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    The Housemartins

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    Rank:826 history »
    4.0/5 from 1 users

    Most Popular Songs (more)

    1Think For A Minute lyrics
    Caravan Of Love lyrics
    3Freedom lyrics
    4The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death lyrics
    5Lean on Me lyrics
    6The Light Is Always Green lyrics
    7Happy Hour lyrics
    8We Shall Not Be Moved lyrics
    9Bow Down lyrics
    10People Get Ready lyrics

    Most Popular Albums (more)

    6,153 3.0/5
    London 0 Hull 4 [1986]
    2Soup/best Of [2004]
    Now That's What I Call Quite Good [1987]
    4The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death [1987]
    5Best Of Housemartins [2004]
    6Live At The Bbc [2006]


    The year is 1985, the place the beautiful north of England and more specifically Kingston Upon Hull. The already year-long miners' strike rumbles on in a country increasing polarised by Mrs Thatcher and her uncompromising take on democratic dictatorship. Jennifer Rush sits on top of the UK chart with 'Power Of Love', her paean to, erm, the power of love, Four plucky lads from East Yorkshire release their debut single 'Flag Day' and the establishment is rocked to its very foundations. Well maybe not (it made a staggering no. 124 in the pop charts), but it was a cracking record,

    Early Days
    Our story really begins not in Hull as most would assume, but on the Wirral, Merseyside May 9th 1962, the day that Paul Heaton the future singer and leader of first the Housemartins and later the Beautiful South was born. He was a Scouser for only 4 years as the family moved first to Sheffield (where they stayed for 10 years) and then to Chipstead, Surrey when his father promotion required a move South. An early interest in Punk led to Paul forming his first band, Tools Down, in '77 inspired by the Sex Pistols, the Jam and above all, the political stance of the Clash. Whilst at nearby Redhill technical college he met a future 'Martin in one Quentin (soon to become Norman) Cook. Impressed with his blonde quiff and attitude, Paul roped him and two other school friends into what became his second band, the Stomping Pond Frogs, following the demise of Tools Down. They earned a name for themselves after several lively busking sessions which Norman described in a recent interview as 'Dexy's Meets the Monkees'. They were soon getting local gig bookings and press attention, mixing socially aware lyrics with an ear for pop melody. As the various members dispersed at the end of their studies (Norman accepted a place at Brighton Poly to study Politics and English) however, the band folded, leaving Paul at somewhat of a loose end, having chosen not to continue his education.

    In 1983, after several years of uninspiring post-college jobs, Paul decided to pursue his musical ambitions full-time. Being a true Northerner at heart, his disenchantment with Surrey and the South convinced him to returns to his roots. Instead of returning to Sheffield, fate had a different location in mind for Heato. Driving back from a holiday in Scotland via the East Coast they stopped off in Hull and despite the depressed air hanging over the city in the early 80's, Paul, his then girlfriend and two other friends from Redhill, set up shop in sunny Humberside.

    'Martins Are Go!
    With the location for his HQ established, phase two of the Heaton plan for world domination was set in motion when small ads announcing 'Trombonist Seeks Street Musicians' appeared around the city. He had his first reply in the shape of a tall bespectacled student by the name of Stan Cullimore. Born in Cambridge, Stan was studying Maths at the University and played in several bands including the Savannah Band Stompers, a trad jazz combo popular on Hull's burgeoning pub circuit. Something about Stan's eccentric wackiness clicked with Paul's own sharp witted sense of humour and the two soon set about writing the songs that would see them scale the dizzy heights of 4th place in the Hullpop Premiership.

    The then two piece band started busking under the name The Housemartins, in and around the city centre, entertaining large crowds in the process. The name had been Paul's idea, inspired by his favourite writer, Peter Tinniswood. Birds are often used in his books as metaphors for the seasons and events. Tinniswood once described himself as 'a serious writer who has a gloomily optimistic view of life', and this seems to echo Paul's approach to songwriting.

    After a year of busking and gigging the Housemartins were a fixture on the local scene, gaining exposure and a hardcore, if obsessive fanbase. They cast their net wider, playing several gigs around the country (including one in Brighton where old friend Norman Cook DJ'ed) and by June of 1984 they had a tape of their own self-penned folkpopsoul tunes, including 'Skatburg' which would eventually appear as 'Johannesburg' on the 2nd album. As a result of their left-wing leanings they were asked to play benefits for the National Union of Mineworkers and while they famously did not join Red Wedge (the tour organised by the Labour party's youth division during the '87 election) they were certainly kindred spirits.

    Several high profile support slots (including the Smiths and Glaswegian popsters the Bluebells) had garnered favourable reviews, but had left the boys feeling that they needed to flesh out the 'Martins sound. The second chapter of the Housemartins story was about to unfold.

