Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott: ‘As we can see from the current climate, we’re groomed for serfdom’

As they release a new album, the former Beautiful South musicians answer your questions, from whether we will escape Tory rule to how they deal with ageing

As Britain’s most heartwarming vocal duo since Morecambe and Wise, could you record a Christmas cover of Bring Me Sunshine? Cruyff14

Paul Heaton [Long laugh] Erm, no! I understand the dangers of a novelty song becoming bigger than everything else. If we did Bring Me Sunshine people would be disappointed if we didn’t dress up as Eric and Ernie and do the dance. Hmm. I’m warming to it now.

Jacqui Abbott I’m not generally into remakes. When I heard there was going to be a Blade Runner 2 I thought: “Oh, my God.” When I joined the Beautiful South, we did Everybody’s Talkin’ but I was only 20 then. Now I’m older I’d think: “A Harry Nilsson song – what if I get it wrong?”

Paul, I saw you fronting the Housemartins at the Leadmill in Sheffield and remember you saying: “This one is for anyone who voted Tory. Get up off your knees, you bastards.” Do you think we ever will [escape Tory rule]? Flashbleu

Heaton I was pretty mouthy when I was younger. I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. As we can see from the current climate, we’re groomed for serfdom. For two years, people like GB News have told us we’ve been brainwashed about masks, but we’re now gleefully falling for a much bigger brainwashing scam. It’s highly amusing, but not so amusing when you’ve got a record on the playlist and now they won’t play it [after the Queen’s death] because it’s too uptempo!

Jacqui, have you had the opportunity to perform other people’s songs outside your partnership with Paul, and if not is that something you’d consider? AlanCambourne

Abbott After we did The 8th [a Heaton show turned solo album with guest singers], Aaron Knight invited me to sing with him in Edinburgh, which was a lovely experience. I wasn’t in a covers band when I was younger. I kinda got prompted to sing by a friend when I was a bit drunk. When I joined the Beautiful South they told me not to worry, that we were doing a low-key warmup gig to just 650 people. I was like: “What? I’ve not even performed in front of my family!”

Paul, Prettiest Eyes is one of the most perfect love songs ever written. The tenderness and understanding of the ageing process is amazing. Given that you were so much younger when you wrote it, how did you get the idea? Nomadteacher205

Heaton I was about 30 and somebody passed a comment about my facial lines. I started writing about how each wrinkle was because of having fun, but then twisted it and made it about my mum and dad and their happiness as they aged together.

I have an ageing-related question regarding Perfect 10. You sang you love “her body, especially the lines”. How do you feel about getting older? DaddyPig

Heaton It’s actually “especially the lies”. The jousting of the lyric is that they’re kidding themselves and each other about their bodies. He especially loves the way she doesn’t tell the truth about hers – he finds that shyness quite endearing.

Jacqui, the words to Don’t Marry Her are quite racy for a pop song and When I Get Back to Blighty seem to celebrate the early death of Phil Collins. Paul is a witty, contentious and sometimes abrasive lyricist, but do you ever think he goes too far? BernardMunch

Abbott No, because it’s storytelling. One or two might seem on the nose or rude or whatever, but I’ve never taken offence. There’s things that have been sung jokingly in rehearsals that we’d never perform in public, though [laughs]. Also, being from St Helens, I’m used to the northern way with language. The first time I went to London I called someone “love” and they looked at me like I’d walked in with a pink giraffe.

Heaton and Abbott in the Beautiful South, 1996.
Prettiest eyes … Heaton and Abbott in the Beautiful South, 1996. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Paul, of all the great songs you’ve written, which would you not write now? SaGa333

Heaton [The Beautiful South’s] 36D hasn’t dated well. I like the idea of blaming the newspapers [for page three girls], but blaming the model involved was wrong. I wouldn’t sing it now, although Dave Hemingway sung it back then.

Jacqui, Wigan Pier, early 90s … top night out? Stebson

Abbott In the 90s, it was the place to go for me. They had an indie club on a Wednesday and it shifted to dance music at the weekend. You’d go there with no idea of how you’d get home at 2am. You were banking on someone giving you a lift back to St Helens and that somebody not being too drunk.

