer but I am optimistic and hopeful. That perspective is not represented well my lyrics - but I may change that. So yes, I’d still say ‘Take Marx - Take Hope’.”
Apart from songwriting and politics, Paul’s other great passion is football - witnessed from the start by The Housemartins’ debut London 0 Hull 4.
Hull City have certainly lit up the Premiership this season - in the top six, a shock defeat of Arsenal, giving an arrogant Man U side a fright on Saturday with that 4-3 result. Surely already ‘the people’s champions’, what does Heaton make of their extraordinary start?
“I’m not a Hull City fan, but Hull town is absolutely alive with football fever,” he says. “When we made that LP, nobody knew where Hull was and it was the only large city in Europe that did not have a top flight team. In similar places like Reading and Wigan people didn’t know where they were, but then they got into the Premiership and people know now.
“Football puts you on the map. It’s about understanding where you’re from. If Hull fans go anywhere in England or to Spain, people will now be able to say ‘Oh yeah I know Hull City. They’re a good team.’ It’s only a small thing but it says ‘I know where you’re from’ and that means a lot to people.”
When playing Ireland, Paul uses his football knowledge to help get him from venue to venue. “My map of Ireland is based on the football teams - Galway United, Cobh Ramblers, Derry City - you want to know where the places are so that’s the way I build it up in my head.”
A way in which Paul’s obsession with football has manifested itself is through his collection of jerseys, badges, scarves, and FA Cup programmes from the 1950s to the 1970s. So what is the most unusual item in his estimable collection? “A Fiorentina kit with swastikas on it,” he says. “That was supposed to be an accident but Fiorentina had a history of connections with fascism.”
Such is the size of his collection that Paul has run out of space to story everything.
“I’ve just moved to a smaller house so I’ve no room to keep them all,” he says. “I might donate all I can’t bring to the football museum in Preston. I might only be able to keep the badges.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.