To Hull and Back with Paul Heaton

***this interview was originally published on myfilms2010***


When I was sixteen I managed to convince a girl in my class called Emma to go out on a date with me.  I’d adored her from a distance for a long while.  I couldn’t believe it when she agreed to go out with me.  What a date I had line up for us…tickets to see The Beautiful South at the Playhouse theatre in Edinburgh.  The Beautiful South had only just released their first album “Welcome To…” and they were big news thanks, in part, to their being the new project of Paul Heaton, former lead singer of The Housemartins.  Oh, by the by, I had got good seats too…three rows from the stage.  It was a great gig and I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of the train journey home; surely Emma would be as happy as I was and would reward me for my efforts with a kiss and a cuddle at the back of a deserted carriage.

Now, 22 years later Emma and I are still together and as happy…

No, not really.

The magic of the “South” wasn’t potent enough to see true love bloom…outside of the venue Emma met her big sister who, unbeknown to me, had also attended the gig and the two of them made their way to the station without me and I was left alone.  It’s a bit sad that isn’t it?

I wonder what Paul Heaton would make of this I thought to myself that night back in 1989.  I wondered, too, if he had ever taken a girl to the movies on a date, had he had more success than me in the dark of the back row?

“You should’ve known with a name like Emma” says the man who has provided the soundtrack to more moments in my life than almost anyone else “No, I never chose to take a girl to the cinema.  One of my first dates was taking a girl to Sheaf Valley Simming Baths in Sheffield.  I couldn’t swim and, unfortunately, my mum noticed me walking out the door with a towel.  She stopped me from taking trunks or a towel so I had to watch from the public balcony as my “date” slipped off to the other end with another boy.  Not a great start.”

There is something truly comforting about that story but I don’t know what it is…maybe it’s just the knowledge that one of my heroes was as much of a loser as I was when I was a kid?

 There won’t be too many people who aren’t aware of Paul Heatons music, from The Housemartins and their chart bothering hits like “Happy Hour”, “Caravan of Love” and “Me and the Farmer” to the enormous success of The Beautiful South who had more hits than The Beatles, Elvis and Westlife combined…or something.  I wonder if you could have written a song for a film, any film from any time, what film would it be and why?

“Probably Easy Rider. I would’ve liked to have sat down with someone like Chip Taylor and say ‘let’s give this rebellion some direction’. So much of 50’s and 60’s White America was rebellion against short hair or Mom and Dad or soft music or whatever meaningless argument they’d had with their girlfriends that week. 1969 was a time when North American white rebellion was on the verge of being politicised. What America got was the banal words to ‘Born to be Wild’. Another narcissists anthem.”

Sticking with the idea of music for films let’s start thinking about the soundtrack for “Heato: From the Beautiful North to the Beautiful South” which is going to be a gritty tale of one young Northerners rise to stardom.  Who would play the role of Heaton and what music would you choose for the opening and closing scenes?

“I would probably like Tom Courtenay to play me.  I think he could do my voice.  Or Rob Brydon.  As for the music; Scene 1] Courtenay is looking up and down the shelves of a local off licence comparing can prices to alcohol volume. In the background Karine Polwart’s Holy Moses plays quietly. As Courtenay steps out into the dazzling Hull sunshine and opens his first can, Karine’s voice bellows out ‘Here’s a thing you cannot do. He did it anyway just to prove it was not true’. 

Last scene] As the Biopic is in reverse, this features Heaton as a 6 year old boy on his back, on a park’s merryground. Facing the stars and eventually reaching out to them he sings along to Laura Cantrell’s ‘Oh so many years’. I chose the latter because in the film, when referring to the different loves of his life, he constantly says ‘I don’t think I’ve ever loved anybody like I’ve loved this earth’. The former because it sets the scene.”

That answer provides the answer to the question “What’s the difference between Paul Heaton and me, I mean his first “date” ended in disaster and embarrassment just like mine so what’s he got that I haven’t?”  Well, clearly, he’s got the ability to give an answer like that to a, lets be honest, fairly bland question.  Bit frustrating that…I liked it better when we were on the common ground of adolescent loser.

