The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton opens up about Crooked Calypso, his third album with Jacqui Abbott
It’s been 24 years since Paul Heaton first came to popular prominence as part of jangly indie types The Housemartins, 24 years he’s spent being extremely productive. Those years have produced 19 studio albums, two with The Housemartins, 10 with The Beautiful South with whom he sold over 15 million records, and now seven as a solo artist.
The latter three of his solo career have been with Jacqui Abbott, singer in The Beautiful South from 1994 to 2000 and the other voice on hits like 'Rotterdam', 'Perfect 10' and 'Don't Marry Her'. Their latest collaboration is Crooked Calypso and it arrives in hmv stores today (you can purchase it from our online store on the right-hand side of the page).
We spoke to Heaton about making the album, why he’s been going to Holland and Gran Canaria to write for most of his career and why he has no plans to take the album on tour anywhere but the UK...
When did you start working on the songs for Crooked Calypso?
“I work all the time. I build up little ideas constantly, you never really stop. When I start work properly is when I finish touring, then I take myself away and work on my lyrics, so when we finished touring Wisdom, Laughter and Lines, I went into this one.”
Do you collect a lot of songs? Or is it more about refining a select few?
“I do about 30 or 40 sets of lyrics, then when I go away with Johnny (regular collaborator Johnny Lexus), we’ll do about 25, then we’ll rehearse about 20, in that process three or four get cut down, they end up not fitting, so you record 16 and then you’ve got 12 for the album and 16 for the deluxe. It used to be four for B-Sides, but now it’s the deluxe. So that’s how it ends up filters down and the crap ones fall by the wayside.”
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on Wisdom, Laughter and Lines?
“I didn’t. I didn’t really want to move on. I’m not at a stage in my career where I’m looking for new sounds or influences. It’s called Crooked Calypso because there’s a good three or four that are really influenced by calypso, but in terms of overall sounds, I just go looking for better tunes. I strive for a complete record, there’s probably more strings and brass on this album, but I didn’t go into the record looking for something different.”
When does Jacqui get involved in the songs?
“Rehearsal. It’s only me and Johnny who get their hands on the tracks before that. Once we’ve got that far Johnny will make a CD for everyone who’s going to be on the album and they get used to it. I’ll be working on the arrangements during all that time, what feel I want for each track.”
Where were these songs written? You traditionally go away to write...
“I’ve written the last 15 albums in Holland. I go to Amsterdam airport and I pick a different town and I go there to write. This time I went to Monnickendam and Volendam and I wrote all the lyrics there. It took about three weeks, so I did three trips there. Then I went to Gran Canaria and I think the last 20 albums have been written in Gran Canaria in the same resort. This time I actually couldn’t get the resort I like. I always go on a package holiday, we’ve been doing it since 1992, we always go there.”
What is it about Holland and Gran Canaria that makes you keep coming back? Is it a case of having a formula that works?
“It’s like a lucky pen. Holland is a bit more changeable, I like to go to new places, though there is this one bar where I’ve written a lot of songs. Gran Canaria just works, every time Johnny arrives I always laugh because I think he’s expecting a beautiful beach and it’s not, it’s a proper British type resort. I like it because we can have a laugh and go to a few bars after we’ve written. It’s not the place of your dreams, but it does serve a purpose. It’s probably luck at this point that keeps me going back.”
“I used to go to Holland in the winter and it’d be cold and I’d be by myself and you can work yourself in a melancholic state. I have this reputation for writing melancholic lyrics with happy melodies and the melodies are usually written in the sun in Gran Canaria with friends, so it’s a way of producing that.”
Does the album have a theme in the lyrics? Or is each song its own island?
“There’s no theme. There’s never really a theme on my record. I’ve only done that once on a record called The Eighth. This is me speaking my mind about various things, I try to give Jacqui something interesting to say, even if it’s something cynical.”
There’s a lot going on politically at the moment, that’s something that has inspired you in the past, has any of that kept in?
“I tend to work two years out of date and I’m not one to write about obvious headlines. I don’t get specific, there’s no song about Brexit or Tory cuts, I write a lot about privilege, but I don’t pin it on certain events. Back when I was in the Housemartins we came up through the miners’ strike and we wrote a lot about struggle, but never specifically about that, it stood me in good stead.”
You’ve got some big shows booked for the autumn, how’s your live set coming together? You’ve got a lot of songs to pick from…
“I used to work to the idea that you’d do a couple of the previous albums and a lot of the new album, but since about 2012 I’ve started looking more at my back catalogue. There’s a lot of Beautiful South and Housemartins songs that I can play and I like to mix it up. It’ll be six or seven off the new album, seven Beautiful South, five Housemartins, then some others. I don’t like to do too many old ones, but if it’s a big place, then you do end up doing more old stuff.”
Do you plan to take the album out to America or into Europe?
“No. I don’t like to trash the planet anymore. I’m quite conscious of the damage that people do to the planet by going on tours to America and Australia. If the record was big in Australia, America or in Europe and someone told me we were needed there then I know it’s better five or six people to fly over on tour then hundreds of people coming over to see you. If we get successful in America then we’d look at it, but I’ve also got a young family and I don’t like to be away for too long.”
Finally, you’ve said you’re always working, is the next album already well on the way?
“I’ve got a few scraps of paper with lyrics. I’m much better at organising now, it’s why the albums keep coming, I’m permanently writing, if I walk down the street I’ve got a tune in my head and lyrics coming, it’s a strange disease I’ve got…”