Review: Paul Heaton

Richard Nevin takes 50% off an illness-affected bill at the Utilita Arena.

When you say “Paul and Jacqui” it sounds like the sort of couple you’d invite to a party. You’re not sure they will attend though; it’s Paul’s weekend to have his kids and Jacqui is still not talking to Clare after the incident with the red wine at the barbeque. They tend to bring cheap drink anyway and then slurp everyone else’s expensive stuff so I’m not sure anyone is that fussed.

The Paul and Jacqui I’m referring to are infinitely more popular. Heaton and Abbott have cultivated a highly successful career together, realising a number of fine albums and touring regularly dispensing their particular brand of accessible pop music laced with intelligent and observant lyrics, wry and dry, clever and cutting and a perfect hybrid of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South where both enjoyed much success.

But there is a problem, Jacqui is not at all well (the singer, not the one that told Clare with brutal profanity that she’d bill her for the dry cleaning) so Paul Heaton is taking the show solo.

Refunds have been offered but by the looks of the Arena, not too many had taken up that particular concession. Certainly not the couple from Leamington who sought our help in getting from Colmore Row to the NIA (or whatever moniker it goes under these days). Having negotiated the half-built German Market we parted ways at The Malthouse as they headed for the seats and us to the Arena floor standing.

While my companions enjoyed another pre-gig drink in the brightly coloured concession area I had a poke around the building I spent ten years working in, and courtesy of a friendly security guard was disappointed to find that the old stage door had been converted into a broom cupboard as part of recent revamps that have turned the building into a most pleasant place to watch a gig. I’ve seen Paul and Jacqui on a number of occasions but the absence of the latter gave this concert a very different dynamic. Resisting the temptation to draft in a replacement, a mixture of Heaton himself, band members and the audience filled in those parts usually performed by Abbott. Most notable was the singing drummer, the latest in a fine tradition featuring the likes of Karen Carpenter, Phil Collins and er, that bloke out of the Kaiser Chiefs.

The set was a mixture of Heaton/Abbott material, Beautiful South classics and four Housemartin’s songs, most notable being the title track to their second album The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death, a thrill for those republicans in the crowd, me amongst them, who concur with Heaton’s curmudgeonly view of the monarchy. Heaton himself was the most animated I have seen him since that awful dancing in the Happy Hour video (yes, of course they did), moving around the stage and seemingly having a ball, his usual measured, cautious and considered demeanour abandoned on occasion as he lead the crowd through singalongs such as Perfect 10, Rotterdam and the closing Good As Gold (stupid as mud), those songs from the South having me reminiscing once more to a time when the band filled this arena many years ago and I blagged my way into the after party which, unsurprisingly was a rather low key affair.

It’s to everyone’s credit that these concerts, without the female protagonist, have been so well received but not having that ying to Heaton’s yang certainly was apparent, and we all hope temporary, and while the post-pandemic, carnival-like atmosphere of a show twice postponed and missing 50% was all around us, the general feeling was one of optimism that Jacqui Abbott will be back on stage sooner rather than later.