Friday, 26 December 2014
The Beautiful South
The Beautiful South were always an odd proposition. On the one hand, they seemed to peddle a rather mainstream, almost AOR brand of pop, and in the 20 odd years they existed, didn’t sound particularly different at the end to what they had sounded like at the beginning. But on the other hand, there was always something far more daring going on underneath - the lyrics were often clever, or biting, or just plain vicious. Even the band name was a sneering grumble about those London-centric types. They didn’t always hit the spot - even members of the band themselves thought the anti page 3 girl diatribe “36D” was going for the wrong target - but overall, they left behind some decent records, including some genuinely classic 45’s. The group are sort of still going, albeit in two halves, but it’s the original stuff that we are looking at here.
The group were formed in 1989 out of the ashes of Hull based political indie types The Housemartins, and were signed to the same label, Go! Discs. They were formed as a five piece around the dual vocalist pairing of Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway, but by requiring a female singer for several numbers, Briana Corrigan was employed as an additional member for the first album, before later “officially” joining the group. Their debut 45, “Song For Whoever”, set out their stall from the off - an almost polite and polished piece of music, but the lyrics were of the clever-clever variety (maybe too clever for some...”I love you from the bottom of my pencil case...oh Cathy, oh Alison, oh Phillipa, oh Sue, you made me so much money I wrote this song for you“). B-side “Straight In At 37” was a sly reference to the lesser performing chart heroes of the day.
Debut LP “Welcome To The Beautiful South” caused upset to some, as it was originally housed in a controversial sleeve depicting a photo of a woman with a gun in her mouth - later copies replaced this with a “Cuddly Teddy Bear and Fluffy Rabbit” sleeve. Once again, this showed that the music was actually masking a more sinister band. “Straight In At 37” was added to Cassette and CD copies as a bonus track, whilst all three singles from the album went top 40. It was followed by 1990’s “Choke”, the album which spawned the band’s only chart topper, a duet between Corrigan and Hemingway called “A Little Time”. The b-side of the extended play versions of the single, “What You See Is What You Get”, was included on selected pressings of the album, but not all - the copies that do include it seem to be German editions with a slightly different catalogue number to the UK ones.
Late 1991 saw the release of the first single from the band’s next LP, “0898 Beautiful South” (0898 was a premium telephone dialling code number in the UK at the time). “Old Red Eyes Is Back” was a storming comeback of a 45, melodically powerful, complete with lyrics about a character deep down in the gutter, a regular subject matter for the group. Future singles stuttered, even though the quality of said 45’s were not in question. Work began on the follow up album in early 1993, but Corrigan was beginning to fail to see eye to eye with some of Heaton’s lyrics, and after hearing rough copies of some of the new material, decided to quit the band. She was replaced by an unknown singer, Jacqui Abbott, whom Heaton had seen sing at a party some years before, and was very impressed. When Corrigan left, Heaton contacted Abbott and asked her to join - she was working in a supermarket at the time, and was amazed that Heaton remembered who she was.
1994’s “Miaow” was both the rebirth of a revitalised band, sales wise, but was also the start of a troubled period in Heaton’s life resulting in some bleak lyrics on this and follow up album, “Blue Is The Colour”. “Miaow” was originally housed in a sleeve mimicking the famous HMV “Nipper” image, but HMV cited copyright theft, and subsequent pressings used a completely different “dogs in a boat” image. The first two singles featured Abbott quite significantly, indeed, she was the sole vocalist on their cover of “Everybody’s Talkin”, released as the next single after the LP had been issued. First single from the LP, the horn driven blast of “Good As Gold”, became one of the band’s most recognizable singles.
By the end of the year, the band prepared to release their first “hits” set, “Carry On Up The Charts” - again, using a pop culture reference, this time to the Carry On films. A new song, “One Last Love Song”, was included on the set, which was also issued as a single. As well as being issued as a VHS collection, double disc pressings were made with a second disc of random B-sides, with some copies playing an alternate version of “Let Love Speak Up Itself” as well.
Rather confusingly, the following summer saw a “new” Beautiful South song hitting the airwaves, when the band’s cover of “Dream A Little Dream” was sent out on a promo. It was released commercially in numerous overseas countries, and had been included in a movie called “French Kiss”, but it would take until 1996 for the track to receive a proper UK release, when it surfaced as a B-side. Equally confusing was that the next UK single was a stunning stand alone release called “Pretenders To The Throne”, not found on the recent hits set.
