Listen carefully and you may hear one of 60 pubs across the UK and Ireland playing anthems by the Beautiful South on Monday night. The venues have been selected by northern music legend Paul Heaton in honour of his 60th birthday, and by way of celebration he has put £1,000 behind the bar at each one.
The former Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman used his Facebook page to invite fans to celebrate with him, explaining that his original tour plan involving cycling between venues around the UK had to be shelved after the pandemic caused delays to the recording of his new album.
“The next best way to celebrate this coming of age is to hand-pick 60 pubs across the UK and Ireland and put a given amount of money behind the bar of each one,” he said.
“The hope is to bring people together on the day, while recognising that many folk who bought my records or showed me support over the years could do with a wee party.”
Heaton, who still performs today, shot to fame in the early 1980s with the Hull-based group the Housemartins. They produced two albums and several hit singles including Happy Hour and a cover version of Caravan of Love, which reached No 1 in the UK charts in December 1986. After the band split, he formed the Beautiful South in 1988, releasing 10 studio albums over 17 years.
The Briton’s Protection, a central Manchester pub dating from 1750, is one of Heaton’s regular drinking spots. Two hours after opening at lunchtime, the bar manager John Burke couldn’t pull pints fast enough for the fans pouring in, eager to raise a glass to their favourite singer-songwriter.
“He loves it here,” Burke said. “He always sits in the same spot when he comes and chats to people.”
Grace Leape and Holly Roberts came to grab a drink in the sun after seeing Heaton’s birthday announcement. “We’re big fans, despite not having been old enough to remember lots of his biggest hits being released!” said Leape. “But I’ve been to a few of his gigs with my mum and I love the music.”
Angela Lewis, a fellow fan, was wearing a Beautiful South T-shirt and hat as she sat enjoying a glass of wine. “I’ve been to one of his gigs almost every year since 1984,” she said.
At the Orion pub in Withington, Phil and Cathy Gordon were reminiscing about the 1986 Housemartins gig they attended in the city. “He’s always seemed like someone who, in addition to being mega-talented, is also a really lovely man. He hasn’t let the fame go to his head,” Phil said.
Just down the road at the Albert, the barmaid, Janine Renee, said she had seen quite a few new faces at the bar. “We’ll have to track him down and buy him a drink in return!” said Paul Conaghan as he and his partner Yvonne Clarke enjoyed a “birthday bevvy”.
Hundreds of Heaton’s Twitter followers posted pictures of themselves in the pubs. John Richmond tweeted: “Fab idea. I’m sure it’ll make loads of people happy in difficult times,” with another adding: “Your music has brought me happiness and made me think for 30 years.”
João Souser, originally from Faro in Portugal, shared fond memories of his brother learning to play Housemartins tunes on the piano when they were growing up. “We had the cassette!” he said. “I still remember the cover.”
“The northern English music from that time is so nostalgic for me, and it’s part of the reason I moved to Manchester.”
Then, as more people arrived for what looked likely to be the busiest Monday night the pub has seen for a while, Souser surveyed the room and added: “This is a city where music really brings people together, and you can see the proof of that here today.”