Paul Heaton Live Review in Sheffield by Rob Johnson

Paul Heaton has always been one of the good guys. Whether it’s playing former pit villages in order to raise funds or putting money behind the bar in 60 venues to celebrate his 60th birthday (allowing punters to drink for free in the process), Heaton always falls on the right side of history. And so it is on this arena tour with the Yorkshire legend capping ticket prices at a very reasonable £30. This would be reason enough for Heaton to receive a hero’s welcome in his home city of Sheffield and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the music…

Taking to the stage without Jacqui Abbot who sadly misses out with an ongoing health issue, Heaton and his band burst straight into the Sheffield referencing ‘I Drove Her Away With My Tears’ before an incredible medley of The Beautiful South songs taking in ‘One Last Love Song’, ‘From Under the Covers’ and a particularly wonderful rendition of ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ – one of the great drinking ballads of our age. 

Heaton has always been a performer that embraces his formidable back catalogue and while Abbot is sorely missed, it does allow for a few more songs originally recorded by The Housemartins as ‘The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death’ merges into ‘Five Get Over Excited’. ‘A Little Time’ sees the adoring Sheffield crowd singing every word back at Heaton and it is striking to see how beloved these songs are even all these years later. Despite being in a huge arena, Heaton somehow makes this seem like an intimate gig, probably because of how personal his lovelorn lyrics remain, never more so than on an incredible performance of ‘I’ll Sail This Ship Alone’ – a track that also affords Heaton the opportunity to confirm that he still boasts one of the great voices in pop music. 

A rare outing for The Beautiful South’s other great drinking anthem ‘Liars’ Bar’ goes down a treat before ‘Me and the Farmer’ has people off their seats with hands held aloft. Not for long mind, we’re all pretty old now, after all. ‘Manchester’ was The Beautiful South’s last great single, and it sounds glorious here before Heaton has a good go at ‘Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)’ – although this is probably the moment in which Abbot’s absence is most sorely felt. Next up, ‘Song for Whoever’ and ‘Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)’ receive rapturous applause before ‘Think for a Minute’ closes out the first part of the set. 

Heaton treats Sheffield to two encores, just in case anyone is worried about not getting their money’s worth, the first begins with a raucous and exceptional run-through of ‘Happy Hour’ followed by a mass singalong for ‘Perfect 10’, while the second and final encore takes in ‘You Keep It All In’ and a joyous, life-affirming rendition of Caravan of Love – a song that has everyone in the audience beaming from ear to ear. 

As Heaton and his band leave the stage to an ecstatic reception, it’s clear that there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet. The bottom line is this – Paul Heaton is a national treasure and we’re lucky to have him. Luckily, Sheffield knows it. 

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