Sunday, 3 April 2011

Paul Heaton interview

Heaton Rifles

I wasn’t sure if it was Marx or Hitler
 That was in this year
I hadn’t been to Brighton for a while
 So it wasn’t too clear

So imagine my surprise
 When I opened my eyes
To find it was the Liberals
 Who were hip to sloganeer.
 (Oh Blackpool -1989)

He may not have been to Brighton in a while back in 1989, but Paul Heaton was now making his second visit with his new band in just three months. In December they supported Madness at the Brighton Centre and were opening their 2011 tour at the Concorde, a cracking live venue set down by the beach at the end of the quaint Volks railway, opened in 1883 and the world’s oldest operating electric railroad.

The Liberals may be co-partners in Government, but it’s fair to say that their endorsement of an ideological attack on the welfare state and the public sector means they are not particularly hip to sloganeer. 500,000 people on the streets of London are testament to that. Brighton, showing its true idiosyncratic nature, has nailed its colours to the mast of the Greens and Tories. Show me another small City that could do that.

Personally, my musical journey included The Clash, Two Tone, The Jam, a bit of Ska, The Kinks, Small Faces, Billy Bragg and then the Housemartins came along. The mid-late 80’s were a divisive time, a time of left V right without the blurring of the political lines characterised by the Blair and Cameron eras. At that time The Smiths spoke to those who wanted to seek solace in a book or kitchen sink drama, The Housemartins gave you a more direct call to action – get up off your knees.

Politics, pop and football are worlds of contradictions, nobody said it was straightforward. Football has its roots in working class culture, strong left wing traditions, but has been blighted by associations with right wing organisations infiltrating it over the years. Left wing politics has often been seen as a humourless world, Marxist fundamentalists struggling to come to terms with the world they live in and the right-on who feel guilty about consuming a rice krispie. You have to learn to live with a few contradictions, know when to laugh, know when to have a beer and know when the time is right to throw a brick. For me the best people to articulate this world view aren’t politicians, they are Joe Strummer, Ray Davies, Jerry Dammers, Graham McPherson, Billy Bragg and Paul Heaton. If you’re of the Gaelic persuasion then you can throw in Shane as well.

The roots of EFW are in beer, football, pop and a bit of politics. We love the game, we love its culture and history but we prefer to tickle the underbelly rather than large it with the big boys. The underdog will always win our affections over the money men.

If you’re talking politics, beer, pop and football then you’d struggle to come up with more of an engaging authority on all three than Paul Heaton. Take a listen to Acid Country and you’ll hear a man singing out loud the contradictions of 21st Century British life. Under the name of the Big Society, charities, libraries and front line public services are being hacked away while big business enjoys tax breaks, big money man are allowed to fiddle their tax and the bankers who landed us in the mess continue to pick up an annual bonus cheque which would keep a local library running for years. As the title track shouts out, fight a war on greed not poverty.

Yes we got griefs to fill our handkerchiefs,
Drunks to tell us jokes,
We got hard to hear stories
From oh so far away folks

We got doors left wide open
Windows that are bust
We got questions unanswered
But mainly we are just...

A Country of contradictions
With its heart and soul pulled out
We’re a fountain of useless knowledge
In a 30 year long drought

We’re the humble class, the only ones
Accused of actually any
Plugged into sky, we let out a sigh
And die without a penny
(Acid Country 2010)

I said to Danny a while ago that Paul would be a dream interview for EFW. Paul was an EFW pioneer, a man who loves his football and like us delights in the underbelly of it all. Why lord it up in corporate hospitality when you can piss up against a brick wall in an open air loo at Spotlands.

We dropped his PR a line with a link to EFW and back came the message that he liked it and was up for a chat. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

We met up pre-gig at the Concorde, a long way from the stadium days of the Beautiful South, but judging by his good humour, generosity and openness a place where he seemed more than comfortable.

It's happy hour again as Paul Heaton joins European Football Weekends

Thanks to Kenny Cornwall I’ve carried the name Larry from Lancing for around 25 years. Only Ken knows why. So, on with Larry’s chat with Paul Heaton:

LfL: Compared to you we’re Johnny Come-Lately’s in the world of European Football weekends, what first inspired you to make the trips?

