The Beautiful South are described, in the promotional literature, as a “Great British Pop Institution”. Now, I’m not convinced that is a flattering thing to say, since establishment types tend to be pretty dull.
But when your parents offer you a free concert, and you are of the mind that live music is (in fact) live music, it would be churlish to refuse.
So my parents were into this band when they were around for real, end of the 80s and into the 90s… And beyond, actually. Despite this, they only ever owned a greatest hits compo and a couple more recent albums; it was my brother that hoovered up all the earlier albums.
Thus I got patchy exposure to them by osmosis more than actually caring.
Every so often, co-writer and lead lead vocalist Paul Heaton decides he would like a solo career, then fails horribly and reforms The Beautiful South. This time, though, the rest of the band have pipped him to the post — lacking both writers, but with everyone else intact, they went on tour as The South (Does that mean Heaton was the ‘beautiful’ in the band? Erk). And that is what we travelled to Edinburgh to see.
We’ll take the night in chronological order, so I’d like to start by telling you just how terrible a venue the HMV Playhouse is. Say what you like about the terrible sound quality of Glasgow’s ABC — at least they don’t rub salt in the wound by having terrible toilet facilities. When I say terrible, I mean they were tiny, crampt, with far too few facilities for the respectably sized venue. And then the real toilets didn’t even have seats on them; just two wood bars around the bowl that one has to squat on. Not pleasant.
Add to this an absolutely terrible seating arrangement (too many stools and tables on a small raised area, complete with beer-sticky carpet — counterbalanced by virtually no seating in the main back area, not even a few shelves along the edge to stand at)…
Okay, seating doesn’t matter so much, everyone who is someone hits the mosh pit at the front-centre and stands up for a good dance.
The support act was, as seems to be the usual for anything I attend, one man and a guitar, playing 100% textbook songs in a 100% textbook style. Generic, uninspiring. The rest of the crowd clapped politely.
At least it wasn’t like the horror of Deacon Blue, where they had three men with guitars playing the same textbook songs (and completely ignoring the added potential three instruments should have provided).
The crowd was very mixed. There were a lot of family groups; you know, where the kids drag their parents along? During the first half of the South’s set I kind of despaired, because there wasn’t a lot of motion in the crowd (parents have atrophied fun muscles, it’s a fact), but as the band themselves warmed up, the crowd got into the swing of it.
At least it wasn’t like the horror of Deacon Blue, where Kilbirnie and I really were the only youths present.
The place was not particularly busy. I managed to be standing in front of a reasonably-sized gap for a lot of the gig, and there was plenty of room to manoeuvre throughout. I was never once jostled out of the way.
The Actual Concert
The band played a mix of obscurer tracks (How Long’s a Tear Take to Dry was a surprising highlight to me, since I don’t remember caring much for it at the time) with the well-known favourites like Perfect 10, Old Red Eyes is Back and head-banger 36D… They played a very good set for a casual concert-goer like myself; unlike the horror of Deacon Blue, every second song wasn’t a dirge that completely killed whatever mood had maanged to accumulate.
There was (naturally) a distinct lack of square wave or other electronica, but wikipedia describes them as an “alternative rock” band, so what could I expect? They played and sang well enough to carry a good concert, without any frills or insane stage lighting.
The lead singer’s banter was pretty dreadful (and due to the bvvvvvv sound, we could hardly bvvvvvv him anyway), but he seemed to realise this and shut up after a few attempts. The trumpeter managed to be much better banter without actually saying anything — a few quirked eyebrows and hand gestures…
Overall, I can’t really guage the value because I have no idea how much the tickets cost. It wasn’t the finest show I’ve ever been to, but it was an enjoyable evening — I wouldn’t have paid Ultravox tier £35 for it, but I would have been more than pleased with a Wheatus tier £12.
For nothing? Solid.