Unlikely as it seems – to me at least – it’s a quarter of the century since Paul Heaton and his fellow Housemartins bandmate helped launch The Beautiful South.
In June 1989, their debut single, Song for Whoever, became the first of more than 20 top-40 hits for the band, and one of six that made the top-10 over the next 17 years.
I got to interview this freshly-assembled Hull five-piece for my Captains Log fanzine before their third-ever gig, at Aldershot Buzz Club.
It was just two days after the band’s debut Top of the Pops appearance, and turned out to be a pretty raucous night.
Looking back at the end result this week (I’ll try and get it online sometime soon), I was reminded how entertaining the band were, with plenty of surreal segues and inventive answers, not least from front-man Paul (PD).
They were eating their tea backstage while I fired the questions, and then – as I clicked the cassette off – singer and ex-‘Martins singing drummer Dave H and guitarist Dave Rotheray enquired about pubs in the area.
This being Aldershot – with a few pubs in the vicinity we didn’t think it wise to visit, not least as The Sun had made up all sorts of ridiculous, inflammatory stories and untruths about The Housemartins – myself and fellow Malc Smith decided they needed chaperones.
I don’t recall what time we left the West End Centre (home to Jo Bartlett’s Buzz Club), but let’s just say we sank a few pints and had a quality evening while losing all track of time.
Until Dave H clocked the time and announced, “Oh shit! It’s half ten, we’re on in five minutes!”
Needless to say they didn’t know quite where they were, and I can’t say I really did either. But we tore up the road and were soon close enough to hear slow hand-claps from an increasingly fractious sell-out crowd.
We made our way to the side-door, where my interview notes remind me that one of the afore-mentioned Daves asked, in a Spike Milliganesque manner, “Can we come in? We’re the band’. The somewhat shell-shocked female on the door’s reply – after a rather puzzled delay – was “Oh good … we’ve been waiting for you!”
I was laughing so hard at that point that the two Daves and t’other Malc – whose winning graphic art turned my type-written rants into the polished Captain’s Log end result – shot through the gap while I just stood there blankly.
I gave a pretty half-hearted ‘I’m with the band’, but she was – understandably – having none of it, and by now I was sobering up pretty quickly, searching my pockets for a ticket or backstage pass. My library card would have been a start, but panic was setting in, not least under the gaze of the first few rows in the gloom before me, wondering when these Northern prima donnas were finally coming on.
I don’t recall if I did find a ticket or if Jo bailed me out, but I got in, and what followed was a memorable gig, bizarrely ending with a cover of Irene Cara’s cheesy Fame and major instrument trashing (which I felt was a bit passe and far too elitist).
So, back to today, with Dave H speaking to me from his home in Crewe, Cheshire, 25 years later. Does he remember any of that?
“I’d like to day I remember it well…but I don’t.”
I keep going, telling him about the scowl PD gave his missing members on their eventual arrival, and the fact that himself and Mr Rotheray looked rather pie-eyed on stage.
“That was probably the case … we did like a drink or two. Actually … thinking back, Aldershot (he pronounces it Al rather All) … that wasn’t the one where Dave fell off the stage, was it?”
Highly possible. On one fans’ site it simply says: “Jun 10 – Aldershot, Buzz Club -Rotheray exits stage left in trap door travesty. Squabbles, blood, glass (gear smashed up)”.
“Yes, I do remember it … because of that. That was quite a raucous gig. By the sound of it, that might have been the end of something, but turned out to be the start of something!”
I mentioned again how the door staff weren’t too convinced that he was actually in the band, let alone me.
“That happened a few times, actually, down the years – even when we were successful, at big venues where we had to make our way past security.
“They often couldn’t believe we were in the band, because we were so late turning up.”
I guess that was part of the appeal though – that lads next door feel, and certainly without any superstar status.
“Yeah, definitely. I think if we’d tried to put airs and graces on, we’d soon have been slapped down by each other.”
Yet – I venture to suggest – perhaps it was that laddish element that led to the departure of the band’s first vocalist, Briana Corrigan (who wasn’t on board when I met them).
“That’s fair comment. That must have been hard. I suppose it was for all three females in the band.
“When you get that laddish element, it must be tough being the only female around.”
I won’t go through the whole history here – that’s well enough documented elsewhere – but let’s just say it all ended seven years ago, with Paul going solo and Dave and his fellow band members wondering what was next.
But in time the band resurfaced as a nine-piece, now known as The South, with Dave sharing vocal duties with Alison Wheeler, who was with the band from 2003 to the end.