PH: I’d always been a touring football fan, but only in England. Sheff Utd had been through all four divisions since I’ve supported them and I already had the bug of going to grounds. So if it was Mansfield away, some would say oh no not Mansfield but I’d be like, Mansfield wonder what that’s like.

LfL: From my memory it wasn’t very nice and we [Brighton] usually got the run around there.

PH: Yeah, well I did alright there. I had a thing for the underdog towns and cities and going around England.
We went to Milan in 1988 when we were recording the first Beautiful South album and I asked the studio if there was any chance they could get us some Milan tickets, so we went to Milan V Lecce and then I started to get tickets for myself and went to Inter V Juve whilst I was there. Then when I got home I thought I want to see the rest of Inter’s season because they hadn’t won the Scudetto for a long time. I hated flying so I went back to Milan by train and went to a few home games and then started going away, I went to Florence all the way by train, which took about 20 hours, then Rome away, 36 hours. Strangely enough I was keeping a journal, bit like European Football Weekends. It was more about the journey, I’d keep notes on people I’d met and took a lot of photos and kept all my tickets, this was before you could scan them and put them on a website so I just kept it all. I became fascinated with Italian football. In general before that I’d been into European football, I was really into German football in the 70’s and early 80’s.

LfL: Was it Keegan signing for Hamburg that sparked that off?

PH: No, no, probably from the 1974 World Cup. Me and my brother were obsessed with Gerd Muller, and although I was only 12 I didn’t like the way that Motson and Barry Davies fawned over the Dutch and hated the Germans, so we liked the Germans. Then the German side of ’82, I absolutely loved them and ’86, Hans-Peter Briegel, I loved Stielike, I loved Klaus Fischer. I did have a period of liking the Dutch but it came later.
I didn’t really like the French. I remember the 1982 semi-final where Schumacher was wrongly blamed for clattering Battison. I was living down South and everyone was supporting France, but I adored the Germans.

LfL: A bit of strange team to adore?

PH: Yeah, there weren’t many fans of those German sides outside of Germany. The German side from 2006 was probably one of the most popular ones. My Dad taught me to like European football. He was a big fan of European football and loved the different styles of play. He educated me and talked about the European way, so it made sense for me to go into Europe and watch a bit of football.

LfL: You mentioned going to places like Mansfield, where else did you go to in your early days travelling around?

PH: I went to the Den for Millwall V Chelsea in 1976 when Millwall beat them 3-0. That was one of the roughest matches I’ve ever been to; I was only 15 or 16. Chelsea were top of the league and Millwall beat them. There was alot of trouble around that time and the likes of Jimmy Hill were banging on about seating being the answer. At Millwall, opposite the Dock side were the seats and that’s were Ginger and Tiny used to sit. Everyone used to go on about Harry Mad Dog and all that but the real hooligans in those days were 50 year old blokes in the seats. When Chelsea turned up, the whole ground, not just one end, turned and converged on the Chelsea fans. It was just all out war, I think a police horse got stabbed in the eye that day. Millwall fans were rolling ball bearings under the Police horses. That was carnage. But I went along because I was wondering what it would be like.

LfL: I don’t think it took too much imagination to work out what it would be like?

PH: No, exactly. I went with some mates from school and we knew what would probably happen. You had 20,000 people from Bermondsey after anyone with a slightly metropolitan West End accent. West Ham used to be naughty; places like Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the 70’s were bad. It could often be a geographical thing, Sunderland was a long walk from the station and so was Tottenham. It depends on the time, I’ve spoken to people and they’ve had trouble in places I haven’t, so it really depends on what you’re left to get up to and the circumstances.

LfL: You said a while ago that when you first started going to football you were a bit of a scruff, but then your casual jackets became synonymous with you. How did the terrace style influence you?

PH: It’s quite a while since I was a real scruff. It is a bit of a fashion show when we go to Sheff Utd. You’d always look out for new jeans, jackets and trainers, so yeah the terraces are a bit of an influence.

