The Beautiful South

TrackAlbum / Single
I Think The Answer's YesChoke
Let Love Speak Up ItselfChoke
You Play Glockenspiel, I'll Play Drums0898 Beautiful South
I'm Your No.1 Fan0898 Beautiful South
I Started A JokeGo! Discs GODX71
Hold On To What?Miaow
Worthless LieMiaow
Pretenders To The ThroneGo! Discs GODCD134
Window Shopping For BlindsQuench
I'll Sail This Ship AloneWelcome To The Beautiful South


The Beautiful South photo 1

The Beautiful South (l to r): Dave Stead (drums), Paul Heaton (vocals), Dave Rotheray (guitar), Briana Corrigan (vocals), Dave Hemingway (drums, vocals), Sean Welch (bass)



Beautiful South playlist


Contributor: John Hartley

“You know your problem …”

You’re too quick to jump to conclusions and harbour ill-conceived prejudices which have no foundation, like refusing to go into the pub down the road because it changed its name, within six months of reopening as The Sycamore, to the Prince George only one week after he’d been born. And like dismissing a band because you don’t understand the irony behind their name.

“You know your problem …”

You wouldn’t be seen dead listening to a band whose debut single your Bros-loving sister has just bought, even though it’s written by the lead singer of that band you loved. So you will ignore their existence, and cement that irritation when they have a number one hit single with a half-listened to soppy ballad.

That’s right.

I’ve fallen on the sword of poorly-judged misconceptions before and I will do it again, but I am happy to acknowledge the error of my ways. And so it will be that, after reading about My Book in the good old NME, affording myself a smile at the self-deprecating lyrics and then seeing the band’s second album Choke trying to catch my eye in HMV, I will consider my position. And I will listen to Side Two Track Two, with its menacingly subversive lyrics which remind me just how much I miss the Housemartins, and I will ask myself: should I swallow my pride? I Think The Answer’s Yes.

It is of course evident that I just need A Little Time to get my head round things. And having thoroughly enjoyed the off-piste take on the music videos for songs by that fourth best band in Hull, in which there seemed to be an endless stream of fun, fun, fun, so it will be that it is another video that will help cement my new-found affection for the Beautiful South. That will be the video clip for Let Love Speak Up Itself, in which the band play out a wedding day in a manner befitting seasoned actors, with Paul Heaton’s drink-fuelled one-fingered salute to the camera and urinal dwellers providing the pinnacle. And the best bit? The song is not even cynical.

Let’s fast forward a year or so now and relocate ourselves away from the barbed wire and broken bottled back yards of Benwell to the sunnier, more exotic confines of a cheap hotel in Warsaw. It is here, hundreds of miles away from home, that I will be once more drawn in by the dulcet tones of Paul Heaton. In the hotel room is a radio and although I cannot understand a word of what is being said, I know a good song when I hear one. And I hear quite a few, repeatedly. My name is Johny from the North, a penny’s all my thoughts are worth … and this, my friend, is a hell of a song to hear when you need to feel in touch with home. I’ve no idea why; just trust me. You Play Glockenspiel, I’ll Play Drums is five minutes of medium pace soul-sung beauty.

It would appear that this particular Polish radio station has got hold of the Beautiful South’s third album 0898 Beautiful South and the down time spent by an exhausted traveller five days into a whistle-stop tour of the country is fortuitously punctuated by regular selections. All the DJs seem to be playing it. There are so many highlights and the album will become my favourite of the band’s canon. The intimidating tones of We’ll Deal With You Later; the infectious pop of We Are Each Other; the blunt and controversial 36D; the plaintive and honest ode to Ma Heaton, I’m Your No.1 Fan.

I would never claim to be the Beautiful South’s number one fan, but I am certainly warming to them and wanting to make up for lost time. Fellow traveller Chris – you’ve met him before, with James, The Railway Children, McCarthy to name but three Toppermosts – obligingly provides a cassette of singles and B-sides. The Housemartins were a great singles band; their B-sides were quite excellent too. Would Heaton’s subsequent musical project be similar? Well, one song certainly stood out, a song written for Heaton’s voice and sung with such empathy anyone would have thought he had written it himself about himself. He hadn’t … but I Started A Joke must rank amongst the greatest cover versions ever, alongside the Damned’s Eloise, Tatu’s How Soon Is Now and Kirsty MacColl’s A New England. It is truly majestic.

Five songs in, so it must be half time: John 0 The Beautiful South 2. Possibly an own goal gifted by the inclusion of a cover version given both the quality and quantity of choice for this Toppermost, but the replays are indecisive. Anyway, the band at this point choose to make a substitution, with Jacqui Abbott replacing Briana Corrigan on female vocals. The latter has, it would appear, stormed down the tunnel in protest at the increasing bluntness of Heaton’s lyrics, and in particular those showcasing his scathing attacks on what is perceived as masculinity, as hinted at in 36D and laid bare in Mini-Correct.

Meanwhile, fourth album Miaow serves up further controversy in its sleeve design and several excellent songs. Hold On To What? is as good a place to start as any, a lament to false hopes and time wasted waiting for better times which presciently notes that “To achieve the American dream you need a trampoline” before the cutting culmination that “Chamberlain had his paper, Jesus had his cross; they held on … we held on to what?”. Worthless Lie continues the theme of missed opportunity, an apparent ode to unrequited love – “Two for one’s no good when there’s just one … me minus you equals none”.

