Talking with The South vocalist Alison Wheeler.
Alison Wheeler is about to go out on tour with the South, an offshoot of the Beautiful band of almost the same name. But as she told us, she’s getting in some practice first.
“I’m out in Majorca celebrating my friend’s fortieth. There were thirteen of us and now there’s four left. The rest have gone home.”
Sounds like the rock’n’roll lifestyle is taking its toll.
“Well, not really. We had a gentle night last night and there’ll be a bit of market shopping today.”
Then in to the shows. How are you enjoying touring these days?
“It’s a lot of fun. We had a bit of a reshuffle after Dave Hemingway wanted to stop performing for a while, which was really sad for the rest of us but we wanted to keep going. Someone suggested that Gaz Birtles, our saxophonist, should take over on vocals and he’s got an amazing voice. It was a bit tough at first going out without Dave but we’ve been so well received and the response has been amazing. Gaz is bringing something new to the shows, it’s a lot of fun, we did festivals and touring last year so we’re looking forward to getting out on the road again.”
You seem to have been doing a lot of festivals lately.
“It’s always nice to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily see us. We were fortunate last summer to play Rewind, which was a great gig and it was incredible when we toured that autumn the amount of people who came up and said they only came along because they’d seen us at Rewind, the power of the festival is quite phenomenal. It’s been a great couple of years and long may it continue.”
One venue that sticks out from your summer schedule was playing at Knebworth.
“We all had the fear for that one – it’s such an institution isn’t it? Everybody’s played Knebworth. It was a nineties festival called Cool Britannia and we were all a bit nervous but we had a great reception. We were the opening act on Sunday, the sun was shining and it was great to see thousands of hungover people gradually waking up and starting to dance.”
Does it not worry you, as it does me, that when the nineties are being revived it tells you the world’s turning a bit too fast?
“Yes, it does seem a bit close for nostalgia but I think that’s a shift in generations. A lot of people that age have got kids who’ve left home so they’re ready to go out and enjoy themselves again. We’re fortunate that if you’re over forty and you’re spending money on yourself you can come to gigs, see us and enjoy it, and we can pick up some new fans again.”
You played arenas in the band’s previous incarnation, and you’ve mentioned doing the festival circuit. Now you’re touring smaller venues; it must come as a bit of a culture shock.
“You get a different vibe at different-sized venues. You get a lot more feedback from a smaller gig because obviously everyone’s closer to the stage and you can see their faces, then at the festivals you’re thirty or forty feet away from the first rows of the audience and it can be quiet sterile, although obviously it’s wonderful when you hear thousands of people singing along with your songs.”
Do you ever get anyone coming out with the sort of snobishness about “What – you’re playing THERE!?”
“Sometimes there’s a bit of surprise but we think it’s a case of four steps forward and maybe one step back – the surprise that they didn’t know we were still going so we have to keep out there and let people know. I hope we can keep it going reach out to the audiences although at some of the smaller venues it’s a real pot luck thing sometimes whether people know you’re performing. You can be in the hotel or in a pub afterwards and they’ll say they didn’t know we were playing next door.
“At the smaller venues we can spend more time with the audience, which is great because there’s a great drinking ethos in the band. We can always be found in Wetherspoon’s before we go on to the next venue.”
Talking of size, the Hare & Hounds must be one of the smallest places you play.
“I’m looking forward to it and it’s one of the most nerve-wracking gigs on the tour. My mum and dad are from Birmingham, some of my family still live there and I’ve got lots and lots of family and friends coming. You want to make an impression when you know so many of the audience.”
And from then on, what of the band’s future?
“Now we’re the South it’s a different process. Anyone can bring anything to the table, it’s a longer process because there’s so many of us but we want to get something out there. With the fact that we haven’t got a label behind us we’ll probably record it and finance it ourselves but hopefully in the new year we’ll be looking at doing something.”
Do you have the frustration of other long-established bands that however good your new material might be, the audience still wants Rotterdam and Perfect Ten?
“The last album sat well with the old stuff and it was a conscious decision on our part to include those songs in the set. They’ve been played enough now that we get the same response but even when you play old back catalogue stuff that wasn’t necessarily singles people sometimes have no idea so it’s a hard choice getting a setlist together but hopefully what we do will satisfy the hardcore fans. I know afterwards that some will ask what a certain song was, and was it a new one, but it’s down to the quality of the songs that we’re still doing now.”
The South are playing the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, on Friday 5th October. Tickets