LfL: Do you still collect the Panini stickers?

PH: Yeah. Every World Cup and Euro’s.

LfL: What about Match Attax? They’re not right are they?

PH: No, no, not at all. I don’t do those. I really panicked in 2010 when my newsagent Ali said “I don’t think we’re going to have Panini stickers this year.” I couldn’t believe it, what do you mean no Paninis. He said he was doing Match Attax, so I bought the Match Attax book and some packs of the cards. They were awful. I said to him I can’t collect these, they don’t tell you were the player was born or anything like that.

LfL: They’re not even stickers so you can’t stick them in.

PH: No you can’t. Anyway a week later he rung me up, “Paul the Panini’s have arrived.” So I took the Match Attax back and said you can have them back, fu*k them.

LfL: Do you manage to finish the book, or do you have to send off for the last 5?

PH: Yeah, I send off for the last 26 or whatever.

LfL: Here’s a Beautiful South question, who would be your perfect 10?

PH: There’s many isn’t there, many. There’s Tony Currie, Maradona, Platini, Prosinecki. Of those I’d say Platini.

LfL: Platini over Tony Currie?

PH: Platini managed a slightly higher standard. Tony Currie only got 15 or 16 caps for England. When Platini played he wasn’t playing in a great French side. I’m trying to think of who else, oh yeah, Liam Brady replaced Platini at Juventus and wore the number 10 shirt. He was one hell of a player and under rated. For an Irishman at that time to play three seasons at Juventus was incredible.

LfL: He became an Albion legend did Liam, I think he still lives locally. Just as things were getting shitty for us he stood up to the toe rags who were running us down and played a big part in rescuing the club.

PH: That’s good to hear, I’ll tell you what I’ll go for Liam as the perfect 10.

LfL: Are you still collecting football shirts?

PH: I try not to because they are at my ex’s house. She’s got them down in her cellar and so I try not to add to them, I’ve got hundreds. The National Football museum’s moving to Manchester from Preston and I’m thinking of donating the whole collection. It’s a collection of more than just shirts, so I might lend them to the museum.

LfL: Are you still anti-retro shirts?

PH: Well, I do have the odd one. I’ve got a Melchester Rovers retro shirt. To me, there was a period in football, maybe from 1990 on, when middle class people started going to football. I don’t mean there weren’t middle class people into football before then, my Dad was middle class, but there was definitely a point when people started jumping on the band wagon.

LfL: So, post-Nick Hornby and Italia 90?

PH: Yeah, post Italia 90 and what happened is they saw that this could be a game that they could enjoy and because they knew nothing about the game and nothing of the history of the game what they would do is go out and buy a retro shirt so they could join in the conversation. It’s only people who don’t know anything about the game who go and wear a retro shirt. They’re saying, actually I’ve been about here too and I’ve got a retro shirt, you don’t need to wear a retro shirt and in fact wearing a shirt to the pub to watch a game is a bit daft.

LfL: My big problem with them is that they don’t carry the original insignia and logos. My favourite Brighton shirt is our Bukta shirt from the late 70’s, but without the Bukta logo on the long sleeves and on the shirt it’s just a blue & white shirt. Similarly with our adidas kit from ’82, without the big adidas logo it’s just a blue shirt with a Seagull badge. It’s a repro, not a retro.

PH: Yeah, if it hadn’t been middle class people buying it what they would have called it is a dodgy shirt from the market, it’s something you’d get on some dodgy little stall. But because it’s them it’s retro. It’s the Frank Skinner attitude towards football, I remember seeing his programme and he was saying “I want to do keepie-uppies” and I was thinking why the fu*k would you need that in football. You need ball control, you need ball skill but you don’t need to behave like a clown on the football field that’s the last thing a footballer wants to show in his armory.

LfL: You do that in a game and you know the first thing an opponent is going to try and do is kick you.

PH: Exactly, I think people like that wanted to learn a back heel before they could push the ball forward.

LfL: Do you think Hull would have beaten London 4-0?

