"Musical similarities" was the reason The Beautiful South gave for splitting up last year.

After 19 years together, the sound that made them Radio 2 favourites on songs like the number one A Little Time had become a bit familiar and ordinary.

So it is a relief to hear that frontman and songwriter Paul Heaton has gone back to his rockier roots on his first "proper" solo album, The Cross Eyed Rambler.

"It's a little bit harder than The Housemartins were in a way," says Paul talking about his first chart-breaking band.

"We didn't deliberately do it that way. We didn't have a lot of time to put a lot of layers of guitar and keyboards down so it came out that way. It sounds a bit fresher and newer."

Paul's pop music career began back in the early 1980s with The Housemartins, which included Hove's own Norman Cook on bass.

Dubbed as "the fourth best band in Hull", the four-piece enjoyed a run of seven top 40 hits between 1986 and 1988, including the Christmas number one Caravan Of Love, before they broke up. With Housemartins drummer Dave Hemmingway and guitarist and fellow songwriter Dave Rotheray, Paul formed The Beautiful South, who reached number two in June 1989 with their debut single Song For Whoever.

It was to be the first of a seemingly unstoppable run of hits, although interest in the group began to wane after a series of line-up changes and their 2003 album Gaze.

Last year's The Beautiful South split coincided with a slew of reunions by many bands Paul regarded as their contemporaries.

"It's typical of how unfashionable we were," says Paul. "James reformed and The Verve got back together in the same month we chose to call it a day.

"There's nothing stopping The Housemartins getting back together, we all get on well enough, we all look all right. I don't think it's high on the agenda though."

He described The Beautiful South as a group of mates who never got good as musicians.

"My criticism of The Beautiful South would be we were a bit over-produced," he says. "We could because we were selling records. I think if I had my time again I would stay in smaller hotels and spend less time on the records. It was so expensive and time-consuming to get that formula."

He has happy memories of their time riding high on the charts in the mid-1990s around the time of the Blue Is The Colour and Quench albums and the hit singles Perfect 10 and Rotterdam.

"It was quite a hedonistic period for the band," he says. "I don't miss that part of it, because we were not behaving ourselves as we should have. I don't look back on it as an ugly period though, it was just crazy and hazy. We had some really good laughs with some good people."

Part of what kept his feet on the ground was living in Hull, a city he left six years ago to set up home in Manchester.

"I used to play football in Hull all through that period, whether we were number one in the charts or not," he says. "We didn't have any trouble. Not many people come from Hull who are famous, they see you as someone like Ricky Hatton. We put Hull in the book, so it was a slap on the back."

The Cross Eyed Rambler isn't the first time Paul has gone solo, having released an album under the name Biscuit Boy (aka Crackerman) in 2001, which was renamed as a Paul Heaton album the following year after disappointing sales.

"Biscuit Boy wasn't part of my solo career," says Paul. "It was an experiment to see if I could do a record without the others. I will be singing a song off it on this tour.

"I listened back to it recently and I'm quite happy with the sound, but the lyrics are a bit juvenile."

This new album was written and recorded with guitarist Steve Trafford before Paul even had a record deal.

"We did some small gigs last October to see if the songs worked," says Paul. "Then we decided to go straight in and record it, which I haven't done before without a contract.

"We talked about starting our own label but we're not sure if we have quite the right people to do it."

Eventually Paul accepted an offer from boutique label W14, part of the Universal stable which is also home to Simple Minds, Alison Moyet and The Proclaimers.

The label is run by a long-time supporter of the band John Williams, who produced the first two Housemartins albums.

"He was a fan of the music, and he helped a bit with some of the production on this record," says Paul.

"I took the CD to a lot of people who liked it but they were a bit fearful of releasing it. Nobody seems to know where the industry is going."

And the battle has continued with trying to get first single Mermaids And Slaves any airplay on BBC Radio 2.

"It's not gone on any playlists, which is going to be a problem," says Paul. "I can't complain about it though, they gave us the breaks in the first place."

  • Support from Six Day Riot
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