The House of Love

TrackAlbum / Single/ 12"
SafeFontana HOL112
PlasticCreation CRE044T
In A RoomThe House Of Love (aka Fontana)
Destroy The HeartCreation CRE057T
Mr. JoCreation CRE057T
Beatles And The StonesThe House Of Love (aka Fontana)
MarbleA Spy In The House Of Love
The Girl With The Loneliest EyesFontana HOL512
Philly PhileBabe Rainbow
Maybe You KnowDays Run Away

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

 

Contributor: John Hartley

I don’t know why I love you

Maybe it’s the bluntness of your song titles, the angularity of your style, the rage and fury of your guitars, the sometimes impenetrable meaning of your lyrics, your obsession with religious imagery …

It’s none of these, is it? I know this because these are the very things that put me off you in the first place; these along with the haircuts, the moody black and white photographs, the way the NME and other music journalists fawned over Destroy The Heart. I mean, who really wants to destroy the heart? At the age of seventeen it’s one of a very few things that keeps a boy going, you know. That title alone is enough to put anyone off, isn’t it?

In fact, I’m never, never going to let you into my record collection, never mind anywhere near my heart. Well, not until someone offers to sell me their copy of your latest Top 40-skirting 12″ single for two quid because they need the money and I just happen to have that two quid in my pocket. Unusually. Maybe it’s fate?

Things change. By the time The House of Love’s second album came out I was prepared to swallow my pride and admit to myself that, actually, they were quite good. I would buy their singles – not all of them, and not consistently. One of the few things I knew about the band at this time was that guitarist Terry Bickers and singer and chief songwriter Guy Chadwick had fallen out quite spectacularly. By the time the pair of them had kissed, made up and reformed the band some ten years after they had ultimately called it quits, The House of Love would be firm fixtures on my portable-music-player-of-choice.

So where did it all go right? The single Never was indeed my gateway into the world of The House of Love, but more so through its B-side, Safe, than the lead track. I would later learn that this (and several other B-sides) was a remnant of a scrapped album between the self-titled debut on Creation Records and the self-titled follow-up on Fontana. Safe portrayed a vulnerability I had never anticipated from the band, with Chadwick sounding as though he is trying to convince himself as much as anyone of the security about which he sings. All this, of course, is placed over a traditional guitar, bass and drums backing which manages to sound contemporary to the late 1980s, 1960s and 2010s simultaneously.

By the time the Fontana-released eponymous album (generally referred to as Fontana or ‘that one with the butterfly cover’ for ease of clarity; their next proper album was similarly self-titled and is known as Babe Rainbow to avoid further confusion) came out, I had got my head round some of the back catalogue. On one side of a cassette I had the debut album; the other contained the band’s import-only singles and B-sides compilation. It’s untitled, by the way; often referred to as The German Album due to the origin of its release. And there, after only one track, would I find the song that would truly draw me in: Plastic. From the moment the guitar lazily dribbles into the lilting shuffle of the verse there can be no going back. Chadwick sings of summer, and the band present the musical equivalent of an afternoon lying by a river with the sun beating down, insects chorusing two resting lovers … But wait: all is not well. He never thought he’d sink so low, he’s lonely in the field, a baby treading water. And worse still: today he got himself a gun …

Much is often made of the importance to The House of Love’s sound of Chadwick and Bickers, and inevitably this is right. However, the importance of their rhythm section – Pete Evans on drums and Chris Groothuizen’s bass playing – should not be underestimated, and the beautiful simplicity of their contribution to Plastic makes Bickers’ lead guitar and Chadwick’s stark lyrics all the more haunting. They provide the perfect introduction to the next song to hook me too: In A Room. There is an urgency here, propelling the ‘drunk-in-a-room’ narrator who “just can’t slow down” into the burst of the middle eight which then erupts into one of the finest examples of evocative guitar playing I have heard. And as the song gallops to its climax, drums pound, bass hammers, guitars sweep, soar and nag like they do in proper music journalists’ reviews and eventually Chadwick slows to a breathless finish.

The House of Love didn’t have much commercial success with their earliest works; it would take a major label re-recording of their debut single for the band to dent the charts. But this in itself tells a tale, doesn’t it? Because despite this their status was growing sufficiently for a major label to splash the cash. The buzz had begun with their debut album, a collection of songs that many fans would argue was never bettered. The emerging reputation was done no harm by follow-up single Destroy The Heart. That’s right, the very same song about which I was so sneeringly dismissive, and this Toppermost would not be remotely fair or accurate if I didn’t include it. Everything those fawning journalists ever said about this track is true and I can add no more. Except to say that when you’ve listened to the song until you reckon you can hear it no more times, listen once more: notice the three notes played on the xylophone as the guitar fades in. That’s all: the entirety of production is three notes on a xylophone, and their simplicity makes the song perfect.