PH: Well, they did didn’t they.

LfL: So it all came true.

PH: It did, their first four matches against London sides they won everyone, finishing with West Ham. So after that it was all over the Hull Daily Mail. It was big news, I did loads of interviews. They beat Arsenal, Tottenham and then someone else and it was the West Ham game to make it Hull 4 London 0.

It's funny cos it's true

LfL: Do you have a soft spot for Hull?

PH: Strangely enough, no not really. I think I would have if they were still down there, when I moved to Hull they were down in the 4th Division and they were one of Sheff Utd’s main rivals a bit like Leeds, they hated us and we hated them. Then they got bigger than us and obviously with growing and this is no fault of the existing fans, a whole new fan base emerged and they were getting massive crowds for them. I don’t have any sympathy with their supporters, my experience of them is that they can be a bit racist.

LfL: I can remember going there back in the 80’s and they probably had crowds of around 3-4,000.

PH: It’s just one of those things. What happened in Hull was we sold off our tele-communications system which was always council owned, separate to BT so we had our own white phone boxes, we sold that on the stock market and the council became the richest council in the country and they built the KC Stadium, they built another stadium for Hull KR, and it resulted in a lot of success which was great. It’s not really a football town though, it’s a rugby town.

LfL: Was Norman [Cook] into football back in the Housemartin days?

PH: A little bit, he could sort of kick a ball and could play ok. He hadn’t played football all his life like I had, but he was into football. He used to come and watch Sheff Utd with me sometimes and as a student he used to go to Brighton. Obviously now he’s more into it but I think with Norman he sees it as a good thing to be part of Brighton and to support them.

LfL: To be honest, without his support I’m not sure we would have survived.

PH: It’s very important to him. I think Norman saw my passion for Sheffield United, and though he didn’t have that passion at the time, he developed it and thought I’m going to do something for my team.

LfL: The whole SKINT sponsorship brought us good publicity and raised our profile at a time when we came back to Brighton. So if you see him pass on my thanks for everything he’s done for us, he kept us going.

PH: Yeah will do, he might be here tonight.

LfL: On behalf of all Brighton fans good luck to Sheff Utd in staying up, we’ve a soft spot for Micky and hopefully if you stay up you’ll send Palace down.

PH: I think Palace might stay up, sorry. My hope is that we take Middlesbrough down. I don’t like Middlesbrough; I don’t like them because everyone who puts on that red and white shirt suddenly becomes grim. I’ve got some mates who are Middlesbrough fans and as a place it’s ok, but the club, nah. I think we’re going down unless Warnock hands us a lifeline on Monday night, which I think he might do.

LfL: How has Micky Adams gone down with Sheff U fans?

PH: Not very well. He’s won two matches against Forest and Leeds. He’s someone who is trying to inspire them and they are not a skilful side, we’ve lost a lot of players, sold a lot of players, not his fault but he’s trying to inspire them for these games, making every game a big game. They really performed for Forest at home and Leeds at home, the crowd lifted them but to lift them for Norwich away is difficult. I don’t think the crowd blame Adams and I certainly don’t. I think we should go down, hang on to Micky and give him a chance.

LfL: So a local derby next year then?

PH: Well, if the piggies don’t go down, they are sliding.

LfL: It’s gone wrong since Mandaric took over.

PH: Yeah, that and giving the manager’s job to someone who is a club man, like Adams is a Sheff Utd fan, Megson’s a piggy. I was arguing against appointing Adams, I’m not against him now he’s in charge but it doesn’t follow that passion gets you places. Look at Poyet, Poyet might instil a bit of passion but it’s mainly thought process and tactical nous.

LfL: Poyet has changed the club, it’s been root and branch. The way we play, the scouting system, the training, the football philosophy. It took a while to get used to it, last year when we were 1 down with ten minutes to go people would shout “hoof it up there”, but he stuck to his guns and beliefs and turned players who were happy to belt the ball hopelessly into thinking footballers with no little skill.

