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A Beautiful Life in Music

For almost 20 years, Leicester’s Gaz Birtles had the pleasure of playing saxophone in the legendary British band ‘The Beautiful South’.

During their 20 years together, they sold around 15 million records and toured the world with super catchy hits like ‘Perfect 10’, ‘Song for Whoever’, and ‘You Keep it all in’.

Picture: Andy Futers

Although they split in 2007, Gaz continues to celebrate the band’s legacy by performing as lead singer
of ‘The South’ – a spin-off band which continues to delight fans up and down the country.

Speaking about swapping the sax for his own set of pipes, Gaz told Pukaar that he has a new appreciation for the songs of Paul Heaton – The Beautiful South’s primary songwriter, which he now has the pleasure of singing.

“As a sax player, you don’t really take notes of what the songs are about, but since I’ve had to learn the words, I get to appreciate [Paul’s] story telling and his talent for writing great, great lyrics.

“On the surface, a lot of the songs just sound quite twee. Nice catchy melodies. However the lyrics are quite barbed and some are quite dark,” he said. “Paul has a real talent for being able to twist words. A clever, clever chap…”

Gaz is well known on the Leicester music scene and is a big champion of up and coming bands in the city.
He has been able to make a living in the industry thanks to a decision he made aged 19 – one which changed the course of his life…

“Me and my mate were into Roxy Music and they’ve got a sax player – Andy Mackay, who I thought was really cool. So we both bought saxophones and learned how to play,” he explained.

I’d never have guessed that decision would lead to what was to come. It’s been a lucky life I suppose!

Picture: Andy Futers

After leaving school, Gaz became a qualified gas fitter. He started a band called The Swinging Laurels, which enjoyed some success after being signed by Warner Brothers. However, in 1989 he joined The Beautiful South and became a professional touring musician – staying in top hotels, travelling the world and living the rock and roll dream.

“The Beautiful South only had one single out when I joined. They could easily have flopped but as it happened that wasn’t the case and they went on to become very successful.

“We went to America about five times, we went to Japan and played every major city in Europe many times,” he revealed.

Towards the end we were doing arena tours and football stadiums in front of 80,000 people. It was mad.

Gaz still enjoys the buzz of being on stage as lead singer of ‘The South’, and although the venues are smaller these says, the crowds are just as appreciative.

“We do 90 minute sets and everyone gets up dancing. We put on a show but also represent the quality of The Beautiful South songs,” he said.

“We have a lot of die-hard fans – people who’ll follow us up and down the country. However, we see lots of young people these days – obviously the sons and daughters of the parents who forced them to listen to the music back in the day!”

Gaz feels fortunate to have enjoyed a long and successful career in music – an industry which is becoming increasingly competitive.

However his passion is strong – so strong that it has been passed on to his two sons Perry and Jordan. They are both enjoying success as part of ‘Easy Life’ – one of the most successful bands to come out of Leicester.

“Jordan is the band’s keyboard player and Perry does the sound. They grew up around music and came to all the big shows, so I think it was quite a natural career path for them to follow,” Gaz revealed.

“As for me, to still be making a living on the music scene is amazing – being a promoter, being a sound man – anything to do with music I’ll do it! I’ve made my life and living by being a part of the music industry and I count myself very lucky.”

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By Louise Steel