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The Housemartins

Defined as much by the title of their double entendre debut album, “London 0 Hull 4”, the homely Humberside indie-pop quartet were a favourite of the UK airwaves in the mid-80s; even John Peel was a fan. The HOUSEMARTINS often described themselves sarcastically as Hull’s 4th best band, ahead of them EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, RED GUITARS and possibly, off-shoot The GARGOYLES. During the peak of their all-too-brief hit-making career, the group split into a couple of factions: Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway forming The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH, and Norman Cook to branch out as leader of dance act BEATS INTERNATIONAL (and later, PIZZAMAN and FATBOY SLIM); Stan Cullimore duly produced The FARM.
Late in 1983, the quintessentially English HOUSEMARTINS were formulated around vocalist Paul “P.d.” Heaton and guitarist Stan Cullimore, when both songsmiths set out their stall as buskers. On the strength of a demo tape recorded with Ingo Dewsnap (of Les Zeiga Fleurs), Andy MacDonald and Lesley Symons’ fledgling Go! Discs imprint duly signed the talented pair as they evolved as a band with bassist Ted Key and drummer Chris Lang on board. After an inaugural gig at Hull University in October ’84 and several gigs further afield (many of them for political causes, e.g. the miners and CND), a slight personnel adjustment was in order when Hugh Whitaker (of The GARGOYLES) filled the berth of Lang.
`Flag Day’ emerged in October ’85 as the quartet’s first single, a dour record that left one in any doubt to where their political loyalties lay. Although the platter failed to register with the buying public, the follow-up, `Sheep’ – Norman Cook having superseded GARGOYLES-bound Key – fared a little better, peaking as it did at No.54. But it was in third 45, `Happy Hour’, that The HOUSEMARTINS roosted within the mid-80s indie-pop consciousness. An outrageously catchy single, this was Britpop, before Britpop was even invented: shiny, happy melodies, jangly C-86-styled guitars, nifty footwork and, as always, embracing an underlying right-on message. The record reached No.3 in the official charts, a fact that enticed Elektra Records overseas to give them a chance.
As the summer reached boiling point, the band’s aforementioned debut album, the cheeky LONDON 0 HULL 4 (1986) {*8}, struck a cord and a similar Top 3 position. An endearing collection of witty, finely-crafted songs, above all, it had a big heart and a deep soul,
attributes that were at a premium in those dark days when the twin spectres of Thatcher and the Stock, Aitken & Waterman alumni were never far away; a fresh version of `Think For A Minute’ subsequently furnished the outfit with a second Top 20 entry.
That Christmas, The HOUSEMARTINS became a household name when they scaled the charts with a lovely a cappella re-vamp of ISLEY JASPER ISLEY’s `Caravan Of Love’; the fact that Heaton had religious beliefs made it all the more profound. Other B-side covers to emerge at the time were `He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ (a hit for The HOLLIES), LLOYD CHARMERS’ `I’ll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter)’ and CURTIS MAYFIELD’s `People Get Ready’.
The following spring, Whitaker reunited with The GARGOYLES and was replaced by Dave Hemingway (ex-Velvetones). Buoyed by a couple of jangly Top 20 hits, by way of `Five Get Over Excited’ and `Me And The Farmer’, sophomore set THE PEOPLE WHO GRINNED THEMSELVES TO DEATH (1987) {*8} dented the Top 10. Even more politically-pointed than their debut, the record nevertheless delivered its barbs in unerringly melodic packages (e.g. `The World’s On Fire’); the pensive `Johannesburg’ the topical exception. While the highlight was the gorgeous gospel-pop of penultimate single, `Build’, the inner confidence of a band still advocated by Peely was causing concern. Ultimately, The HOUSEMARTINS had almost reached the zenith of their woefully short lifespan; Heaton and Cullimore agreeing from the start that the project shouldn’t exceed three good years. Bowing out with the Top 40, former John Peel session song, `There Is Always Something There To Remind Me’ (not the BACHARACH-DAVID classic), The HOUSEMARTINS officially split in early in ’88, leaving behind another tongue-in-cheek greatest hits compilation – adding a cover of JAMES TAYLOR’s `You’ve Got A Friend’ – NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL QUITE GOOD (1988) {*8}.
While Heaton, as previously mentioned, went on to even greater success with The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH, the pseudo-Christian, socialist sentiments he propounded in his earlier career seemed a little hollow in light of his alleged penchant for soccer hooliganism. Working class to the bone, eh mate? Meanwhile, Whitaker’s subsequent conduct was little better, the former drummer being sentenced to six years in prison in 1993 for assault and arson offences concerning a business associate James Hewitt. In May 2003, techno kid Dino Lenny almost hit the Top 50 with his collaborative/vs. HOUSEMARTINS single, `Change The World’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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