An ever-present with The Beautiful South, Dave sang on many of their hits, including their only No. 1 " A Little Time". Joining the band at Paul Heaton’s request following on from the demise of The Housemartins in 1988 (for whom he was the drummer) Dave became one of The Beautiful South’s three vocalists. “I assumed I would be drumming in the new band,” he says, “But I was needed to just sing and be a front man. It was hard to adjust at first (where do you put your hands?!) but I grew into it over time, and now really enjoy it”. The Beautiful South was a huge part of Dave’s life and with his knowledge of the songs and how they should be played, he is ideal to keep the material alive with The South.
Dave recalls a proud moment driving home from Leeds to Hull to meet his Mother at the local working men’s club in 1990. During the drive, the chart run down on Radio 1 confirmed The Beautiful South had reached No. 1 with "A Little Time". Entering the club to spontaneous applause from old friends is still a special memory. “I have other great memories of that time. An appearance on the main stage at Glastonbury just prior to REM in 1995, with a setting sun as a backdrop, is another which stands out.” He adds, “We were generally a happy band even when some things went wrong- and we continue that gang mentality with The South.”
He knows that fans who come to The South shows treasure the songs that the band recorded and feels a real responsibility to ensure a great night out. "Now that we are recording and performing our new songs in amongst old hits, we realise that the standard has to be so high, so there's some serious quality control in place!"
Brought into The Beautiful South by Dave Hemingway, Alison went on to feature on the “Gaze”, "Goldiggas Headnodders and Pholk Songs" and "Superbi" albums and perform gigantic live shows with the band. Describing herself as “Front female vocalist and surrogate Mum to the band,” Alison loves performing with The South – “I wouldn’t do anything else if given the choice.” The set is packed with hits, of course, but a real favourite for her is “Don’t Marry Her” because of the cheeky lyrics, though she does sometimes wince if there are lots of children at the show! “People often come up to me and say, ‘Do you have to say that word’ and I just tell them that even if I didn’t the rest of the audience would!”
Alison is thrilled but not surprised that the music has stood the test of time, and The South have kept the fans that have always loved the songs. “The fans still make the pilgrimage. Visually we look pretty much the same onstage and of course the music still sounds fantastic,” she says, “I still get that excitement that comes with a show – whether it’s opening for Robbie Williams in front of 90,000 people or playing a theatre show. We continue to perform and play the songs because we love it; we don’t want to stop – and why should we?” Why indeed!
If the keyboard player is the glue that pulls everything together and can embellish a melodic pop song and give it structure, then Damon was vital in The Beautiful South story. Classically trained from the age of 7, and with experience of playing with artists ranging from Steve Marriott to Tricky to Everything But The Girl, Damon was born to a life on the road. Recording and performing with The Beautiful South from the ‘Choke’ album onwards, he clocked 18 years service with the band. “Touring was always the fun part,” he says. “Everybody was left to get on with their job, as long as you held it together then anything went. I had a few peach schnapps-related incidents but apart from those near disasters it was fantastic fun.”
Keeping the fun factor to the fore is still a massive part of what The South are doing now. “We’re very upbeat, and of course we know how to put on a show! As well as the new material, with which we hope to expand on what went before, we’ve got The Beautiful South catalogue which we’ve not even fully delved into yet. I love playing songs like ‘Perfect 10’ and “36D” live, though ‘Hold On To What’ is probably my favourite. We love the material ourselves and know what will keep the fans happy”.
Previously performing as a session musician for Crazyhead, Gaz was asked to play sax for The Beautiful South in 1989. Initially the booking was for a show in Paris, but he went on to perform at all The Beautiful South shows from that point on. “The band was a real team. In the late ’90s things began to unravel a little and we headed off on a US tour thinking that it might be our last. By the end of the routing, a 90 minute set was clocking in at over two and a half hours and we had had the time of our lives. That spirit remains and now, performing with The South, if I’m honest I’m enjoying it more.”
In rehearsals for tours, Gaz would often sing “Hold On To What” as, since Paul Heaton had discussed the meaning behind it, it was his favourite song. “I’d really put heart and soul into it and it would crack the others up. I’ll have to get that back into The South’s set!” The catalogue is so rich, of course, that it is hard for Gaz and the others to decide what goes into the set and what comes out. “Of course we play the big hits, but we like to have some more obscure material in for the fans too. The only reason for The South to exist is that people are still interested; while people are enjoying it, we’ll do it.”
