Paul Heaton Presents The 8th, Barbican, London
Friday 06 July 2012
“You looked confused at some points,” amiably admits Paul Heaton after overseeing his confusing and long-winded soul opera, The 8th.
The bold musical-theatre piece, which was unveiled at last year’s Manchester International Festival and is billed as “one of the longest pop songs ever”, is not the former Housemartin singer’s most soothing [happy] hour. The wrathful morality tale, which takes up the first half of this challenging concert, examines society’s wicked ways via the vehicle of the seven deadly sins, plus one more: gossip.
Each sin is provided with a different singer, so Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred gently prosthelytizes about greed and country singer Mike Greaves tackles pride. Meanwhile, a convincing Reg E Carthy (who played the political snake Norman Wilson in The Wire) muscularly delivers, in a fire-and-brimstone tone, Che Walker’s deranged narrative about a terrible sinner who commits a senseless murder. He sermonizes about “the implacable wrath in my heart”, and how’s he haunted by his victim’s “strawberry-type birthmark”.
It’s not a pretty spectacle. In fact, in parts, it’s a hectoring, jarring, humourless experience, peppered by an unpleasant, often blinding light show. Occasionally, this felt like an earnest sixth form production or, worse, a piece by The League of Gentlemen’s Legs Akimbo theatre company. The few highlights include the Beautiful South’s Jacqui Abbott’s honey-coated vocals on envy, Yvonne Shelton’s robust, gospel-infused take on sloth and Wayne Gidden's satisfying soul vocals on lust. Gluttony was performed by Los Campesinos!’s Gareth David, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Heaton. Is narcissism the ninth sin?
And where’s Heaton himself in all this? Well, in the background, until the 50-year-old pops up to perform the eighth sin in his sweet, mellifluous voice.
Heaton, along with Gruff Rhys, Billy Bragg and Neil Hannon, is one of Britain’s more likeable and cerebral lyricists, but this grand, operatic statement on the nation was an elaborate mess. Thankfully, for the second half we’ve been promised some “hits”. We get a few, but not a lot. Perversely he shuns the best of his pleasantly acerbic back catalogue – songs such as “Need a Little Time”, “Song for Whoever” and “Rotterdam” – and more bafflingly still he doesn’t actually sing on the majority of the chosen few, preferring to drolly orchestrate proceedings instead.
However, Gidden does supply a terrific version of the early Beautiful South track “Dumb”, Heaton and Abbott combine beautifully on The Housemartins’ exquisite “Build” and the final number, “Me and The Farmer”, finally brings the patient crowd to their feet. It’s a rousing end to a head-scratching night.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in September 2014
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain