Dave Hemingway, former Beautiful South singer, talks to Dave Woodhall about his new project Sunbirds.
As we’re forever asking people at the moment, what are you up to?
“I’ve been doing nothing for a couple of years, really. I was feeling a bit burned out after playing live with The South so I was away from things, waiting for the right songs to come along and the right band. I got together with Phil Barton, who was in The South, he’d done some songs and we worked on them together and did some demos. I felt they were the right things to do to put some new life back into me and we got a band together to do an album.
“We got Laura Wilcockson, who plays violin and does vocals. She used to be in a band that supported The South so we knew her, and Phil knew Mark Parnell the drummer. The result is the album Cool to be Kind, out on November 27th, and there’s a single Meet Me on the North Side, which is about me growing up in Hull in the sixties when the fishing industry was massive.”
Your band the Housemartins wrote about England in the eighties and your new stuff is about England in the twenties. Has the country changed much, or have we just got older?
“We have got older unfortunately, but that’s inevitable. Songs have always been important in my bands, it’s always been about good songs, good lyrics telling stories, having the right songs to call on. They’re about telling things as they are today, apart from that single I just mentioned, but more often than not they’re about what’s happening now.”
Back then you had the spectre of AIDS, and if that wasn’t going to get you a nuclear war would. Now it’s Covid and fascism, so there’s not been much progress.
“No, there’s always something out there and the one we’re now is one of the biggest we’ll ever come through. It’s not pleasant but some light at the end of the tunnel would be nice.”
Back then, the Housemartins were always so irrepressibly cheerful.
“They were, they were an upbeat band with upbeat songs. It was great to be a part of. We had a good laugh and if you can’t enjoy being in a band like that it’s not worth doing. We had a great time and we enjoyed it all.”
Fun. It’s an under-rated word in a business that’s supposedly about enjoyment.
“It is. If you’re in a band you’ve got to have fun, you’ve got to enjoy it and have a bit of a laugh, as well as playing well but having a good time is a bonus.”
The album title Cool To Be Kind is a take on Nick Lowe’s Cruel To Be Kind and some have called it a bit Stanley Roadish. Is there a seventies look back to the way it’s come out?
“Not intentionally. Perhaps what you said is true but we didn’t go out to go that way. In the band there’s a lot of diverse musical tastes and we’ve tried to cover that. A couple of tracks are country & western, maybe that’s an age thing but we didn’t try to get out that way, we tried to cover a lot of styles and hopefully it works on different levels.”
The Beautiful South were massive. You must have so many memories from that period.
“It was nineteen years, which is a long time to be together – it’s almost unheard of. We toured America, Japan, things that you dream of. We played the main stage at Glastonbury, which will always be one of my greatest memories. We had a great time. I never lose sight of how I was so fortunate to do those things.”
Did you ever think that the band were getting so big that the whole business was too corporate?
“We never fell into that trap. We played big gigs but we never treated them with contempt or go through the motions. Whatever the gig you have to do the best you can. I always try to sing or play every song as though it was the first time I’d hear them. Every gig I tried to remember the first time I heard that song and do it justice.
“We must have wasted a hell of a lot of money over the years. We spent a lot of time in the studio but we also spent a lot of time in the pub next door when we should have been recording. We were never money-orientated; we would have had a lot more if we’d been like that. We just enjoyed the moment, I’m sure a lot of record company bosses got very frustrated with us. It’s a ruthless industry but we never went along with that. We just did the best we could.”
It was 2016 when as you said, you were feeling burned out.
“The South was becoming a tribute band and I didn’t like that. I didn’t want just to go over the old stuff so I stepped back. Now I think there’s an album or two in us and it’s like starting a new band over again.”
Is it possible to repeat your previous success?
“If I’m honest I wouldn’t have thought that. I was fortunate to be in a band like that. It would be nice with Sunbirds but it’s unlikely. I do want to get out and gig, I’m sure a lot of people will be really excited and want to get back to gigs again. Success would be nice but it’s not the be all and end all; we’ll take what comes along. It’s still about enjoyment; no matter how old you are, you still want to enjoy it.”
Cool To Be Kind is available from Friday 27th November. To pre-order the album, go to Sunbirds.co.uk.