Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott @ Sheffield City Hall
I recall first establishing a fondness for Paul Heaton’s music during a family holiday to Withernsea as a young’un. The sheer naivety of my parent’s decision to spend a fortnight caravanning in sunny old Yorkshire was exposed as it chucked it down relentlessly.
As a result, we spent days on end trapped inside the caravan with nothing but a CD player and a pack of Top Trumps for entertainment. However, on the bright side, playing continuously in the background we had ‘Soup: The Best of The Beautiful South & The Housemartins’. The seamless vocal harmonies, clever wordsmithery and chirpy pop ballads were enough to get me hooked. Oh, and he’s a Blade, which practically made him a saint in my eyes.
So, with bittersweet memories of a sodden campsite in East Yorkshire on my mind, we took our seats in the balcony of Sheffield City Hall, and found ourselves immediately greeted by the swinging sounds of folk ‘n’ blues four piece, Dai & The Ramblers. After further melody-laden support from Dry The River, the stage was set for one of pop’s most unlikely double-acts to make their entrance. Unlikely because, well, could you imagine Olly Murs walking onstage in a Stone Island jacket and proclaiming his support for a trade union? Of course you couldn’t. And the fact that the 15-million-album-selling Heaton has always remained consistent with his principles goes some way to explaining his popularity up north.
Of course, his music plays a big part in that, too. The set saw a well-judged mix of old classics and new material from latest album, What Have We Become? Jacqui’s vocals were flawless as ever and Heaton paid homage to her talents by claiming that when they first collaborated with The South he felt “like the creator of the hole punch who’d just found the inventor of the ring binder.” Metaphors aside, their synergy on stage remains strong and a joy to watch.
Paul kept the crowd entertained throughout with amusing anecdotes; he dedicated One Last Love Song to a young sweetheart who copped off with his mate at Sheaf Valley Baths. I’d strongly advocate the case that Heaton is one of the most underrated love song writers over the last thirty or so years, and I’m not ashamed to admit that his performance of Prettiest Eyes brought a few tears to mine.
The set ended after two encores, with final song, Caravan of Love, bringing the whole crowd to their feet while singing each word back to the band. ‘Twas a great evening from arguably two of the most honest pop stars you’ll ever meet, who have more talent than the vast majority of the current top 20 put together.