The nine-piece band includes singer Alison Wheeler and lifelong sax player Gaz Birtles. Since Dave Hemingway, the original singer, left the group at the end of 2016, Gaz has moved across to front the band with Alison and taken on vocal duties.
Alison was a member of The Beautiful South from 2002-2007 and recorded three albums with them. After the band split, she was pulled back into the fold in a new guise, as she explains.
“A series of fortunate coincidences led to me meeting Dave Hemingway, and we did those albums, and it was great. It was all beautiful shiny new for me, which is why it was so upsetting when Paul Heaton decided to call time on the band. I was still new. I was chomping at the bit, but you could understand because they had been doing it for years. They had gone back a long time. But it was hard for me and I remember going back and thinking ‘Now what?’ I went back and had a meandering couple of years. I had my second child and regrouped, but then I got a call from the drummer saying it was what he really was, it was all he knew and he wanted to carry on. He approached everybody to see if they were interested.”
And so The South was born: “At the time there were five out of the six of us in the band and three on tour. We have had a few line-up changes on the years. Dave Hemingway retired a few years ago. It all might have folded when Dave Hemingway left, but we all agreed that we wanted to keep going and also to see if the following would still come with us without Dave Hemingway as part of it.”
The following certainly did – and so it has continued: “We have had a great time. It has always been a really nice atmosphere. We don’t struggle. It is like a natural progression. Five of us have been working together for years, and we were adamant that whoever came into the band should not be on cold auditions. They had to have a connection with the band and the past.” As for the old magic, Alison reckons it has a lot to do with the penmanship of Paul: “He writes very good tunes, and I love the way he spins the lyrics.”
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