Paul Heaton is best known as the signer / songwriter front man of the British pop band The Beautiful South. Well loved in the UK, the band has never quite equalled their domestic success over in the United States, despite being praised by fans and critics alike. Heaton and Rotherway have been variously proclaimed to be the savours of Britpop and even the best partnership since Lennon and McCartney. Whether or not you believe that is really up to personal taste, but it is true to say that much of The Beautiful South's success can be put down to the brilliantly witty lyrics penned by Heaton.

This is my life and this is how it reads
For every chapter, a thousand memories
A murder, a mystery where everybody bleeds
A fantasy, a thriller with romance and disease

Paul Heaton was born on 09 May, 1962 in Birkenhead, which is in Merseyside, England. The song I'm quoting here is My Book, from the 1990 album Choke, a song which pretty much chronicles the highs and (mainly) lows of Heaton's life.

Diary entry 9th of May '62
We've had some ugly babies but none were quite like you
Diary entry '62 end of May
It looks as if the nose and chin are definitely here to stay
They're here to stay, they're here to stay

His father, Horace Heaton was a professional footballer (who played for Tranmere Rovers), but supported Paul and his two brothers, Adie and Mark by working as an electrician.

Do to his father's work, the Heaton family would often move around the country, and as a child Paul lived variously in Birkenhead, Sheffield and Chipstead Valley, in Surrey. Paul hated moving, and he hated school. Always being the "new kid" made him a loner, and it wasn't until college that he found a teacher he admired; his English teacher. Inspired by his teachers radical idea on society Paul began to scribble down his own thoughts and feelings about his life and experiences.

If my lips start smiling and my knees start a-knocking
I'm a failure
You are, you are
And if I seem half-hearted, it's because I'm broken hearted
And I'm a failure
You are, you are, you are (I am)

Heaton's academic performance was poor, but he went onto study at Redhill Technical College, where he passed all but one of his O-levels. During his studies, he was singing and playing for a band called Tools Down, which his brother, Adie had formed. They played a kind of pop-reggae which didn't inspire Paul, and the project never came to anything.

This is my life and this is how it reads
A documentary that nobody believes
Albert Steptoe in 'Gone with the Breeze'
Mother played by Peter Beardsley, father by John Cleese

After a short stint working as a petrol pump attendant, Heaton got a job as an office drone for a publishing company. Always a bit of a rebel, Heaton hated the corporate lifestyle, and his contempt for the worker lifestyle can be heard in some of his later songs -- Sheep and Happy Hour by The Housemartins in particular.

Heaton at this time was drinking in a pub called "The Railway", and it was here that he met a guy called Quentin Cook, who would later become Norman Cook, and a bunch of other dissatisfied musicians. They formed a semi-successful busking band, The Stomping pond frogs, but they too split when the various band members moved away, to work and to college.

Diary entry '68 end of the year
A cardboard Apollo 6 has given the all clear
11th December '68 Captain's log
Proposed trip to Mars is cancelled due to fog
It's due to fog, it's due to fog

All was not lost, however. Heaton remained in touch with Quentin, and left to go travelling around Europe with his girlfriend. On his return, he realised he had nowhere to really call home. He travelled England for a while with two friends (Ray "Trotsky" Barry and Matthew Vincent), before they arrived in Hull. It seemed like a friendly place, Heaton liked the idea of being back in Yorkshire, and Trotsky like the idea of being near the sea. They bought a flat at number 70, Grafton Street, and Paul started to seriously pursue his music career.

Heaton knew that his strength lie in his lyrics, but he needed a band to showcase them. He advertised for musicians, and Stan Cullimore answered. Along with Hugh Whittaker and Ted Key, The Housemartins were born. When Ted Key left shortly after the release of their first single, Norman Cook replaced him. Reasonably successful, the band went to number three with Sheep and number one with an accapella track, Caravan of Love, in December 1986.

This is the play, it was I who wrote the script
Terry meets June in 'Tales from the Crypt'
It was going to be a film but the camera person slipped
They later found him scolding a banana

Two albums later, and it was 1988, and the death of The Housemartins. Members had left, and Heaton felt he had taken his band as far as he could. In only a few months time, however, Heaton had formed another band around him, and The Beautiful South was born. The band went from strength to strength, and famously got through three female vocalists in as many albums.

Although each album was doing relatively well, sales were decreasing with each release, so in 1994 the band released Carry on up the charts; a compilation of their singles so far. The results were amazing: It is said that one in seven households in the UK has a copy.

Diary entry 10th of April '89
The world is going mad but me I'm doing fine
I'm doing fine
Back to bed, back to reality
Just fine.

With The Beautiful South still going strong (if not quite as strong as they used to be), in 2001, at the age of 39, Heaton decided to take his music in another direction and launch a solo career. He was writing more personal songs that he felt did not fit in with The Beautiful South's sound, so he recorded them himself, and released Fat Chance under the name Biscuit Boy. Why Biscuit Boy? Heaton is famous for collecting mundane things, and biscuit and crisp wrappers are a particular favourite. It might be said that he has an obsessive-compulsive personality, and has had a brush with alcoholism, although he claims to be teetotal now.

The album was released in 2001, with virtually no publicity, and subsequently had no impact on the charts at all. Convinced that the album was ignored because no-one knew who Biscuit Boy was, Heaton re-released the album in 2002 under his own name. It sold marginally better.

Paul is currently living in Manchester to be nearer his four year old daughter, Maisy, and his former (unnamed) partner. He is said to be currently working on a novel.

Resources and Bibliography

  • Lyrics Depot: My Book
  • Paul Heaton dot com: Biography
  • Robert Christgau: Only in England
  • DJ History: Bill Brewser: Paul Heaton

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