After experiencing years of unrelenting success with the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, Paul Heaton tells Paul Fennessy how he has fallen on hard times.
Paul Heaton’s northern-English twang becomes inflected with a tone of wistful nostalgia as he recalls the good old fame and excess encompassing days: “we always thought we were too lucky for our own good,” he tells Otwo.
“We were on the top of the hotel in LA in Sunset Boulevard and sat there drinking gin and tonics, the pizza had just arrived, the sun was shining down, some of us were in the pool and Dave (Hemmingway, the drummer) said: ‘It doesn’t really feel like a Tuesday does it?’ It always made me laugh and it was very much what we were about, a bit of humour.”
Nonetheless, the glitz of LA is a far cry from his current status as a struggling solo artist. He recently released his first post-Beautiful South solo album. After their breakup in 2007, famously due to “musical similarities”, as Heaton wittily put it, the songwriter has had to endure somewhat of a comedown.
His MySpace actually includes a league table ranking cities by the amount of copies his album, The Cross Eyed Rambler, has sold. At the moment, Manchester is well in the lead having shifted an impressive 69 copies, with Norwich trailing in second place 57 records sold.
“It has been a surprisingly smooth transition really. Although the Beautiful South were big, for the last few albums, we were on our way down. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I did know it was going to be a fresh start. I didn’t realise it was gonna be quite so tough, but it has been alright actually. I was really pleased about my own fame, because it took me very few months or years to get up to the top and its been a nice gradual decline, the opposite of a one hit wonder.”
Heaton also details how The Cross Eyed Rambler allowed him to depart from the patented formula which he had cultivated with the Beautiful South. “We did have to do it quicker and in less takes, because I think if there was one thing I was guilty of and we were all guilty of in the Beautiful South it was smoothing things over, to make it sound good for radio or whatever,” he states, before emphatically adding that his new album is “definitely a bit more raw.”
Despite often being regarded as a wry and intelligent lyricist, Heaton candidly affirms how he perceives melody to be his foremost priority: “[in terms of] the music I listen to, believe it or not as a lyricist, I listen to stuff for melody. Lyrics are just an added bonus. I think it’s essential that they’re not bad, but it doesn’t bother me if they’re not good.”
The singer, who has had much publicised battles with alcoholism in the past, goes on to explain the trials and tribulations of life in the music business. While bands like Coldplay and Radiohead are relatively unaffected by illegal downloading and the economic downturn, it is less hyped musicians such as Heaton who really feel the strain of these perils.
He sounds genuinely concerned when explaining the tenuous financial situations of some of his fellow band members: “I’ve got enough money to live on, I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but they haven’t, and it’s their shot at being a professional and it would be nice for them to get paid for it. So that’s the ambition, for them to be happy and secure.”
And now that he is older and wiser, does he look back on those halcyon days with any regrets? “I was at a funeral of an ex-girlfriend of mine in June in Brighton with Norman (Cook, ex-Housemartins bandmate, aka Fatboy Slim). Her family were there and said she always loved you and so and so, and I turned round to them and I was honest, I said: ‘In 1986, I had my head right up my arse.’ I would have never split up with her, but because of what was going on, you put everything into the background.” Speaking to Heaton, you get the feeling that show business isn’t always all its cracked up to be.