The self-styled ‘fourth best band in Hull’ only released two studio albums and nine singles in their all too brief time together before two of them (Paul and Norman) went onto enjoy more fame and fortune in later bands or as solo artists, one of them (Stan) did all sorts of things before becoming a very succesful writer of children’s book and TV scripts for a young audience and the other (Hugh) was part of other indie-pop outfits before he ended up in jail.
Some might argue that they didn’t quite release enough songs to merit an ICA. I beg to differ and will demonstrate otherwise below. And without using any of the a cappella stuff as those songs never did anything for me.
1. Five Get Over Excited from The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (1987)
Fun, Fun Fun. On the surface that was what The Housemartins seemed to always be having but just about every single lyric masked a bitter take on what life was like in the Thatcherite UK of the mid 80s, particularly if you happened to live in what had been traditionally working-class towns in the north of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. “Feigning concern, a conservative pastime”
2. We’re Not Deep from London 0 Hull 4 (1986)
Wonderful use of ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba as so often utilised by Julian Cope! A two-fingered salute to those politicians who demanded that the youth of the country get themselves a job, despite the fact that outside of London there were next to none available.
3. Flag Day single (1985)
Let’s drop the pace with the song with which they introduced themselves to the listening public only for it to fall on deaf ears, peaking at a miserly #124 in the singles charts. This actually predates Norman Cook joining the band on bass to replace Ted Key who has a writing credit on this track. Morrissey might have ridiculed the British monarchy but The Housemartins went further with “Try shaking a box in front of the queen, cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams”
A different, piano-led version, was re-recorded and put on debut LP London 0 Hull 4.
4. Anxious, b-side to Sheep single (1986)
“Don’t they know it is wrong, it makes me anxious”
A lyric with even more relevance today.
5. There Is Always Something There To Remind Me single (1988)
The last thing they did before they broke up….and vowed never to reform (although in an interview a few years back, Norman Cook said they would do so, but only if The Smiths reformed first!). And appropriately enough, here’s their equivalent of The Headmaster Ritual, proving that Manchester didn’t have a monopoly on teachers who were all too quick pour scorn on those who weren’t academically minded.
1. Happy Hour from London 0 Hull 4 (1986)
The third single and the first of the big hits. The accompanying video, with its animated plasticine figures of the band, was quite groundbreaking at the time, brilliantly ridiculed one of the growing menaces in mid 80s, namely gangs of young successful men in suits out getting drunk in wine bars on their bonuses all the while thinking they were god’s gift. There were some who actually believed the song celebrated such people….and then Paul Heaton began to be interviewed more widely!
2. Build from The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (1987)
Some of the social messages could get lost amidst the jaunty upbeat tunes which the band were most famed. Not so when they slowed things right down. New homes, new roads, new infrastructure right across green countryside at a time when traditional communities in poorer parts of the country were crying out for support and investment to recover. Environmental and economic madness.
3. Me and The Farmer from The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (1987)
A hymn to those who, every year, were exploited as casual labour by those who owned large swathes of the countryside and believed they were pillars of society.
4. Sheep from London 0 Hull 4 (1986)
Another single, which is testament to the fact that the label bosses at Go!Discs were adept at picking out the very best tunes for wider public consumption. Lyrics speak for themselves over a ridiculously catchy and radio-friendly tune that wasn’t a million miles away from Happy Hour.
5. The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death from album of same name 1987
Even more of an anti-royalist rant than The Queen Is Dead and yet didn’t create the same amount of controversy. That’s what happens when you have a jaunty tune that helped to disguise the sentiments involved.