As it’s Christmas day and I was still conceptually in the north east, I was looking for something that was jolly and dark – you know like Star Wars. So hard as it is to grasp the link between The Housemartins and Star Wars, I saw some kind of affiliation between them. Nerdy, commercially viable but still Indie kids would like it, a sense of humour, sarcasm – together I would see them as The Smiths dressed as Kiss. Flash bombs, merchandising, good and evil, inspiring both men and women (Paul Heaton went onto form The Beautiful South where he shared lead vocals with three different female lead singers). Plus there’s the powerful machine being breached by the underdog, The Housemartin’s went on to have big hits – am I losing you here?
Perhaps the greatest thing about The Housemartin’s was the title of their album – London 0 Hull 4 (No.3 Uk). In recent years Hull played Chelsea in the FA Cup final and were winning – it really looked like it could happen (they lost), but losing made the fantasy of the title even stronger. Lyrically they mixed Marxism and religion, cardigans and humorous dancing, singing seriously about hypocrisy and challenging political issues whilst acting the clown – not exactly Darth Vader but putting on costumes is involved. Then there’s the famous sidemen, Hans Solo might be seen as a Norman Cook. Guitarist Stan Cullimore is a mathematics graduate so I guess he would be some kind of scientist and drummer Hugh Whitaker went to prison for 6 years in 1993 after assaulting his former business partner with an axe – there must be a Star Wars character like that? He was replaced by Dave Hemingway, Hemingway followed Heaton into The Beautiful South.
It might come as a surprise that this is a great jangle pop album with Think For A Minute contender for best forgotten Pop song of 1986. This band can be a frantic Prefab Sprout, a sixties revival group, eighties Indie guitar pop with Soul leanings from Paul Heaton’s oddly contrary mix of English Pop and empathy with the working classes, mixed with a studied political manifesto and a passion for Gospel music. They are a lot of things disguised as less than they seem. You get the feeling that they may have formed in a scary pub like that famous bar in Star Wars over a pint of mild, the equivalent in Hull of an intergalactic cocktail.
The Housemartins only made one more studio album – The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death in 1987 (No.9 UK). A compilation, Now That’s What I Call Quite Good (No.8 UK) was released in 1988. But in their short tenure they managed five Top 20 singles, Happy Hour making it to No.3 on the UK chart. They released a non-album single, an a cappella cover of Ernie and Marvin Isley Brothers and cousin Chris Jasper’s No.1 single from 1985, Caravan Of Love. It was released in between their two albums and made it to No 1. on the UK chart and hit high on various charts around the world.
Star Wars was also a hit…
Note, the video version of Think For A minute is a much slower and quite different version to the more up tempo and poppier version on the album.