Paul Heaton – Live Review – Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Paul Heaton Live Review Scarborough Open Air Theatre main

By Roger Crow, July 2023

You know those perfect Saturday nights that are all-too rare? Sunshine, seaside, ideal weather, and a crowd of folks living the life of Riley? Six days after enjoying one of my favourite gigs of recent years, I’m back at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre, a place that has become so synonymous with summer, I can’t imagine life without it.

The warm memory of Sting is still lingering after what seems like a lifetime of waiting to see one of my favourite music stars. Even a torrential downpour didn’t dampen my spirits.

It’s also a year to the day since Bryan Adams brought the house down back in the summer of ‘22, so this place has nothing but special memories, and one artist who will always keep me coming back for more is Paul Heaton.

But first The Lightning Seeds take to the stage with the unassuming qualities of a band who may as well be called The Humble Pop Legends. Like the main attraction, they have a back catalogue of feelgood tunes; the soundtrack for a generation, and not least because of THAT song.

Paul Heaton Live Review Scarborough Open Air Theatre lightning seeds

“Phenomenal vocals”

Their set goes as fast as lightning with a string of absolute classics. It’s all killer and no filler, with a wealth of ‘glad to be alive’ pop smashes. “Put your foot down and drive”, sings Ian Broudie, with thousands of backing vocalists. Okay, the sun isn’t quite playing ball with a blinding, in-your-face performance that eclipses the warm-up act.

Just when we think it’s all over, Ian asks how long they’ve got long at the end of the set. There’s enough time for that track which turned Frank Skinner and David Baddiel into unlikely pop stars back in the day, and naturally the whole crowd comes alive again.

‘Three Lions’, one band, and a sea of punters, all on the same page.

It’s a phenomenal moment, though there is a feeling of “Have they done a ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and front-loaded the show with an intro so good it’s impossible for ‘Heaton. Paul Heaton’ to top it?”

Thankfully we don’t have to wait too long to find out.

‘Sheep’, from the mid-eighties, is one of those cracking tracks that reminds you how good The Housemartins were from their earliest days.

Now there’s good news and bad news for fans like me. Jacqui Abbott, the silken-voiced music partner of Mr Heaton, is not well, and my heart fills with concrete. How will one of pop’s wittiest writers and performers cope without that other powerhouse vocalist? Will the show be capable of going on without the Bob to his Vic? The bacon to his eggs?

Well, the answer comes in the form of the equally photogenic, 24-year-old Rianne Downey, who Paul reminds us was born a few years after ‘Sheep’ was recorded; an indicator for many of us how much water has flowed under that bridge since The Housemartins days.

She takes nanoseconds to win the crowd over with her phenomenal vocals and stage presence. It feels like that moment in the remake of A Star Is Born when Lady Gaga’s character takes to the stage for the first time. Not that Heaton is Bradley Cooper in this comparison, though everyone’s favourite booze-infused track ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ could have been penned about ASIB’s Jackson.

Paul Heaton Live Review Scarborough Open Air Theatre stage

“Atmosphere is electric”

Every banger from that astounding back catalogue is performed in the precious minutes that follow.

It feels like the last 35 years of my life have been distilled into a couple of hours, from pub-themed favourite ‘Happy Hour’, to the meta chart smash ‘Song For Whoever’, a track so beautifully arch, nobody has come close to matching its mix of cynical yet heartbreakingly sweet sentiment.

The first time I saw Paul Heaton live, he was a speck in the distance at Castle Howard back in the summer of 2005. The second time was during the City of Culture at Hull’s Craven Park, when he was also a speck on the horizon, and the end of the night was marred by post-gig travel chaos reminiscent of the ferry scene from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.

Tonight is absolutely perfect. A great view, even up in the gods; the sound is out of this world; the lighting is terrific, and the atmosphere is electric. Everyone is singing along to the soundtrack of our lives.

The more recent ‘DIY’ has been on hard rotation on my playlist for years. To see it live with a new vocalist is a sheer joy. And full marks to the brass section who take the whole experience to another level, along with the drums, guitars and all the other musicians who get a name check along with their footy team of choice – usually followed by a cacophony of boos from the crowd, based on their team rather than excellent music skills.

Paul Heaton may look like a relief supply tutor rather than a pop superstar, but he could teach any upcoming artist a masterclass in singing, songwriting and performance. There’s none of that generic nails-down-a- blackboard “Make some noise Scarborough!” patter. Just humble, unassuming Heaton; one of the best bands around, and one of the greatest new vocalists of her generation. Yes, really.

For many punters, Paul had already won them over by buying them a pint at one of five locals. In the words of Ben Elton, there is time for “a little bit of politics”, and his views on taxation are far from taxing, but this is not some political rally. Just one of the best live gigs I’ve seen.

Paul Heaton Live Review Scarborough Open Air Theatre


From the feelgood take on ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ to ‘Caravan of Love’ and the non radio-friendly version of ‘Don’t Marry Her’, it’s just one legal high after another.

Every track is note-perfect, including Rianne’s outstanding solo performance.

We are all “Welcome to Heatongrad”, as the set backdrop legend screams, and given the reception in Scarbados, I doubt Paul and company will need much of an excuse to come back.

The promoters have done a great job over the past few years of attracting some of the world’s best acts to Scarborough, so if you’re reading this promo people: please get Paul, Rianne and Jacqui booked in for next summer. I have a feeling most of Yorkshire will be there for the gig. They certainly seemed to be on July 1, 2023.

It’s one of those evenings when folks will look back on it in years to come and say: “I was there at Scarborough OAT in the summer of 2023 when THAT happened.”

What an unforgettable night of “Fun, fun, fun” in the beautiful north.

images: Cuffe and Taylor


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