Unless you live in a cave… or America (not that I’m implying that’s the same thing) you’ll have heard of the Beautiful South, and chances are you or someone in your family owns their mega selling “Carry On Up The Charts” compilation.

On January the 31st they announced they were splitting after 19 years, citing in typically unique style “musical similarities“as the reason. The group are often filed under that terrible catch all “Guilty Pleasures”… as if anyone should every feel guilty about liking music! In 19 years they were never once cool, even accidentally, but what they lacked in cool they made up in pure genius. Few other bands have managed to describe so eloquently the extraordinaryness of the ordinary, so much so that historians wanting a picture of British life in the 80’s/90’s could do worse than transcribing Paul Heaton’s wonderful lyrical observations on real life, love, lust, and loss, glugged down with a dash of booze.

The Beautiful South, like The Housemartin’s from which they emerged are essentially Heaton’s band, or “Paul’s Gang” as a documentary on the group was titled. Paul writes the lyrics, and Dave Rotheray (guitar) provides the music. Completing the line-up are Sean Welch (bass), Dave Stead (drums), ex Housemartin Dave Hemingway (vocals), and a female singer of which there have been three. Its an unusual set up: 6 members, 3 vocalists. Paul from the start chose to divide royalties between all members of the band, even writing into his will that all rights to his songs go to the other band members when he dies. Although politics were not as central as had been the case with The Housemartins you didn’t have to dig very deep in most songs to spot an ardent and proud lefty. Take Paul’s views on New Labour coming to power: “Tony Blair can go and fuck himself with a broken bottle. New Labour is a big fucking joke. It’s not a left-wing party anymore. How far right can you go and still claim to be on the left wing?”

The original female vocalist Brenda Corrigan’s complimented the two male vocalists perfectly with her angelic Northern Irish fairly “girlie” voice. She remained a member until 1994 when she supposedly left after reading Heaton’s lyrics for their 4th album “Miaow” and disapproving. It had long been rumoured that she didn’t appreciate Heaton’s take on page 3 models “36D” or more importantly the beered up responses to it at some gigs. She left to go solo, producing one LP, and a fantastic single “Love Me Now” but sadly not troubling the charts.

“36D so what (D) so what… Is that all that you’ve got?

You’re just another 365 night stand, But you’re so handy, you’re so handy
You cheapen and you nasty every woman in this land
But you’re so handy, you’re so handy”

The Beautiful South did of course write love songs, just not the saccharin blandness of your James Blunt’s, but rather love with complications, a beer belly, and a mid life crisis – Paul: “I find it difficult to write straightforward optimistic love songs . . . I throw in a row, a fight, get a few knives out . . .” When asked once if The Beautiful Souths dark tales of failed or imperfect love would ever show a brighter side, Paul responded “I hope so. Our next single ‘I Drowned Your Mother’ is much lighter“.

The Beautiful South – Diamonds” (MP3)
Corrigans voice was never more beautiful than on this B-side to “Old Red Eyes Is Back” The lyrics, and her performance make this a true heartbreaker of a song.

“Little sister don’t you cry…Lay your head down close your eyes
And dream of when before young men… Looked at youDiamonds always shine… You’ll find true love again
The mud gets washed off with the rain”

The Beautiful South – Your Father And I” (MP3)

“So if anyone asks you, Do you know where you’re from, say yes
You’re from your mother’s womb… And your father’s stinking breath”

A live favourite, and another one of Heaton’s classic anti-love songs. Performed as a duet with former supermarket shelf-stacker Jacqui Abbott who became the South’s second female vocalist. She joined after Heaton had heard her sing at an after show party in St Helens and remembered her vocal talents. Its a tale of two different angles on how a child came to be, on one hand the father telling of five star passionate love, where the mother sees only a one star drunken screw, in a one star motel. This song was the last number at many South gigs, often being stretched out to 10 minutes with brass blasting out, and most of the audience dancing in the aisles (not to mentions Heaton’s propensity for daft dancing on stage).

The Beautiful South – Poppy” (MP3)

“Fond memories of the bloody bridge you failed to hold
Many of your buddies killed or maimed
You would’ve shot at rabbits if that’s what you’d been told
Till the General said ‘I’m sorry you’ve been framed’
Cause the rulers always laugh
At a video bloodbath”

Rumours that this will be used as Labours election campaign song, along with footage from Iraq have so far proved inconclusive.

The Beautiful South – Old Red Eyes Is Back” (MP3)

“Old Red he died…And every single landlord in the district cried”

Drink was a constant theme throughout the Souths career, due in part to Paul’s own problems with the stuff. The song is both compassionate and damning of the waste of a life. According to Heaton “It sold respectably but the radio didn’t really play it. I don’t suppose they like songs about alcohol abuse.” It’s one of the classic songs about drink, although with the classic “Women In The Wall” they managed to top the bleakness by combining alcohol abuse with wife murder! “He was just a social drinker, but social every night… he’d enjoyed the thought of killing her before”.

Its difficult to pick just a few tracks as up until the last couple of albums their output had been so consistently brilliant, including enough B-Side gems to make a couple of albums (buy the Carry On Up The Charts double CD for a bonus B-sides comp). Even their final “Superbi” album contained a few killer numbers including “Bed of Nails” a gorgeous countryish tale of long term love come to an end, sung by the groups third and final female member Alison Wheeler: “I wouldn’t mind being left up on that shelf… If I hadn’t actually built, built the thing myself”.

One thing is sure we haven’t heard the last of the talent that is Paul Heaton, he’ll hopefully return with a follow up to his brilliant solo album “Fat Chance” (recorded under the name Biscuit Boy aka Crackerman). It may have sold about 5 copies but its the equal of any of the Beautiful Souths strongest work. Typically it deals with everything from religious hypocrisy, love, and of course booze. The standout track “Poems” is one of my favourite Heaton tracks of all time.. South, Housemartins included. Paul duets with the gorgeous vocals of Zoe Johnston, who surely deserves to be heard more of.

Paul Heaton – Poems” (MP3)

For an entertaining alternative view.. visit I Hate Music and rejoice at the news they’ve split up.

The Beautiful South Info:

Buy: Carry On Up The Charts (Best of..) from Amazon or search ebay for the 2 disc edition with a whole extra CD full of classic Bsides. Any of the albums upto Painting It Red are also 100% killer, no filler.

MP3: Zipped selection of 10 Beautiful South MP3’s

More MP3’s spread about up above.

Watch: “Paul’s Gang” – documentary on the Beautiful South (YouTube)

Beautiful South acoustic in Cake Shop, NYC (Nov 06 – one of final BS performances) (YouTube)

BS in the US 1990 doco (YouTube)