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Feb 11

THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH – “A Little Time”

Popular83 comments • 3,788 views

#652, 27th October 1990

“A Little Time” gives us the duet as short story. Dave Hemingway offers some sensitive-dude patter, Briana Corrigan busts it up and shows what’s really been going on. He’s smooth, she’s sharp; she’s sympathetic, he’s not; he’s dumped, she’s happy. It’s a nice idea for a song, but as realised here it’s all too easy, like a badly staged wrestling match where you can’t even cheer as the heel gets his since he was never much of a threat. All the life in the record comes from Corrigan, striding brassily into a self-involved song and giving it a kick-up the arse – even though her verses fizzle into tweeness every time. But Hemingway is a relative cypher. Her confidence rings true, his smarminess seems only there to prove a point.

What we have is more a sketch than a track – a bit of observational comedy, or a scene from a ‘bittersweet’ sitcom. Isn’t it funny how guys say they want a little time….? The music backs that up – discreet punchline flourishes between the lite-pop verses letting on we’re listening to something a bit wry. The problem is, pop song is always multi-layered – you’ve always got the arrangement and the lyrics and the vocal performance reinforcing or trading off against one another. So pop is full of unreliable narrators, conflicted dickheads, people who say one thing and mean another. And while undermining cliches is clever, it’s even more clever if you don’t have to point it out. You can imagine a Beautiful South version of “I’m Not In Love” with Briana Corrigan popping up between verses going “ACTUALLY YOU ARE IN LOVE REALLY!”.

But maybe it’s just that I always hated the Beautiful South. I was hardly alone in that: I can’t think of a band my friends and I despised more. Some of it was snobbery, to be sure: they were the pop choice of the Radio 2 listener, and their neat bundles of song felt inert and self-enclosed, drearily arranged music for bores. An apt sound for the Major Years, we thought, for all that Paul Heaton tried to mix some poison into the weak tea. Was I wrong? Well, I still can’t listen to “Perfect 10″ or “Rotterdam” – and I don’t dare even try “36D”, so spiteful Corrigan quit the group – but with the cushion of hindsight I can see that “A Little Time” is one of their better songs, for all its unsatisfying neatness.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Cumbrian on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Isn’t the Grand Father of all of these interruption songs the quite glorious “Tramp” by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas? I always have a smile on my face when I hear that record.

    “I don’t care what you say Otis, you’re still a tramp”
    “WWWWWWHHHHAAAAAAATTT?”

    Just brilliant. Don’t know whether they actually interrupt each other though – I’d need to listen to it again to be sure.

  2. 52
    Tom on 7 Feb 2011 #

    “Tramp” is an argument but doesn’t feel like interruptions – Marcello is quite right that the double-time female vocals is how “A Little Time” manages to make itself feel ‘interrupt-y’ – when actually it isn’t: each of the participants gets time to make their point and then it’s replied to.

  3. 53
    Tom on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Pop’s foundational interruption (not a duet): “Hold it fellas, that don’t move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change.”

  4. 54
    Cumbrian on 7 Feb 2011 #

    52: Fair enough – in which case Tramp and A Little Time are probably closer to each other in that respect.

    53: That’s a good point.

  5. 55
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 Feb 2011 #

    My Mum had a cassette of Carry On Up The Charts in the car (to replace the Temptations best of that had melted on the dashboard on a hot day). I really rather liked all of the songs on it, but not as much as Simply Red’s Stars. I didn’t know about the Housemartins and I’d never seen a picture or video of the Beautiful South, so for ages I assumed the woman singing looked exactly like her out of Fairground Attraction. I remember singing along to ‘Old Red Eyes Is Back’ in the back of the car on the North Circular – it was on the way to a swimming competition in Edmonton, so I must have been at least twelve. The only one I didn’t sing along to was ’36D’ as it was EMBARRASSING (and the rest of the embarrassing ones went right over my head). After that I thought ‘Rotterdam’ was ok, but ‘Perfect 10′ sucked so much that I blocked out my previous affection for the ‘South until now.

  6. 56
    weej on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I remember when Carry On Up The Charts came out there was a feature in Select (or it could have been another magazine) where Paul Heaton went through each track and said what he thought of it. Surprisingly he seemed to hate at least 50% of the songs. I recall particular scorn being poured on 36D and Everybody’s Talking. It seemed odd at the time and still does now – he doesn’t like these songs, but he’s already released them once and now he’s putting them out again? What kind of artist is happy with that?
    I remember another quote where he said that the success of the album was because they were “everyone’s second-favourite band” – which sounds like an acceptance of mediocrity, Garfunkel & Oates style.