The very title of 1996’s “Blue Is The Colour” should give you an indication as to where Heaton’s head was at. The record did, at times, veer off the tried and tested path - opening track (and future 45) “Don’t Marry Her” was completely filthy, whilst Heaton attempted to channel Tom Waits on “Liars Bar”, amazingly later released as a single. It represents a strange period in the band’s career - whenever I look at this record, it does conjure up an image, rightly or wrongly, of a band in the middle of a mid life crisis, a miserable looking album that I want to avoid, but the fact was, the band were actually huge at the time - lead single “Rotterdam”, a gentle waltz like shuffle, remains one of their biggest hits, the band had recently supported REM on their stadium tour, and they were now in the middle of the whole Britpop thing, and were gaining a sort of second wind. It just seemed that this LP was that much darker than what had come before, and so seemed less welcoming than the previous releases.
1998’s “Quench” seemed to put the “pop” back into the band, as heard in the vibrant bounce of lead single “Perfect 10”. Initial copies of the album came in a die cut slipcase, thus more or less obscuring the “normal” album cover. It transpires that the artwork was by a painter called Peter Howson, who sued for damages (and won) after claiming the imagery was used without his permission. I am not sure if the slipcase was done to try and “reduce” the amount of damaging being done? Follow up 45s “Dumb” and “How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry” both dented the top 20, and the band played Glastonbury in the summer of 1999, yet again blurring the lines between their links to the indie world and their “boring“ persona. In what seemed to be another attempt to show their Northern roots, a number of b-sides from the period were old BS hits played by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Brass Band.
2000’s “Painting It Red” was initially released in the UK as a double album, the running time of the 20 tracks just pushing it beyond the boundaries of a single CD. I listened to it recently, and can confirm it’s a bit of an underrated gem, the slightly sprawling nature of the thing allowing for a myriad mixture of styles, but all with the underlying melodic pull of the band in place throughout. Only two singles were issued, the second being a double A side of bouncy pop outing “Just Checkin’” and the astonishing tearful big ballad “The River”, which failed to dent the top 40 and which thus saw the promo campaign promptly stopped in it‘s tracks. Either that or the band had run out of B-sides for anymore singles, having shoehorned so much stuff onto the LP in the first place.
A second best of set, the modestly titled “Solid Bronze”, surfaced in 2001. It included radio edits, previously stand alone 45s and new songs in the form of a remixed “The Mediterranean” and “The Root Of All Evil”, the latter issued as a single to help promote the set. It would turn out to be a release that marked another major change in lineup, as Abbott had announced her departure due to family commitments just after the release of “Painting It Red“, making this album something of a signing off point. Shows in late 2000 were conducted without any female singer on stage at all. Her replacement was (eventually) “Lady” Alison Wheeler, so dubbed due to her Cambridge education being in direct contrast to the more working class background of the rest of the group.
Thereafter, the band seemed to fall off the radar slightly. Radio play moved from Radio 1 to the more MOR driven Radio 2, and the attendant singles were generally charting lower, but the pop nous of the group remained intact, with the likes of “Just A Few Things That I Ain‘t“ and “Let Go With The Flow” from 2003’s “Gaze” retaining the trademark sound. A covers album, “Golddiggas Headnodders And Pholk Songs” followed in 2004, although one of the so called covers was simply a Beautiful South original, with the band concocting a fictitious story (and webpage) about the so-called group who had allegedly recorded it originally.
2006’s “Superbi” would turn out - retrospective releases aside - to be the band’s final stand. The final single from the album was backed with a b-side called “Farewell”, suggesting that the band had their finale planned well in advance. They famously split due to “musical similarities” the following year, before a chunk of the final lineup reformed as “The New Beautiful South“, later shortened to “The South“. Heaton and Abbott have also recently recorded an album together.
The Beautiful South once got referred to as making “Mondeo Music”, Mondeo being a make of car. This is sort of reflected in their discography - the band, almost always, included bonus tracks on the CD editions of their singles, making the 7” and Cassette pressings worthless, as they were missing these songs. In their earlier days, the band did actually used to issue 12” singles that had identical track listings to the CD editions, but yes, it is possible to own the band’s entire back catalogue on the Yuppy-esque CD format.
