Under the Influence: Paul Heaton’s Top Five

Legendary British singer-songwriter Paul Heaton fronted both the seminal 80s pop-soul band The Housemartins and its more nuanced follow-up The Beautiful South in a hit-strewn career which will soon enter its third decade. Now a solo artist, Heaton’s status as a national treasure affords him the time and space to indulge in more avant garde activities these days, such as penning record-breakingly long paeans to broken society and performing them at international arts festivals. Nick Amies interrupted a nice cup of tea to ask him about his influences.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash

I was about 15 when this came out in 1978 and was sharing a bedroom with my brother Adrian at the time. Ade kept a secret radio under his bed for when the lights went out. He’d put on Radio Luxembourg and we’d listen to bands like the Clash through a shared ear-piece. The excitement generated by punk was massive and this album made Ade and I start our first band; him on a cheap guitar and me singing. It was the first time I’d sung anything other than school hymns; from Our Father who art in heaven to Drug Stabbing Time, it was quite a departure.

Hunky Dory – David Bowie

Bowie was one of those artists who inspired total devotion in his fans, like Morrissey would ten years later. Bowie fans at our school would listen to Bowie and nothing else. My eldest brother Mark was a Bowie fan but not a fanatic; he listened to all sorts. But this stood out for me when he played this, usually very loud. Bowie’s voice is softer and more adventurous here than on his more operatic 80s albums; he has a higher range. I based my own style on the singing on this album; listening constantly and copying his vocals.

This is Soul – Various Artists

I first got into soul thanks to our local second-hand shop. You could pick up dozens of old albums for about 50p a pop. This one opened the floodgates for me; it’s a catch-all compilation with all the stars: Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge. I loved everyone on it and sung along to every song. My soul voice and some of the early Housemartins style started here. But I got greedy and began buying 50 records at a time, just revelling in the stories and delving into the knowledge behind the music. This opened up my horizons and gave me endless new references.

Spotlight On… Al Green

There has to be an album from the reverend in here and this 24-track double album ticks all the boxes. It’s a comprehensive collection and one which led to my total obsession with Al Green. I got this in 1983, just a few months before the Housemartins began, and I immediately started taking my soul voice in this direction. I’d tried a more bluesy feel and a bit of jazz but this nailed it for me. Al’s rhythm and harmonies just kill. I now own over 30 of his albums on vinyl alone and each one is like a religious artefact as far as I’m concerned.

King of America – Elvis Costello

It could have been Get Happy because I was influenced greatly by his early lyrical style but this one, although it’s later, around 1986, represents a huge step up for his writing. It really inspired me to raise my game because he’d really pushed on. Costello could deliver a single line and sum up exactly what you were feeling. Also his politics were a lot more subtle here. We hammered ours home on the first Housemartins album but this record, with its mixture of love and politics, really helped the Beautiful South strike the right balance when we go going a few years later.

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Under the Influence: White Lies’ Top Five

London’s post-punk dramatists White Lies are currently on their most comprehensive world tour to date in support of their second album Ritual. The band took some time out of their heavy live schedule to talk to Nick Amies about the five albums that most influenced them and shaped their sound.

Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads

There’s a certain obsession with this album in the band because its so touchingly simple and it’s a style we’ve always aspired to. Simplicity is one of the greatest and hardest disciplines to learn and David Byrne excels at it here. The circular rifts that float and repeat; the stark backdrop to each songs which slowly builds up with layers of sound, the easily accessible melodies and that unusual vocal delivery. It’s an almost perfect intellectual pop record. Plus it’s a live album which doesn’t feel like one; it just feels as though this is how the songs were always mean to sound like.

Now Here is Nowhere – Secret Machines

Coming out of the New York new wave scene of the mid-Noughties at the same time as The Strokes and Interpol, these guys were pretty much overlooked – but not by us. This is their sophomore album and it’s hugely under appreciated in our opinion. It can genuinely rival anything ever done by some of the biggest bands in rock history – it’s that good. It’s not perfect but that’s what makes it so excellent. It sounds rusty and sloppy in parts but the production is so good that you can see that it’s meant to sound that way. It has such amazing writing on it too. There’s no gloss but it’s a wonderfully atmospheric and orchestrated record.

Live at the Royal Opera House – Björk

It’s such a humbling experience listening to Björk; she’s so prolific, inspirational and original. This performance really inspired us during the making of (debut single) Unfinished Business. Her structures, chords, rhythms…they’re all so unconventional and progressive. It should really be an uncomfortable listening experience but it’s not. It’s actually very relaxing. The version of Hyperballad on here is just incredible. Again, like the Talking Heads album, this is live but it doesn’t come across as such. It has a real flow to it and a narrative despite being, essentially, a greatest hits set featuring the best of her output up to 2002. To think she is still pushing the boundaries now is frightening.

Mimikry – Alva Noto & Blixa Bargeld

We were pretty underwhelmed by new music at the time this came out in 2010 but this just blew us away. It’s an uncomfortable journey through the avant garde from start to finish; full of minimalist soundscapes, spoken word recitals and spontaneous fuck-ups. At one point there’s even a collection of anomalous sounds which are apparently the recordings of computers going wrong. It just reinvigorated us. There were no real influencing factors on the material we working on at the time but it just brought our interest back to life.

The Ideal Crash – dEUS

It may not be their best album but it has something very life-affirming that, despite what people might think about White Lies, really appeals to us. For all its faults, it’s an amazing record. Some of the lyrics are awful; the writing’s corny and odd in places and the melodies can be a bit cheesy but it gets away with it due to the kitsch factor. The musicianship is pitch perfect, however, and channels something of Radiohead’s experimentation in places. There are dissonant wig-outs where it sounds like they’re all playing different songs but it works. And then there’s teenage, sugary pop songs too. You can never second guess where they’re going to go.