Friday, 14 December 2018
WHEN great British pop institution the Beautiful South split in 2007, some members of the band didn’t feel ready to hang up their microphones and instruments just yet.
More than a decade on from their re-emergence as The South — the now nine-strong band have enjoyed a busy year touring the length and breadth of the land.
Fronted by Alison Wheeler and sax player turned co-lead vocalist Gaz Birtles, The South are rocking up at the Wycombe Swan on Sunday night (November 11).
Among the chart-conquering hits in store are A Little Time, Perfect 10, Rotterdam, Old Red Eyes is Back, Good as Gold and Don’t Marry Her.
“You are spoiled for choice,” admits Alison. “There are some staples that you can’t not do — I mean, we couldn’t get away with not doing Perfect 10 and Rotterdam and Don’t Marry Her. But it is nice to play around with the back catalogue — songs that maybe the audience aren’t completely aware of.”
While the bulk of their live material dates from the Paul Heaton years, a few years back The South recorded a well-received album of their own material called Sweet Refrains.
“It was exciting because it was new territory,” recalls Alison. “And it was a bit more of a democracy when it came to writing. Anybody could bring stuff to the table — it wasn’t a closed group. It was almost too many cooks as well because everybody wanted to get involved, which was fair enough, but you have to at some point come to some agreement about what tracks can make the cut.
“We had loads of material that we could have used, but trying to group them so they all sat together in a nice style was the challenge. We wanted to stay within ‘intelligent pop’ — kind of the acerbic wit that Paul had. We thought it would be nice to continue along those lines.”
Most of the songs that appeared on Sweet Refrains were written by keyboard player Damon Butcher and guitarist Phil Barton. Butcher has since moved to live in Ireland, thereby leaving the band, but his songs continue to get a live airing as part of The South’s set.
“We tend to do about an hour and a half on tour,” says Alison. “A mixture of material. Like there might be three or four of our own stuff and then it’s basically people are coming along to relive the band, so we do the old hits.
“We try and either rework them so they might be a bit different or I might take some of the lyrics — some of the singing that Paul might have done in the past.
“And then when festivals come around the audience just want to hear all the hits, really — and we’re happy to do that because you get such a reaction from the crowd.
“We’ve got an amazing fanbase that has stayed with us despite the changes and the changes of faces and the new line-up and they’re really supportive. Because the songs have aged brilliantly — they’ve stood the test of time, they’ve not dated and people come out and go home with a happy feeling that they’ve revisited part of their childhood. I think that if you can’t achieve that with music, there’s something going wrong. But testimony to Paul’s writing, they’re just brilliant songs and the fans have been amazing in supporting us through the years.”
A more recent fan of the band is Alison’s 12-year-old daughter.
“I’ve been fortunate in that when we played Henley the time before last I found in the sea of faces my daughter on the shoulders of my husband, which was a real moment because she’s always questioned why I’ve done it. Sometimes with her she’s said ‘Don’t go’ and then she came to Henley, looked around and saw everybody singing the words to Rotterdam. You could see her nodding and then afterwards she came up to me and said ‘I get it now, I know why you do it because it’s amazing seeing all these people, arms in the air, singing at you.’ And, yeah, it’s really hard to describe the emotion it evokes — it’s just magical, I love it.”
• Sunday’s concert starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are £26 to £45. To book, call 01494 512000 or visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk
12 November 2018
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