Music

Paul Heaton: I saw the crunch point coming for the golden age of crisps

Singer Paul Heaton discusses crisp packets, capitalism – and his incredible collection of collections

Paul Heaton

We spoke with singer Paul Heaton about his crisp packet collection for our My Peccadillo column. It turns out he collects a lot more than just that…

So Paul, we hear you are quite the collector… Do you want me to list my collections? Firstly, to do with football, I collect shirts, scarves, hats, badges, lighters, ashtrays, bottle openers, programmes, toothbrushes, pennants, tickets and wallets. That is just football.

The other stuff I have collected when I have been on the road is fly swats, shoe horns, Do Not Disturb signs, I have every boarding pass for every plane I’ve ever been on, all the lanyards and tour itineraries, sick bags off planes, Polaroids from every photoshoot I have ever done, autographs.

The other stuff I collect is crisp bags, beer mats, postcards, maps, political badges, photographs of lost gloves, shoes or socks – so if I ever see a glove in the street I take a photograph of it and keep it. Also, photographs of the posters of lost kittens stuck on lampposts.

I have a comic collection I kept since being a kid, and I like to pick up obscure business cards from people – I have about 50 or 60 of those. And if I pass a booth, I go in to look if there is a spare picture that has been discarded, plus I have my own collection from over the years of about 100 or so. I don’t know if you can collect quotes, but I keep a book of quotes from people, which I have been adding to since I worked in an office in 1978.

Finally, there are a few that I threw away. I used to collect Rich Tea wrappers, beer cans and, when I worked in an office, I collected every single hole that I’d punched – the circles from the hole punch. I used to take them home. That is all I can remember for now.

I have this collection of Do Not Disturb signs, which quite often don’t say the names of the hotels anyway, but at least I know I have been there

Have you ever pondered on why you are such a collector and hoarder of things? I don’t know why I collect stuff. With the stuff like fly swats, shoehorns, Do Not Disturb signs and boarding cards, plus maybe the Polaroids, I got the impression when I started touring that I was not going to remember any of this – and I was right. Now I have this collection of Do Not Disturb signs, which quite often don’t say the names of the hotels anyway, but at least I know I have been there. It is like ripping up a little bit of the grass from a football pitch before the old stadium is closed. Some people take shampoo, I wanted something that is more me. In America there were fly swats and shoehorns. I hang the shoe horns in my bathroom, My Boarding Cards are in a drawer and pretty unnecessary – they are just pieces of paper with my name on. But the Polaroids of photo sessions are a good memento.

Is it the storyteller in you – sparking off the imagination about the stories behind it… A little bit, yes. That is certainly the case with the photobooth pictures. In my drawer I have someone’s Woolworth’s ID card that I found. I have made a whole history up about that person, I know exactly what he does. Even though it is wrong, I have my own version of events. I am one of these dawdling people. I don’t walk very quickly, so I tend to notice things and build up this picture. If there is nothing on the pavement, I think “how vile”. You want some kids toys in the gutter or a lost teddy hung on a spike on a fence. You want a sign of human life. I always pick things up on the street and now my daughters do it as well. If I see a toy soldier, I pick it up and call it lucky.

Where do you keep everything you find? It is all in my bag that I take away with me. I take it everywhere I go. Odd stuff. Lucky stuff. A little black thing that looks like a cross between a dog and a sheep, a mermaid man – with a big beard and the bottom half of a fish. I am scared of flying, so these things become magical. I take them with me because it worked last time.

Tell me about the crisp packets… Shall we talk crisps? I keep the crisp bags in files so they stay in a decent condition. It is ones I have eaten and enjoyed over the years. There is a golden age, before you start putting on weight, when you are 20-odd and can eat about six bags every day. But also, the crisps were great in the early ’80s. So I started collecting bags like Golden Wonder’s Sausage and Tomato flavour. I’m still sad I didn’t keep the Tudor Crisps Spring Onion bag [below]. They were a real favourite. When I was in The Housemartins, we would stop at certain service stations on the M1 because we knew they had the best crisps. Certain services had KP others would have Smiths or Golden Wonder. I realised that this golden age wasn’t going to last and that the Walkers monopoly was coming. So I kept the crisp bags and I’m really glad.