PH: That’s good. I think he had to do this at a club of Brighton’s size. I don’t think there is the patience at a bigger club. If you take over at a bigger club sometimes the systemic damage is that bad, even at Sheff Utd, I’m not saying we’re a much bigger club than you, but the whole system is built around getting players and selling them. There’s no other country where it works like that.

LfL: Do you still play in those charity football matches?

PH: I use to play in a lot of them. Before the Robbie Williams era, there used be good players, some of the kids off Eastenders were good, though I’m not talking about Nick Berry. At the time I was a pretty good player, but I wouldn’t play now as I want people to remember me as I was. Do you want a beer?

LfL: Yeah, I’d love one cheers.

PH: I’ll have one as well. We’re all Blades aren’t we. (Paul’s tour manager arrived at this point, another Blade who thinks everyone else is a Blade.) He’s a Seagull Blade this one.

LfL: Did you go to the Brighton game at Bramall Lane, it was the 5-4 in 1989?

PH: Did we fu*k, we were in the pub watching it on teletext. What about the one with the fight, when was that? I’ve still got pictures of me on the pitch, must have been 84-85.

LfL: That was the only time I’ve seen someone armed with a corner flag. It was the same day as the Bradford fire. Sheff U always bring a few down, even to Withdean. Shame you might miss out on the new ground.

PH: It kicked off at the station after; it was quite a big do. At Sheff U we’ve got these shirts with photos of us on the pitch, I’ll have to send them to you. Brighton absolutely battered us against the fences, Brighton chased us so far until there was no Brighton left, then we chased them, it was just going to and fro. I stepped off the pitch and sat in the stand and just watched it. There were hardly any Police there.

The EFW staff pitch up at Bramall Lane in 1989 

LfL: We can’t’ wait for the new ground. Sometimes fans are reluctant to move but we’ve waited 15 years for this, including two years at Gillingham.

PH: Were you at Gillingham, oh yeah of course you were. He’s good isn’t he Poyet, he comes across so well, as do many of the foreign managers. I went past the stadium, in fact I was at a wedding last summer and I walked down the Lewes road and I walked past the university. We walked about six miles, it was a lovely Brighton evening, the weather down is here lovely, even on a day like this. You’ve got the Fiorentina half circle haven’t you.

LfL: How did you get the Football Italia gig with James Richardson?

PH: They just asked me, I was writing a column for Shoot! about Italian football.

LfL: I miss Shoot!

PH: Yeah, it was good wasn’t it. I knew my Italian football, in fact it was when Channel 4 started showing it that I stopped going. That wasn’t me saying I’m too hip, it was just if it’s on in the pub on a Sunday then I don’t need to go. And the Saturday morning programme was very good, I thought James Richardson was brilliant.

LfL: A whole generation suddenly knew all about Gazzetta Dello Sport and that was down to James Richardson.

PH: He was nice and Paul Elliot was nice. Do you remember Elvis Costello going on there? I remember James Richardson saying it’s a good year for the Rosaneri.

LfL: Talking of Elvis, do you see yourself following a similar route musically, some of the new stuff is a bit more country.

PH: And a bit more shit. Well, not shit but less popular.

LfL: I thought Acid Country was a bloody good album, I listened to it while I was painting the outside of my house and time flew by.

PH: Yeah, it was alright. I think the next album I’m going to do is going to be different. I’ve got this song called the Eighth which is fu*king like 50 minutes long, but the next album is going to be short and pithy, punky.

LfL: Are you still struggling to get airplay for your stuff?

PH: It’s quite difficult to talk about it without it coming across as being moaning. I’m not too worried. I’m able because of my PRS from my previous hits to cross-collaterise, there’s a good word for you, fund this habit with my old habit.

LfL: You’ve started playing a few Housemartin tracks live as well.

PH: We’re doing Get up off our Knees tonight. Just doing three.

LfL: Are you still doing White Man in Hammersmith Palais?

PH: We tried to change it, we were going to drop it, but it’s become quite a staple of the set really.

LfL: What was it like supporting Madness last year?

