Paul Heaton’s The 8th at Manchester International Festival

I have a confession to make. When it comes to the lyrics and music of Paul Heaton I am something of a closet fan. Ever since I was a teenager those sharp, angular lyrics dressed up in jaunty melodies had always caught my ear. Needless to say I was looking forward to the eighth.

Of the eighth Heaton writes:-

‘The Beautiful South and The Housemartins have always been tempered by popular choice and the whim of public opinion.

Today is different. Tonight is different.

This piece was written for the hearts of the authors Donald Gaines, Iceberg Slim, Julius Lester and Clarence Cooper Junior. It was written for the pirates. The pirates Charles Bukowski and Martin Kartowicks…it was written for the addicts , the pimps, the prostitutes, the gamblers and the lonely.’

Mini stories have always been part of the Heaton ‘s oeuvre. Unusual, shady characters and warring couples are all staple fare. But this is on a different scale entirely (a novel to a short story, an oratoria to a song) and despite my desperate attempts to like it I just don’t think it works.

It doesn’t help that the sound mix makes it hard to hear Heatons typically abrasive lyrics (both the keys and the drums are way to high in the mix) and whilst Reg E Carthy gives a virtuoso performance as the Narrator (despite being impeded by being on crutches as a result of an accident at the technical rehearsal) I quickly loose the narrative (by Che Walker). Its a narrative which feels rather superimposed – and in attempting to explore American sub culture Heaton’s trademark honesty in exploring a difficult subject matter seemingly disappears.

The narration also rather interrupts the conceit of the 8th being one of the longest pop songs ever. In reality this is eight songs – each of the first seven named after the seven deadly sins – with each one performed by a different guest and each one in a different style. The piece find itself adrift somewhere between a theatre show, a gig or a song cycle.

Whatever it is I find myself underwhelmed. In an attempt to write the longest pop song you can’t help but be reminded (especially by Kenny Anderson’s version of Sitting on a Fence and Simon Aldred heart breaking rendition of Sail this Ship Alone in the second half) that Heaton’s perfect medium is the pop song.



2 thoughts on “Paul Heaton’s The 8th at Manchester International Festival

  1. I was there at the first performance and I was totally bowled over by it. Loved the whole thing, don’t get why you think it didn’t work. Still, to each their own; I just really want Paul to try things like this out more often! The very least you can say about the 8th is that it shows promise (and, imo, more than delivered) and I think we should encourage more attempts at things like this.

    Oh and also, I never realised Heaton could be so funny, I really should go to more of his gigs. His comments about Daman Albarn had everyone around me laughing their heads off.

  2. Pingback: The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic « Matthew Linley’s Blog

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