Portrait of the artist: Paul Heaton, musician

'I lost all my eccentricities when I became famous – like growing my fingernails long and being a bit effeminate'

What got you started?

Punk. As a kid, I'd buy punk records and try to make a similar din. Later on, I had a job as a ledger clerk in a company that made industry magazines such as Foundry Times. I started writing lyrics to get away.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

Myself. When I got famous, I put on an I'm-just-one-of-the-people act. I lost all my eccentricies – like growing my fingernails long and being a bit effeminate. It's only in the last few years that I've been able to get my personality back.

What's the greatest threat to music today?

Despondency. Musicians of my age are getting a bit of a sulk on because they think they can't sell records any more. But they forget that selling records wasn't their reason for going into music.

Is there anything about your career you regret?

Not going solo earlier. I was 43 when I did it, and I should have done it when I was 35: I have trouble convincing people now that I'm not still in the Beautiful South.

You are, famously, a football fan. Do you think musicians could learn anything from footballers, and vice versa?

Musicians could learn a bit of discipline, and footballers could learn to chill out. Just look at Celtic and Rangers matches – you can't imagine a battle like that between Hue and Cry and Wet Wet Wet.

Is all art political?

Yes. Every time I write a song, I approach it from a Marxist perspective.

What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?

Little Foothills Heaven by the Corb Lund Band. It reminds me of going out on my bike in the Peak District.

Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated . . .


If you could send a message back to your critics, what would it be?

The first line of one of my songs, Just a Few Things That I Ain't: "When you called me a useless druggie, at least you got half of it right."

Where would you like to be in five years?

Tootling along in the countryside on my bicycle, and then going to a gig in the sun somewhere.

In short

Born: Bromborough, Merseyside, 1962.

Career: Rose to fame with the Housemartins and the Beautiful South. His new single, The Old Radio, is out this week, and he performs at the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton (0870 320 7000), tomorrow, then tours.

High point: "Now. I've just been told that my record's being totally ignored on the radio. But I sent an email back saying, 'Who cares?'"


Interview by Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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