Former Housemartins and Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton is gearing up to hit the road on his Pedals and Beer Pumps Tour, which gets under way next Wednesday.
The tour will see Heaton, who appropriately enough first found fame with the Housemartins song Happy Hour, cycle 1,000 miles around the country, stopping off at various pubs to play gigs in an initiative designed to highlight the threat facing Britain’s pubs, 39 of which close each week.
In an interview with the Liverpool Echo, Heaton has explained the motivation behind his journey, saying: “What I saw while I was cycling last summer was that pub after pub was closing down. I'd often go cycling for four weeks in an area, and in that time I might see one or two pubs shutting down.
“People do bandy figures around, I'm not sure what to believe. I've just seen it myself, that's what's inspired it. Pubs in Macclesfield and Manchester and places, in the summer by the canal... They're wonderful, and they're so old, too. It's very sad when they close,” he continued.
Heaton admitted that he hadn’t heard of anyone using pedal power to undertake a nationwide music tour of Britain before, but added: “Someone told me there was a French musician who did something similar last year, but I don't know if he was playing in pubs. I'm doing it particularly to save British pubs too, so I don't think anyone's done it for that reason before.”
Heaton is clearly someone who cares passionately about pubs, and is hard pushed to pick a favourite, explaining: “I have different pubs for different things. My favourite winter pub would be The Grafton on Grafton Street in Hull. It's just great on a rainy day to hear dominoes and the old characters who are really entertaining.”
He continued: “I really like the Cat & Fiddle near Buxton too, which is the highest pub in England. If you cycle up there and have a pint, you've really achieved something. You can look over Derbyshire and Greater Manchester from there.”
A cyclist in his teens, Heaton revealed that he began riding his bike less at around the time the Housemartins were formed. “I've always had a bike, and I used it all the time till I was about 20,” he explained. “Then I had a bit of a dip, and since I turned 40 eight years ago, I've cycled a lot. I go to Alkmaar in the Netherlands to write songs, and going over there really inspired me to get back on the bicycle.”
He’s also building up his training as the tour approaches, saying: “At the moment I'm doing about 120 miles a week, which is nowhere near enough, but as of this week I'm getting up to about 300 a week, which is what I'll be doing on the tour.”
The singer is also planning for unexpected contingencies and will be taking two bikes on tour with him. “I've got an Orbea, which is apparently cheap but it looks brilliant to me,” he said. “I was really after getting hold of a couple of bikes, and a tiny little company called Enigma based in Eastbourne came up with an offer and made me two brand new bikes, with my name on the frame, so I'll be riding them on the tour.”
During his journey, Heaton will be joined by other cyclists who will, like him, presumably be looking forward to arriving at the pub at the end of the ride. “The Star Inn in Alton is sending a team of cyclists to meet me the day before,” he said. “That's fantastic. They're coming to Radnage, near High Wycombe, so it's about a 90-mile round trip for them. Several other people have said they're going to cycle to the gigs as well.”
He continued: “There's a pub in Surrey which is doing a special Paul Heaton beer too, treating it as quite a big event. They're putting me in a barn out back.”
The musician-turned-cyclist added: “My band are only doing bits and bobs, they're little indie lightweights and I don't want to kill them! My support act Gus Devlin is doing the whole lot with me, though, and he's basically going to be looking after me on the road.”
Heaton is aware, however, that traffic isn’t the only danger facing him on his tour. “The pubs are really pleased to be having us, which makes me happy. There is a potential lock-in every night though, for two or three weeks, so I'll have to limit myself. Cycling with a hangover is no fun,” he concluded.
The tour gets under way on Wednesday at the Flying Horse in Rochdale Lancashire and full details of the itinerary are available on the singer’s website.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.