“I wrote a few emails saying ‘I’d like to give my songs to the public’… he wasn’t interested”: Paul Heaton tried to nationalise his back catalogue, the Tories said no

Paul Heaton in 2023
(Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns)

Paul Heaton is long-established as one of British music’s good guys. There is a long list of amazingly decent things that the veteran singer-songwriter and Beautiful South and Housemartins frontman has done, including a number of sizeable donations to local charities, putting money behind the bar for fans (and non-fans) and donating money to the staff and freelancers of Q Magazine when the magazine closed in 2020 (I was one of the very grateful recipients). But there is also one act of excellence that Heaton never got to tick off.  A few years ago, Heaton, who has sold over 15 million albums across his career, wanted to nationalise his back catalogue so that the proceeds would feed back into the state. The Tories turned him down.

“My idea was just old-fashioned,” he told this writer in 2020. “I began donating a couple of songs to different things, so I thought, ‘I’ll write to Greg Clark, the Business Secretary’, so I wrote a few emails, saying ‘I’d like to give my back catalogue, my songs, to the public and the way to do it would be to nationalise my back catalogue’. He wasn’t interested. I sort of forced him, or his staff, into a corner eventually where they had to admit they wouldn’t take it on grounds of they didn’t believe in nationalisation. So I got an email as evidence and showed it on The Wright Stuff.”

The Happy Hour and A Little Time songwriter wasn’t entirely discouraged, though, and was still looking at different options to put his dosh to good use. “We’re currently in negotiations for me to pay a higher council tax,” he said, going on to explain that he was far more comfortable doing that than becoming a charity cheerleader. “Charity to me stinks of hitting the poorest of the community,” he stated. “I’d give money to charity but I wouldn’t go saying, ‘Oh, can you give to charity?’, I don’t want to be one of these rich people saying ‘Can you please give money to this’. It just seems wrong. When we were in The Beautiful South, we used to call ourselves the Bumpkin Billionaries, after a cartoon in Beano where these country folk came into money and the more money they gave away, the more they got. That’s sometimes how I feel.”

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Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.