Why Paul is pedalling his songs down the pub
Ever heard the one about the pop star who cycled to his own gigs? That's the route that former Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton is taking, announcing last week that his forthcoming 'Pedals And Pumps' tour in May would consist of him literally getting on his bike and cycling 720 miles to 15 shows around the UK.
The other common denominator is that the shows will all take place in bars -- kicking off in one of Britain's most famous (albeit fictional) watering holes, The Rovers Return from Coronation Street in Manchester.
The 47-year-old singer explained the rationale behind the venture: "I'm looking forward to pedalling around the country to promote cycling and the British pub. Both are very close to my heart. I've been cycling all my life and the British pub has provided most of my favourite stop off points.
"It saddens me to hear about so many British pubs closing on a weekly basis, so I want to do all I can to get people back to their local."
Heaton's two-wheeled adventure is a world away from the pampered luxuries of the standard tour bus, which he would have been well used to in his time as a globe-straddling pop star selling out big concert arenas throughout Europe. But then maybe years of barrelling down endless motorways, from Rotterdam to Rome, loses its appeal after a while, making you yearn for a chance to take the scenic route (and give your cardiovascular system a good going over while you're at it).
That said, I can just see the signs outside the proverbial Dog and Duck now: 'Gig cancelled due to flat tyre'.
Of course, Heaton's push-bike tour seems less about one man's mission to single-handedly save the British pub from extinction than a clever way of getting his name in the news again after a prolonged commercial decline.
Heaton's two solo albums have hardly set the charts alight -- his first, Fat Chance, was released in 2001 under the moniker Biscuit Boy (aka Crackerman) and made it to 95 in the UK charts. When it was re-released the following year under his own name it reached 165.
His second solo outing, The Cross-Eyed Rambler, fared better, reaching 45 in 2008, but it was still a far cry from his heyday when he was a regular on Top of the Pops with hits like 'A Little Time', and 'Song for No One'.
But the wider point to be made about Heaton's Lance Armstrong moment is how much harder today's musicians have to work to stay on the saddle, commercially speaking. Though the likes of Paul McGuinness and Lily Allen may rail against internet piracy, the lid is not going to be slammed shut on this Pandora's Box any time soon. So embracing the live circuit is increasingly where it's at.
Northern Irish power trio Ash pitched up at some of the UK's most obscure venues late last October for their A-Z tour, working alphabetically through towns and cities from Aldershot to Zennor, even taking detours to islands like the Isle of Wight and Jersey.
The decision to do what 99pc of bands have never done and play the Devonshire town of Exmouth keeps things interesting for themselves, maybe wins them new fans they'd never have had otherwise, and makes for a great soundbite for the press.
Some of the most memorable gigs I've been to have stuck in the mind precisely because they took place in unusual venues: there was the Liss Ard festival which ran in the late 1990s, and took place in the bucolic eco-gardens just outside Skibbereen in west Cork. Mark Eitzel played there under a tree in the forest to a handful of people lying on the grass.
There was a folk/roots festival in Wexford town where the Boz Boorer All Stars started their set by having their fiddler march down the street playing bagpipes at full blast, to entice passers-by into the bar -- like a sort of pie-eyed piper.
I saw Nick Cave and the Dirty Three fill the Guinness brewery in St James's Gate with Gothic melodrama; and The Rapture and the Kaiser Chiefs rocked the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, as part of JD's 150th birthday celebrations.
Canny artists use the internet as a way of publicising themselves. Take the Black Cab Sessions (www.blackcabsessions.com), which revolves around the simple idea of getting singers to sing a song live to camera as they're being driven in a taxi around London.
Irish duo The Duckworth Lewis Method are just one of dozens of artists (from Amadou & Mariam to VV Brown) who went along for the ride -- Neil Hannon even brought his cricket bat with him as a prop. It's charming the way they get the cab driver to announce the act at the start.
The Duckworth Lewis Method were approached after being spotted outside their hotel beside Lord's Cricket Ground in London, in whose lofty surrounds they launched their cricket-themed album.
And then there's Black Cab's sister website, which features bands playing live on the bandstands of various London parks. They should keep an eye out for an out-of-breath pop star cycling to his next gig.