Paul Heaton – Sharp Blade
Former Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton was a guest in the Green Room, TAL Forum’s interview area, in March 2010, this transcript of the interview first appeared in Issue No.2 of TAL’s Ezine edition, April, 2010.
Paul discussed music, football and politics with us in what turned out to be one of the best ever TAL interviews.
Will there ever be a Housemartins’ reunion, even for a big one-off gig?
PAUL: As far as the Housemartins are concerned, I don’t go back to wet T-shirts.
Have you ever encountered bias or bitterness in the music industry because of your political views?
PAUL: The Housemartins were removed from Number 1 at Christmas on the morning of the charts, directly in response to something I’d said live on Radio 1 about Margaret Thatcher.
The Beautiful South had the fastest selling British album ever with ‘Carry On Up The Charts‘, how did you find it so hard to get a recording deal for your latest album with stats like that behind you?
PAUL: Unfortunately history counts for little in the current climate. Otherwise it would just be me and a series of Black Lace / Brotherhood of Man type acts in the charts. Now we’d all want that wouldn’t we?
In regards to bands reforming do you think this has a negative effect on new music? Looking at last year’s Glastonbury line the headliners were almost all older groups Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, CSN, Madness, Specials, Blur, Nick Cave etc. Although there has always been the older crowd puller but now festivals seem saturated by them and it seems to me a lack of ambition in promoting new music over the tried and tested big sellers/crowd pleasers.
PAUL: I absolutely agree with that even though i am what you would call an older artist. There seems no point in going to a festival just to see what you can hear on a jukebox.
Are you a fan of any Spanish, or I suppose more broadly speaking, international groups that don’t sing in English? Maybe when doing international festivals you will have had the chance to see other groups that may not be well known in the UK but are famous in their respective countries?
PAUL: I am a fan of quite a bit of French hip-hop, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, the Spanish band Edwin Moses, particularly their Love Turns You Upside Down album, and of course, Manu Chao.
What bands influenced you growing up and if you could get to duet with anyone dead or living, who would it be?
PAUL: From an early age I listened to Soul and Country and also was physically moved into joining a band by Punk. Any music played well and sung well still inspires me. If I had to choose one individual person to sing with it would involve a time machine and Memphis Slim, the Blues singer.
Is ‘The Rising of Grafton Street’ by the Beautiful South in reference to the Easter Rising?
PAUL: Not intentionally
LOL – but we can claim it for Ireland anyway!
PAUL: You certainly can!
Can you give us an insight into the lyrics of the song “Poppy” and what motivated you to write it?
PAUL: It was roughly to say any imperial war is always likely to be a case of hoodwinking the working class.
The bands that you’ve been part of have run as collectives with all being equal and getting an equal share, what kind of reaction did you get from record companies and other artists to that kind of socialist approach in a band?
PAUL: I’ve only ever been greeted with bafflement and patronisation when it comes to my politics. Don’t forget during a Red Wedge meeting I walked out because when I suggested that the record business should be nationalised I was shouted down. These are the artists that you thought had a socialist approach.
Are there many/any others who have the courage of their convictions?
PAUL: There are, but their convictions have changed.
With regard to Red Wedge, what do you think of Paul Weller’s politics, was he too close to Labour at that time and has he shifted right or left since then?
PAUL: Paul Weller has always swung from centre-right to centre-left but remained a great writer. He is never going to shift massively either way again, but that’s not a criticism.
Billy Bragg however seems to be moving onto dangerous ground with some of his recent arguments. Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_41og4DxBm8
Any plans to play Glasgow soon and will you be cycling here?
PAUL: Details are on www.paulheatonmusic.co.uk
You were born in Merseyside, ended up in Hull and you’re a big Blades fan, what is the connection with Sheffield United and what is the first match that you remember going to?
PAUL: I moved to Sheffield when I was 4. My first United Match, 5-0 against Villa. All downhill from there!
What was your first steel city derby match and what was the score?
PAUL: Probably Gerry Young testimonial 1970 0-0
Who is your favourite Blades player of all time and current time. and why?
PAUL: Geoff Salmons – style and grace
Have you ever been to a Celtic v rangers match?
PAUL: I’ve never been to an “OF” match, never been to a match in Scotland.
I believe that you have watched football in countless countries, what is your favourite other team, and have you updated your Top 5 detested teams since 2005? If so what are they?
PAUL: Lecce in Southern Italy… As for hated sides that changes every hour of every day.
What got you into Italian football?
PAUL: My Dad got me into Italian football, he had style and grace.
I hear you’re a good friend of Sheffield United’s BBC lads (Blades Business Crew). Did you ever get caught up in any trouble at the football with them, and if so what was the most memorable ‘ruck’ you were involved in?
PAUL: There are those on the coach that tell jokes, there are those on the coach that fall asleep, then there are those on the coach who like to fight. I was the one who told a joke that caused half the coach to fall asleep and the other half to fight. No comment!
Favourite Adidas Trainer?
PAUL: Any Adidas Yoshimura particularly black ones
What are your thoughts on the state of the modern game of football?
PAUL: Footballers as the work force are surely only the pimple, the beer gut, double chin of what the industry itself is devouring. When those in the upper echelons of this sport ask the lower echelons “why have those representing the game become so bloated?” they have to look carefully at the expensive swill that they have offered as bribes and treats to the already bloated. Ha! Weren’t expecting that were you?
Ha ha! – No, I wasn’t.
