Paul Heaton Presents... The 8th
By Bruce Dessau
The unassuming pop craftsman takes on the Seven Deadly Sins then adds one more
This is presumably called "Doing a Damon" in the music business these days – when an acclaimed songwriter steps out of their comfort zone to try their hand at something more ambitious. Last year Paul Heaton presented his extended composition The 8th, exploring the Seven Deadly Sins, at the Manchester International Festival in a theatrical setting and the performance is replicated here.
This is no Dr Dee-style opera though, more a case of Heaton finding guest vocalists to slot into his well-established sweet-sour compositional style. Cameos include Mercury nominee King Creosote, old Beautiful South sparring partner Jacqui Abbott and Reg E Cathey, aka Norman Wilson from The Wire as narrator, half rapping, half sermonising a tale of crime, punishment and redemption. It is disappointing that Heaton himself only pitches up to sing about a new eighth deadly sin, "Gossip". He claims his choir boy range is shot after years of crooning, but it sounds in pretty fine fettle on his reggaefied pop contribution. Elsewhere Abbot is another highlight on the litling Latin shuffle of "Envy".
The mood swings from folk to soul and beyond. As ever for Heaton, despite the darkness of the subject matter the melodies are often positively bright. It was illuminating to discover recently that the writer composes his lyrics in gloomy pubs in Hull but pens his music in sunny Gran Canaria. It is a combination that works surprisingly well and not just in terms of notching up Air Miles. There is particularly plenty to enjoy here for ageing class warrior lefties who paid attention to the words on old Housemartins albums. Heaton v Eton anyone? The lyrics on The 8th are as sharp as ever. "Greed" might sound like a dig at Bono's financial planning ("Holland's banking Ireland's sweetest thing") but – if they have the musical taste to lend an ear to The 8th – it may also strike a chord with Jimmy Carr and various Cameron cronies.