Joining the band at the same time as Gaz, Tony Robinson plays trumpet and flugel. “Most of the tracks we do live feature brass,” he says, “Even if the recorded versions don’t we add a boost and some colour.” Thinking initially that The Beautiful South would probably go the way of most Pop acts and disappear after a couple of years, Tony went on to clock up nearly two decades, but also managed to fit in work with Spiritualised, Manic Street Preachers, Gomez and Super Furry Animals amongst others. It was a real disappointment when The Beautiful South finished so abruptly. “We had no chance to say goodbye to the fans. It’s great to re-connect to everyone and with The South the music sounds just as good as it ever did. When the new band started I spoke to Paul and he gave me his blessing, which was important.”
The camaraderie amongst the band always appealed to Tony and he loved the touring. “When we came on the scene the rest of the band were quite naïve. On the first tour we did, Gaz and I worked out that we could get a Previa for the price of a normal hire car. When we met up with the rest of the band they were all packed into a 12-seater minibus!” Travelling the world and playing shows was great. The band would go from an arena tour in the UK involving 8 or 9 truckloads of equipment and then find themselves all on one tour bus [though at least not a minibus!] doing far smaller venues across the States. “We got to play The Fillmore in San Francisco and when we toured Ireland we sometimes stayed in castles!”
The bassist with The South completely understands the love that the fans have for the music; “There’s a hardcore fanbase, loads of people still love the music and the band”. His own favourite track to perform is “Old Red Eyes Is Back” as it has such a great bass line and concept. “The songs have become such classics that it’s important that we get them across as they sound in people’s memories. There’s room for a bit of me in the performance too, of course, but we are there to recreate the sound and the spirit of the originals”.
Joining The South due to a Leicester connection, much of Steve’s background lies in Reggae and he has performed with the likes of Prince Buster, Alton Ellis and Laurel Aitken. He started his musical career aged 11 when he performed as a one-man-band and is also involved in the Utterly Butterly Ukelele Project!
Guitarist Phil, who has been with The South right from the start, has always appreciated the honest and open nature of the songs that make up the live set. “I love ‘The Table,’ it’s such a simple song musically and is my favourite lyric. ‘Don’t Marry Her’ is great fun, it always goes down well and, of course, we all love to watch the crowd singing along, especially the naughty bit! The extended version of ‘Song For Whoever’ works extremely well live too, I love it whenever the audience react during the very quiet section.”
Whilst enjoying the co-writing of new material for the band, Phil was always a big admirer of The Beautiful South “I saw band several times, because I knew Alison, and it always stood out how just strong the songs were. When I started rehearsals with The South, it was the moment that we added the horn section that I’ll always remember, it just sounded great straight away. People connect and there’s a great vocal dynamic. There’s a reason the music of The Beautiful South has stood the test of time, and it’s great to be part of this phase.”
Having known The South’s brass section for many years, Dave was the obvious choice to fill the drum stool when it became vacant in 2011. Additionally, he had previously recorded an album with Dave Rotheray, so he was very aware of the range and scope of the music that the band play. He is especially close to percussionist Karl Brown whom he has known since they were just into their teens, “He’s not legally my brother but he might as well be! I love playing with The South, there’s a real gang mentality, no prima donnas and the band are really moving forward in our own direction.”
There’s a real appetite for the ‘Sweet Refrains’ from fans and Dave has loved the free rein that working on the new material has given the band. “The album seems more sonically explosive. It’s easy to forget how many hits The Beautiful South had and we have a responsibility to remain true to those songs when we perform them but we can’t wait to inject some new material into the live sets, it’s the sound of The South coming of age”.
The percussionist within the group is also the newest to the music game, having picked up his vocation later than most. Despite only having five years’ experience, Karl’s blend of enthusiasm and sense of fun and, of course, rhythm have cemented his place with The South. “I started out as a happy amateur with one pair of bongos but now I have tambourines, congas, you name it! I know exactly what I need for any given gig and love playing with The South. We really are O.B.F – One Big Family!
Always aware of The Beautiful South and their musical legacy, Karl found preparation for his audition was pretty straightforward; the music had never left him. Settled now within the band, Karl knows that he has been lucky. “Lots of musicians spend a lifetime trying to get the experience I’ve managed to have in five years.” A true lover of music, Karl also plays with a Ska band and a Reggae act, but The South are his main love.