Perhaps more daunting than replacing a renowned front man, is replacing a renowned front man after living so long in his shadow. The ‘New Beautiful South’ are not new per se – more a reinvention of their former make up.
The band may have lost bassist Sean Welch and lead singer/songwriter Paul Heaton, but alongside new faces Phil Barton (guitar), Karl Brown (Percussion) and Steve Nutter (Bass) former guitarist and co-songwriter Dave Hemingway has taken a step forward as the new front man. With far greater vocals than his previous ‘out of the limelight’ persona would have suggested, he brings a fresh dimension to the band.
The atmosphere in Plug was incredible, rivalling any other gig I’ve ever seen; the crowd as overjoyed at ‘The Beautiful South’s’ reunion as the members themselves. The audience recited every word verbatim, never missing a beat. ‘One last love song’ bought the women around me to tears with the rest of the crowd hugging and swaying.
The Beautiful South have always been a people’s band and this time was no exception with lead female vocalist, Alison Wheeler stopping halfway through the set to wish one Myspace fan a Happy Birthday and to thank another for travelling so far. Their appreciation toward their fans for their unfaltering support made the crowd feel part of something special and it seemed more intimate than the numbers suggested. Whilst performing ‘Song for Whoever’ the band were unable to stop smiling at the response, naming Sheffield the best audience they’d had all tour.
They performed a selection of their new songs throughout the 90 minutes; their first ‘If I laugh’ was in much the same spirit as the rest of their music, fitting seamlessly into their set. Melodic vocals, chirpy brass intervenes from former band members, Gary Birtles and Tony Robinson; and a driving guitar and drumbeat meant the warmth and allure of their music was present throughout. Hemmingway seemed very passionate about this song, most probably because this song isn’t his adopted child but his paternal one.
It was a little disappointing to hear a number of covers in their set including a rendition of ‘Magic’ by Jeff Lynne. Though executed very well, there really was no need for it considering ‘The Beautiful South’s’ extensive back catalogue. The band clearly have a great relationship, obvious from their cohesiveness as musicians and as friends on stage. The set closed with an incredible quadruplet – ‘How long does a tear take to dry’ followed by ‘Rotterdam’, ‘Perfect 10’ and ‘Don’t marry her.’ They were all perfectly performed and received with delight. The band finished on ‘36D,’ once again performed without fault or alteration.
The group then returned onstage to a rapturous applause to play three further songs escalating in a salsa driven jam before leaving and being called back for a second encore.
If you’re going to make a comeback, this is the comeback you want and definitely the reception you want. The ‘New Beautiful South’ have not lost anything in their reinvention – perhaps they’ll even gain a greater following; not that they need it with the devotion of their current fans. A truly enchanting gig.