Tuesday 29 November 2022

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott / Billy Bragg - Blackpool Opera House - 28th November 2022

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott brought the third night of their tour in support of their number one album NK-Pop to the resplendent surroundings of Blackpool Opera House on Monday night supported by Billy Bragg. A career-spanning set from Paul's earliest days in The Housemartins right up to tracks from NK Pop delighted an initially reticent seated audience and had the whole building on their feet by the end to celebrate two of music's most enduring characters.

Billy Bragg might have lost some of the youthful fire of his early days, but the passion that burns deep inside the man about standing up for those who need his support is as powerful and articulate as ever. He tells us he chooses his allies by their enemies and lists off The Sun, Telegraph and Conservative party to huge cheers from the audience. If anyone disagrees with him they're not bold enough to raise their voice. He speaks of his hope that there will be a popular wave of discontent emanating from the fights the unions are taking on at the moment against the government and austerity as he introduces The Power Of The Union, whilst adjusting the words of Sexuality to put his support behind the trans and non-binary community and playing I Will Be Your Shield, from his most recent album The Million Things That Never Happened. He's joined for the final song by his son Jack who's acting as his guitar tech on the tour. 

The Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott gig experience is a wonderfully joyous one. There's absolutely no rock star posing and posturing just two hours of songs from across their combined careers that connect and touch people in the way the very best music does. The humility of the pair of them and appreciation for their support, capping tickets at £30 for the tour and Jacqui insisting on photographing us all as they come out for the second encore, is refreshing these days.

There's plenty of self-deprecation, Paul joking about his bad back, Jacqui laughing at her monitor telling her to take her pills half way through and Paul's revelation that they've made the Guinness Book Of Records as the oldest male / female duo to hit number one in the charts. It's hard to tell whether he's joking about that or whether he really is going off to hit someone with a brick when he leaves after a couple of songs to let Jacqui take centre stage for a cover of Etta James' Lovin' Arms. 

The songs read like a soundtrack to the story of the life of many of those in the room. The seated venue means it's initially a more sedate affair than their more recent stadium shows, but that doesn't mean that there's any less connection between them and their audience.

We get the headrush of The Housemartins' Five Get Over Excited or Happy Hour, the more reflective Think For A Minute or the accapella Caravan Of Love that brings the night to a close. We get the Beautiful South hits such as Rotterdam, You Keep It All In, A Little Time (which is funked up a little), Old Red Eyes Is Back, Don't Marry Her Fuck Me (which is sung at full voice for most women - and men for that matter - in the room), Song For Whoever, Perfect 10 and Manchester amongst others. 

This isn't just a nostalgia trip though. The more recent tracks released under their joint names - I Gotta Praise, DIY, Sunny Side Up and My Mother's Womb - still elicit the response you'd expect from songs that have graced number one albums which they're still achieving with little of the chart chicanery that goes on these days. There's no exodus to the bar, no disinterested chatter like you often get with artists with such an established and celebrated back catalogue. That's testament to the enduring quality of the songwriting of Paul and guitarist Jonny Lexus, who alongside the rest of the band deliver Paul and Jacqui the framework of these songs for them to do their magic.

Forty years in Paul Heaton is as popular as ever, with Jacqui Abbott sharing top billing with him the partnership is more than the sum of the parts as is has been since he plucked her from obscurity to join The Beautiful South. Jacqui's solo moments are worth the admission alone, but when they combine the unlikely duo make real magic. It might not be the coolest music around and never pretends to be anything but what it is. However when you see thousands of people singing along to a soundtrack that captures their lives, loves, doubts, hopes and fears then you realise exactly why music is so important to so many people.

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott's website can be found here. Paul is on Facebook here and Twitter here.


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