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The Beautiful South

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The Beautiful South
The Beautiful South performing in 2006
The Beautiful South performing in 2006
Background information
OriginHull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
GenresPop rock[1]
Years active1988–2007
LabelsGo!, Ark 21, Mercury, London, Sony, Elektra
Past members

The Beautiful South were an English pop rock group formed in 1988 by Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway, two former members of the Hull group the Housemartins, both of whom performed lead and backing vocals. Other members throughout the band's existence were former Housemartins roadie Sean Welch (bass), Dave Stead (drums), and Dave Rotheray (guitar). The band's original material was written by Heaton and Rotheray.

After the band's first album, Welcome to the Beautiful South (1989, recorded as a quintet), they were joined by a succession of female vocalists. All of the following artists performed lead and backing vocals alongside Heaton and Hemingway–Briana Corrigan for albums two and three after appearing as a guest vocalist on one, followed by Jacqui Abbott for the fourth to seventh albums, and finally Alison Wheeler for the final three Beautiful South albums.

The group were known for wry and socially observant lyrics. They broke up in January 2007, claiming the split was due to "musical similarities",[2] having sold around 15 million records worldwide.



Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway had initially come to attention as (respectively) the lead singer and "singing drummer" of the successful Hull jangle pop band the Housemartins, who had scored seven UK Top 40 singles and two Top 10 albums between 1986 and 1988. (Heaton was with the Housemartins for their entire existence; Hemingway joined in time for their second and final album.) The band was known for blending overt socialist politics and a form of Christianity, having baited the British monarchy, the building industry, and South African apartheid in their songs as well as including gospel elements in their music. The Housemartins often claimed to have set a fixed lifespan for themselves; the members duly brought the band to an end in 1988 at the height of its success. Heaton and Hemingway immediately began work on setting up a new band, naming it "The Beautiful South" as a sarcastic comment on their staunch Northern roots.

The third initial bandmember was Dave Rotheray, a songwriting guitarist who'd previously played with Hemingway in two other Hull bands, the Newpolitans and the Velvetones. At the time Rotheray was studying for a PhD at the University of Hull and living on Grafton Street, where Heaton also lived. Rotheray and Heaton became the songwriting team for the Beautiful South, which was conceived as a quintet with Heaton and Hemingway (who was no longer drumming) as the two lead singers. The core band was completed by Dave Stead (ex-Luddites/Vicious Circle) on drums, and former Housemartins roadie Sean Welch on bass guitar. Also important to the band's sound was studio keyboard player Damon Butcher—although never an official member of the group he ended up playing virtually all the piano and keyboard parts on the band's albums.

Debut album release[edit]

Their first album, Welcome to the Beautiful South, was released in 1989 and promptly produced a Number 2 UK Singles Chart hit, "Song for Whoever". With the follow-up single "You Keep It All In" reaching number 8 and "I'll Sail This Ship Alone" reaching number 31, the band were soon set to equal or surpass the success of the Housemartins, while the songwriting built on and expanded the trenchant social critiques which the previous band had been known for. Topics included nationalism, domestic violence, football hooliganism and the self-serving industry of love songs, and the album's disturbing cover art also drew attention. Northern Irish singer Briana Corrigan was featured as a background vocalist on the album. Her contributions proved so successful that she was soon promoted to full membership status, as the band's third vocalist.


In 1990, the Beautiful South released their second album, Choke. Two singles—"My Book" and "Let Love Speak Up Itself"—charted outside the Top 40, but the album also provided the band's only Number 1 hit, a Hemingway/Corrigan duet called "A Little Time". The video, featuring the aftermath of a domestic fight, won the 1991 BRIT Award for Best Video.[3]

Third album and Corrigan's departure[edit]

The band's third album, 0898 Beautiful South, followed in 1992. It provided another Top 20 hit, "Bell Bottomed Tear", as well as two further Top 30 hits, "Old Red Eyes Is Back" and "We Are Each Other", although a fourth single, "36D", only placed in the Top 50. "We Are Each Other" also became the band's biggest hit in the United States, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1992.[4]

Both Choke and 0898 Beautiful South illustrated the growing fullness of the band's sound. Both featured Pete Thoms and Gary Barnacle as regular contributors on brass and woodwind, and also featured Corrigan as lead vocalist on several tracks. Her contribution helped to characterise the bittersweet kitchen sink dramas played out in the band's often barbed songs, and allowed Heaton and Rotheray to explore and express female perspectives in their songwriting. However, the latter approach had mixed success, demonstrated later in 1992 when Corrigan chose to leave the band to pursue a solo career. Although her decision was partly prompted by a desire to record and promote her own material (which was not getting exposure within the Beautiful South), she had also had ethical disagreements over some of Heaton's lyrics, most notably "Mini-correct", "Worthless Lie" and the 0898 Beautiful South single "36D", which criticised the British glamour industry via scathing comments about glamour models. Five years later, Hemingway admitted, "we all agree that we should have targeted the media as sexist instead of blaming the girls for taking off their tops".[5][6][7] Heaton corroborated this view in 2022, stating, "'36D' hasn't dated well. I like the idea of blaming the newspapers, but blaming the model involved was wrong."[8]

Jacqui Abbott joins the group[edit]

In 1993, St Helens supermarket shop-worker Jacqui Abbott was brought on board to fill in as the new third lead vocalist for the band. Heaton had heard her sing at an after-show party in St Helens and remembered her vocal talents. Heaton referred to her as "the lass from the glass"[9]—a reference to the Pilkington factory in St Helens. Abbott's first album with the band was Miaow in the same year. Hits included "Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)" and a cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", previously popularised by Harry Nilsson.