    Flag Days
    The first new recruit to the cause was Ted Key on bass, who signed on a temporary basis from Hull combo the Gargoyles. He was swiftly joined by fellow bandmate Hugh Whittaker on drums. After a few local gigs, the group got its first big break when they appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test television programme. Around the same time they were also included on an obscure compilation, called Laughing All The Way To The Bank. Their contribution 'Flag Day', had aroused the interest of one John Peel, legendary DJ and tastemaker. He invited them on to his programme for their first session broadcast on 29th July 1985. They played 'Flag Day', the Smiths-esque 'Drop Down Dead' and a signature a-cappella version of Paul's gospel favourite 'Joy, Joy, Joy'.

    This session along with glowing reports from fellow politpopper Billy Bragg (who had played on the same bill as the Martins on numerous occasions) resulted in independent Go Discs! (Bragg's label) signing the band for an undisclosed fee. Go! chose 'Flag Day' as the first single, no doubt influenced by John Peel's fondness for the track. Released on October 22, 1985, this angry tirade against do-gooders and the like made number 124 in the pop charts. Not a bad start considering the prevailing musical climate (that same week Jennifer Rush was at No.1 with her soft rock 'classic' 'Power Of Love'). However, the first major setback came soon after, when Ted Key announced that he wished to leave the band following a falling-out with Paul and Stan. This was not the crisis it could have been as the Housemartins were fortunate to have a ready-made replacement in Norman Cook, Paul's friend from his Redhill college days.

    In February 1986, the band embarked on their first major national tour. Despite their newly signed status, this was not a lavish affair. Their finances were being stretched by the need for a quality PA and thus the 'Adopt A Housemartin' scheme was born. Little more than an excuse for the lads to get laid every night, it involved fans putting up band members on their floor, but usually ended up as a slightly more 'intimate' arrangement.

    These small scale gigs did however, establish the Housemartins as a live act. The a cappella and gospel-influenced section of their set became more important whilst the fun element of earlier appearances was retained. The drum kit would often be dismantled and the individual pieces played as percussive instruments - the Housemartins live experience had become quite an event. This showmanship went hand in hand with constant self promotion. An office called The House Of Strangeness was opened, dealing with all merchandising and marketing. In this office their most famous catchphrase was born. 'The Fourth Best Band In Hull' made self deprecation into art form with T-Shirts and badges with mottos like 'The Housemartins Are Quite Good' and 'If Liking Them Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right'. All this brought to mind the sloganeering of one of Paul and Norman's favourite bands, the Clash, though always tempered by the boys self-effacing wit.

    At the end of the tour the second single was released. 'Sheep' made number 54 in March 1986. Progress indeed, though Go Discs! had expected a top 40 placing after some heavy promotional activity including an appearance on seminal Saturday Morning Kids TV Show Wacaday.

    Nevertheless, hopes were high for the 3rd single 'Happy Hour', released in June. Aided and abetted by a fantastic video with some memorable dancing from the boys, this classic pop moment sailed into the top 10, only Madonna and Wham! halting its rise to the summit. A No.3 hit single, Top Of The Pops, and 250 000 copies sold were just reward for one of the best singles of the decade but the band were never going to sit back and enjoy the success. Instead they took the opportunity to have a go at one of England's sacred cows: the royalty. In doing so they managed to alienate the tabloid press and in particular The Sun who saw them as dangerous subversives(!).

    The debut album came out later in the summer to (mostly) glowing reviews. London 0 Hull 4 was the perfect summation of all their influences. From the punky polemics of 'Freedom' to the blue-eyed gospel-soul of 'Lean On Me' by way of the catchy pop of 'Sheep' and 'Happy Hour', the LP was everything the public expected and more. They responded accordingly as the album reached number 3 in the charts thwarted only by Madonna's True Blue and the sales rep's favourites Genesis' Invisible Touch. Significantly it registered stateside climbing to no.124 in the Billboard charts without them having even set foot on US soil. The album sold 500 000 copies in the UK with the total worldwide a very healthy one million.

    Later in the year a re-recorded and radically reworked version of 'Think For a Minute' from London 0 Hull 4 was released. Featuring trumpet from Britjazz newcomer Guy Barker (who would also appear on The People Who Grinned, album), the track benefited from his subtle playing style and the band scored their second top 20 hit as it peaked at a respectable no. 18 in the pop charts. One of the Housemartins most overlooked and under-appreciated singles, Think For a Minute is one of Paul's best lyrical efforts. A dignified lament to the days before Thatcher's divided Britain. 'Apathy Is Happy That It Won Without A Fight',

    The year ended in spectacular fashion when Go Discs! issued their most successful single 'Caravan Of Love', in December. A cover of the Isley Jasper Isley song, the Martins tackled the soulful track in their own inimitable a cappella style in a shameless attempt to capture the coveted Christmas top spot. It was their first and only number one reaching the pinnacle for one week, deposed by the re-release of Jackie Wilson's 'Reet Petite'. In 1986, the Housemartins had reached the toppermost of the poppermost. How much longer could they stay there?