Alison was the original band’s third female vocalist after Briana, now back in Dublin, and Jacqui Abbott, who is now touring and recording with Paul Heaton again.
Dave explained: “Alison got a bit of a raw deal really. She was with us for the last three albums, but the less successful ones, and never really got a fair crack of the whip.
“The majority of our success was with Briana and Jacqui. Through no fault of her own, Alison didn’t get the success. So it was unfinished business in a way.”
So why the reformation? I’m guessing with the size of the band – most of whom were part of the last touring band – it’s not just to cash in on past success.
“It’s not for the money, that’s for sure! Some of us wanted to continue, and weren’t ready to call it a day.
“Money’s tight in certain respects, but it’s not about that this time around.”
They’re on the road at the moment – with more than 30 gigs between mid-April and September 26th’s visit to Cornwall’s St Ives Festival, including – wait for it – a return to Aldershot West End Centre on June 4th.
And this time they’ll not only be showcasing several old hits but also a few songs from their impressive ‘debut’ album Sweet Refrains.
And it’s fair to say Sweet Refrains gives a great indication of what you might expect live, from the celebratory comeback feel of opening track Second Coming onwards.
Alongside winning contributions from Gavin Sweeney plus Dowd/Simpson’s mighty If I Laugh, the opener and many of the finer moments are written by guitarist Phil Barton with Ron Westrip – including the wondrously-catchy Pigeonhole, the subtly-soulful Windows, and inspirational closing track Thank You.
Furthermore, there’s a real collective feel on show, not least with the added brass in key places.
“We’ve always toured with a big brass section, and they certainly get a good go on this record and add a bit of oomph to us live.
“They’ve been with us 20 years as a touring band, and that’s the case with all of us, apart from Dave the drummer.”
There’s a case in point. There was Dave H, Dave R and Dave Stead (drums) in the first band, now Dave Anderson on drums this time. Then of course, PD was actually Paul David Heaton. Has it always been part of the remit to have at least a couple of Daves?
“Yeah, that’s what we planned. We wanted to have a whole band of Daves, but it didn’t work out unfortunately.”
So what’s the reaction been to Sweet Refrains after your recent live dates?
“I’m not really sure, but I’m proud of the new album, not least because we’ve had to do it all ourselves, with no record company.
“We’ve had to find the finance, doing it all from day one, including the artwork, things that used to be taken care of that we now have to knuckle down and do ourselves.
“It was quite a struggle to get it out there. The record business is unrecognisable these days. I preferred it back then, But obviously I’m just an old fogey.”
Will it be a case of all the old hits and more when I come and see you live?
“Yes. We don’t over-do the new material, as people who come and see us want to hear the songs they know, and we’re happy to play them.
“I’ve never been a fan of bands just playing songs from their new album. That’s a bit unfair. You need to get into an album before you hear the songs live.
“With that in mind, we’ll probably do three or four new songs, and others from the back- catalogue.”
What a back-catalogue it is too, from their sole No.1, A Little Time – originally a duet between Dave H and Briana -to fellow big hits like Perfect Ten, Rotterdam, Don’t Marry Her, You Keep It All In, Old Red Eyes Is Back and many more.
And in all, they released 10 studio albums, five hits compilations, 34 chart singles, and sold 15 million records worldwide. So is there anything they’d refuse to play these days?
“Nothing really. Some work better than others, so if they’re not working too well, we’d give them the heave-ho, but we’re capable of playing any of them.”
Do you still look back on the day you got that call from Dave R – then a roadie with The Housemartins – back in early 1987, about taking Hugh Whittaker’s place on drums?
“Yes. That’s the sort of moment that does stick with you, although it was such a long time ago.
“I was in a band in Hull with Dave at the time, The Velvetones, and came home for my tea on a Thursday night. I was watching Mission Impossible when he called me.
“Dave said ‘Stan Cullimore’s going to ring you, because Hugh’s leaving the band and they want you to join. It just sounded like a joke. I had to check it wasn’t April 1st.
“I’d never spoken to Stan before, and had no idea Hugh was contemplating leaving. They’d just had their first number one with Caravan of Love.
“So you think why would you leave a band? It was all a bit surreal. I didn’t really believe him, and just said ‘OK, Dave. Fair enough. See you later, mate.’
“I put the phone down and 10 minutes later, sure enough, Stan rang. And that was that really.”
He clearly proved a success, and by Christmas was sharing vocals with Paul on Top of the Pops on the hit, Build.
As it happened, Dave and Hugh went back a few years, and were in the same class at school. And that takes me on to another Housemartins-related anecdote.