  7. 57
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I sort-of remember that, inasmuch as he said if he wasn’t in the band, he’d never ever buy the records.

    The usual “I’m more a Tupac fan mesel’” stuff.

  8. 58
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I’ve always thought there was a kind of “acting”/”role-playing” aspect to many of their songs – almost a defining feature of the group, in fact. (The `fake cover version’ “This old Skin”, and “Liars’ Bar” are blatant examples of this – but so are “Worthless Lie”, “Mini-Correct”), with the duet arrangement often meaning that scenes are “acted out”, rather than (a la Rod Stewart at his best) narrated. (Well, that clearly applies to A Little Time as well). In that sense I can’t see much point in taking offense at the lyrics -there is a whole layer of artistry and distancing, at least in the earlier albums.

  9. 59

    There was a TV feature called (I think) StarQuest or StarQuiz, which consisted of a pop-star or similar being quizzed by a computer or robot in a booth, on trivial “favourite colour/most embarrassing moment” type subjects. The star had a touch-screen and picked topics; we gazed at them as from the POV of the touch-screen. Heaton gave a very funny, very sarcastic, “ironic wrong answer” performance on this, which actally made me warm to him a lot; I assume under-the-radar self-entertaining subversion is a default mode for him, which may heighten hipster* prickliness towards his projects (“Who’s laughing at who here?”)

    *Category includes self

  10. 60
    weej on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Re: #49 – Yes, ‘I Luv You’ is great. Plenty of time to talk about Dizzee later though. I’ll check out those other tracks too.
    Also, not couples, but my two favourite tracks from the first The Streets album have two people constantly interrupting each-other.

  11. 61
    punctum on 7 Feb 2011 #

    The reason “that girl was never credited” was because “she” was also Dizzee.

  12. 62
    Tom on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Speaking of which, Positive K’s “I Got A Man” actually IS an interruption rap. Apologies if someone upthread mentioned it first!

  13. 63
    pink champale on 7 Feb 2011 #

    there’s a great ike and tina turner interruption duet called (i think) ‘hurt is all you gave me’. it sees tina blasting out furiously indignant wronged woman sentiments only to get cut off each time by ike’s give-a-shit laconic bastardry. my particular favourite bit has tina wailing “i thought i was your baby” to which ike gives an unruffled “yeah you was. at that particular time”
    obviously, given the realities of their relationship it’s not necessarily the most comfortable song to enjoy – your actual guilty pleasure i guess.

    oddly, the only big beautiful south fan i’ve known spent most of the rest of the time listening to darkside ‘ardkore.

  14. 64
    pink champale on 7 Feb 2011 #

    @61 is this true? my mind is blown.

  15. 65
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I call shenanigans!

  16. 66
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I’ll see yr shenanigans, and I’ll raise you:

    http://www.thp-online.com/jeanine/jjbiog.html

    Notice, it doesn’t say she performed on the track, just that she appears in the video…

  17. 67
    DietMondrian on 7 Feb 2011 #

    @15 – “Plenty of studenty Housemartins fans stuck around for at least the first few albums (and beyond)” – I am that man. Liked the first two albums, went off them while listening to the third and finding it sounded just so ordinary compared to the other stuff my ears were opening up to at the time (it came out about six months after Screamadelica – my whole musical world had shifted).

    I have been humming Old Red Eyes is Back all morning, mind.

  18. 68
    Kit on 9 Feb 2011 #

    61 seems unbelievable, yes – suspect punctum may be confusing memories of Pos K, as reffed by Tom?

  19. 69
    punctum on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Not at all. Dizzee himself told me in an interview some years back that he did the girl’s voice.

  20. 70
    Lex on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Pop stars don’t always tell the truth in interviews (see: The-Dream’s various stories about “Umbrella”). Which seems to have been the case here, because that’s definitely not Dizz.

  21. 71
    Mark G on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Not in the video, no…

  22. 72
    Matt DC on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Not on the track either, it’s obviously a real girl rather than an impression or a manipulated voice.

  23. 73
    Kat but logged out innit on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Yeah dudes, if Dizz is that good at impressions then how come he’s never done any other daft voices?

  24. 74
    Lex on 9 Feb 2011 #

    Actually the pitched-up “child’s voice” on “2 Far” IS Dizz, maybe that’s what he talked about with Punctum?

  25. 75
    Kit on 10 Feb 2011 #

    “Dizzee himself told me in an interview some years back that he did the girl’s voice.”

