2007-03-04

The Huge Housemartins Post

Where to begin... I discovered the Housemartins like I did many bands in the 80's: through MTV's 120 minutes, once THE indie/alt music bible... one of my favorite fantasies was that I was one of those cool English kids like in the Smiths videos, savvy and brash yet clean and bookish. The Housemartins were similar, but more danceable and soulful at the same time. I think one of me and my best friend's strongest bonds is being both Housemartins and Rush fanatics at the same time. To say I adore them would be an understatement. Most people today sadly don't even know of them, although they definitely know the bassist (if you don't know I'll save it for below.) The reason I post today is because after the Housemartins broke up, the lead singer (Paul Heaton) and drummer (Hemmingway) went on to form The Beautiful South, who became even more popular in the UK and worldwide than the Housemartins (the bassist went onto even bigger fame solo). The Beautiful South's 1994 greatest hits collection "Carry On Up The Charts" is among the top 75 best-selling albums of all time in the UK, but they announced last month that they've called it quits. Their website cheekily reads: "The Beautiful South have split up due to musical similarities. The band would like to thank everyone for their 19 wonderful years in music." Thing is, and I don't want to disrespect the Beautiful South now during their swan song, but I never liked The Beautiful South half as much as the Housemartins. One of the things that broke up the Housemartins: Heaton wanted to go in a more soulful direction and the bassist wanted to be more dancey. It was only together as the Housemartins I believe that the true magic between these two ideals took place.


The Housemartins deserve to be more known... straight from allmusic, written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

"One of Britain's more popular indie guitar pop groups of the late '80s, the Housemartins' post-Smiths guitar jangle and subtle updating of catchy, melodic British beat groups earned the Hull-based quartet a substantial critical and popular following within the U.K. Though the group never gained much more than a cult following in America, their balance of simple, memorable melodies and cutting sarcasm helped them rise into the British Top Ten, as well as earn consistently strong reviews. The Housemartins broke up in 1988, just before they fully broke into the mainstream. The group's lead songwriter, Paul Heaton, formed the Beautiful South the following year, and his new band capitalized on the success of the Housemartins to become one of the more popular U.K. groups of the early '90s.

Paul Heaton (vocals, guitar) formed the Housemartins with Ted Key (guitar), Stan Cullimore (bass), and Hugh Whitaker (drums) in 1984. From the outset, the group cultivated a distinctly English image, blending a cynical sense of humor with leftist political leanings and a low-key, commonplace appearance. In 1985, they signed with Go! Discs and by the end of the year, Key was replaced by Norman Cook. "Happy Hour," the Housemartins' third single, became the group's first hit in the summer of 1986, climbing all the way to number three. London O Hull 4, their debut album, followed shortly afterward and, like the single, it cracked the British Top Ten. At the end of the year, the a cappella "Caravan of Love" became a number one hit.


Due to their success in 1986, the Housemartins were award the BPI award for Best Newcomers. Before they recorded their second album, Hugh Whitaker left the band and was replaced by Dave Hemmingway. The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death followed later in 1987, spawning the hit singles "Five Get Over Excited" and "Me and the Farmer." Though the Housemartins were developing into one of the most popular bands within Britain, they broke up in the summer of 1988, claiming they only intended to stay together for three years. In reality, Heaton and Cook were suffering from creative tensions, as the singer wanted to move into sophisticated jazz-pop while the bassist was eager to explore dance music. This difference in taste became apparent in the groups they formed immediately after the disbandment of the Housemartins. Cook formed Beats International, who had a few hits in the early '90s before Cook became a full-time remixer and producer as Fatboy Slim. With drummer Hemmingway, Heaton formed the Beautiful South, which carried on the aesthetic of the Housemartins, but added more complex melodies and arrangements. Toward the end of 1988, a compilation of Housemartins' singles and rarities called Now That's What I Call Quite Good! was released. In 1993, original drummer Hugh Whitaker was imprisoned for wounding with intent and arson attacks on a business partner."


I think the wounding was something with an ax. He's, uh, been released. Wikipedia says he "resides in Leeds, where he occasionally drums with local band Percy". WP notes guitarist and co-songwriter Stan Cullimore "has gone on to become an author of children's books and television scripts. He also composes music for children's television." About this picture to the right... they say: "The Housemartins' lyrics were an odd mixture of Marxist politics and Christianity, reflecting Paul Heaton's beliefs at the time. He has since stated that he is an atheist."

Newer fans will want to start with the Glastonbury performance, it is top in every way and includes many of the band's greatest songs. If you're going to burn these files into an audio CD, mark the CD with small letters "mp3" and tell people you give copies to, so they don't try to trade it as "lossless" and get embarassed with the audiophiles.










