Anyway, as I sat there with a weird mental image of a Timbaland/Dave Hemingway hybrid flashing through my brain (they both nod their head in a very similar manner), it made me realise how much I miss the band. Like a child who suddenly acknowledges that his dog is dead and they'll never play "catch the stick" together again, it dawned on me that The Beautiful South are no more.
Growing up, the band were my second favourite musical obsession (after Quo, of course). I was a fan from the moment that I heard Song For Whoever on the Smash Hits Party '89 double-cassette compilation. However, it wasn't until 1994 and the release of Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud) from the Miaow album that I truly became a completist. Any band who can ride bicycles up a hill accompanied by an elephant (and still carry on singing) is fine by me.
I just missed them on their tiny '94 tour that called at Newport Centre (something I still regret to this day), but I played Miaow constantly and it is still one of my favourite albums. It was the first CD I ever owned that contained swearing ("we'll fuck them off over there" in Hidden Jukebox) and I truly felt as if I was growing up. Such small pleasures.
Within weeks, I had written off to the address on the packaging with a request for more information. I almost collapsed when I received a hand-written postcard from bass player Sean Welch thanking me for my support. We subsequently exchanged further letters, and he even sorted me out with a signed picture (which still has pride of place in a frame next to a signed Girls Aloud calendar) and a "Northern Scum" T-Shirt (which my mother would never allow me to wear in public "in case it offended somebody").
Like Jim Davidson and his Emerson, Lake & Palmer obsession, I wouldn't shut up about The Beautiful South. As with my love of Quo, I was mocked mercilessly by school friends who didn't see the fascination. But I didn't care, I knew that I was on to something good (and even managed to have the last laugh when those same people were singing along to Rotterdam in the sixth form common room years later).
Over time, I collected the band's previous albums in reverse order. I remember tracking down 0898 on a day trip to York and spent the entire journey home listening to it repeatedly on a Walkman. Choke was picked up in an HMV sale and LP gave me her mother's copy of Welcome To The Beautiful South in return for a ticket to see them at the Cardiff Arena in 1995 (but then we had a huge falling-out over something stupid and M ended up coming with me instead - he was the only other person who shared my passion for the band).
It seemed that we were jinxed whenever we went to see them in concert though. The first time was spoilt by sound problems (support band The Lightning Seeds had to leave the stage after two songs) plus there was a bomb scare in the encore. I was never entirely sure why anybody would choose to terrorise a Beautiful South gig in Cardiff, but there you go. I was particularly annoyed because it meant that they couldn't play Woman In The Wall, my favourite song, but I suppose it's acceptable given the circumstances. Eighteen months later, the band returned to Cardiff but this time without Jacqueline Abbott (who I had a major crush on at the time) who was feeling unwell. But at least they played Woman In The Wall.
Then it happened. The sort of thing you hope for when you're a fan of a small band, but at the same time feel resentment when it does. Carry On Up The Charts: The Greatest Hits was released and The Beautiful South were suddenly huge. Clearly a lot of people were closet fans, because the ones who mocked me at school were now sharing my obsession and finally, for once, I was a fan of a "cool" band. Of course, this meant that I had to go one better than everybody else. When The Beautiful South announced two huge summer stadium concerts in 1997, I travelled all the way to Huddersfield with M to see them headline at the McAlpine Stadium. Not only that, but we queued outside the venue from 6am on a Saturday morning to ensure that we were down at the front.
This time there were no problems. Not only did The Beautiful South put on an impeccable show, I also got to see Teenage Fanclub and a whole host of other bands. John Power from Cast waved at me, Bridget from Angelica smiled in my direction (or it could have been a grimace) and The Lightning Seeds (with backing vocals from the 25,000-strong crowd) did a rare performance of Three Lions (at a time when it hadn't been milked to death). It didn't get much better than that...at least I didn't think so.
In 1999, The Beautiful South were still big enough appear second on the bill beneath REM at the Glastonbury Festival. It was here that M, L and myself saw one of their best ever performances. The timing was perfect - the sun was setting, we were relaxing at the back of the main field (just next to that famous solitary tree), the band did a greatest hits setlist and we sang along to every word.
Maybe it's because they could never top that, but I never felt the same level of passion for The Beautiful South after that night. Yes, I admit it. I neglected them towards the end of their life. I bought all the albums, of course, but I never gave them the same level of attention as I had in the past. I stopped going to see them live and I would listen to new albums once or twice before putting them on the shelf. I suppose you could say that I took them for granted. I had the attitude that they would always be around and I could get back into them later. I didn't take much notice when they announced their split last year, but it has now hit me that a great band has been lost. A group who never really cared if they were cool or not and seemed more like a group of friends having fun than a professional musical outfit. But maybe that's what made them so good.
Thankfully I have my memories - and a great soundtrack to accompany them.