It’s Happy Hour Again !

It’s always a very special occasion playing the Royal Albert Hall and you can feel the grandeur with every step on the plush red carpets and turn of the velvety curtains. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lead violinist of the Philharmonic or the drummer in Trudy (tonight’s support act), you feel that majesty and splendour hit you as soon as you walk in and no doubt the nerves start to jingle that little bit more.

Paul and Jacqui, emerge from the curtains and walk out to the warmest applause you’ll hear on the whole of the ‘Butchers Choice’ tour. It is slightly reserved, must be the surroundings, but Heaton is very much dressed to unimpress, no special outfit for the night, his usual zipped and buttoned up jacket and jeans, he looks more like a Geography teacher getting ready for a field trip than a rock star who has sold millions of records, but that’s his way. He suggested early on to the crowd that “We did think about doing something different for tonight, but then we thought – Fuck it, you like us already, lets just play the songs and have a good time”.

© John Hayhurst | For Flick Of The Finger

© John Hayhurst | For Flick Of The Finger

Jacqui Abbott agrees and after a brief wave to their Mums in the audience we get under way with ‘Wives 1,2&3’ from their latest album, quickly followed by a Beautiful South number ‘Pretenders to the Throne’. Heaton jokes with the audience in-between the songs with his wry Northern wit, “People ask me how I warm up for a show, well.. I go to the hotel… watch Pointless… have a bag of crisps, then a quick sleep before Emmerdale” his deadpan down to earth delivery more akin to a working mens club comedian with a flat cap and a pint of ale, and strains of “Yorkshire..Yorkshire” are heard in the distance and the band liven up for ‘Five get over excited’, an early setlist outing for a classic Housemartins tune, and every member of the audience seems to know the words, and even some of the awkward dad dancing moves that Heaton displays every now and again when he strays from his music stand.

In fact, both Heaton and Abbott have music stands in front of them, turning the pages after each song like chapters in their history, as we hear a mixture of the old Beautiful South and even older Housemartins tunes, and the newer stuff from the brilliant ‘Wisdom, Laughter and Lines’ album. Each one carefully mixing with the next, Abbott providing some truly memorable vocals in ‘Sundial in the Shade’ and then a stunning delivery of ‘Old Red Eyes Is Back’ by Heaton. It’s a class above from start to finish and completely fitting to the environment. The beauty of northern socialist lyricisms played out in the prestigious Royal surroundings is a contrast that Paul Heaton must still be laughing at, even after watching Emmerdale. He’s loving every minute on stage, and decides to play ‘Anxious’ a very old Housemartins number for Jacqui’s partner, who is also in the audience tonight.

© John Hayhurst | For Flick Of The Finger

© John Hayhurst | For Flick Of The Finger

Out come the big guns of ‘Rotterdam’, ‘I’ll sail this ship alone’ and then the audience erupts to ‘Happy Hour’, “We are going to dance, aren’t we?” enquires an already sweating Heaton (still wearing his zipped up anorak), Oh Yes! From the Mums and Dads in the stalls to the corporate boxes at the back, everyone on their feet trying their best to match the steps of Paul Heaton, who himself is trying to remember it after almost 30 years!

I resisted the desire to shout “Take your coat off, you won’t feel the benefit”, and they follow that highlight with a slightly funked up version of ‘Perfect 10’, which keeps the room dancing until the set closer of the acapella ‘Caravan of Love’. Signalling that they will be back after 2 mins standing behind the curtains “We are cheap, we will be back as soon as one of you shouts ‘More’”. They return with a reggaed up version of ‘A Little Time’ which really showcased the synergy between the pair, and how comfortable they are together on stage. At an earlier part in the show it looked like Jacqui was heading off – as she had a sore throat, Heaton coaxing her back, giving her a bottle of water. It really felt like a partnership which was demonstrated again with ‘Don’t Marry Her’ (the naughty version).

Coming back to the stage for the second encore Heaton jokingly says “this next one will one day get me my OBE”, and then plays the angry, sweary, footstomping, anti-establishment ‘Heatongrad’, showing that even despite the wrinkles on his face, he is still up for a fight for social justice. They end with ‘You Keep It All In’, an early Beautiful South song, and ironically one that Jacqui Abbott didn’t sing on, but that didn’t matter tonight as the giant balloons and the gold streamers filled the hall signalling the end of the party.

I’m hoping this is just the continuation of a much longer term partnership, their sharp, socially aware lyrics and immediate catchy chorus sing-alongs, make them both quite unique and together something we should treasure – in a very British way, and that way it can be happy hour again and again and again…