    This definitely sounds like the sort of lie you’d tell to handwave away not having credited someone on your record. “Erm, that’s my mate Dave’s dog, put through autotune. But what do you think of my NEW album?”

  26. 76
    Mark G on 10 Feb 2011 #

    Shades of “I tell you, that’s Burt Reynolds” Leonard Rossiter here…

    #75, Possibly, but then having the woman who he’s trying to avoid crediting, appear in the video, dot dot dot

  27. 77
    punctum on 10 Feb 2011 #

    The question is, eight years down the line, does it actually matter?

  28. 78
    Matt DC on 10 Feb 2011 #

    A mere twelve years after the Beautiful South record under discussion, you might be right.

  29. 79
    Erithian on 21 Feb 2011 #

    Looking again at the track listing for Carry On Up The Charts, more winners than duds for me (“You Keep It All In”, “Old Red Eyes Is Back”, “Good As Gold” among them). I was never convinced by the dialogue on “A Little Time” though, or its use in the context of the song, as the dialogue is crowbarred into the tune so as to lose its effectiveness. TBS did a good set in the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield to raise money for the justice campaign (“Rotterdam” sounding particularly lovely) but that now seems hypocritical in the light of Heaton writing a foreword for a hooligan memoir (as discussed in the “Caravan of Love” thread).

    Beautiful South were on the bill (doing “Don’t Marry Her…”) the only time I’ve ever been to a recording of “Later”. Also on were Metallica, Donovan, Horace Andy (visibly enjoying Metallica) and, making their first major TV appearance, Catatonia. We were close enough to touch their drumkit, and seeing Cerys lounging about casually reading the paper as the minutes to recording ticked by made me warm to the band immediately. Pity they won’t be troubling Popular.

  30. 80
    Erithian on 21 Feb 2011 #

    I liked someone’s comment under the YouTube clip saying “Ryan and Janine from EastEnders should cover this”!

  31. 81
    Martin Skidmore on 8 Mar 2011 #

    Sorry to be so late here (I have been ill), but my favourite argument duet is “The Same Thing It Took To Get Me” by Joe Tex & Mable John. Mable starts, and Joe breaks in with something like “Sit down, settle back and shut up, woman, and listed to this.”

  32. 82
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Aug 2013 #

    Don’t agree with the mark at all – this is a charming, heartfelt pop song full of dour wit. It would get a 7, but the last thing it needed was a “fake Peruvians in Preston market” woodwind section, so a high 6.

    B-b-but. Having to put up with Blue is the Colour and Quench in my parents’ car in the late nineties made me think the Beautiful South were the type of band who wrote “charming, heartfelt pop song full of dour wit” in their lyrics notes, like some cringeworthy government focus group. That approach makes me understand why Rotterdam, Perfect 10 and Don’t Marry Her (“grab your sweaty bollocks”.. stop with the sub-Millicanisms!) are unbearable for many.

    It’s also to blame for some of the clunkier moments of recent British acts from Emeli Sande’s “Next to Me” to a certain Sheffield bunny and their fighting clowns. Yes, very well-crafted, but why are we being served said weak tea when nowadays even in Blackburn and Barnsley the cafes can give us a “cafezinho?”

    The strangest thing about the Beautiful South is how they seem blood brothers of jangly mid-eighties indie-pop – you know, early Primal Scream, Felt, and indeed Lloyd Cole who also had a famous jaunty, quirky single about a major Dutch city – but their records never seem to have the economy, style, breezy cool and well, timelessness of Perfect Skin, Ballad of the Band or Velocity Girl.

    Unlike the Smiths, they seem less like they’re inviting you into their world, and more like they’re forcing you to have a quirky, dour, British eccentricity – and it’s an aspect of any band which by rights should have some people rushing for the exit door. Unfortunately, as Popular progresses through the nineties and noughties, less and less record buyers get this message, and it explains why there’s nothing on the TV, nothing on the radio that means that much to some.

  33. 83
    DanH on 1 Jun 2014 #

    My local library had Choke on their racks, and I’d see that every time I’d look for CDs there. I later found out that Heaton wandered over to the South after the Housemartins, so I checked out some singles. I agree, “A Little Time” is not a top-shelf favorite and not my choice for a #1 single…my pick woulda been “Good As Gold,” with a backing that sounds like a minor key version of an early Supremes song. Or maybe “We Are Each Other,” the closest they ever got to an American ‘hit.’ I see them as a nice singles band, and do not have the early ’90s Britain context that many comments have. At the very least, I’ll take their singles over the mind numbingly boring late period Barenaked Ladies (callback to my comment on the Caravan thread)

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