Belfast Telegraph

I need a little time to do my own thing

Paul Heaton, who is in Belfast tomorrow for a gig, talks to Jane Hardy about being in control and quizzes with Fatboy Slim

It’s no surprise at all that Paul Heaton has no interest in the marriage of William and Kate.

As he pointed out in a recent Guardian opinion piece, his native town of Hull has a fine tradition of raising two fingers to the Royal establishment — including Royal weddings — and is the only place in the country to have had no applications to hold street parties on April 29.

“As this is the Belfast Telegraph, I’d better be careful what I say. But I find the whole (Royal wedding) thing very distasteful, as it proves we’re not all in this together.”

Paul Heaton, who has a couple of musicians backing him on the second phase of his celebrated Pedals and Pints tour, will be performing at The Limelight in Belfast, tomorrow night.

Paul has had a good relationship with Northern Ireland with both his previous bands — the Beautiful South and the Housemartins.

It’s mildly surprising to discover he is a great list-maker and recorder of trivial information. He can actually tell you the date and day of the week that he and the other Housemartins first played Queen’s University.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing Belfast, we’ve been coming over for 25 years and first came here on, I’ve got the date in front of me, Monday, October 20, 1986.”

I can’t help wondering whether the former hellraiser is finding it tough to spend his time touring Britain's finest hostelries, as part of his campaign to save our pub heritage.

“Well, first of all, I’m not on the orange juice now. I’m an on and off drinker but I don’t drink like I used to.”

The singer says that next year, when he turns 50, it will be tough doing 50 to 100 miles a day on tour.

“It’s not tough to stop drinking, but we have a drink afterwards as we’re tired when we arrive at the venue and then tend to go to bed early.”

The totally rock ’n’ roll days are behind Paul Heaton the family man. He lives in Didsbury, Manchester now, has a partner and three daughters: “They’re aged 10, six and six weeks but I’d rather not give you their names.”

He does divulge a bit later that the newest Miss Heaton has a Welsh Christian name “as I’ve discovered I’ve got a bit of Welsh in me”.

Culturally, Paul Heaton leads an interesting life. He may be surrounded as he says by “crisp packets and stuff” but his pastimes away from the tour are pretty highbrow.

On his iPod, Heaton is currently listening to Hayes Carll, “a Country and Western singer I like a lot” and his preferred genres are hip hop and indie.

“In terms of Northern Irish bands, quite often I’m not sure about the nationality of who I’m listening to,” he admits.

In his spare time, Paul writes short stories and poems, none of which he has yet published. “Oh, I will in time. My influences are people like Charles Bukowski and the kind of stuff I read includes Donald Cross, a black author, and I have pretty much had a year of reading black literature and political stuff.”

The good thing about this phase in Paul Heaton’s significant career as a solo artist is that he’s running the show, singing his kind of music.

In a way, it’s a return to the Housemartins’ musical ethos. “Yes, it’s a return to the Housemartins roots. I suppose when I’m onstage, it’s just three people, a bass guitar, backing vocals and me. It’s still my voice there ...”

Although he says he has happy memories of singing in The Beautiful South (“Our first singer, Briana Corrigan, was from Londonderry and, when she joined us, we were in Italy and had a terrific time”) he says that poppier sound which produced some chart-toppers — A Little Time spent several weeks at No. 1 — wasn’t really him.

“The Beautiful South sound wasn’t necessarily the sound of me.”

Paul Heaton keeps in touch with his Housemartins colleagues, including Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, but wouldn’t choose to do a reformed ‘martins’ tour.

“I’m not one for re-forming bands but we keep in touch for practical stuff, silly things. I’ll text Norman about some music reference, and he’ll text me.

“We’re both librarians, if you like, and are the guy on the end of the phone if somebody wants to know a music answer in a quiz. Not for any other subjects, though.”

One subject Paul Heaton might well be a good friend to phone on, though, is the beautiful game. Aside from music and collecting crisp packets, football is his thing. And he has views about celebrities assuming the fan mantle for their own ends.

“Most musicians pick a side who are doing well and I find that strange and shallow.”

Paul’s longtime commitment to Sheffield United is a different beast. He became a fan after moving to Sheffield from the Wirral when he was four.

“My two brothers are Sheffield Wednesday fans and my dad took us along but I always wanted to watch United. I remember the first match, in 1969, when we beat Villa 5-0. They let me in for free. I told all my friends to go but then we lost to Bolton 1-0. That gave me an early indication of what it meant to be a Sheffield United supporter.”

Don’t be fooled by Heaton’s lugubrious demeanour or the bittersweet lyrics of Don’t Marry Her, Have Me (Beautiful South, 2009), and Think For A Minute (Housemartins), the Hull-born vocalist looks back not with anger or depression but with “fond memories”. Even though the big drinking days are over, as Paul Heaton remarks, his glass remains half-full.

Paul Heaton plays the Limelight tomorrow night, for tickets visit www.cdcleisure.net

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