I have listed below the “EP” styled singles that the band issued, as in many instances, these still remain the only way to get some of the flipsides. There were occasional releases on 7” and Cassette which were released as maxi singles, mirroring the track listing of their cousins, and these are also shown. Not shown are any singles which came in special packaging - the Cassette pressing of “Closer Than Most” used a different cover to the CD editions, whilst a number of early period 7” singles were pressed as special editions, with altered artwork - but with selected B-sides still missing. You can see the artwork differences by looking at the BS entry on the 45cat.com website. The only other 45s listed are those which were missing b-sides when first released, but whose interest factor is now greater after said b-side(s) turned up on the double disc “Carry On” release.
As for the albums, the CD pressings are probably the easiest to find, as you can buy pretty much all of them on Amazon in this form still, so I have listed the original compact disc pressings only for clarity. The pre-2001 ones are available on Cassette, and vinyl pressings exist of everything up to “Solid Bronze”, although finding them might be a bit harder. Video releases also exist but I would hope to cover these in a later feature rather than squeeze them in here.
Welcome To The Beautiful South (CD, Go! Discs AGODCD 16, “gun” p/s)
Choke (CD, Go! Discs 828 233-2)
0898 (CD, Go! Discs 828 310-2)
Miaow (CD, Go! Discs 828 507-2)
Carry On Up The Charts (2xCD, Go! Discs 828 569-2)
Blue Is The Colour (CD, Go! Discs 828 845-2)
Quench (CD, Go! Discs 538 179-2, later copies without slipcase have alternate catalogue number)
Painting It Red (2xCD, Go! Discs 548 266-2)
Solid Bronze (CD, Go! Discs 586 444-2)
Gaze (CD, Go! Discs 9865694)
Golddiggas Headnodders And Pholk Songs (CD, Sony 5186329, in hardback book style sleeve, later pressings in jewel case and with alternate catalogue number)
Gold (2xCD, Go! Discs 06024 9836292 1)
Superbi (CD, Sony 82876 831132)
The BBC Sessions (2xCD, Mercury 9845873)
At The BBC (3xCD+DVD, Mercury 5333213)
Song For Whoever (Edit)/Straight In At 37/You And Your Big Ideas (12”, Go! Discs GODX32)
Song For Whoever (Edit)/Straight In At 37/You And Your Big Ideas (CD, Go! Discs GODCD32)
You Keep It All In/You Just Can’t Smile It Away/I Love You (But You’re Boring)/It’s Instrumental (12”, Go! Discs GODX 35)
You Keep It All In/You Just Can’t Smile It Away/I Love You (But You’re Boring)/It’s Instrumental (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 35)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/(LP Mix)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (White Vinyl 10”, Go! Discs GODT 38)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (12”, Go! Discs GODX 38)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/(LP Mix)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 38)
A Little Time/In Other Words I Hate You/What You See Is What You Get (12”, Go! Discs GODX 47)
A Little Time/In Other Words I Hate You/What You See Is What You Get (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 47)
My Book (Edit)/Big Beautiful South/Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better/Speak To Me (12”, Go! Discs GODX 48)
My Book (Edit)/Big Beautiful South/Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better/Speak To Me (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 48)
Let Love Speak Up Itself (Edit)/Danielle Steele (The Enemy Within)/Love Wars/Headbutting Husband (12”, Go! Discs GODX 53)
Let Love Speak Up Itself (Edit)/Danielle Steele (The Enemy Within)/Love Wars/Headbutting Husband (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 53)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC (7”, Go! Discs GOD 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC/Diamonds (12”, Go! Discs GODX 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC/Diamonds (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 66)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out (7”, Go! Discs GOD 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out/I Started A Joke (12”, Go! Discs GODX 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out/I Started A Joke (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 71)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (7”, Go! Discs GOD 78, with 4 postcards)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 78)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 78)
Bell Bottomed Tear/Woman In The Wall (Live)/You Should Be Dancing (Live) (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 78, different p/s)
36D (Edit)/Throw His Song Away/Trevor You’re Bizarre (7”, Go! Discs GOD 88, with 4 postcards)
36D (Edit)/Throw His Song Away/Trevor You’re Bizarre (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 88)
36D/From Under The Covers (Live)/You Keep It All In (Live)/36D (Live) (CD, Go! Discs GOLCD 88, b-sides later included on "At The BBC")
