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Paul Heaton's The 8th Reviewed: MIF 2011

Femke Colborne finds Heaton's strange story is worth the wait

Published on July 8th 2011.

Paul Heaton's The 8th Reviewed: MIF 2011

The Confidential MIF rating: 16/20

Originality 4/5; Performances (acting, singing etc) 4/5; Audience delight 4/5; Production 4/5.

Paul Heaton has remained tight-lipped about The 8th, his creation for the Manchester International Festival (MIF), billed as the ‘world’s longest pop song’. The former Housemartins and Beautiful South singer’s show is based around the seven deadly sins, promising to introduce us to an eighth, even more deadly sin – but the nature of that sin has remained firmly under wraps.

The blurb in the front of the programme claimed the purpose of the show was “not to convert or redirect those confused about who they are and where they are”. Which was appropriate, as most of the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Not that it was plain sailing on the opening night. The crowd of curious spectators gathered outside the Pavilion Theatre on Albert Square, were forced to wait as news began to spread of a collapsed lighting rig at the back of the stage. The designated start time came and went, an announcement was made and we were forced to stand patiently under the evening sky as stressed technical staff zoomed in and out of the tent like flies, mumbling importantly into their crackling walky talkies. 

Luckily for Heaton and the rest of the team behind The 8th, this was a patient and good-natured audience. Most were happy to help prop up the Pavilion Bar for an extra hour, and the rest stood and chatted happily with no sign of agitation. Still you couldn’t help feel sorry for the people in the audience with small children or those who had trains to catch at the end of the night. 

Heaton sauntered apologetically onto the stage and explained that the lighting had been damaged and the show would be going ahead without some of the planned laser effects. Thankfully, he also assured us there had been no serious injuries in the accident – apart from the show’s narrator, Reg E Cathey from The Wire, who had slightly injured his knee jumping from the stage. 

The 8th is an ambitious show involving a substantial band, string quartet, pre-recorded material and eight different solo singers. Although it is billed as one long song, it is essentially eight songs joined together – one for each singer, one for each sin. 

The whole affair is narrated in a manic American preacher style by Cathey, whose crazed ramblings between the ‘songs’ are genuinely disconcerting – I never did quite work out whether he was actually in pain or writhing around holding his knee just to add to the drama. 

The show was performed by an all-star line-up including Scottish singer-songwriter Kenny Anderson (gluttony), soul singer Wayne Gidden (lust), Simon Aldred of indie rock band Cherry Ghost (greed) and former Beautiful South member Jacqui Abbot (envy), who came out of retirement especially to sing in this performance. 

The blurb in the front of the programme claimed the purpose of the show was “not to convert or redirect those confused about who they are and where they are”. Which was appropriate as most of the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on. It was too dark to see the programme notes and I completely failed to follow Cathey’s narrative – something about turning the other cheek and a fat woman with a birthmark? 

Each ‘song’ had a different character, from the folky undertones of Gidden’s ‘lust’ to the more overtly jazz-driven ‘gluttony’ sung by Anderson and even full-on gospel when Yvonne Shelton took to the stage to sing ‘sloth’. But it was in the moments when all the performers came together, clapping and improvising around a repeated riff, that the show really came alive – particularly during ‘sloth’, which had the whole audience bobbing in their seats.

Then it was the turn of Heaton himself, and finally the identity of that deadly eighth sin was revealed: gossip. With the ashes still smouldering from the News of the World’s demise at the hands of an out-of-control desire for tittle-tattle, the timing couldn’t have been better. Heaton’s creation was received with a standing ovation, with all thoughts of the earlier hold-up now merely a distant memory. 

The second half was an altogether more laid-back affair, with each of the singers taking to the stage to perform a cover version of an old Housemartins or Beautiful South song. Mike Greaves got into character for ‘Old Red Eyes’, swigging from a can of lager on the stage, Aaron Wright did a spirited ‘Good as Gold’, and Simon Aldridge’s scratchy, heartfelt ‘I’ll Sail this Ship Alone’ was a real highlight. 

The whole thing managed to pull off the feeling of an impromptu jam session among friends, completely dispelling the stress of earlier in the evening and nicely engendering the festival spirit.  

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

tblzebraJuly 8th 2011.

I think the missing artwork/backdrops depicting each of the sins would have helped, in understanding what was going on.

I thought the narrators story was quite easy to follow (?), but definitely not the words sung by some of the 'sins'.

Wayne Gidden seems destined for greater things, and you missed out the wonderful way Heaton and Abbot seemed to gel so easily, after 11 years of not singing together.

CBJuly 9th 2011.

FGHERER OFF will you

AnonymousJuly 10th 2011.

Has anyone seen the installation on Brazenose Street?

Mark GarnerJuly 10th 2011.

Of the Iraqi Soldier? Brilliant

John NuttallJuly 12th 2011.

Steve Menzies also gave a rather good vocal performance though you appear to have left him out

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