You are quoted as saying “everything is political”, a view shared by most on here. Has it led to many sticky situations for you?
PAUL: No, not at all. I’m proud of my politics, I’m proud of a long line of political argument in this country and all over the world. There is nothing that unites me with a person, stranger or friend like a good discussion argument or fall out over something both those people value.
I read an interview you gave when you were playing in Ireland and you mentioned an instance in your Housemartin days where a man was wearing a ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ t-shirt at the front of the gig, and you and the band took direct action against him. Were there any other notable instances of when the band took direct action against racists and was that sort of thing common at shows?
PAUL: He wasn’t wearing a t shirt he was wearing a badge and i immediately noticed another badge stating ‘kill a commie for mommy’. He was working as a roadie and I told him that I was a commie and what was he going to do about it? I then made him take the jacket off which he did and turned it inside out, spat on it and made him put it back on again. The only other time we had trouble with the vocal right was when somebody ‘sieg heiled’ at a Northampton gig, whereby I picked up my microphone stand and attacked him.
Following on from that question, as a Marxist and anti fascist, what do you think is the best way to tackle the rise of fascism and the BNP in britland?
PAUL: Firstly argument, secondly the bombing of the press and other medias, thirdly direct physical action.
Following on from what you were saying about tackling anti-fascism… What are your opinions on the UAF and how they are tackling the situation with the ‘EDL’ – right approach, or wrong approach?
PAUL: I would only repeat firstly the argument to them how many Muslims do you actually know? The answer is always none. How many radical Muslims do you know? The answer is always none. Does your suspicion of the community of Islam arise from any first hand experience? The answer is always No. Finally, does your impression of Islam come from anything other than the paper you read and the television station you watch? These people in the EDL are not the people who speak to Muslims they are not the people who socialise with Muslims they are the people who know the least, so why are these people the know alls of the Muslim community? Because they’re fed on the same swill that fed the English masses in the 70’s and 80’s about the Irish.
I’m personally of the opinion that the UAF are giving far too much publicity to the EDL and are taking peoples eyes off what the BNP are doing. I’m also not sure that screaming ‘racist’ all the time helps… Anti-fascists working in the community to build against fascism is the most sensible way don’t you think?
PAUL: Possibly UAF are doing that whilst the BNP thrive, but for the BNP and the EDL to thrive we have to not look at the UAF but to look at the Media and in particular the journalistic notions of the Mail, Sun Express Times Telegraph. Are these to be the establishments we trust with accurate information about racial harmony? My own daughters go to school with every single race you can imagine in perfect harmony. I often walk into the playground thinking, this is a BNP nightmare. If this is to be the one last question I answer tonight, I would say the BNP the EDL the mail, and their right wing cohorts will forever be on the back foot. This next election maybe Blue, but the future is black white and brown!
Speaking of the Irish, what were your own views on the situation in Ireland when the IRA were at war with the British state?
PAUL: My own views were gagged at the time. By that I mean interviews where I mentioned the republican struggle in as positive light ‘disappeared’. Earlier on I was asked about a Housemartins reunion, the last question asked about my feeling on the current climate politically. Lets just say when i look at the financial sector of the city of London, when I look at the baying politicians with their noses in the troughs of working class taxes i say to you. P.I.R.A couldn’t you reform for one last gig, it would be a blast.
What’s your views in general about politics in Britain at the present time – what choices do the working class have now that every politician from local to national seems to have their nose in the trough and all the mainstream parties appear to have shifted to the right?
PAUL: It’s tempting as a working class voter to feel alienated, desperate and de-democratised, but this has always been the case. Any voter as old as myself or older will know that working class people have only at the very best of times been represented by 5 or 6 people in parliament. The time came a very long time ago, as it has again now, to question parliament, parliament’s existence and the very existence of democracy.
What is you opinion on the current situation in Britain whereby you cannot cross the street, open a newspaper or watch TV without being faced with some ‘tribute’ to or collection for the British armed forces?
PAUL: I’m absolutely gob smacked that the state and their army are blindly controlling millions of people to think that if you give a penny to troops in Afghanistan that they will give a fuck to you when your husband or wife attempts to raise an issue in parliament. By that I mean, when finally the parliamentarians tramp on every civil liberty we ever had, are these troop groups and ‘help for heroes’ going to come to our rescue, or are they going to be propped up from the turrets outside the house of commons?
Can you envisage a reunified Ireland in your lifetime, which is unfettered from Britain? It is for many on this forum the political question of all political questions…
PAUL: Yes I can, for the very reason that if the empire of Britain finds a more pertinent thing to scratch they could easily leave the British in Ireland behind. It’s worth remembering the most disloyal Britons are the ruling class and royalty. They will abandon Northern Ireland, and abandon Britain if and when a new carrot is dangled in front of them.
Thank for coming on to the TAL Forum and speaking so freely to us about music, football and politics. It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege.
PAUL: Ok, I’ll get going now and I want to thank you for all your questions but mainly wish you all the best in your lives, your conversations, and where those lives and conversations take you. Up the Blades! And bless you all. X
- Thanks to all the Talsters who fired the questions: Sheaf, GRB, Victor J, Talman, Celtic Lhad, Greengo, Karl, Barney, Bandit, Ryanbhoy, Ruahri, Dreenan, GSI, Red Clydeside, Pilgrimbhoy, Big Moog
- Very special thanks go to Sheaf for arranging the interview with Paul Heaton.