The South set to headline Fife music festival

The South
The South

The stage is set to be somewhat on the crowded side when The South play at the Rockore Music Festival this summer.

The nine-piece band will headline the one day event at Lochore Meadows on Saturday, August 17, as one date on a hectic touring schedule across the summer and into autumn.

The South - lead singer Gaz Birtles

The South - lead singer Gaz Birtles

This will be a rare appearance at a festival north of the border for the band, which emerged following the end of The Beautiful South in 2007 after a hugely successful 18 years which included 10 top 10 albums – three of which reached number one – and six top 10 singles including the number one ‘A Little Time’ which sold nearly half a million in 1990.

Lead singer Gaz Birtles said : “This is the first time we’ve played a Scottish festival since The Beautiful South played T In The Park in 1995, so I’m looking forward to it.

“In fact, we’ve got three dates up in Scotland that week so I’m sure we’ll have a lovely time.

“We really enjoy playing Scotland, we always try and play Inverness and Glasgow on most tours.

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“There aren’t enough places to spread it around for us unfortunately, so the Rockore Festival will be a good chance for us to play to some new people a make more friends.

“We’ve got a busy touring schedule this year but, to be honest, most of our tours these days are spread over weekends.

“It gives us all time to do other things during the week!”

The South came together in 2008, formed by former members of the previous band, with Dave Hemingway as the lead singer until he decided to quit in 2017.

It was then that Gaz, who had been with The Beautiful South since its formation, put down his saxophone and stepped up to the mic alongside co-lead singer Alison Wheeler, a change which he admits took some getting used to – for himself as well as the other members of the band.

“Initially it was quite a shock really,” he said.

“When Dave Hemingway left we thought well, that’s it, we’ll just have to pack the band in, but promoters were saying to us to just get another singer.

“We were thinking about looking at getting in some ’80s singer, just knocking some other ideas around, but I’ve been a singer and a songwriter in my own band for most of my life alongside the Beautiful South work, so I said, look, I’ll give it a go.

“So we sort of auditioned me with 10 songs!

“They were all done in the style I wouldn’t normally sing in myself, I’ve had to learn how to sing which has been fantastic I must admit.

“It’s been a totally new career for me really, which I didn’t expect at this point, but I’m totally embracing it and loving it.

“The other thing that it’s done is that it’s given me a second insight into all those brilliant songs.

“Now I have to understand the words and live them when I’m on stage. It shows what a genius Paul Heaton is as a songwriter. That comes across every night.

“I’m not tiring of the songs either, it still feels fresh every night. They were great songs for me to play sax to, now it’s different and I’m absolutely loving it.”

With a change of singer after such a long period of time Gaz says it gave the band a shot in the arm, as well as a slightly different feel.

“Dave had always sung those songs and I’ve come in as lead singer with a slightly different style.

“I’ve still tried to keep true to the overall style and the melody of the songs, I’ve not changed things around that much, but I’d say that it’s a slightly different vibe on the stage now.

“I’m not saying whether it’s for better or worse, it’s just different.”

The band play songs mostly from The Beautiful South’s extensive and well-known back catalogue but the band added to that with the critically acclaimed album ‘Sweet Refrains’ in 2012 and Gaz says they are keen to release new material.

“We’ve been working on new stuff. We’d been hoping to get something out for this summer but the reality is that it’s not going to happen.

“Several of the band members play in other bands and Andy Price our keyboard player in particular is crucial to the sound of the band and he tours all over Europe with blues artists so we have to find the right time and place to meet up with him.

“We have to book him six months in advance!

“I’m also the band’s manager and do most of the organising side of it, so getting everyone’s window at the right time and trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time is mental!

“Getting new material out hasn’t come together as quickly as we’d hoped but we’re definitely working on it and we might add some new stuff into the set on this tour.”

One of the difficulties of any band is striking a balance between touring and recording and Gaz says he still craves the creative process of being in the studio.

“I’ve been a songwriter all my life,” he says,

“The actual process of writing and finishing a song – you can’t beat it.

“Finding the lyrics, melody and arrangement is one of the best feelings you can have as a musician I think.

“Performing live is great and when it all comes together for that one-off moment, that’s the good bit and we’ll never lose that between us.

“But because we have such a high bar to live up to in Paul Heaton’s songwriting, and we all write songs individually, they may not be of the right style for The South.

“We try and keep it in the realm of music we’ve put out in the past, though obviously we try not to just copy it, but are we able to sing that song alongside ‘A Little Time’ and ‘Song For Whoever’? They need to stand up there.

“That’s the hardest bit, getting that level of quality.

“It’s a difficult process but it’s one that we keep working away at.

“We’ve got a few on the go and we’ll be trying them out in soundchecks and things like that over the summer.”