“You’ll have to go and play in there”, is the greeting I receive on the phone from Alison Wheeler, who elaborates she is talking to her children. “They’re under severe warnings to behave”, she laughs.
It has been seven years since her group The Beautiful South disbanded, and children take up most of her free time, these days. However, Wheeler is far from a slave to domesticity, as she prepares to go on the road with a new incarnation of her old band. Just a year after breaking up, original members Dave Hemingway, Dave Stead and Wheeler, along with six new members, formed The South. This band released a new album, Sweet Refrains, in 2012 and is now back on the road.
For nearly 20 years, The Beautiful South were producing hit albums. Constant member of the original band, Paul Heaton, penned many hit songs for the group, and the band toured the world, performing to millions. Alison joined in 2003 and stayed with them until they broke up. She explains that the break-up of the original band was frontman Heaton’s decision. “I was lucky enough to join the band, and obviously, they’d been together for many years before I joined. They’d done all their rock and rollin’, and Paul wanted to go on and do a solo project. Rather than keep us hanging on, I think he felt it was healthier just to call it a day and walk away.”
Having had eight top 10 albums, two of which went to number one, The Beautiful South have a very loyal following, who are still keen to see the latest incarnation of the band. Although they may have more pressing commitments than they did in their heyday, Alison says that touring is a much more laid back experience, nowadays. “I think the social climate’s changing for gigging. Over the last two years, we’ve not ended up touring as a block, we’ve spread it out over a number of months, doing long weekends, which is great because you get the best of the crowd because they’re up for a real laugh, knowing they haven’t got to go to work the next day. We’re doing it all ourselves now with no record company behind us, so the budget’s a lot tighter. It’s a lot more back to basics, but at the same time you get to play venues where you can go front of house after the gig and meet everybody.”
The South play at Warehouse 23, Wakefield on May 9.