For Paul Heaton, A Little Time, Song for Whoever and Rotterdam stand out in a career spanning over 30 years, as singer-songwriter in the Beautiful South, post-punk outfit, the Housemartins (featuring Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim on bass), a solo artist. Paul has also recently become a publican we caught up with him to discuss his career and British Pubs.
You’ve taken over the King’s Arms in Salford? How’s that going?
It’s not going great yet but we took it over because it was going to be turned into a chain pub. We’ll have to see how it goes. It is expensive running a business like it. I’m not a business man and haven’t done anything like it before.
What do you think about the relationship between music and pubs?
I played my first gigs in pubs in Surrey when I was in a band with my brother called Tools Down. Back then in 1978 or 1979, the only place you could play would be a village hall or pub. To have a friendly landlord or landlady, who would let you set up and play, was like gold dust. Many wouldn’t even let you in if you had a ‘funny’ hair cut, never mind let you play music.
We had a couple of landlords who would let us play and have us back. This is still important, perhaps even more so. Currently smaller indie bands no longer sell records. They survive on downloads. So touring becomes more important and selling t-shirts and CDs at gigs is crucial. In my day selling records was a major source of income. For a young band to do a pub tour like my own, even if they went by van, they could make a bit of money.
I don’t suppose anybody will take a leaf out of the book of the 50 year-old Paul Heaton – but this is one idea where I’ve thought: ‘this is really good’. It’s something that works for everybody.
Over recent years, pubs have really changed – is the independent pub trade still alive and well?
I think it is. We went upstairs after a gig in Newton Abbot and spent three hours in a landlord’s lounge singing punk and soul songs. It was amazing. It was like having an artist running a pub, but an artist who’d never been an actual artist.
The problem is that the music lover in Newton Abbot doesn’t know about the music lover in Cattistock. Having a network is a real ambition of mine. It would be a – I know the word is overused – ‘legacy’. To say to a visiting Americana band ‘we are part of a chain of pubs. Not linked by brewery but purely by music’ … It would be great to have that network in place.
How has your song writing changed since the early days?
The lyrics have but musically I haven’t progressed much at all. I don’t want to. But I’m certainly a better lyricist. This is why I don’t get on the radio as much as I used to. Earlier songs like Think for a Minute or Happy Hour are lyrically easy. They have simple melodies and were easy to make catchy. My current work is more wordy and difficult. But I still write roughly at the same pace. I haven’t slowed down or had any of these blocks. As Dave Rotheray (Beautiful South guitarist) said: ‘What do plumbers do if they get “plumber’s block”?’ What if people with proper jobs get these blocks? My creative output is very regular.
Many of your songs have political edge to them – do you think the protest song is still relevant?
Many people think protesting on the internet is replacing the art of protest. The protest song still exists. If you listen to Ill Manors by Plan B, it’s still there. But without the set of lyrics and the real thing in front of you, then it’s not so relevant.
When you release songs – whether it be a protest or pop song – you release them like hot air balloons. They hang around in the air before drifting off into the distance. You might forget about them or the wind might blow them back.
Now, it’s different, partly because of the internet. Songs are more like bubbles. Instead of lasting, they briefly drift above you before exploding.
That’s how the protest song has changed. They used to resemble enormous hot air balloons which would last for weeks. And now, although they are very important and contain big messages, they’re seen to be as relevant as a Facebook status update.
This is because many people are jacks of all trades, masters of none. Everyone is a little bit aware of everything. People can talk about Syria for ten minutes, Afghanistan for ten minutes and Britain for ten minutes.
When it the Miner’s Strike took place, I fully embraced it. I knew where every pit was, the history of them and who they were connected to politically in the community. It was important to me. Maybe I’ve got a mining background as I embraced it so much? But now when people put up a link for a cause on a social media site, everybody will like it. That’s their political protest done for the day. People aren’t as familiar with causes. So protest songs have become play things for people. They aren’t part of you anymore.