It took all of about 20 seconds for a huge smile to cross my face after Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott took to the stage at The Limelight on Friday night.
For those unaware, Abbott and Heaton have reunited after too many years apart. They were the essential cogs that helped The Beautiful South sell millions upon millions of records, and are now back together with a fresh new album – and gigs that contain a huge nod to the past – as well as celebrating the present. While the set contained a number of tracks from What Have We Become – all of which the audience seemed to know every word to – we were also treated to numbers from the Beautiful South and the Housemartins – the band that launched Paul Heaton to the forefront of British music in the first place.
If opening track Some Dancing to Do was a welcome reminder of why Paul values Jacqui’s voice so highly, Old Red Eyes is a real celebration of his unique style, and a personal favourite of this reviewer. For me, it was like being transported back in time to the 90s, sitting in the back of my mum’s car while Carry On Up the Charts – the Beautiful South’s album that went platinum five times over – was playing on the stereo constantly. To be stood at the gig beside her some two decades later was pretty magical.
What’s still refreshing about the duo is that, while they clearly are, they don’t act like stars. They seem like two down-to-earth entertainers who are in it for a good time, and enjoy making their crowd happy. Paul Heaton’s chatter between songs was light-hearted and engaging, something that not all bands these days can boast. It made the gig feel all that more intimate (despite there not being a single ticket left) and it was like meeting up with two old friends, rather than being in the presence of one of the finest songwriters that the United Kingdom has produced – though he is probably too modest to agree that being the case.
While Costa Del Sombre showed how well the two singers’ voices work together – and provided a real spark – there was not a single person in the venue that wasn’t singing along with Jacqui as the tackled Rotterdam while Paul left the stage. That’s another feature of the duo that works so well. While they sound magnificent when singing together, or harmonising, their voices are so powerful (and familiar) that the other can just leave them to it as they perform solo.
All of the hits made it into the setlist, from the Housemartins’ Build, to Don’t Marry Her and Carry on Regardless from the South and DIY, the Jacqui-led first single from the new album.
This was a night filled with nostalgia, but at the same time everything felt fresh, like it was just the beginning of something magical – again. And therein lies the beauty of this reunited partnership. Their appeal spans generations, and they’ve returned with an album that’s as successful now as it would have been 20 years ago. You can’t really lavish them with praise higher than that.
It was many years in the making this gig in the Limelight – but what a wonderful night it was, finished by an acoustic sing-a-long version of Caravan of Love, and we can all just hope that Paul and Jacqui keep doing what they are doing, as to see them reunited is quite simply – beautiful. Dan Williams, GiggingNI.com