The Housemartins

TrackAlbum
SheepLondon 0 Hull 4
FreedomLondon 0 Hull 4
Me And The FarmerThe People Who Grinned
Themselves To Death
Happy HourLondon 0 Hull 4
There Is Always Something
There To Remind Me
Now That's What I Call Quite Good
Flag DayLondon 0 Hull 4
BuildThe People Who Grinned
Themselves To Death
I Smell WinterNow That's What I Call Quite Good
Sunday Isn't SundayLive At The BBC
Caravan Of LoveNow That's What I Call Quite Good

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The Housemartins photo

The Housemartins (clockwise from top left): Paul Heaton (vocals), Norman Cook (bass), Hugh Whitaker (drums), Stan Cullimore (guitar)

 

 

Contributor: Matt Tomiak

In his memoir “Going Deaf For A Living”, veteran BBC DJ Steve Lamacq offers a condensed biography of late 80s Humberside indie heroes The Housemartins, a quartet who would self-depreciatingly describe themselves as “the Fourth Best Band in Hull” despite ascending to the highest reaches of the UK pop realm: “They started life as one of the fanzine world’s favourite groups; they’d gone on to have Number One hits, but then, at the height of their fame they split, publically and somewhat acrimoniously.”

Although The Housemartins were indeed only in existence for three years and released just two studio albums, there’s a wealth of great material in their back catalogue at odds with their unassuming outlook, fuelled by vocalist/songwriter Paul Heaton’s lyrics: sometimes romantic, often vituperative and more often than not still relevant today.

The group’s origins lie in Heaton and guitarist Stan Cullimore’s time busking around Hull city centre in the early 1980s, with a permanent line-up solidified around Heaton, Cullimore, bassist (and future superstar DJ) Norman Cook and drummer Hugh Whitaker, who was later replaced by Dave Hemingway. Mike Pattenden, a biographer of The Beautiful South – the mega-selling, dryly subversive AOR band that Heaton and Hemingway would go on to form – summarises The Housemartins’ sound as “polemic crossed with infectious beat pop”, and whilst it is true that many of their finest moments are their most fiercely politicised, Heaton’s wide-ranging early listening habits (he has spoken in interviews of a broad span of formative influences including David Bowie, Johnny Cash and US soul artists like Al Green, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke) ensured his message remained palatable for the mainstream, resulting in six successive Top 20 singles during 1986/7.

Songwriter Billy Bragg, a vocal advocate for The Housemartins and a performer with whom they would play numerous support slots at the start of their career, has described the miners’ strike that spring as a pivotal moment in his own political awakening – “the great political watershed after punk”. Heaton has likewise spoken of how the strike began to both directly motivate his lyrics and inspire the band to start performing at miners’ benefit shows. Heaton did, however, express reservations about the more prescriptive elements of left-wing musician’s collective Red Wedge, who he felt were well-intentioned but, in his own words, “who would want to listen to me telling them what to do?”

Sheep might not have quite made the top 40 in March 1986, but it features some of Heaton’s most trenchant lyrics and soulful vocal performances, decrying the exploitation of the labouring population in little more than two minutes. The deceptively jaunty critique of the UK press, Freedom, and Me And The Farmer from second LP The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death, also showcase something similar. Sheep was assisted by a quirky video, as was perennial jangle-pop favourite/portrayal of The Office Outing From Hell, Happy Hour, unveiled a couple of months later in June 1986, securing a No.3 chart slot and a Top Of The Pops appearance a few weeks in advance of debut album London 0 Hull 4. There Is Always Something There To Remind Me, a knockabout look back at Heaton’s school days, was the band’s 1988 swansong and harks back to their biggest hit.

A first Peel Session was recorded in July 1985 (they’d feature in a further three before the end of November 1987) and all are gathered on 2006’s Live At The BBC album. Wrathful call-to-arms Flag Day (“Too many Florence Nightingales/Not enough Robin Hoods…”) reached tenth place in John Peel’s 1985 Festive Fifty list and Build is the tender, optimistic closer on The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death.

I Smell Winter, a “largely ignored 12″ B-side” according to the sleeve notes on 24 track posthumous compilation LP Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, is as good as most of their A-sides, as is the acerbic Sunday Isn’t Sunday.

Finally, no Housemartins playlist would be complete without that aforementioned No.1 hit from late 1986, a stirring, emotionally-charged a capella cover of the Isley Brothers spin-off combo Isley-Jasper-Isley’s Caravan Of Love.

 

 

The Housemartins official facebook

Paul Heaton official website

Stan Cullimore’s website

Norman Cook – Fat Boy Slim official website

Hugh Whitaker (Wikipedia)

The Housemartins biography (iTunes)

Matt Tomiak lives in Bristol and has been writing about music in magazines and online for several years.

TopperPost #690

2 Comments

  1. Glenn Smith
    Jan 15, 2018

    I love the first album and would put in a vote for the album version of Think for a Minute and one of the extra tracks on the cd reissue He Ain’t Heavy, an absolute acapella gospel cracker. Thanks for this.

  2. David Lewis
    Jan 15, 2018

    One of the great a capella singles – Caravan of Love. It’s just beautiful.

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