Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott @ The Academy

I blogged here a while ago about my first gig, The Beautiful South at Leeds Town & Country Club in 1994.

Last night was a reunion of sorts, twenty years on and 200 miles west, in a different country.

Since that first gig, I've seen Paul Heaton numerous times, either with The Beautiful South or solo. Various small and large venues across the UK and Ireland, football stadia, fields in Somerset, even a café in Manhattan.

But this promised something different, albeit familiar. No longer solo, Jacqui Abbott would be back on stage alongside him. And they had a fantastic new album to show off, which they did from the start.

The crashing opening of "Some Dancing To Do" brought the band on stage, followed by Paul and Jacqui. And then Jacqui sang and I was suddenly years younger. One of the best female voices of recent pop has lost nothing in it's absence. I once read a review about Eddi Reader saying she could sing the telephone directory and it would still sound fantastic - the same applies to Jacqui.

But there was Heaton's back catalogue to be plundered, and each song brought a flood of memories.

"Old Red Eyes Is Back" triggered the memory of being tossed around the floor at that first gig like flotsam in a human sea.

I had forgotten just how good "Prettiest Eyes" was - I don't recall ever hearing it live. (Maybe one in a big shed somewhere?) It also resonated with me much more than it did in my single days.

"Rotterdam" - I was still word perfect after all these years. Naturally "Irish stout" got a huge cheer. (This also brought to mind the single's B-side "Pollard". Do look for it online.)

"Dream A Little Dream" (yes, not a Heaton original) - Christ, I spent seven quid of my student loan on an import CD of that!

"I'll Sail This Ship Alone" was my highlight of "Welcome To The Beautiful South" - and here it was being sung in front of me.

And from further back in time, gems from The Housemartins' brief burst of glory - including my first sight of P.D.Heaton on noisy guitar for a splendid "Me And The Farmer".

As usual, Paul had plenty of entertainment between songs: the dichotomy of Tayto crisps in the thirty two counties, a tale of a Battle of the Bands competition that involved Gary Glitter, an art competition...

One of the best gigs I've been to in ages. New songs fitting perfectly alongside old songs - some of which I'd never heard live or never thought I'd hear again.

All in all, brilliant.

And welcome back Jacqui! (The blokes stood behind me were certainly happy to see you.)

Set list:
Some Dancing To Do
Old Red Eyes Is Back
Costa Del Sombre
Rotterdam
Prettiest Eyes
Moulding Of A Fool
We're Not Deep
The Snowman
Build
When It Was Ours
Dream A Little Dream
Don't Marry Her
The Right In Me
Good As Gold
DIY
Happy Hour
---
I'll Sail This Ship Alone
Me And The Farmer
---
Loving Arms
Caravan Of Love

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saying the unsayable

To all those politicians and media commentators (you know who they are) who "say the unsayable" - stop talking rot.

1) The things you are saying are perfectly sayable - obviously so as they are spewing out of your mouth.

2) People who want to say those things, already say those things. They don't need somebody to claim to speak on behalf of them - everyone in earshot has already heard them and already made up their mind.

3) The people who choose not to say those things may have conciously done so as those things are either:
a) prejudiced
b) unpleasant
c) some form of "-ism"
d) patently untrue based on personal experience, research or that commonly missing human value of "not being a dick"

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It was twenty years ago today...

...Tuesday, 5th April 1994, that I went to my first gig. The Beautiful South, at Leeds Town and Country Club.

I'd bought my ticket a few weeks earlier, not sure from where - but not the T&C's box office, as I headed into Leeds on the bus not 100% certain where I was supposed to be going. Cookridge Street wasn't one of the usual places I went when in Leeds.

Anyway, it must have been the school holidays, as Easter Monday was the day before. I suppose I was a little nervous, entirely unknowing what a gig entailed. I must have had a coat, but I think I tied it around my waist - as a poor sixth form student, yet to earn the big bucks from a Saturday job at Maplin, I probably skipped the charge.

I bought a programme - another fresher mistake. This had to be stuffed into the gap between my coat and jeans, at the mercy of any spilled drink or overenthusiastic jostling. Fortunately, it survived and lived with my other gig memorabilia* for many years. There was a quiz inside, win a day's drinking with The Beautiful South. Even though I was not yet of boozing age, I entered. I completely misunderstood one question, so my liver was saved. (I'd have fallen asleep after the fourth or fifth pint in any case.)

What I remember of the T&C is that there was a rather grand staircase from the main doors, up to the box office and through into the auditorium. This was a tall, white plastered room, reminiscent of a church.

