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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