    At the start of the 1987, just as the Housemartins were at their peak of popularity, they were unexpectedly nominated for, and duly won, the award for 'Best British Newcomer' at the annual Brit Awards. Thoroughly disenchanted with the whole backslapping nature of these ceremonies, the band sent a couple of minions to accept the gong (subsequently touched upon in the Beautiful South's vitriolic 'I've Come For My Award'). They were quoted in the press as having dismissed the other acts as 'a bunch of wankers' and were portrayed in the papers as arrogant troublemakers. This brush with controversy coupled with a previous campaign against the band in The Sun had a profound affect on drummer Hugh Whittaker. He had become disillusioned with celebrity and how it had dampened the 'Martins political fires. So, in the spring of '87, Hugh left the group.

    The search for a new band member was undertook for the second time in less than two years. Paul again kept things 'local' and recruited fresh faced Dave Hemmingway (an old school friend of Hugh's) then drumming for Hull band The Velvetones.

    With the vacancy at the drumstool filled, the boys decamped to that hotbed of rock'n'roll, Stockport, Lancashire, to record their second long player. Creative differences began to arise for the first time. Stan wanted the album to be more guitar-driven. Norman had been experimenting with loops and sequencers and wanted a more contemporary feel. Using digital technology for the first time, Paul had become obsessed with his vocals, editing individual syllables from different takes together.

    Despite the inner tensions in the group (or perhaps because of), The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death is something of a triumph. Although it lacks the raw energy of the first LP, it is a polished set, full of catchy tunes delivered with Paul's by now trademark lyrical rants. Touching upon familiar themes such as the class war ('Me & The Farmer, 'We're Not Going Back') while breaking new ground with 'Build' and its subtle diatribe on the ill conceived regeneration of Britain's urban wasteland of the 1960's, the album's lyrical content is thought provoking and relevant even today.

    'Five Get Over Excited' was released as the album's taster in May when it reached a slightly unsettling no.11 in the singles charts. It was followed in September by 'Me & The Farmer' which in spite of a fantastic video and another round of promotional chores, (including a memorable return to the hallowed Wacaday studios) limped to number 15 in the hit parade.

    A month later the album was unleashed onto a rather indifferent public. Like the preceding singles its chart performance was disappointing, entering and then rapidly departing the album top 10. Many of their fans had felt alienated from the band as their wacky, Monkees-esque antics had been consciously toned down. Amazingly some of their teenage fans had missed the political point completely. Always was not well in the House Of Strangeness,

    This downturn in commercial fortunes coincided with Paul adopting an increasingly dictatorial attitude. While he had always been the 'leader' of the group, he seemed to be ignoring Norman and Stan's views. Paul had, as he himself subsequently admitted, become a megalomaniac. Things came to a head during the shooting of the video for 'Build'. Norman told Paul in no uncertain terms that his need for control had become too much. It had all gone too far. With Paul, Stan and Norman pulling in their different directions something had to give. It was at that moment they decided to call it a day, writing 'Housemartins R.I.P.' on a nearby wall.

    In typically dramatic fashion, Paul announced their decision to a shocked music world in an open letter to the NME which read thus:

    'In an age of Rick Astley, Shakin' Stevens and the Pet Shop Boys quite simply they (the Housemartins) weren't good enough'.

    As final farewells go this was up there with the best, in its understated way. However, Paul had done this entirely off his own bat. The split certainly came as news to Go! Discs and panic soon set in. A compromise was eventually eked out as both parties agreed to one last hurrah in the shape of a compilation entitled (in typical Housemartins style) Now That's What I Call Quite Good.

    A collection of singles, B-sides, rarities and choice album cuts, the double LP was the perfect snapshot of 3 mad years. It also threw up a few interesting curios such as an excellent BBC session version of 'Freedom' (from London 0 Hull 4) and an a cappella version of the Hollies 'He Ain't Heavy' recorded (2 years before their reissue) for Gary Crowley's Capital radio show.

    A new single 'There Is Always Something There To Remind Me' was released to promote the album. Taken from their final John Peel session in November 1987, this very personal song about Paul's schooldays (not the Bacharach/David hit from the 60's!) was a fitting closing chapter to the Housemartins story. Unfortunately, the buying public didn't agree and it only managed a meagre no.35 in the charts.

    And that was indeed that. The Housemartins had bowed out while still at the peak of their powers. They would never embarrass themselves or their fans and, hopefully, would be remembered as the great pop band they undoubtedly were. No one before or since has managed to marry politics and pop in such a no nonsense package. Their lasting legacy, in most people's minds, will probably consist of one fantastically catchy single ('Happy Hour'), one angry bunch of songs (London 0 Hull 4) and two very famous ex-members. But their place in the British pop pantheon is assured along with that of a certain East Yorkshire town.

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