This is a wonderful short acapella show they did in London for the BBC, hilariously performing as "Fish City Five", who say the Housemartins "haven't got an ounce of talent", are "satan", and "stole a lot of our tricks". Like so many bands I love, they wear old-school influences like badges of honor, although Housemartins influences can be hard to pin down, especially without knowing a bunch of British 80's beat bands, but here they clearly show a bow to gospel/soul and street corner R&B acapella. They do their first UK #1, a cover of the Isley Brothers' "Caravan Of Love", "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)", which has been recorded by Glen Campbell, Cher, Neil Diamond, and most famously by the Hollies, and "Heaven Help Us All", one of the finer songs recorded by Stevie Wonder. "When I First Met Jesus" was also recorded and appeared as the B-side on the Housemartins' "Caravan of Love" single, if anybody has an mp3 of this, email me.


The Housemartins - BBC Saturday Live Session Sep 6, 1986

01 Caravan Of Love

02 He Ain't Heavy

03 Interview

04 Heaven Help Us All





Below is a demo recorded before their first album "London 0 Hull 4", showing off the beautiful soul which made them stand apart from the crowd. This site about Hull bands says the demo (the 80's, everything was cassette), called "Themes For the Well-Dressed Man", "was recorded at Sharon's old house in Stepney Lane", and has other info and a live version of "Sheep".







In a sane American musical world their two studio albums would have been chock full of 80's radio hits. Head over to Insound, they have a good selection and prices.


Here's the wikipedia page and the myspace fan site and again what seems to be the official site.

Show your Housemartins love and share any old stories you older Brits may have in the comments!

It's sheep we're up against!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I once said to a friend that the Housemartins make the music I would make if I could write great melodies, sing like an angel, and was a British socialist Christian.

"Happy Hour" hit like a great pop song, and then later you got the LP and realized what great political/social insight these folks had.

Sadly/stupidly I somehow managed to miss them playing in Boston. I could blame student finances, but I really should have gone.

I went through a period of obsessive completism on these guys, and I think I have all the rarities, including those here, but I will download just to be sure and thanks in any case.

Bruce K.

Anonymous said...

Hey, just listened to this, the Glastonbury stuff is really good quality, better than I had ever heard.

Housemartins rule the charts in an alternative universe!

Bruce K.

funeralpudding said...

It's funny, the only flaw in the Glastonbury show is the guitar is a slight touch too loud in the mix, but in the studio albums it was always more buried, so it's curiously good to hear Stan Cullimore so loud live, and such a crunchy sound! I should have noted that Cullimore is more the collaborative songwriter with Heaton, too, more than Cook, kind of like the Graham Coxon to Heaton's Albarn (or vice versa i should say).I know Paul Heaton plays guitar as well, but I think it's Cullimore that is much louder here, plus he's really "on" for this show, as is the whole band i should note. I believe this is either first generation FM or possibly even a pre-FM, it sounds so good, although again, the clarity of studio with the Housemartins is not to be underrated. I really, really like the BBC session as well, i like how they leave the reverb on when the band is talking, kind of giving away one of the tricks of that smooth, smooth sound. Lots of d/l's on these, glad to see the love of the old-school Britpop is still strong.

Anonymous said...

I like the louder guitar on Glastonbury, too. Gives it enough of a different sound. And what a great set list.

By the way, your version of the demos is a better (earlier generation?) copy than I had. Some interesting stuff there, although not quite ready for primetime.

Bruce K.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the Stevie Wonder original of "Heaven Help Us All" which I have never heard was just posted here:

http://matlovesu.blogspot.com/2007/03/stevie-wonder-heaven-help-us-all-stevie.html

Bruce K.

funeralpudding said...

Thanks! Yeah, until I did some research for this post at allmusic, i didn't realize that was a stevie wonder album. Makes me go back to the Chuck D lecture I just saw, where he said when asked what was new that he was listening to, he said he was too busy discovering old stuff. A few more d/l's on this than usual, more hardcore Housemartins fans will slowly find this page, (the links will all be good for the life of the blog), I think Wikipedia had it right - we are a cult! But damn it, I tell you: It's sheep we're up against! Thanks again for taking the time to write and share the link, Bruce. Or should I call you Grinning Priest Bruce of the Boston nest of the Housemartinians?

Anonymous said...

Great post Funeral Pudding- keep spreading the word!

Stuart
www.thehousemartins.com

funeralpudding said...

Wow. When's the reunion? Be sure to come to Texas, you can do a SXSW reunion next year ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi

Actually, www.thehousemartins.com is a fansite - but keep on keeping on with the Martins love!

Stuart
www.thehousemartins.com

Any major dude with half a heart said...

Great stuff. The Glastonbury set sounds great.

I saw the Housemartins support Madness New Years'Eve 85/86 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. I hadn't heard of them before. At that point, "Flag Day" had flopped, and I think "Sheep" was still coming out. Anyway, it was half a year before "Happy Hour" became the breakthrough hit. I enjoyed the Housemartins act better than the headliners.

Anonymous said...

A BBC special I uploaded to You Tube:-

http://uk.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=97B95A96AAF1E80E


C

Anonymous said...

This is superb thanks v much