Carry On Up the Charts[edit]

In November 1994 Carry On Up the Charts was released, a "best of" compilation consisting of the singles to date plus new track "One Last Love Song". Released at a time when the group's album sales had been waning, the album was a huge commercial success.[10] It secured the Christmas number one spot on the charts and became the second-best selling album of the year. In 1995, the band briefly supported R.E.M. on the British leg of their world tour when they covered for Oasis, who pulled out of R.E.M's concerts at McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield on July 25 and 26.[11][12] The Beautiful South performed Oasis' "Some Might Say", dedicating the song to Oasis fans in the audience.

Blue Is the Colour[edit]

The 1996 album Blue Is the Colour sold over a million copies, and featured hit singles "Rotterdam" and "Don't Marry Her". The album demonstrated the band's gradual shift towards a country music sound, and was well received by the public and on BBC and commercial radio.[citation needed] In 1997, the Beautiful South headlined stadium concerts for the first and last time, in Huddersfield and at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in London. Support for the Huddersfield concert was provided by Cast and the Lightning Seeds.[13]


The album Quench (1998) was released with similar commercial success, again reaching number one in the UK album charts. "Perfect 10", the first single to be released from the album, also provided the band with further singles chart success. The album is also notable for being more uptempo, and being the first on which Heaton and Hemingway's former Housemartins colleague Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) was used in a consultancy role.[14]

Painting It Red release and Abbott's departure[edit]

Although 2000's Painting It Red album reached Number 2 in the UK charts, the band suffered difficulties in its promotion and in touring, and a substantial number of the CDs were faulty. Jacqui Abbott left the band in the same year, discouraged by the pressures of touring and needing to concentrate on looking after her son, who had just been diagnosed with autism.[15][16][17] After completing their tour obligations, the band marked time with a second greatest-hits album (Solid Bronze) in 2001, and took time off to refresh themselves. Heaton embarked on a solo career under the Biscuit Boy (a.k.a. Crakerman) alias[18] and released the Fat Chance album in 2001. It did not sell well, although it was critically acclaimed and was reissued under Heaton's own name the following year.


The Beautiful South regrouped in 2003, with new recruit Alison Wheeler taking on the role of female singer. The lineup recorded Gaze in 2003, following it with 2004's Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs, an album of unusually arranged cover tunes, including "Livin' Thing", "You're the One That I Want", "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "I'm Stone in Love With You". A track from the album, "This Old Skin", was presented as a cover of a song by an obscure band called "The Heppelbaums"; it was later revealed to be an original Heaton/Rotheray composition.

Final album released[edit]

The final Beautiful South album, Superbi, was released on 15 May 2006. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, a farm in Bakewell, Derbyshire and producer Ian Stanley's studio in Enniskerry, Ireland. It was mixed by Bill Price (Sex Pistols, the Clash, Guns N' Roses). The first single, "Manchester", started off as a poem—"If rain makes Britain great, then Manchester is greater"—and was, in Heaton's words, "a sodden tribute" to the city in which he now lived.[19]


After a band meeting on 30 January 2007, the Beautiful South decided to split. They released a statement on 31 January 2007, in which they joked that their reasons for splitting were "musical similarities"—an ironic reference to "musical differences", which are often cited as the reason for a band's split. "The band would like to thank everyone for their 19 wonderful years in music", the statement said.[2]

In June 2007, the band's music was featured in a jukebox musical entitled The Slide (the book is by Adrian Davis); it premiered at the Phoenix Theatre at New College, Swindon.[20]



  1. ^ "Why it took a little time for The Beautiful South's Jacqui Abbott to find her voice again". Belfast Telegraph. 24 October 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Pop group Beautiful South split". BBC News. 31 January 2007.
  3. ^ "The Beautiful South". Brits.co.uk. 19 February 2014. Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  4. ^ "The Beautiful South — Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 February 2013. [dead link]
  5. ^ "Contemporary Musicians, Volume 19". beautifulsouth.org. 1 September 1997. Archived from the original on 21 June 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  6. ^ "The Beautiful South – the Band". BBC News. 29 November 2001. Archived from the original on 24 April 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  7. ^ "A Little Time". Songfacts. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  8. ^ Simpson, Dave (15 September 2022). "Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott: 'As we can see from the current climate, we're groomed for serfdom'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  9. ^ O'Brien, Jon. "The Beautiful South - Live at the BBC Reviews, Songs & More". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  10. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (9 October 1995). "Carry on Up the Charts: The Best of the Beautiful South - The Beautiful South". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  11. ^ Power, Mark (28 July 2020). "When REM created a Monster: inside the tour that almost destroyed them". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  12. ^ Clark, Graham (8 August 2022). "Interview With Dave Hemingway - Ex Beautiful South Singer". The Yorkshire Times. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  13. ^ Gildea, Samantha (13 June 2014). "Were you there? The Beautiful South, Cast and the Lightning Seeds rock the McAlpine in 1997". Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
  14. ^ "The Beautiful South". BBC News. 9 October 1998. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  15. ^ "It's All Two Beautiful". NME. 23 November 2000. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
  16. ^ Martin, Piers (14 December 2000). "Beautiful South - The Beautiful South: London Brixton Academy - Live Reviews - NME.COM". NME. Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
  17. ^ "Jacqui Abbott interviewed by Allan Johnson Radio 4 2nd June 2011". BBC Radio 4. 2 June 2011.
  18. ^ "Paul Heaton puts band on hold". BBC News. 16 August 2001. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  19. ^ Bourne, Diane (15 February 2007). "Why does it always rain on us?". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  20. ^ Taylor, Stella (14 June 2007). "A poignant musical dissertation on student life and dreams". Gazette and Herald. Retrieved 1 November 2019.

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