Paul Heaton, Bush Hall, London

Bush Hall, London

Paul Heaton is operating in severely reduced circumstances. Having routinely serenaded packed arenas as part of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, he now finds himself between bands, without a record deal and playing the kind of venues for which intimate is a careful euphemism. Blessed with a mercurial way with melodies and an astute lyrical eye for detail, Heaton has one of the most winning back-catalogues in pop - and tonight fails to play a note of it.

Shaven-headed and looking fit and lithe in black, he plays only new songs from a prospective new album that has little chance of release. It is an audacious strategy, but the crowd's stoical disappointment is tempered by the fact that the new material is so strong. Two opening songs, The Balcony and She Rolled Her Own, betray a continued affection for the kind of barbed country & western that informed the Beautiful South's more piquant moments.

Heaton looks nervous but is in good voice, infiltrating his keening falsetto into the nooks and crannies of Loving You and the whimsically prosaic The Pub. Lyrically, his gaze remains firmly in the gutter rather than on the stars: Drink and Drive and Deckchair are as knowingly petty and parochial as Morrissey at his most comedic. He takes a smart pot shot at the Aunt Sally of reactionary mid-America on God Bless Texas ("God knows why") and closes a short set with a rueful smile and an awkward wave. He may have seen sunnier days commercially, but Heaton remains one of the sharpest presences in British songwriting.

· At King Tut's, Glasgow (0870 169 0100), tonight. Then touring.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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