At this year's Manchester International Festival, sometime Beautiful South and Housemartins singer Paul Heaton debuts what's being billed as the longest pop song ever. "The 8th" promises to be so much more than that, though. It's a theatrical performance, an ensemble concert and a suite of interconnected narratives and themes. Or "one song, eight different melodies," as Heaton has it.
Each of the first seven "movements" will take its inspiration from a different Deadly Sin and will be sung from the point of view of a different character "from the bottom end of the street: a homeless person, a prostitute, a pimp and so on". These people are outsiders, even more so thanks to the influence of "the 8th", an unnamed new sin which those in authority use to divide and rule.
"It's not one of my typical songs," says Heaton. "It's not English-based, and it doesn't demand much sympathy either way (for the characters). It's influenced by the books of Donald Goines, who was a black author and heroin addict that lived his life on the street and died of heroin abuse, and people like Clarence Cooper Jr and Iceberg Slim. I was reading them at the time and their voices kind of slipped over into my songwriting."
Possibly Heaton has also been watching The Wire, because the series' Reg E Cathey (political fixer Norman Wilson) will be the narrator of "The 8th", leading the audience through a series of performances by featured artists including Simon Aldred of Bolton's Cherry Ghost, the Fife singer-songwriter Kenny "King Creosote" Anderson and former Beautiful South singer Jacqui Abbott, performing with Heaton for the first time since 2000.
"It's the first piece I've written that's not particularly me, though, and I think to do it as a typical Paul Heaton record would have been a mistake," says Heaton.
Paul Heaton's "The 8th", Pavilion Theatre, Manchester (www.mif.co.uk) ends tomorrow