I’d been to Edgeley Park once before. My cousin James took me to watch Stockport play Maidstone United in the fourth round of the FA Trophy. My abiding memory of the day was the quality of the catering. Excellent and abundant chilli and rice at a reasonable price. The game finished 1 – 1. In attendance were 2,585 souls.
There were considerably more people packed into Edgeley Park to watch Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott perform The Last King of Pop.
When I bought my tickets for this event, no support act had been announced. When I found out that it was to be twice Mercury nominated Richard Hawley, I was delighted and surprised in equal measure. He has more talent that one person should be allowed. Exceptional guitarist, special singer, and writer of timeless songs. Songs like Serious and The Ocean could have been written by Bobby Russell or Harry Neilson. My concern stemmed from the fact that many of Hawley’s songs can be so subtle and nuanced that something could get easily get lost in the vastness of a football ground. I should have known better.
Hawley’s firsts two songs were the first two tracks from the Further album, Off My Mind and Alone. The open lines to Off My Mind seem somehow fitting for the start of the evening, ‘Reasons as to get excited, we’re here watching the stars explode’. Not a bad way to start a set. By the end of the jauntier Alone, some stragglers had been drawn in from the plentiful bar areas, and an atmosphere was building. A solid middle section of the set included one of my favourite Hawley composition, the sublime ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’, a song that could easily be mistaken for some long-lost fifties classic. This was followed by Galley Girl, and Time Is, a rolling, rumbling song that had the crowd more involved, singing and clapping along throughout. The set built to a climax with with reverb laden Is There A Pill and the and the epic, Heart of Oak, a song reminiscent of Bowie’s Heroes, especially when heard on this scale. Am I sure there were many of people in attendance who were unaware of the work of Mr Hawley. I am equally sure that they were updating their music library the following day.
On to the main event, but first a fun fact, Paul Heaton and I are from the same town, Bromborough. He has a better collection of cagoules and trainers than me though – anyone who knows me, knows that is hard for me to admit. Mr Heaton strode on to stage in now almost trademark navy blue jacket, zipped up to the top, blue jeans, and white trainers. He started The Last King of Pop gig with the anthem against alcoholism, Old Red Eyes is Back. He and Jacqui Abbott then stormed through a mammoth 23 song set of crowd pleasers, celebrating Paul Heaton’s career, thus far.
I say ‘thus far’ because if you’ve seen the documentary Paul Heaton- Hull to Heatongrad, you may recall that he has worked out he may have five albums left in him before retirement or death. For tonight, the people had come to praise him, not bury him.
Jacqui Abbott has a voice like an oaty, honey-soaked biscuit topped with cream. She is a pitch-perfect partner for Heaton’s conversational style of lyrics. She gets her opportunity to shine three songs in with the would-be, Norther Soul stomper, Moulding of a Fool, and again with the soulful I Gotta Praise. The band, consisting of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and a well-used, three-piece brass section, are well drilled, as you expect from a band performing with a perfectionist like Paul Heaton.
On the night, Heaton seems on good form, regaling the crowd with background stories to many of the songs. Mainly things that annoy him: the underfunding of social care, Flag Day; TV talent shows, Real Hope; an entire city, Rotterdam. Basically, don’t piss-off Paul Heaton. He’ll write a song about you.
The highlights were plentiful. Manchester gets a raucous reception, unsurprisingly given the location. A Little Time is given a bluesy, boogie work-over which works brilliantly. There are numerous giant red and yellow balloons released for the crowd to play with during the classic Happy Hour. Thousands of feet of yellow streamers were shot out of mortars and into the sky half-way through Keep It All In. Fireworks explode into the Cheshire night sky as the set reaches its finale with tours title song, The Last King of Pop.
All thetheatricals added a little to the spectacle of the event, but I doubt they would have been missed. People turned up to sing along with Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott to up-lifting, up-beat classic pop songs. Paul sang with Jacqui. Jacqui sang with Paul. We sang with them both. Everyone left happy, having had much more than a Happy Hour.
Photo credit header: Alex Lake