I see you as a songwriter who has a particularly British view of things, not in any parochial sense, but your songs still manage to have a universal appeal.  Are there any British films or directors that you particularly enjoy?

“Paddy Considine I like and, of course, Shane Meadows.  Further back I like John Schlesinger.  I’m not so sure if I have a particularly British view of things.  I just look out my window and write what I see as opposed to looking through some “Transatlantic Kaleidoscope”

Football has always been a big part of your life and it’s always been a popular backdrop for films.  Are there any football films that you enjoy and, as an aside, what would make you happier; the Blades in the Premier League or Wednesday going bust?

“As a genre I don’t think it really works.  Neither of those things would make me happy.  I don’t like the sort of supporters that the Premier League attracts and if the Piggies went bust who we going to hate?  Rotherham?  Barnsely?  Forget it.  Rivalry, no matter how bitter or divisive is the reason your a supporter of that team”

If I could take you back to the day you first signed for Go! Discs and offered you a professional contract for Sheffield United at the same time which would you have chosen?

“Go! Discs.  I would never have had the discipline to play professional football.”

If Dante is right and there is a Hell and at the bottom of it is poor old Judas trapped in ice for all eternity which film would you choose to play on a loop to further his misery?

“I think probably one of those awful ‘Invader as Victim’ films that Hollywood made after the Vietnam war. Full Jacket Potato, A bag of crisps now, Veggieburger Hill, Born on the 1st of April, The Beer Hunter. I’ve never seen such a crude, pathetic, self pitying load of shite in all my life.”

If I were to create a film festival that was going to be curated in the same way as the “Meltdown” music festival what films would you choose?

“They’re not going to ask someone like me to curate anything like Meltdown are they?  At Meltdown I’d pick the “Free Willy” trilogy and at your alternative film festival I’d probably pick “Il Postino”, “The Killing of Fred Hampton” and a John Pilger documentary.”

You have been a big influence in my life and one of the things your responsible for is introducing me to gospel music.  I’d always listened to soul, because my mum and dad were both Mods in the 1960’s, but I’d never heard gospel until I started listening to The Housemartins.  Who were the influences on you as a young man?

“Strummer, Rotten, Richard Brewis (English teacher), Alfred Wirth (a German friend) and Al Green.  Oh, and me mum and dad”

Now we’re back on common ground Heaton and I…my mum and dad are the biggest influence on my life, I had an English teacher who was just so significant (Dave Ewing) and you could substitute Heaton and Morrissey for Strummer and Rotten.  I didn’t have a German friend though…which is a shame.

I remember discovering the motif “Take Jesus, Take Marx, Take Hope” on the inner sleeve of, I think, “The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death” album.  I didn’t know what that meant and so it started me thinking and investigating.  Really, I think, it was the start of my developing an interest in politics and it informed my political stance.  As a socialist I wonder how you feel now about the “New Labour” government/experiment and what’s happened to the Left in Britain?

“One of the things I am most proud of is having the vision to not vote Labour in 1997 and vote Socialist Labour. It was SO obvious when people were saying let’s just get back into power and then we’ll go to the left. From the 80’s I was aware of the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party. They were frighteningly dull but nowhere near as undemocratic and shifty as the lot who turned up in the mid 90’s. New Labour are a free market, deregulating bunch of libertarian assassins. The left need to decide what it is to be left in Britain and then challenge or leave behind the afore mentioned doctrine. It needs almost dictatorial socialism of the party first and then it needs to present that to the country fairly and squarely. Unfortunately the Miliband Tendency, that is the 3rd choice in One Party State Britain, has a pretty firm stranglehold on any debate.”

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Paul Heaton has been one of the most significant influences on my life; music, politics and even fashion have all been touched by the hand of Heato!  Listening to what he has to say about films, music, football and politics I’m sure it’s not difficult to see why…and he was right; I should have known with a name like Emma.

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