“GETTING ON LIKE HAND AND BLISTER” (A LINE FROM 1987 HIT SINGLE ME AND THE FARMER, WHICH MORE-OR-LESS CLOSES THE NEW ADELPHI CLUB’S FINAL INTIMATE 30TH BIRTHDAY SHOW) IS A DYNAMIC WHICH HAS RESONATED THROUGH MUCH OF PAUL HEATON’S MATERIAL SINCE THE HOUSEMARTINS.
The Housemartins were the third band to play the Hull venue, thirty years to the week. Once their bright-eyed, boyish, guitar-based and up-front indie-pop had passed by, Heaton’s new group was a more insidious affair; a Trojan horse. At the heart of The Beautiful South’s sometimes sedate and soft-edged sound was the ‘can’t live with / can’t live without’ bitter-sweet push / pull of love and dependence – a juxtaposition which almost certainly accounts for the ubiquity of the band in the 1990s. Who could resist the acute comedies and obtuse tragedies of life being laid bare in beer-soaked and nicotine-stained Jack and Vera Duckworth betting shop / bingo hall vignettes?
The Beautiful South shared out singing three ways – Heaton, Dave Hemingway (now plying trade in a reduced version of the band, The South) and a female vocalist. UK Top Ten albums WELCOME TO, CHOKE and 0898 preceded a quartet featuring Jacqui Abbott – MIAOW, BLUE IS THE COLOUR, QUENCH and PAINTING IT RED. Her voice more robust and emotionally engaging than either predecessor or successor, she gave Heaton’s material the soul it deserved. He teed them up and she knocked them right out of the park, as they say – and that is a truly rare combination. So, after more than a decade apart, the 2014 album WHAT HAVE WE BECOME? felt like a sort of homecoming for both of them – much more ‘hand in glove’ than ‘hand and blister’.
Funnily enough, Abbott’s signature moment in the New Adelphi isn’t actually a Paul Heaton composition. Tom Jans’ LOVIN’ ARMS (beautifully recorded by Etta James and Elvis Presley, amongst others) might be a hopelessly lost howl into the void but here, tonight, Abbott is found. Accompanied only by piano, her reading of the song is delicate but proud, empowered and even defiant – threatening to break through the walls of this tightest of spaces. It’s run a close second by DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, with the good-natured crowd of 160-or-so briefly taking over – a recurring theme throughout with choruses, football chants and back-handed banter flying stagewards. Tracks from WHAT HAVE WE BECOME? (including hit DIY and next single THE MOULDING OF A FOOL) sit comfortably alongside favourites DON’T MARRY HER (pleasingly the profane version), ROTTERDAM and GOOD AS GOLD (STUPID AS MUD), with all confirming a special sort of timelessness for Heaton and Abbott’s partnership.
It’s the reunion of Heaton and former bandmates Stan Cullimore and Hugh Whitaker during a series of encores which will linger the longest, though. “This will never happen again,” says the singer, and it would be safe to presume something endearingly ragged is about to tumble out – but a surprisingly tough and tight run through ME AND THE FARMER is a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck reminder of how powerful The Housemartins could be. The show finishes with the ‘brothers and sisters’ message of 1986 gospel a cappella number one CARAVAN OF LOVE, Heaton having continually referred to the New Adelphi’s Paul Jackson as “Mr Jackson” and thanking him for giving The Housemartins a chance. The evening has been as much about paying due respect to the man who has continuously offered safe harbour to Hull’s alternative scene as it has the return of one of its most successful sons.
Listen to our podcast with Paul Jackson here