Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott At The Olympia Theatre – Review
There are quite a few reformed bands from the 90s touring right now. Tapping into the hipster market for noughties nostalgia indie idols like Travis, Ocean Colour Scene, CAST and Suede are ready and willing to reclaim their various crowns. Having reviewed quite a few of these gigs, it’s hard not to come out smiling, easy to see why the formula works. Sold out venues are packed with thirty to fifty-year-old sporting varying degrees of grey and bald, reliving their youthful highlights in the pit.
It’s rare, however, to witness a reformed version of indie idolatry whose last two albums What Have We Become and Wisdom, Laughter and Lines are superb stand-alone sell out material. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott are this rarity.
Sunday night at The Olympia Theatre saw them deliver a selection box set list of retro classics from The Housemartins, The Beautiful South and their two new albums. The opening twangs of rockabilly kitsch in ‘Wives 1, 2 & 3′ got huge applause from the sold out venue. Paul appearing perpetually awkward in his plastic anorak reveals a poptastic tale of a serial killer husband from Wisdom, Laughter And Lines. Jacqui arrives as the female vocal victim, fait accompli towards the end. She gets a huge welcome as the sonic sparring between these two amiable musical companions begins. It continues for one hour and forty-five minutes, a twenty-four song celebration of all things Heaton and Abbott. Spanning three decades, it’s a right old pick and mix of material for professional ‘Heatongrad’ fans as well as the light hearted Housemartins revivalists.
Heaton is his usual Dad dancing, self-depreciating, yet refreshingly Northern self. As he croons the life sermon for ‘Have Fun’, he announces he used to be a miserable twat, before launching into ‘The Horse And Groom’ from Wisdom, Laughter and Lines. Rising harmonies and relentless riffs, it’s a glistening earworm with a verse Morrissey could be accused of writing. ‘This arthritic pain / in the pouring rain / whilst inside on the jukebox / Tammy sings again / but next time that you see these boots/ they’ll not be on my feet / they’ll be hanging from the slow coach / to the local cemetery.’ All wrapped up in a sparkly, shiny, take-away melody.
The new and the old hit it off all night. Family favourites like ‘Prettiest Eyes’, ‘Rotterdam’, ‘Happy Hour’, ‘Good As Gold’, ‘Old Red Eyes’ and ‘Perfect 10’ blend seamlessly into the latest Heaton whimsical symphonies on the mundane lifecycle of the human race. Laced with acerbic lyrics of clever social and cultural observations in equal measures, they cover everything from X-Factor to the Panama Papers.
The crowd’s enthusiastic energy for ‘Five Get Over Excited’ overflows into the gorgeous warmth of ‘Sundial In The Shade’. Another character based story of a woman’s yearning for better things. The prisoner of a suburban soap opera armchair fixed to the tv. The lyrics are just class.
‘What I want from life / Is not a roller coaster dip / What I want from love / Is not a ramp up to a skip / All I want is compliment occasionally made / For a life of pure simplicity, unlike these soaps I trade/ Till then, I am just that sundial in the shade.’
Jacqui’s voice swells the isolation, the comforting chorus misleads us with its lush swaying melody. Melting the sadness into an unknowing smile, when we really shouldn’t be smiling at all.
The never ageing set list brings endless joy to this venue. There’s a dodgy claim of Irish heritage to ‘Heatons Stores’ from Paul. Twice he mentions songs that he wrote thirty-two years ago, a statistic vintage hipsters wince upon hearing. ‘I wish he’d stop saying that, it’s making me feel old’ said the trendy looking cardigan wearing beardy bloke beside me. From what I’ve seen, gigs like this keep you young. Heaton, Abbot and their band are advocates of joy. Their infectious smiles, warmth and appreciation for their audience are beyond question. There are no fangirls, no egos, no plastic fantastic read made nostalgia. This is as Heaton would say an ‘awesome after awesome after awesome after great’ gig. Sixteen hundred hipsters go home smiling.
Review by Ciara Sheahan