Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott at the Royal Albert Hall
As he tells those packing out the Albert Hall tonight, Paul Heaton’s musical relationship with London stretches back some 32 years to early tours with the Housemartins, the jangly Hull popsmiths with whom he first made his name. This legacy continues into the present day thanks to the recent rekindling of another prestigious relationship with former Beautiful South songstress Jacqui Abbott. That their reunion has borne two albums in quick succession implies that this is a pair who have always complemented each other creatively, and this theory is further supported by a powerhouse performance this evening.
Abbott was neither the first nor the last female vocalist to join Heaton (and his former Housemartins colleague Dave Hemingway) in fronting The Beautiful South, but her tenure arguably coincided with the band’s heyday. As a result, it’s with a distinct air of celebration that chart hits from that period, such as Don’t Marry Her, Rotterdam (Or Anywhere), and Perfect 10 bejewel tonight’s set list. It’s testament to the pair’s chemistry that new songs (such as sweetly swaggering opener Wives 1, 2 and 3 and the dexterously rapid, pattering country twang of D.I.Y.), as well as others not originally recorded with Abbott, shine just as brightly. A reggae tinge bestows a funky edge upon the heartbreaking kitchen-sink melodrama of A Little Time, and Old Red Eyes Is Back, together with the Housemartins’ Happy Hour, prompt the largest of several outbreaks of joyous yet impeccably well-mannered dancing among the mature audience present tonight.
Said audience is left with goosebumps as the set ostensibly closes out with a beautiful rendition of the a capella Caravan of Love (with harmonies capably extended to six parts with the assistance of the band), before a triumphant encore leaves the air full of glitter and hearts full of cheer.
While Heaton’s line in rebelliously acerbic political satire may keep him off the New Year’s honours list for the time being (cut from the duo’s new album Wisdom, Laughter and Lines, the jauntily rollicking Heatongrad opens “F*ck the King and F*ck the Queen with an AK-47”), his songbook constitutes a national treasure of its own. The finely honed and vitally infectious camaraderie with which he and Abbott collaborate, both on stage and off, suggests that the latest chapter of that book is far from finished.
Photos: Sophie Bluestone
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Watch the video for D.I.Y, here: