Meeting Dave Hemingway was a slightly bizarre experience. He was a member of one of the most successful and influential pop groups of recent years, yet he can saunter into a pub on Cowley Road and order a drink without anyboday taking notice.
‘I don’t understand people who want to be famous’ he tells me. ‘I was famous for fifteen minutes when ‘A Little Time’ was number one. I hated it.’ It’s easy to believe Hemingway’s dislike of celebrity; fame has never been a big deal to The Beautiful South. They achieved something that few bands ever do; mass sales, critical acclaim, loyal fans and almost total anonymity.
However, two and a half years ago, this musical juggernaut broke down after front man Paul Heaton declared he wanted to pursue a solo career. In January this year, his ex-band members decided they would reform and continue without him.
‘When Paul initially announced that he was splitting the band it wasn’t unexpected. He’d been a bit disillusioned as we weren’t getting as much airplay. He wanted to do something else, and that’s fair enough.’ Hemingway’s final words carry a mild sense of bitterness. Paul Heaton was, after all, the essence of The Beautiful South for many people. A wonderfully inimitable singer and excellent lyricist, he gave the band their distinctive sound. Hemingway is acutely aware of this.
‘Obviously, when the main person in the band decides to leave you think “well, that’s it”. You can’t really go on anymore. It’s like Paul Weller leaving The Jam; it can be seen as a bit sad if the band goes on when the front man leaves. We didn’t want that. We didn’t want to be seen as a tribute act to ourselves.’ I ask Hemingway if they’ve been faced with any ‘all for the moneyaccusations since their reforming. His answer comes with more than a tinge of defensiveness.
‘We’re not doing it for the money because we’re not getting paid much, so that argument goes out of the window. The money we used to get was from selling records which doesn’t apply to The New Beautiful South, because we don’t have a record out yet. But we have got a lot of new songs, with the potential to do an album, and that’s quite exciting for us. It’s not just about retreading the old songs.’
‘We just wanted to be in a band. For two years we did other things, and nothing really came off. Then one day Dave Stead, our drummer, rang and said “do you fancy giving it a go?”‘
Hemingway admits he had many doubts about getting the band back together, and it was a somewhat slow and tentative process. ‘I had to think about whether we could do it justice. If we could do the songs justice then we’d give it a whirl. Apart from the guitar, the bass and Paul it’s just the same band that we toured with for the last twenty years. We got together, had a few rehearsals to see what it sounded like and decided that we could do it.
‘I’d say we’re doing it because Paul wanted to finish the band and, essentially, we didn’t. And it took us a while to realise that we could actually do it without Paul. It took us a long time to realise that.’ I ask Hemingway how The New Beautiful South have been received by fans so far.
We did a gig in London, which I thought was pretty tough. Maybe because it’s London people expect more? Anyway, I thought we coped with that really well. I think the band played well,’ With so many changes, yet so much heritage, it’s hard to know how to view The New Beautiful South. Is this a separate venture, inheriting some of the legacy of The Beautiful South, or is this a continuation?
‘I see it as new. Well, it’s a bit of an in-between, really. Obviously, we’ve got the old songs and at the same time we’re trying to incorporate some new songs. I don’t see it as a continuation, though, because we’ve lost Dave Rotheray, Sean Welch and Paul. Of the original five members of the band there’s only me and Dave Stead left.
‘I new thing and I’m quite excited about the new songs. We’ve got different songwriters so it’s obviously very different to the old stuff, which was written by Paul and Dave. But its quite fresh. I’ve also got more of a chance to be hands on about it and have more musical imput. Paul was always leader of the band.’