REVIEW: Billy Bragg, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott wow the Forest Live crowd

PUBLISHED: 14:26 16 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:55 16 June 2018

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Picture: Henry Woodsford

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Picture: Henry Woodsford


Getting three of Britain’s most famous voices to perform on the same evening is no mean feat.

Billy Bragg. Picture: Henry WoodsfordBilly Bragg. Picture: Henry Woodsford

So credit must be given to Forest Live at Westonbirt Arboretum, in Tetbury, where a sell-out crowd was treated to music from Billy Bragg, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott on a glorious Friday evening outdoors.

Bragg kicked off proceedings and was on top form, despite looking a solitary figure on the spacious stage. No backing band needed, just a guitar and good humour making him the perfect warm-up act.

Much to the dismay of the queueing audience, Bragg actually started performing 15 minutes before he was scheduled to. Probably because the organisers knew you cannot have Billy Bragg on stage for less than one hour.

He loves interacting with his audience and was cracking the jokes straight after he opened with his 1991 single, Sexuality.

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Picture: Henry WoodsfordPaul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Picture: Henry Woodsford

For all his banter - he joked he was looking down to tune his guitar when he was actually watching a live feed of the Portugal against Spain FIFA World Cup match - Bragg covered a broad range of topics including fracking, Brexit, women’s rights and reusable plastics to name a few.

Bragg left the Westonbirt stage to a roar of applause, and after being treated to a man and his guitar, we now had a full band on stage.

An extravagant introduction with the musicians showcasing their powerful sound, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott started off proceedings with I Don’t See Them taken from their second studio album, Wisdom, Laughter And Lines.

To use a football analogy, this really was a performance of two halves. We were treated to material under their latest moniker for the first half, and then the memorable sounds of The Beautiful South and The Housemartins for the final 45 minutes.

In careers spanning more than 30 years, Heaton and Abbott have a plethora of songs to call upon.

The sell-out crowd were signing along to almost every word of Beautiful South classics including Rotterdam (Or Anywhere), Perfect Ten, Carry On Regardless and the dirty version of Don’t Marry Her as per the audience’s request.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at the diverse age range of the crowd. I was expecting to be the youngest person there by a distance but there was a good number of people born more than 10 years after The Housemartins were formed in 1985, something which both Bragg and Heaton mentioned on various occasions.

But that is the value of good music, age doesn’t matter, and the duo played enough material to suit fans both young and old.

It takes a special performance to demand not one but two encores, a rare feat indeed but one fully warranted.

An up-tempo version of A Little Time was followed by my personal favourite Housemartins single, Happy Hour.

At this point several balloons were dispensed from the stage as the party atmosphere moved up a gear.

When the duo returned to the stage for a second reappearance we were treated to I Kept It All In then a stunning ending number, an acapella cover of Caravan Of Love.

For all the signing along and dancing throughout, the crowd drew silent to listen to every syllable. It was one of those moments where you take a step back and look around at your surroundings, a beautiful moment.

Westonbirt Arboretum was a special venue for three special musicians who are still on top of their game after all these years.

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