by Sophia Smith
The South are back up north and doing what they do best, performing the timeless classics of the great British pop institution, The Beautiful South.
Since the demise of The Beautiful South in 2007, the nine-piece live band have spent years touring up and down the country, bringing back the full sound and arrangements of treasured hits. Keeping alive those timeless songs – A Little Time, Rotterdam, Song For Whoever, and Don’t Marry Her as well as The South originals.
Gaz Birtles moves to the front of the stage once again singing alongside Alison Wheeler, putting down his saxophone. The South kick off their opening northern show in Whitby, Yorkshire on September 4th…
“It’ll be very strange to have a load of people breathing at us. Weirdly I’m looking forward to just travelling around with all my mates in a bus. It’s been 17 months since we’ve last played. We’ve been doing a couple of rehearsals and it was like we had never been away.”
“The one and only time I sang with The South before taking on vocals was on my birthday in 1995 at Fleadh Festival in Finsbury Park in London. It was a massive Irish festival, we played alongside Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and The Pogues. We were the only non-Irish band and we headlined it.” Gaz chuckled.
Now Gaz has taken on co-vocal duties after Dave Hemmingway left the band in 2016, sax is being provided by Su Robinson, who previously featured with fellow ska legend Prince Buster.
“When Dave left the band, we thought we were going to have to pack it in because the main face is gone. We considered looking for other singers, but I thought, hang on a minute, I’m a singer myself so I’ll give it a go. It was a big change being at the front. My style is totally different to the style Dave had, I had to calm myself down because I tend to go over the top singing and dancing but it wasn’t right for this band. It’s amazing singing with Alison, she always keeps me in pitch. She’s a treat.” Gaz beamed.
Gaz’s link with The Beautiful South incidentally came through his sax playing and vocals in The Swinging Laurels. Gaz and his mate John set up the electronic duo in 1980 and was signed by Warner Brothers. In 1983, they supported Boy George’s, Culture Club tour, where the band were mobbed by screaming girls throwing teddy bears on stage. They also got invited to Top of the Pops playing brass with Fun Boy Three.
“We were playing with the Leicester band, Crazyhead. They got a tour around Europe supporting Iggy Pop and their manager asked if we wanted to go. Up until then I’d been on the dole. When we got back, I got a phone call asking if we were up for a one-off gig in Paris. Our agent suggested we do it, he didn’t tell us the name of the band. He asked how much we went out for, I said about 250 pounds a week. I thought bloody hell, I should have asked for more. I asked who this band was, and he said, “it’s the Beautiful South”. I had the audition; got the job and I’ve never looked back, music saved my life.”
Gaz’s musical involvement goes way back to the punk era…
“When punk arrived, anyone could be in a band. If it wasn’t for punk, I wouldn’t be here. I was working in a warehouse when a couple of mates started a band, Wendy Tunes. They asked me sing after hearing me at work, I had never sung before in my life…” The first time Gaz stuck a saxophone between his lips was at the age of 18. He taught himself a note a day. “I didn’t get any lessons, but I auditioned for a soul band early on and I realised how rubbish I was. I’ve never really considered myself a sax player, I consider myself as a singer who can play a little bit of sax.
“I’ve been in Leicester all my life, it’s the centre of the country so as a touring musician it’s perfect. Although anywhere north of Leicester is guaranteed to be better than the south. There’s never been a night out I’ve been disappointed up north. By the time we come on stage, and it’s gone 11pm, it’s nice to find a good local bar. I remember being in Blackburn, our lighting blokes took us out to a rock pub, it was £2 a pint, I thought that’s ridiculously cheap!” Gaz laughed.
Like father like son, Gaz passed down his musical talent to his son, Jordan. As He plays percussion, keyboard and backing vocals for an alternative rockband. “My son is a successful band, Easy Life, he played in Liverpool. They’re doing ridiculously well. Their debut album went straight into the Official charts at number 2. I’m a proud dad.” As life creeps back to normality, plans are getting sprung back in action. Gaz grinned, “We keep threatening to write some more stuff, if not an album, hopefully we’ll have a few more songs out. Personally, I’ve wrote a load of all electronic synth type songs over the years, I keep wanting to bring out my own thing so I’m working on getting all the songs lined up and ready…”
NORTHERN 2021 DATES
Friday 8th October – COLNE, Muni Theatre
Saturday 9th October – HALIFAX, Square Chapel
Sunday 10th October – LEEDS, Warehouse
For more dates and info visit thesouth.co.uk