From ICA 111

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 ridiculing one of the growing menaces in the 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!

Happy Hour went to #3 in June 1986, making pop stars out of the self-proclaimed fourth-best band in Hull. It’s a song that its songwriters – Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore – made little more time than it takes to make a really good cup of tea, never imagining it would be the one that changed their lives forever.

The early Housemartins songs were all forged from two cheap notebooks – one full of lyrics/snippets that had come to Paul and the other, owned by Stan, which contained various chord progressions that could bu used to make a decent pop song. They had just finished work on a new song called Me and The Farmer but Paul felt more new songs were needed to air on an upcoming Peel Session. He pulled out a lyric that which reflected on a number of things that annoyed him, including sexist and boorish behaviour in offices and pubs, to which Stan thought the chord used earlier in the day on Me and the Farmer would make a good fit, as he recalled in an interview many years later:-

SC : “We’d just written Me and the Farmer and I wanted to go for a “bun run” – a trip to the local cake shop. But Paul was adamant that we needed one more song, so we came up with Happy Hour. I was so desperate to get to the cake shop that I used the same chords for the chorus in the verse, but because Paul sang a different melody over it and I did the “It’s happy hour again” backing vocals, it worked. We recorded it on a little cassette recorder, I chucked down my guitar and ran for a custard slice. The whole thing can’t have taken us much more than 10 minutes.

There’s a lot packed into its two-and-a-bit minutes, with the jaunty and catch backing vocal taking listeners down something of a blind alley as the words that Paul Heaton is singing make for grim and depressing reading (especially if you read them without fitting them into the tune):-

It’s happy hour again
I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them

And they’re happy, it’s a lovely place to be
Happy, that the fire’s real,
That the barman is a she

Where the haircuts smile
And the meaning of style is a night out with the boss

Where you win or you lose
And it’s them who choose
And if you don’t win, then you’ve lost

What a good place to be
Don’t believe it

‘Cause they speak a different language
And it’s never really happened to me

Don’t believe it, oh no
‘Cause it’s never been happy for me

It’s another night out with the boss
Following in footsteps overgrown with moss

And he tells me that women grow on trees
And if you catch them right, they will land upon their knees

Where they open all their wallets and they close all their minds
And they love to buy you all a drink

And then we ask all the questions, and you take all your clothes off
And go back to the kitchen sink

So, a song that many took to be a celebration of having a laugh in the pub with your mates is actually from the standpoint of someone who would rather be anywhere else and is disgusted by the misogyny on display.

It turned into one of the anthems of the summer, spending three months in the charts and seemingly never off the radio – the fact it was such a short song meant that it could be fitted in comfortably during shows if the adverts/news items/inane chat had overran and the producer was trying to avoid dead air.

mp3 : The Housemartins – Happy Hour

The 7” single had an even shorter song on the flip side….and a foot-stomping instrumental at that:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – The Mighty Ship

The sleevenotes in a later compilation album revealed that the title of the b-side was a hidden tribute to the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Choir of Chicago, known as ‘The Ship’ and who had been releasing gospel LPs from as far back as 1965. It was also the church where the Rev. Jesse Jackson was ordained.



  1. Lovely post, JC. The Housemartins were the first band I
    truly fell for, and were my first gig. So always got loads of
    time for them.

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