It was around that same era as The Beautiful South took off, and I was interviewing another favourite band, Bob, before a gig in North London (another I hope to get online soon), with support that night from impressive Hull outfit The Penny Candles, including Hugh on drums.
It just so happened that I was wearing my There Is Always Something There To Remind Me t-shirt, featuring the school classroom cartoon which accompanied The Housemartins’ last single, including caricatures of Hugh and Dave H.
“He’s a lovely guy. At school he was a character that stuck out. He was quite eccentric, but very quiet. A decent bloke.”
Meanwhile, Dave H wasn’t the first member of his family to go into that business called show, his Dad having been on the Northern working men’s circuit as a comedian.
“He was. A lorry driver by day, and a stand-up comic by night.”
But he had to keep on that day-job, I believe.
“He had to. He was successful as it went, with a name for himself on the club circuit, but there wasn’t enough to pay the bills.”
Did that change the way Dave felt about the fickle nature of it all? He does seem very grounded.
“The job I had, working in an office, was fine and I was working with good people, but I always wanted to be a musician.
“You can want it all you like but you’re never going to actually be able to make a living out of it and do it full time. Things like that happen few and far between.
“But when the chance came, it wasn’t a wrench to leave my job.”
According to Mike Pattenden’s official biography of the band, Last Orders at the Liars’ Bar (Victor Gollancz, 1999), Dave had to lock himself away and do his homework when he got the job in The Housemartins, learning all the songs.
“Blimey, you’ve done your homework, you, haven’t you? Usually when I do these interviews, people often don’t know anything about us!
“Again, that is totally true, I was told I was in the band, and was given a tape of the new songs, like Me and the Farmer, and told to go away and learn them.
“I locked myself away with a Walkman. That dates it, doesn’t it?”
Not ‘alf. You tell the kids of today that, and …
“”Exactly … they won’t believe you!
“Anyway, the trouble was that The Velvetones were more like a jazz band really, so I was playing slower stuff. Suddenly, playing songs like Happy Hour at 100mph, I was struggling.
“For a good while I was thinking ‘I’ve packed my job in and I can’t play this stuff, it’s too fast for me’. But I stuck at it and worked hard on it, and in the end I was playing too fast, so Norman (Cook) had to tell me to slow down!”
I recall that Paul’s tone at the time that he announced The Beautiful South’s arrival was that he couldn’t have Dave wasted on drums, as he had such a great voice.
“Well, it was nice for him to say so, but it was never my idea, and I didn’t know he had that in mind at all.
“When I was asked to join the Beautiful South, I assumed it was just as the drummer. But then he said, I just want you to sing, which was alien to me.
“I was alright as a drummer, safe behind the kit. Being out front is a different thing.”
While he was clearly up to the task – vocal-wise – he was never really a natural leader, and from around the time of Miaow in 1994 he took more of a back-seat role again – supplying backing vocals to Paul and Jacqui, and happy to be ‘Robin to Paul’s batman’.
Has that changed, 25 years on?
I’m more comfortable with it now, but that doesn’t mean I am comfortable with it – just more than I used to be! It’s still a challenge sometimes, albeit not one I always rise to.
“I’ve never been one for bigging myself up, being up on stage saying ’look at me’. As I get older I think it’s even harder to have that attitude. It’s more ‘don’t look at me – look at someone else!’
“You have all these doubts … well, I do, anyway!”
Dave’s a family man these days, based in Crewe, Cheshire, for the last decade (having lived in Leeds for the previous 10 years).
“Crewe reminds me of Hull in quite a few ways, so it’s like a home from home.
“I’ve got two kids, and my daughter turns 21 in July, while my son turned 18 in February.”
Will they follow in your wake?
“Well, they’re musical, but my daughter’s doing languages at university and my son’s about to go.
“He plays drums and guitar, and my daughter plays keyboard, flute and piano. I think my son wants to join a band, but at the moment he’s just doodling away in the garage.”
Does Dave hear from any of his former band-mates in The Housemartins and The Beautiful South (with Norman having gone on to Beats International, Fatboy Slim, and major fame, Stan becoming a successful children’s writer, and Paul, Jacqui and Dave R going solo)?
“Not really. They’re doing their own thing, and that’s fair enough. That was then, and this is now.
“It was a marvellous time, which I’ll never ever forget, and I’m always proud to be a part of.
“But hopefully we can enjoy what we’re doing at the moment, and see where that goes.”
This feature is an expanded and revised edition of a Malcolm Wyatt interview with Dave Hemingway published in the Lancashire Evening Post on April 24th, 2014. For the original, try here.