By now, the Beautiful South are everywhere, thanks in no small measure to the ‘greatest hits’ compilation Carry On Up The Charts. The album is as good a place to start as any for the uninitiated, but if you do then you’ll miss out on most of the treasures. Great though the singles are, they are mere Pretenders To The Throne occupied by the ten tracks showcased here. And would you know it, Pretenders To The Throne is indeed the title of the eighth entry; a curious little gem sneaking quietly into the fray when nobody is looking, just prior to the album Blue Is The Colour on which it does not appear. Here is a song encouraging pride in normality – forget your Colognes, Milans, Lisbons; never mind your Dublins, Madrids and Parises … These towns drag us down – they certainly drag me down: there is as much beauty in a row of red-bricked back-to-back terraced houses as there is in the ruin of a colosseum, as much joy to be had in the local market as in the glitzy shopping centres of the big cities. A low mist hugging moorland can be just as evocative as a sun-drenched beach. And anyway, just how can you like those places “when it never even rains”?

Blue Is The Colour passes me by somewhat. It contains singalong opportunities in the form of Don’t Marry Her and jaunty single Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) – although the latter is ironically a pretender to the throne occupied by the aforementioned song of that title – and familiar social commentary, as found in the gravel-voiced lyrics of Liars’ Bar. However, it just doesn’t resonate. Its follow-up, Quench, is a return to form, but will prove to be the last album I will buy by the Beautiful South. It contains great songs, but perhaps familiarity breeds contempt and I just know what to expect now. Big Coin and The Slide gnaw at my emotions as I enter my fourth decade and will remain on rotation during years to come. So too will Window Shopping For Blinds, a song whose title works on so many different lines. Thematically the song treads a not dissimilar path to Worthless Lie, but with more heartfelt imagery painting the picture of a love that is so close yet so far, “like writing ‘I love you’ in snow”, indeed.

I will keep loosely in touch with the musings of Paul Heaton over the next couple of decades, though. He will release a few solo albums, including the relatively obscure classic Fat Chance, first under the obscure pseudonym Biscuit Boy aka Crackerman, then under his own name when the first attempt fails to sell. He will bring a refreshing stance to the reactionary nonsense spouted by other guests of morning TV show The Wright Stuff. He will regroup with Jacqui Abbott after a long musical separation. And in late 2017, he will appear on stage in Watford. After deliberation I will buy a ticket – after all, I never saw the Housemartins or the Beautiful South play live – and will be blown away by his unabashed energy, enthusiasm, compassion and concern for the audience, by his token use of a guitar to play the one-note lead part for Me And The Farmer, and by the majesty of his performance of I’ll Sail This Ship Alone. You will be hard pushed to find a better song lyrically and vocally in the band’s canon and it remains a timeless example of the Beautiful South.

Heaton, Rotheray, Stead, Hemingway, Welch, Butcher, Corrigan, Abbott and Wheeler: all contributors to a band whose name and output deserves to be remembered alongside the multi-million-selling artists whose status often matches their wealth and – in my eyes at least – musical mediocrity. I suspect most people reading this will be well-versed in the back catalogue of the Beautiful South, but if you yourself are not, then I trust you will find pleasure and beauty within the songs suggested here. I’ve told you what I think – and I didn’t keep it all in.



The Beautiful South photo 2

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott


The Beautiful South facebook

The Beautiful South split due to ‘musical similarities’ (2007)

Paul Heaton complete discography

The Housemartins – Toppermost #690

The Beautiful South biography (Apple Music)

This is John Hartley’s twenty-fifth contribution to the Toppermost site. He is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, a memoir of the early stages in his quest to write the perfect pop song. He tweets as @Johny Nocash and the music he creates can be found at Broken Down Records.

TopperPost #758


  1. Joyce Gibson
    Dec 29, 2018

    Fantastic stuff! I loved The Beautiful South and saw them live a few times in the 90s. I understand why you missed out the big hits but My Book and Old Red Eyes Is Back would be on my list. I lost track of Paul Heaton’s work until catching him solo, supporting Squeeze about 6 or 7 years ago. He blew them away. Such a brilliant writer and singer; his chat was the best. Plus he’s a top, top bloke. The recent Channel 4 documentary cemented this opinion. The Last King of Pop indeed.

  2. Glenn Smith
    Jan 4, 2019

    Great reflection on a great band John. I Started a Joke is a phenomenal cover, and they made a fair fist of quite a few notable songs, Everybody’s Talkin and Dream a Little Dream are damn fine. That said, I’d argue a couple of notable omissions, in particular I’d have to have a song that starts with “I love you from the bottom of my pencil case”, the whole thing that is Song for Whoever is perfect. And Blue is the Colour, sorry it passed you by as Jacqui Abbott is a superb vocalist, and I’d argue the perfect foil for Paul: Rotterdam, Alone, One God, The Sound of North America are some of their finest work. Thanks for adding them to their rightful place in the Toppermost pantheon.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.