What do I remember of the gig? Not much. A few things peer through the fog of time:

1. The first song, "Minicorrect". It was rumoured to have been one of the reasons for Briana Corrigan having left the band, due to its lyrical content, alluding to S&M and abusive relationships. I already had two versions on CD: a loud, fast demo that was B-side to "Good As Gold", and the languid, string-drenched album track on "Miaow". What speed it was played at, I forget. The single memory I have is the stage lighting turning, shining bright yellow lights over the audience, absolutely flooding the place. I never again heard it played live.

2. "Old Red Eyes Is Back". One of my favourite Beautiful South songs, and judging by the human tidal surge, many other people's too. I think I went across the room at least twice - all the way over to the right, then all the way over to the left, then finally back to the middle.

3. The albino man and his little friend. There was a guy, quite old, who wore white, had white hair, and looked quite out of place at any gig. He stood stoically still, a few metres away from me. He had a friend with him, who looked for all the world like Ronnie Corbett. I saw the albino guy at other gigs - most bizarrely, Garbage, also at the T&C, but Ronnie Corbett was never with him. Perhaps he was at the golf course.

4. Encores. Being my very first gig, I wasn't entirely familiar with the concept of the encore, let alone two. I can't remember what songs were included - possibly Woman In The Wall or 36D. (The main set had closed with one of them, the other was definitely in the encore.) Fortunately, being in the middle of the crowd, and also not having to race for a bus home for school in the morning, I held my ground. A rare moment of copping on that the rest of the audience were not moving either.

5. The support act were called Frente! and came from Australia. They might have appeared in "Home and Away" at some point. They had an album called "Marvin the Album". Other than that, I couldn't tell you anything about them.

So that was my first gig. I saw The Beautiful South again at the end of the year at Hull Ice Arena - just as Carry On Up The Charts was beginning to sell like hot cakes. There were many more after that - bigger sheds in Sheffield, Manchester and Dublin, the whatever-it-was-called-at-the-time stadium in Huddersfield (once supporting R.E.M., another their big 'South v North' show), a trip to London to Islington Carling Academy, and a hastily arranged set in a New York record shop/cafe as a planned concert had been cancelled.** I've also seen Paul perform in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury, Billy Bragg joining in with a cover of "White Man In Hammersmith Palais".

I expanded my gig going horizons beyond The Beautiful South, and I've lost count of how many I've been to in total. My first four years in Dublin racked up at least a gig per month, the rate now slowed somewhat now I've other priorities.

Still, roll on June 7th!

* A pile of ticket stubs, T-shirts, postcards and other gubbins, in a drawer, under my bed.

** I happened to be on holiday in NYC at the time, it wasn't planned the other way around. Although I once did go to Brussels to meet up with other TBS fans who were members of the List For Whoever mailing list.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Berlin Blues

Berlin Schönefeld airport. Old, decrepit, small, claustrophobic in places, due to have been replaced. My experience there today was one of increasing frustration.

The day began well, with three train journeys, each one punctual to the minute. The stress began shortly after entering Terminal A. Departures, naturally, are upstairs. There are eighteen check in desks, in two banks of nine, in an area so small you could comfortably throw a tennis ball from one side to the other without much effort.

However, in between is a snaking queue of similarly frustrated passengers waiting to go through the security gate, restricting each check in desk to a queue depth of a few metres. Matters are not helped by there being insufficient barriers to guide the security queue, so the queue of confused travellers randomly juts out into the remaining space.

Furthermore, in front of all this, the Berlin Landespolizei have three massive scanners for luggage pre-screening. Again with a long, ungainly queue.

Once through security, one can relax in a corridor that has a handful of shops and one bar. Kilkenny's Irish Pub, obviously.

As I write this, I'm sat in a small departure lounge - more accurately a slightly larger Portakabin - waiting for my flight. This is, of course, at the furthest reach of the terminal.

Actually, there's the incoming plane. Salvation may be at hand, at least until Ryanair's first onboard announcement.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Ashes Calamity: A Theory

I have a theory as to why England are currently toiling their way to humiliating series defeat in Australia.

During the summer, in the build up to the previous series, it was declared "the worst ever Australian team" to make its way to Britain. Errant nonsense, as the 3-0 scoreline was no fair reflection of those tests.

However, England seem to have decided to properly show what a worst touring side ever looks like - particularly when it contains most of the players who have been unassailable until recently.

In a way, the haplessness is comforting. It's nostalgia for those fragile 80s and 90s teams. Winning things just isn't English, or indeed cricket.