The South, no less beautiful

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The South - Preston 53 Degrees

If you spotted Paul Heaton on TV recently talking about his reunion with Jacqui Abbott, you might wonder what happened to the rest of The Beautiful South.

Fact is, Paul’s right-hand man Dave Hemingway, Jacqui’s replacement Alison Wheeler and much of the touring band recently formed The South.

And there was proof – if it were needed – at this upstairs sell-out at 53 Degrees that this inspirational nine-piece still have plenty to offer, even without Heaton.

Coming on to Tony Hatch’s Crossroads theme – a surprisingly evocative touch – they launched into Stick it In and Turn It from impressive ‘debut’ LP Sweet Refrains, then From Under The Covers from their initial release 25 years ago, in what proved a winning formula all night – juxtaposing old and new.

‘Hammy’ was perfectly complemented by Ali all night, even if he never felt the need to take his big coat off on a warm night in downtown Preston.

I could hardly see the percussionist or keyboard player, but the bassist, drummer and guitarist seemed happy at the back, while brass pair Gaz and Tony did well to keep in step in a confined space out front with the vocalists.

Yet they all made an impact, the songcraft of Heaton and Dave Rotheray on the old songs and Phil Barton (absent tonight) on the new proven live.

Some didn’t know the new songs or more obscure old ones, but there was quality throughout, not least as the vocal duo re-trod their life-affirming 2004 duet on The Zombies’ This Will be Our Year. They were on safer ground with their No.1 A Little Time, its poignant message as strong as ever, the crowd warmed up in time for 1994’s Prettiest Eyes.

Recent highlight Pigeonhole and later Second Coming deserved more reaction, but hangover anthem Old Red Eyes Is Back proved popular, and the political message of 1990’s I Think the Answer’s Yes remains relevant, as Dave suggested.

Even those happier chatting by the bar recognised first hit, Song for Whoever, and I’d forgotten how good We Are Each Other was, more in tune with the band’s predecessors, The Housemartins.

The hits kept coming, One Last Love Song leading to plenty of swaying and Ali’s version of 1930s standard Dream A Little Dream prime sing-along material.

After the fantastic Pretenders to the Throne came Rotterdam, albeit partly spoiled by a sea of raised hands videoing on their phones, while 36D led to one punter throwing a bra on stage.

That was followed by Don’t Marry Her, Ali out-sang by her audience when it came to the non-radio version of the chorus, while – thankfully – no lingerie was thrown on stage during Perfect 10.

That should have been the last song before we cried for more, but Dave had already informed us they were carrying on regardless, so to speak, without a break.

So Woman in the Wall and You Keep It All In, with their rather unsettling join-in choruses, led to a show-stopping, rather fitting Good as Gold. And they were.

Malcolm Wyatt