WHEN you’ve got 20 years, 10 studio albums, 34 chart singles and 15 million worldwide record sales under your belt it is not surprising calling time is a hard thing to do.
Such was the case for Dave Hemingway and Ali Wheeler when The Beautiful South came to a close in 2008.
While majority vocalist/songwriter Paul Heaton went off in pursuit of solo spoils, the experience of having performed in front of millions of fans down the years meant remaining vocalists Dave and Ali weren’t quite ready for the pipe and slippers – so The South was formed.
Centred on those two originals, their live show – back at Sheffield’s Plug on Wednesday – sees the duo backed by fellow originals Damon Butcher on keyboards and a potent horn section of Gaz Birtles and Tony Robinson.
It means that considerable back catalogue of hits – Song For Whoever, Perfect Ten, Rotterdam, Don’t Marry Her, You Keep It All In and Old Red Eyes Is Back among them – won’t be consigned simply to CD collections just yet.
“The fans still make the pilgrimage,” confirms Ali.
“Visually we look pretty much the same on stage and of course the music still sounds fantastic.”
It’s funny to think, however, that Dave at first thought he’d be at the back rather than a frontman when The Beautiful South formed out of the ashes of The Housemartins in 1988, the Hull act that featured both he and Heaton.
“I assumed I would be drumming when I joined The Beautiful South,” says the singer of one of their finest tunes, A Little Time.
“But I was needed to sing and be a frontman. It was hard to adjust at first – where do you put your hands – but I grew into it over time, and now really enjoy it”.
And so he should. As well as paying his mortgage for years the band has provided him with some truly life-affirming moments.
He recalls driving home from Leeds to Hull to meet his mother at a WMC in 1990 and hearing the chart run down en-route confirming A Little Time had gone to number one.
He entered the club to spontaneous applause from old friends.
“I have other great memories of that time.
“An appearance on the main stage at Glastonbury just prior to REM in 1995, a setting sun as a backdrop, is another which stands out.”
Dave was instrumental in bringing Ali Wheeler into the band, her vocals going on to feature on the Gaze album as well as Goldiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs and Superbi.
Describing herself as ‘front female vocalist and surrogate mum to the band’, she says: “I wouldn’t do anything else if I was given the choice.”
Even if one of her set favourites, Don’t Marry Her, leads to her sometimes getting told off in more family-populated shows for singing a certain F word.
“People often come up to me and ask ‘Do you have to say that word?’ and I just tell them that even if I didn’t the rest of the audience would.
“I still get that excitement that comes with a show – whether it’s opening for Robbie Williams in front of 90,000 people or playing a theatre show.
“We continue to perform and play the songs because we love it; we don’t want to stop – and why should we?”
And with The South not entirely resting on the laurels of a Beautiful past, it seems the band may have some touring mileage in them yet.
“Now we are recording and performing our new songs in among old hits, we realise the standard has to be so high,” adds Dave, “so there’s some serious quality control in place.”