Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott

Paul Heaton is carrying a shopping bag. Not your usual gig attire, we'll admit, but hey, it serves its purpose. Ah yes, Paul's brought along his big book of lyrics. So, too, has his musical companion, Jacqui Abbott.

Books out, band in place, jacket zipped up to the neck, a bespectacled Paul gets us started. We'll be hearing a lot from him tonight.

It may be a joint venture, The Beautiful South's former co-vocalists reuniting for a tour, not to mention a well-received new album, What Have We Become?, but The Paul and Jacqui Show isn't quite as even a display as you would think.

No biggie. Jacqui will have her moments, but the aim here is to cast our minds back to a time when audiences allowed for this most unconventional of British pop duos (and their many cohorts - the South was, after all, one big family) to top the charts.

Why unconventional? Well, Paul and Jacqui don't do flashy, do they? They tell it as it is.

Life, love, dress sizes, happy hour - it's all part of the everyday man appeal that Paul has somehow managed to retain despite millions of album sales. Time has been kind. Vocally, Heaton and Abbott appear to have reignited that all-important spark. The harmonies are impeccable; the presentation as good as, if not better, than the original recordings (full marks to the backing band).

Yes, it's chirpy, cheesy, and just a little beige (wallpaper pop, currently blasting from the speakers of hotel lobbies up and down the UK, we suspect) but it works. They look pretty well, too. Despite the dad boogie, that is. And the incessant hip slapping.


Paul (52) is the messer, and a natural storyteller to boot, sharing stories of previous gigs in the capital and joking about the band's love for Tayto crisps (they raced to the airport shop to pick up a bag). Paul's daughters (his biggest critics) are in attendance this evening. So, you know, he should smile more...and try to avoid dancing.

There are new songs to get through, but Paul knows how many of us have bought the record. No surprises, then, that it's mostly about the hits, be it the indie-rock burst of Me and the Farmer (of course there's room for some Housemartins) or the melodious beauty of Rotterdam.

The ubiquitous Perfect 10 gets a neat makeover, Caravan of Love makes a choir out of us and the excellent Abbott (40) shines on a gorgeous cover of Loving Arms.

Her colleague may make the most noise tonight, but Paul should be grateful to be back in the ring with his old sparring partner. hhhii