Before picking up his Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Song Collection yesterday (May 19), Paul Heaton spoke to NME about giving away free pints for his birthday and why he thinks the Royal Family should be privatised.
The Housemartins and Beautiful South legend made headlines earlier this month when he generously bought a round for patrons at 60 pubs around the UK to mark his 60th birthday.
“It was brilliant. I expected a few people to say, ‘Oh cheers!’ – but I got video after video of people drinking, stories about people meeting new friends and talking to people all day, and it was good for the pubs,” Heaton told NME. “At the time I thought, ‘This is a bit of a silly idea’, but as it got nearer the day I knew I really wanted to do something like that. I was shocked by how much coverage it got, but also by how much people loved it. I’m just expecting for other artists to start doing it now!”
Asked if he was expecting to get all of those rounds to be bought back for him in return, he replied: “That’s the danger, isn’t it? ‘You once bought me a pint, so here’s yours’. Suddenly I’m this bloated, sad little man in the corner of the pub. It was a gift. I’ve had a couple of offers, and that’s nice.”
Last year, Heaton and Jacqui Abbott played a number of free gigs for NHS staff as a thank you for their efforts throughout the pandemic. “I did it for the nurses and we did one for care workers and they were mad,” Heaton recalls. “For the people who came, particularly the care workers in Sheffield, it just had this massive release. I was actually quite frightened on stage!”
However, Heaton feels that more care, attention and rewards are due for the NHS, arguing that the government has largely forgotten about them since the ‘clap for carers’ days.
“It’s the whole Noam Chomsky thing; they’re deliberately running it down so that people feel like it’s not of value,” argued Heaton. “That’s the argument that will go on over the next five or six years. That’s what happened with British Rail: Pull all the funding, make it shit, people make jokes about it, then you might as well privatise it. The attitude is led by defunding. “
Saying that it would be “great” for more UK artists to pay tribute to the NHS and honour them – just as Liam Gallagher and Manic Street Preachers did last year – Heaton then went on to claim that the Conservative Party’s efforts for privatisation would be better placed elsewhere.
“I’m perhaps a little bit extreme,” he went on. “I’ve tried to get my back catalogue nationalised, I’ve written to Business Secretary Greg Clarke. There are a few things worth nationalising and only one thing worth privatising: the Royal Family. If it’s such a good business model, then have it. Sell it off to the Japanese or Saudis or whatever.
“You know what these capitalists do when they take over? They cut off all the unwanted staff and just leave one there…”
For now, Heaton is focussed on finishing new material ahead of a busy summer of touring, including a stop at the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury 2022.
“I’ve just finished an album on Friday, and I’ve got to master it on Monday,” said Heaton. “It’s a 60-year-old man’s anger. I hope it’s relevant. We’re playing Glastonbury this year. Glastonbury’s connected to NME in having that alternative thing. When I go to Glastonbury, I’m pleased that people know my songs – young people. They’re quite an educated audience, like your NME readers are. It makes you feel like you’re not preaching to the converted.”
Heaton added: “Nothing can go wrong when you’re 60. You no longer have to be hip, not that I ever was. It’s just free and easy isn’t it?”
Heaton was presented with his Ivor Novello award at Grosvenor House in London by friend and superfan, BBC 6 Music DJ Stuart Maconie.