Without fanfare or frippery, elaborate costume changes or fancy light shows, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott stood on the stage of the First Direct Arena in Leeds last Saturday night and kept the entire audience spellbound.
The 90 minute set with two encores encompassed the very best of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South back catalogue with a sprinkling of material from the duo’s two solo albums.
But this was no tribute act to glory days long past. Even the most familiar Beautiful South songs were given a makeover and, while retaining the essence of what made them great, kept them fresh and alive for the 21st century.
The set kicked off with a track from Heaton and Abbott’s latest album Wisdom, Laughter and Lines, Wives 1, 2 & 3 is a chirpy little song which displays Heaton’s usual wit and humour yet concerns the rather unpleasant practice of uxoricide (look it up!).
The Beautiful South song Pretenders to the Throne came next, followed by (Man Is) The Biggest Bitch of All, also from the new album, and on it went, each one seemingly better than the next with clever lyrics and bittersweet observations, taking in some pretty unpleasant subject matter but tempered with beautiful harmonies.
Heaton in his nylon anorak doing his weird ‘dad dancing’ and Abbott at times taking centre stage with a solo spot – her powerful rendition of The Queen of Soho was heart-rending – were note perfect, their voices in perfect unison
And when Heaton sang the Beautiful South’s I Sail this Ship Alone, his voice soaring through the octaves and trembling with emotion, the arena erupted.
The audience, made up largely of middle-aged fans (I can say that as I’m one of them) grew up with the music of the Housemartins and Beautiful South and we all have our favourites for whatever reason.
Mine is Rotterdam (Or Anywhere), I used to sing it full belt to my infant daughter in the car to keep her amused on long journeys. We sang it together on Saturday and it was a really special moment.