Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott set a price cap of £30 per ticket for their current tour. They wanted to keep prices as low as possible during a cost-of-living crisis in the UK and railing against greed in the music industry. You even got Billy Bragg as the support act. Value for money, indeed. However, there was one thing missing…
Jacqui Abbott. That's what was missing. Following medical advice, Jacqui had to pull out of the Bridlington, Glasgow and Stockton-on-Tees shows. Bugger. Would Mr Heaton and his band concede defeat and call off the gig? Would they fairy cakes!
Heaton and his band started with two songs from the latest Heaton & Abbott album, "N.K-Pop", with an early track from The Beautiful South sandwiched in between. The third of these songs, "Too Much For One (Not Enough For Two)", seemed fitting with Abbott's absence. Heaton apologised for Jacqui's absenteeism but said he and his band would do their best without Abbott's vocal talents. In fairness, his guitarist, bassist and drummer all did a valiant job on singing duties. They weren't Abbott, but they deserve plaudits for their efforts.
All gigs tend to have trigger points where the crowd have their blue touch paper lit. The first big firework of the night was "Old Red Eyes Is Back" from The Beautiful South's 1992 album "0898". The sell-out crowd began to sing and dance in unison. Although a few people chose to cancel their tickets after the announcement of Abbott's absence, they were quickly snapped up by those who had missed out when the tickets first went on sale.
After the 2018 revamped version of "A Little Time", firework number two was launched as a duo of great songs by The Housemartins - "The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death" and "Five Get Over Excited" - were performed for the lively and tightly-packed Stockton audience. It's been a while since I've been to a gig where ownership of a shoehorn would be of such a benefit. Sardines anyone?
The crowd got the opportunity to fine-tune their best singing voices as Heaton delivered a fantastic rendition of "I'll Sail This Ship Alone". I didn't realise just how popular this song was amongst the Heatonistas. We were treated to twenty-five songs taken from twelve albums by three different Heaton projects. With such an arsenal of material at his disposal, choosing a setlist must be challenging.
Heaton flexed his political views at various points in the evening, particularly with the anthemic "Heatongrad". "When your friendly local tax dodger is lynched for all to see/And the newspaper editors swing from ape and tree/When the trains and buses, education, health and safety's free/Welcome to Heatongrad". A decent chunk of the crowd would happily take up residency in this perfectly painted utopia by Heaton.
The night's highlight for me was Heaton taking on the greatly loved Abbott-sung classic "Rotterdam". Heaton said he couldn't sing it like Jacqui but would do his best if the crowd would help him. Challenge accepted. Almost 3,000 people raised the roof as they belted out this beloved hit. Another firework was successfully launched across the Globe Theatre. Bramall Lane, home to Heaton's beloved Sheffield United, couldn't make any more noise than the Stockton crowd achieved. Beautiful.
As Heaton and his band careered through several more hits, such as "Perfect 10" and "Happy Hour", we came to the night's last song. He encouraged his flock to join in with the 1986 number one for The Housemartins, "Caravan of Love". They responded with gusto.
This epitomised the positive feeling that pulsed through the crowd all evening and their desire to enjoy themselves, albeit without their fallen colleague Abbott. The Church of Heaton was alive, joyous and full of praise, and this was the epilogue. I felt pretty emotional. The night's last fireworks were, quite literally, launched from the front of the stage. Heaton exited stage left – his work complete. On Twitter, he stated, "We'll sorely miss Jacqui, but our intent is to make those who refund their tickets bitterly regret that decision." Job done.
Here endeth the lesson.
I Drove Her Away With My Tears
From Under the Covers
Too Much For One (Not Enough For Two)
One Last Love Song
Old Red Eyes Is Back
A Good Day is Hard to Find
A Little Time
The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death
Five Get Over Excited
I'll Sail This Ship Alone
My Mother's Womb
Me And The Farmer
Song for Whoever
Good as Gold
Think for a Minute
You Keep It All In
Caravan of Love