Paul, have you ever thought of reforming the Housemartins, just for a giggle and maybe charity? Mikeollier

Heaton It wouldn’t be a giggle for me and you can’t sing Flag Day and then reform for charity. We did reform for an interview 10 years ago, which was lovely. I love spending time with them and we’re all really good friends.

If you absolutely had to have a boxing match like in the video for Too Much for One (Not Enough for Two), who would you fancy your chances against

: Simon “The Beautiful Southpaw” Hickson, Trev “The Beautiful Southamptoner” Neal, or Phil “The Cheeky Chico” Daniels? simonmhickson

Heaton [Laughs] Having worked on the video with them, definitely not Simon because he was like a dog unleashed! In the ring with him, I’d run away, but he’s brilliant and a lot of fun. I spoke to Phil Daniels about the old days of going down to Chelsea when they would throw bricks at us Sheffield United fans and we’d respond with monkey nuts.

Abbott Who’s the smallest? Possibly Phil Daniels. I’d go a round or two with him.

What’s your favourite pub and why? WurzellGummage

Heaton On a given night any pub can be absolutely rocking or not happening. There’s one my wife and I go into that doesn’t even have a jukebox, but it’s one room, you’re all sat facing each other and people just talk.

Abbott For me, it’s not the place but the people you’re with. Going back a few years, I’d gone out in Liverpool with my friend. By midnight, there was hardly anyone left except a young kid playing acoustic guitar. I got up and got him to play [the Beautiful South’s] Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) while I sang it. I said to my mate: “I’m a bit drunk, did that sound awful?” And she went: “I don’t know. I don’t even like the song.” [Laughs]

I once saw the Beautiful South support Pere Ubu on Morecambe Bay. Any chance of playing live on sand again? LeeBirch

Heaton That was Womad in 1989. We were quite a weird set of people and that was the first gig we played where we didn’t smash our gear up, so three of us rolled an enormous, 10ft wheel on stage during Pere Ubu’s set. They were screaming: “What are you doing?” We went “It’s part of the show!” Then suddenly we were ushered off [laughter]. I hadn’t liked them when they supported the Clash in 1978, so it was silent revenge.

What is your writing relationship? Does it come together in the studio or is it created elsewhere? karlcronin

Abbott Paul writes the songs with Jonny [Lexus, guitarist]. He goes somewhere very sombre or rainy to write the lyrics, then somewhere sunny like Spain to do the music. That’s why the lyrics can be dark or sullen and the tunes are lovely and flowing. I love seeing it happen and then helping bring it all to life.

Do you think your anti-royalist, anti-Tory credentials have cost you in terms of sales over the years? Hibernica

Heaton I don’t think so. Will Young’s a royalist and I’m anti-royalist, and we’ve both been treated fairly well by the radio. You get to a point where people appreciate you sticking to your principles. I’m not going to compromise if someone asks me about something, but I don’t ram it down people’s throats.

Abbott I wouldn’t think anyone would be able to tell us: “Stop singing that because your album needs to sell,” or: “You’re gonna get flak for that.” You express how you feel.

Do you think musicians and bands are more reticent about being overtly political nowadays than they were in the 80s and 90s? HilsLM

Heaton When we started, we were surrounded by people like the Redskins, Billy Bragg, Jimmy Somerville, Paul Weller, and we’d been influenced by the Clash or Steel Pulse and Linton Kwesi Johnson. I presume people forming bands now are influenced by the people they listened to, so maybe Arctic Monkeys, or before that Blur, who weren’t really political. Jarvis [Cocker] wrote the odd political song but there’s not so much leadership now.

Abbott I think that sort of commentary has moved to social media. You can say what you think without needing to write a song around it.

Heaton I still prefer to put it in songs or the odd humorous comment on stage. Social media is like Speakers’ Corner, everyone shouting at each other.

Paul, in the 1989 song Love Is … you estimated your life expectancy as 52. Given that you are still going strong, any reason why you envisaged such a short lifespan? BernardMunch

Heaton At school everyone started drinking and smoking and I always said I’d wait till I was older. I’d write it all down: start smoking aged 28, take drugs aged 29, start driving at 55. All sorts of mad things. I smoked for 15 years then got bored of it, but gradually I had to scrap the list because I didn’t want to die.

• Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s new album, NK-Pop, is released on 7 October


As told to Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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