Monday, 9 June 2014

Interview Alison Wheeler, The South

TRYING to juggle family and career successfully is the bane of most parents' lives but Alison Wheeler seems to have cracked it.When she's not enjoying all the "fabulous" green open spaces South London has to offer with her two kids, the Clapham-based singer songwriter can be found sitting in a café in her favourite haunts of Clapham or Brixton Village, writing songs or at the Bedford pub in Balham taking part in its open mic nights.
And when she's not doing all that she's one of the lead singers of nine-piece band The South.
We chat as she takes a breather from all of the above and it's clear she's having a great time with the band which is currently in the midst of a nationwide tour that includes a date at Under The Bridge in Putney.
By way of a bit of history, The South rose like a phoenix out of the ashes of The Beautiful South in 2008 which in turn had morphed out of The Housemartins.
Incredibly it has been eight years since The Beautiful South disbanded. After nearly 20 years producing 10 hit albums, five greatest hits compilations, 34 chart singles, 15 million record sales worldwide and performing in front of millions of fans, founder Paul Heaton decided it was time to move on.
However, not everyone in the band was ready to leave the party, not least Alison who had worked hard to carve a career in the music industry.
"I was a complete music and am dram junky when I was growing up and although my parents were concerned about my career choice I really argued my corner." she says.
By her own admission she "lost her way" at university while doing a Law and Japanese degree but re-engaged with music after graduating joining cover bands and temping at record companies before meeting Dave Hemingway who invited her to join The Beautiful South.
So in 2008, just two years after breaking up, Alison joined forces with Dave and three of the original members plus four new faces to form The South.
"I joined The Beautiful South in 2002 and had a lovely five years touring the world and did three albums with them," she says.
"I wasn't ready to stop but it had been going 15 years by that time and they had done it all. Paul wanted to call time. He thought it was best to have a clean break so people could do their own thing.
"Rather than keep us hanging on, I think he felt it was better to just to call it a day and walk away. He went solo and we all went our separate ways.
"I was really sad because it was a gift to join a successful household name."
For the next two years Alison "bimbled" about at home with her family and worked on other musical projects before Dave called and suggested reforming.
"We definitely had unfinished business but didn't want to mislead people because it's not the same band," she says. "Paul isn't with us anymore and there are nine of us on stage so we decided we needed a new name."
New name aside, the band has remained true to its musical roots, evidence of which can be seen in its album Sweet Refrains, released in 2012, which shows they haven't veered too far from the pop melodies laced with the unmistakable twists of caustic wit that made their predecessor so famous.
"There is no mistaking the sound and we're really proud of it," says Alison. "Although we didn't want to do something totally different we wanted to move forward and I think we've done that.
"So the album incorporates strong cheerful melodies with all the spiky and satirical elements of the lyrics with their nuances, love affairs and break ups that made Paul's songs so memorable.
"It was a slower process and took a while to get the album together because we all brought stuff to the table," she says. "When there are nine of you it can be quite a lengthy process but it's been great because we've all been involved.
"My favourite song is actually the title track which was written by Damon [Butcher]. He's a true musician and nauseatingly talented. You can tell a pianist has written it because of the composition. It's also quite a long piece - about five or six minutes - and like a mini Bohemian Rhapsody because of all the different bits to it."
As well as the album the band is bringing their music to venues up and down the country as part of the biggest tour they've done to date.
The schedule sounds very civilised with mainly weekend performances which suits Alison as it allows her to return home to her children during the week.
"We are having the best time and it's so nice to be back on the road," she says warmly. "It's the biggest tour we've done with 67 dates but the reception we've had has been amazing and we are loving it.
"We've been asked back by loads of the venues which is really special.
"Most of the gigs are at weekends as well which means I can get back to being a busy mum at home during the week and at weekends I'm pretending to be a pop star again! It's great!" she laughs.
"The fans have such a good party when we are performing so the atmosphere is fantastic.
"We sing the old hits of course as well as some of the new tracks so there is something for everyone but the fans know all the back catalogue - it's brilliant!"

The South will play Under The Bridge in Putney on Friday, June 6. Visit or call the box office 0844 249 1000 for tickets.

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