PH: It was alright, they were nice. They are quite divided, they don’t talk too much and don’t really socialise. Well, Carl and Suggs do as you can probably see on stage, but the drummer has his own dressing room . On the tour though we were sort of shuffled into toilets and didn’t have anywhere to get dressed. On this tour I’ve asked that we have shared dressing rooms, shared beer, treat everyone well.

I’ll send you some photos in relation to what I’ve been talking about; it will save me scanning them. I’ll send you a packet of photos from when I went to Roma and Inter and you can put those on the site.

LfL: Are you ok to sign a few bits and bobs, there’s a greatest hits CD and the new album.

PH: No problem. They’re after putting another fu*king compilation out. I had nothing to do with the last ones, I said to Sean the bassist, if you want to make it more legitimate then give it a tasteful cover, which he did. Then there’s Beautiful South at the BBC compilation, it’s just constant but I can’t stop them doing it.

LfL: Are the rest of the Beautiful South still touring?

PH: I don’t know, I think they’re still arguing about it. Having never had an argument in 19 years, well only over politics, it’s funny to see them now.

LfL: Thanks for your time Paul. Good luck tonight and thanks for 25 years of cracking tunes, great lyrics and an opinion worth listening to.

PH: Ta, I’m doing another cycle tour next year and Atilla has lined up a pub in Shoreham so I’ll be back next year. Hope you enjoy it tonight and see you next time.

Well, what a top man. I left Paul and went back into town to meet an old mate Brooksie for a few more beers and a catch up. Brooksie takes the prize as the tallest ever wicket keeper to play in the West Sussex Cricket League, we both played for Shoreham and at six feet six and a bit he sometimes struggled to get down for the low throws. He was more useful as a keeper for various clubs in Shoreham.

Following a few in the Fiddlers Elbow, seaside fish and chips and a bizarre half hour with men with Chihuahua’s on their laps in one of the more colourful seafront bars we wound up back at the Concorde for the gig.

The set was a mix of tracks from the last two albums and some old favourites. Paul’s last two solo albums are well worth a listen, I fell off the Beautiful South wagon about three LPs in, but after hearing Mermaids and Slaves I bought the Cross Eyed Rambler and loved it and Acid Country is even better. In amongst the new tunes were a smattering of Housemartins numbers, Me and the Farmer sounding as good as ever. The cover version of White Man in Hammersmith Palais has been souped up since I heard them play it in December and some good banter kept a smallish crowd well entertained.

It’s strange that someone who was selling out Wembley a few years ago can only pull in 350 to a gig in Brighton. I remember seeing Paul Weller at the Zap club in Brighton just as he was starting out as a solo artist, post Style Council. There were probably only 400 or so there that night and he has gone on to re-establish himself. I’d say Heaton’s music now is as good as it’s been for a while and he certainly deserves a bigger audience, given airplay I’m sure he’d get it.

Paul’s a friend of EFW, so the least you can do is have a listen. You won’t hear his new single on the radio as the playlists these days are a shambles and with Sheff U probably going down you can cheer him up by buying Acid Country. Apparently Woolies have gone bust, I couldn’t find an Our Price and Virgin fly planes and don’t sell records – don’t worry though you can get it by clicking on the artwork below.

You can follow Paul Heaton and European Football Weekends on Twitter

- Feel free to comment below - 


Pieman said...

Superb interview Danny.

Russell said...

Great read - really enjoyed it!

Jeff Livingstone said...

Just fantastic, if there's a better read in 2011 then I'd be very surprised. Great work Danny!

Nick said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Landmark blogging. And the Match Attax catastrophe was magical.

Brooksie said...

Very Good. 2 men passionate about football and class.

At 6foot6 you have to ask why did they throw the ball at my feet!

Alex, Hull said...

hes right when he says hull is a rugby town!, good interview mate

Carl Rodgers said...

A damn good read,keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Great interview but he's wrong when he says Hull is a rugby town, both Super League teams put together don't get the same crowd city do, but he is right about racist fans, the whole place is a shit hole anyway. Up the tigers.

French tiger

Bohsantifa- Dublin said...

Really enjoyed that. Thanks a lot.