Flip over the single and on the other side you’ve got Blind. This – like debut single Shine On – would be re-recorded for Fontana and is, according to Chadwick, the song of which he is lyrically most proud. And then there’s Mr. Jo … its breezy arpeggio beginning lures the listener into the promise of warmth and succour. “Hey little girl … I don’t want to see you suffer … it’s going to be a hot old summer … maybe we should do a runner.” It is a false dawn. There is vehemence here, more than a little spite. “It’s going to be a cold winter … I hope it hurts, I hope it stings you” sings Chadwick and then all the pent-up fury and rage Bickers can muster explodes through his guitar as Evans beats the living daylights out of his instruments and Groothuizen hammers bass guitar nails into the coffin of any hopes of nicety that may still linger before the disconcerting conclusion that “Love is such a stupid word. Bye bye …”

Fast forward several months and The House of Love have finally made it into the Top 20 singles charts and have an album that is also doing quite nicely thank you. All is not rosy, however; Bickers has left to form his own band, Levitation, and the music press are once again bemoaning the band having released the wrong song as a single. Beatles And The Stones scrapes into the Top 40 and will be only the second (and the last) single by the band to achieve that feat. History is kinder to the song however; the album version has a warmer feel of nostalgia, draped as it is in faded echoes of those bands and the gentle plucking of guitars give an eerie menace to lyrics which describe the bands in question putting “The ‘V’ in Vietnam” and making it “good to be alone”.

By now it was safe to say I was hooked, and largely unaware of the turmoil within the band. Perhaps I chose not to read it, as the next time I can remember being aware of the band’s continued existence was on a rare occasion watching Channel 4’s “The Word”. There, as large as life itself against a wail of feedback and still-heavy guitars, were the band playing Marble, a song new to me and I presumed everybody. Maybe they had performed it live; I never had the pleasure of being witness to them in the flesh. The track was released on a mid-price B-sides-and-scrapped-songs album issued as a stop-gap before the next album proper. The recorded version is great, but the live TV version is even better. It even made it into an Indie Top 10 Performances on The Word article. Okay, written by me, but hey …

As quick as they had reappeared, The House Of Love were gone again. Back into the studio. Legend has it that upon completion of Babe Rainbow Guy Chadwick marched round to the NME offices and demanded they play his copy of the new album there and then because it was so good. The NME naturally had a good old chuckle over this. We, the general public, got the first indication of what might be in store during Radio One’s week-long residency at London’s Marquee Club. Five blistering songs in, the nation was treated to the first of nearly half a dozen new songs in this live broadcast. It was still a work in progress; the band still not totally confident of the structure but The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes showed a tender, hypnotic glimpse into the future. When finally released as a single it would be more polished but still effortlessly beautiful with melody and instrumentation as haunting as the eyes are lonely.

Chadwick was, of course, right to be proud of his band’s new work; just a little clumsy in managing his enthusiasm. Babe Rainbow provided a critically-acclaimed collection of songs, of which the pick for me would very quickly transpire to be Philly Phile. Here was a song that seemed to capture the whole of what was great about The House of Love. Lilting guitars, rhythm and melody line propping up lyrics that don’t completely make sense but clearly show someone on the edge; a blues beat that proffers both hope and melancholy at the same time; an instrumental break that swoops and soars. There’s even the sound of a record being scratched in there. And then, when the lyrics do make sense, boy are they stark: “You give, and what you get is one long silence …”

Another album followed, with a proper title this time: Audience With The Mind. Despite everything I have written above about The House of Love I still struggle to find positives with their fourth proper long player. The album sounds like a band running out of ideas and steam and it was no surprise when The House of Love disbanded shortly after its release.

Before it became fashionable for indie bands of the late 1980s/early 1990s to reform, The House of Love reformed. Days Run Away featured three of the original line-up. The missing member? Chris Groothuizen, who amicably chose to continue his new-found proper architectural career. Bickers and Chadwick reunited and produced an album that only served to demonstrate the disappointment of Audience With The Mind. The final track in this Toppermost is, perhaps fittingly, Maybe You Know. Maybe I don’t and am barking up the wrong tree completely, but there is just the slightest hint within this song that it is the musical equivalent of Bickers and Chadwick having a pint with each other over a Ploughman’s Lunch in a quiet country pub, then getting up and having a big hug. “We had the world, we had it all in the palm of our hands” – “things got out of hand” – “I always knew all along that you were much better and I was wrong” – and so it continues. Somewhat bizarrely, the cheesiness of the sentiment added to the vitriol of words and deeds committed years previously combine to make a very good song on a very good album.

So, The House of Love: maybe I do know why I love you. Like pretty much everyone I’ve ever met and loved, you’re not perfect, you’ve made some pretty daft decisions down the line and you’re capable of a good sulk too. However, despite the anger, the rage and sometimes bitterness, your heart is in the right place and you are capable of moments of some beauty and tenderness. I hope others will find this in you too.

 

 

The House of Love facebook

The House of Love discography

Shining On: An Unofficial House of Love fan site

The House of Love on the John Peel Show

The House of Love 3-CD deluxe edition: complete Creation recordings 1987-1988 + unissued bonus material

The House of Love video interviews (1989)

The Quietus interviews Guy Chadwick (2013)

Guy Chadwick (Wikipedia)

Terry Bickers (Wikipedia)

The House of Love biography (iTunes)

John Hartley is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, an autobiographical tale of the unsigned side of the music industry, published by i40Publishing and available here. After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song he has also turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free, at Broken Down Records.

Here are some of John’s recent topper-posts:
BOB
The Family Cat
James
McCarthy
My Life Story

TopperPost #550

1 Comment

  1. Simon Fathers
    Mar 30, 2017

    Excellent. ‘Plastic’ is one of those short but perfectly formed tracks, always been one of my favourites. I also particularly like ‘Real Animal’, ‘Love in a Car’, ‘Yer Eyes’, ‘Sweet Anatomy’ (B side version) and the Bickers baiting ‘Let’s Talk About You’. Spy in the House of Love is also much underrated & excellent – particularly ‘Cut the Fool Down’ and ‘D Song 89’. Oh, too many to mention. Would love to have heard the second album produced like the first…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