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Billy Seagrave joins veteran singer-songwriter Paul Heaton with his current collaborator Jacqui Abbot for a very special night at the Apollo in Manchester
Paul Heaton has been described as “one of our finest songwriters”, penning hits for The Housemartins, and The Beautiful South.
Jacqui Abbott - The St Helens Soul Sister, it says so on the tour t-shirt - joined Heaton on stage for tonight’s sell-out gig, one of many times on the current tour that the pair are playing to full houses.
The thing with tonight’s performance is you already know what you’re getting: the best of the Housemartins as well as the finest offerings of The Beautiful South, interspersed with songs from the two albums that brought Heaton and Abbott back together.
The band arrive on stage prior to our host and immediately launch into a new track from Heaton and Abbott’s latest album ‘Wisdom,Laughter and Lines’, called ‘Wives 1.2 and 3’. Heaton retains all his lyrical wit as he sings verses 1 and 2, to be then joined on stage by Abbott for verse 3. He was straight into his usual banter, hurtling over some of the day’s current events, which this evening concerned a certain wayward football star (we had better leave it there).
Next up was the first Beautiful South track of the evening, ‘Pretender to the Throne’, which was quickly followed by another new offering, ‘Man is the Biggest Bitch of All’. Paul acknowledges the crowd for their ongoing support. Many here are fans from the Housemartins era through to The Beautiful South, which in turn makes the audience predominately middle-aged.
Next up is ‘Have Fun’, the first real chance for Heaton to show off - in his own words - his dad-dancing at its best. That said, a few members of this crowd could give him a run for his money. Little anecdotes and pearls of wisdom and wit keep the tracks coming: ‘The Horse and the Groom’, ‘Five Get Overexcited’, ‘Prettiest Eyes’.
Following those, ‘Sundial and the Shade’ and ‘The Queen of Soho’ bring Abbott fully into the spotlight, two very emotional yet different songs perfectly performed both vocally and lyrically.
Heaton introduces the next song as a song about the old drinking days and the toll it takes on the body, and sure enough ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ sees the crowd find their voices.
‘I Don’t See Them’ and ‘Anxious’ get us swiftly into the second half of the set, and ‘Rotterdam’ brings another mass singalong, this time accompanied by the obligatory synchronised hand clapping.
‘I’ll Sail this Ship Alone’ and ‘The Austerity of Love’ make way for ‘Good as Gold’, another song that allows the crowd to take a leading vocal part, then ’DIY’ brings us back to the snappy upbeat dad-dancing feel of the evening, Heaton hand-on-hip shimmying on the stage while Abbott once again flawlessly flies through sharp and sartorial lyrics.
By the time Heaton with his trademark zipped-up jacket introduces “Happy Hour”, the dad-dancing is busting out all over the venue, with all of us 2,000 oldies vying for that killer little shuffle. The dancing is kept alive by a raunchy rock beat that sees Heaton once again turn to the audience and launch into ‘Perfect 10’, a classic that once again brings the best out of a crowd all too willing to join in. A brief intake of breath and ‘Caravan of Love’, played, of course, a capella, is the last song of the evening. They leave to thunderous applause and shouts of more.
The First of two encores starts with ‘A Little Time’ which is followed by ‘Don’t Marry Her’, both of which reiterate how Heaton and Abbott blend with each other, Heaton’s vocals always pitched so easily to the lyrics while Abbott seamlessly brings the vocal arrangement of these two offerings into another realm of power and surety.
Encore number two sees the introduction of ‘Heatongrad’, and though things are coming to an end a very happy and entertained audience are still up for a good time.
Finally after twenty-three songs (twelve Beautiful South, four Housemartins and the rest Heaton & Abbott), the final track of the night - ‘You Keep it all In’ - sets off the final session of yet more singalong dad-dancing, the crowd fully endorsing an evening of classic tunes.
As the confetti settles on the Apollo we are leaving with at least one of tonight’s tunes playing in their heads, until we can all get back to our cars and put it on for a final singalong (mine was Happy Hour, since you ask).
It would be so easy to say that this was a trip brought about by nostalgia, but that’s not what it was. The band came on to stage with no pomp or ceremony, no fancy imagery and no special lighting effects. Their performance showcased a couple of artists completely in tune with each other as well as a crowd who have been with them from the start.
The latest offerings are set to be the next set of crowd pleasers of the future, but one thing for sure is that this live band, who thrive off performing, gave us a Happy Hour that deserved a Perfect 10.
Photos by Billy Seagrave