Good As Gold/Love Adjourned/Minicorrect (Demo Version) (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 110)
Good As Gold/Frank And Delores/One Man’s Rubbish (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 110, different colour p/s)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (7”, Go! Discs GOD 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/Nearer To God/A Piece Of Sky (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 113, pink p/s)
Prettiest Eyes (Remix)/The Best We Can/Size (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 119)
Prettiest Eyes (Remix)/Why Can’t I/Missing Her Now (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 119, different colour p/s)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (7”, Go! Discs GOD 122)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 122)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 122)
One Last Love Song/Mr Obsession/You’re Only Jealous (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 122)
Pretenders To The Throne/Virgin/A Long Day In The Field (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 134)
Pretenders To The Throne/Virgin/A Long Day In The Field (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 134)
Rotterdam/A Minute’s Silence/Pollard (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 155)
Don’t Marry Her (Single Mix)/God Bless The Child/Without Her (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 158)
Don’t Marry Her (Single Mix)/Dream A Little Dream/Les Yeux Ouverts (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 158, different p/s)
Blackbird On The Wire/Lean On Me (Live)/You Just Can’t Smile It Away (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD1, Go! Discs 582 125-2)
Blackbird On The Wire/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/The Sound Of North America (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD2, Go! Discs 582 197-2, unique p/s)
Liars Bar (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/Dumb (Original Version)/You’ve Done Nothing Wrong (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD1, Go! Discs 582 239-2)
Liars Bar (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/The Opening Of A New Book/Hold On To What? (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD2, Go! Discs 582 241-2, yellow p/s)
Perfect 10/If/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD1, Go! Discs 566 481-2, cassette copies exist minus track 3 [566 480-4])
Perfect 10/Loving Arms/One Last Love Song (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD2, Go! Discs 566 483-2, different p/s)
Dumb/Suck Harder/Especially For You (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD1, Go! Discs 566 753-2, cassette copies exist minus track 3 [566 752-4])
Dumb/I Sold My Heart To The Junkman/Blackbird On The Wire (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD2, Go! Discs 566 755-2, different p/s)
How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry (Edit)/(Remix)/Perfect 10 (Acoustic) (CD1, Go! Discs 870 821-2)
How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry (Edit)/Big Coin (Acoustic)/Rotterdam (Acoustic) (CD2, Go! Discs 870 823-2, unique p/s)
The Table/Old Red Eyes Is Back (Acoustic)/Your Father And I (Live) (CD1, Go! Discs 562 165-2)
The Table/Don’t Marry Her (Acoustic)/Look What I Found In My Beer (Acoustic) (CD2, Go! Discs 562 166-2, different colour p/s)
Closer Than Most/Moths/The Table (Live, Cambridge Folk Festival 29.7.2000) (CD1, Go! Discs 562 967-2)
Closer Than Most/The State That I’m In/Blackbird On The Wire (Live, Cambridge Folk Festival 29.7.2000) (CD2, Go! Discs 562 968-2, unique p/s)
The River (Edit)/Just Checkin’ (Remix)/Valentines Day W**k (CD1, Go! Discs 572 755-2)
Just Checkin’ (Remix)/The River (Edit)/Little Chef (CD2, Go! Discs 572 756-2, green p/s)
The Root Of All Evil/Free For All/Perfect 10 (Video) (CD1, Go! Discs 588 870-2)
The Root Of All Evil/Chicken Wings (Original Version)/Rotterdam (Video) (CD2, Go! Discs 588 871-2, different p/s)
Just A Few Things That I Ain’t/Cheap/Care As You Go/Just A Few Things That I Ain’t (Video) (CD1, Go! Discs 981 303-8)
Just A Few Things That I Ain’t/The New Fence/A Long Time Coming (CD2, Go! Discs 981 303-9, different p/s)
Let Go With The Flow/Skool Daze (CD1, Go! Discs 981 5083)
Let Go With The Flow/Don’t Stop Movin’ (Live)/Song For Whoever (Live) (CD2, Go! Discs 981 5084, pink p/s)
Livin’ Thing/I’m Living Good (CD1, Sony 675371 1)
Livin’ Thing/Lovin’ You/Another Night With The Boys (CD2, Sony 675371 2, different colour p/s)
This Old Skin/Lipstick Traces (CD1, Sony 675684 1)
This Old Skin/Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now/Livin’ Thing (Video) (CD2, Sony 675684 2, different colour p/s)
This Will Be Our Year/For The Good Times (CD1, Sony 675746 1)
This Will Be Our Year/Never Mind/This Old Skin (Video) (CD2, Sony 675746 2, different colour p/s)
Manchester/If Teardrops Were Silver (CD, Sony 82876 831132)
The Rose Of My Cologne/Farewell (CD, Sony 82876 872892)