Tudor Crisps Spring Onion bag

It seems you are ahead of the game – we don’t realise things are going until they are gone yet you are conscious of it… It does tell a story. Things that suddenly disappear, we notice. But when things go gradually that is a lot more dangerous. You are less aware of it. Choice, which is supposed to get bigger under capitalism, actually gets smaller. But I’m hoping this is a new golden age, with Tyrells and Pipers and all that.

Do your obsessions spill over into your work? Well, that is why I did The Long Bicycle Tour to all the pubs in 2012. I didn’t want to leave this earth knowing that I didn’t do anything to try to help keep them open. Again, it is things that gradually disappear, like a light that slowly dims. You don’t notice it disappearing. A lot of my collections my kids can’t quite understand. The whole house is a bit of a museum to me, really. But it’s not a scruffy house, it is neatly stocked and tidied and I keep everything in order.

Was football an obsession from childhood? A lot of things from childhood are brought back when you are in a band. I had a big collection of football programmes from being a kid. My dad knew lots of people who would travel to different matches, and they might bring me a Blackburn Rovers programme. So those programmes are getting old now, from the ’60s and ’70s. For a while I was given them. I don’t like the new ones, which are like big magazines. But I still have the scarf from the first game I went to, Sheffield United v Aston Villa in about 1968. We beat them 5-1, I think, and it has been downhill ever since. All the collections are a bit connected to geography and travel. It’s about having a record of where I have been. I love geography. I like to talk to people from different places…

All your collections and obsessions seems to start from travelling… Getting from A to B is always brilliant. The one thing I have learnt over the years is that everywhere is brilliant. There are places I may not have liked initially, but eventually I find something to like about it. They might not look beautiful, but there is always something beautiful about everywhere.

My latest collection is headlines that are anti-Jeremy Corbyn

Are you following UK politics at the moment? Yes. And my latest collection is headlines that are anti-Jeremy Corbyn. Obviously me and a few other people were delighted that he got the job. But we also warned each other that he would get an incredibly hostile reaction in the press. So every day I go into Ali’s, my local newsagents – and he knows me so it is fine – and find at least two or three headlines – sometimes a lot more – just absolutely tearing into him for no reason at all other than they have the most to lose if he gets into power. It is going to be a very big collection.

There’s a resurgence in badge wearing, it seems. We live so digitally, but the physical marking of ourselves and our political allegiances is making a comeback… Yes. I have a lot of badges from different pits during the Miners Strike. I have ‘Wapping Wallaby, Hop Off Murdoch’ from the printers strike. But next to it I have a big one from the Wide Awake Club. These are my big badges. I’ve been Snowed In at the Jon Snow pub. I’ve Joined the Jetset. A Mr Wimpy badge. Do they still do the spicy beanburger, I wonder? It’s a load of crap, really, but it’s a little record of who I was and when.

You like to chart your adventures… Yes, and that reminds me. It is not a collection, but similar: I have kept a Top 20 of my favourite songs every month since May 1980. It used to be songs I heard on John Peel, now it is stuff I download. It is nearly all new music. I don’t know why I started it. I look back in diaries from 1980. I would write down every song John Peel played and give marks and opinions. I lost those pieces of paper. But I have books of my charts written out really neatly. I would like to digitalise them at some point. It has been going a long time. I should publish them.

Anything about the new record – what inspired the songs? Wandering around. I go lyric writing to Holland each year. I cycle around, sit in bars and come up with ideas. I have done an album every two years for the last 30 years. And I am not running out of things to say. Strangely, I am still very vocal about everything. I am one of these people who shouts at the telly. I sit watching with my kids, and the newsreader opens his mouth and I go: “He’s lying!”

Wisdom, Laughter and Lines, the new LP by Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, is out now

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