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.



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.



Those of you (and I would imagine that’s almost all of you) who wander over to WYCRA for the latest musings from SWC and Tim Badger will be aware that their blog is temporarily and understandably closing down for a bit. Tim’s wife, Lorna, is in hospital after a very serious car crash and writing about music in that wonderfully idiosyncratic and hilariously entertaining style of theirs is the last thing on his and SWC’s minds.

I’ve never met Tim or SWC or either of their wives, but I feel I’ve got to know them well enough over the past four or so years since we first hooked up to regard the boys as good friends and I’d like to think the girls have shared the occasional laugh at some of the music and words that have been exchanged via postings, comments and e-mails. I was deeply affected on hearing of Lorna’s accident and although I’m supposed to be the sort who can find the right words for any occasion, I really struggled to do so yesterday.

Like everyone else who has left a message over at WYCRA, my thoughts and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery are with Lorna, Tim and their entire family and circle of close friends. It’s one of those times when I wish I could do something more meaningful and worthy than simply dedicate a song to them. But it’s all I can think of today:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – Lean On Me

True fact. Today’s post was originally going to be a Housemartins ICA. It will appear soon.



The second ever single released by The Housemartins, the fourth-best band in Hull:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – Sheep
mp3 : The Housemartins – Drop Down Dead

Released in March 1986 (fuck me……that’s more than 30 years ago!!!!) this excellent and jaunty bit of music with its attack on those who just conform and never question why, stalled at #56 in the UK singles charts. A couple of months later, the equally jaunty Happy Hour, with its attack on laddism and leeriness, climbed to #3 in the UK charts (thanks in part to an excellent animated promo video which was a bit ground-breaking at the time).

Sheep still sounds great all these years later, as does the b-side which as a tune reminds me in a way of a lighter and more jaunty Boys Dont Cry….(the word jaunty is perfect for The Housemartins).

I had this 7″ single in the collection for a while but like many many others, it was lost in a disastrous moonlit flit from one flat to another in the late 80s. Luckily, I picked up a mint copy of the 12″ a few years back:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – I’ll Be Your Shelter
mp3 : The Housemartins – Anxious
mp3 : The Housemartins – People Get Ready

The first of these is a piano and gospel choir driven cover of a song originally performed by Stax artist Luther Ingram (the sleeve gives credit to The Inspirational Marxist Choir of Grafton Street, East Yorkshire) while the second track is a Housemartins original that many others would have been delighted to have available as a single far less just an extra track on a 12″.

The final song was something that at the time marked out the band as being different from most of their contemporaries – an a capella cover of a much covered track written by Curtis Mayfield that was a hit for The Impressions back in 1965 and is considered to be one of the most politically important songs of all time, raising the profile of the civil rights movement.  The Housemartins did their version for a Radio 1 session. Little did we realise that some six months later another a capella effort would give the band their only #1 hit.



I found this the other day while digging through the archives I was able to rescue when google took down the old blog without any warning.  It was a lovely reminder that for a long time now I’ve been very fortunate to have such fantastic feedback and contributions from folk who drop by.

It was posted originally on Tuesday 7 September 2010

I received a very nice email the other week from a reader in Germany – Sven Deurkhop – along with a very nice attachment (more about that later).

In thanking Sven, I asked if there was anything he’s like to see featured on TVV. In reply, he said:-

A post or even a series about The Housemartins or The Beautiful South would be nice.

I think, especially The Housemartins are often overlooked when it comes to British 80s music. If there wouldn’t have been Morrissey I’m sure that Paul Heaton were considered the most talented and witty lyricist in British music of the last 25 years.

Take for example gemstones like “The light is always green” (“We dig our models with the brains the size of models”) or the sheer and blunt political statements like in “Get Up Off Our Knees” or “The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death”. All those angry and sharp lyrics well-clad in harmonious and highly addictive pop-tunes – what’s not to like?

The same with “The Beautiful South” – especially their first two albums. The pure beauty of “Let Love Speak Up Itself”, again the wrath of “I’ve Come For My Award”, the irony of “Straight In At 37” or “Love Is” leave me amazed again and again. Paul Heaton has just finished his second solo record and toured the UK by bike (!) last spring. He played only pubs, which made me (again) regret not to live in the UK.

It is quite strange that while the cupboard and shelves have both of the original LPs released by The Housemartins and the first three CDs by The Beautiful South, I’ve not really given them much exposure on TVV. Can’t really offer up a reason why other than I did get a wee bit fed up with TBS after a while, and stopped listening to them. I haven’t even put much of their stuff onto the i-pod. But the 1988 Housemartins compilation Now That’s What I Call Quite Good is something I give the occasional listen to – especially on long bus or train journeys as it seems to pass the time away quite quickly. But I cant bring myself to listen to the acapella smash that was Caravan of Love. Hated it then. Hate it still.

But Sven is quite right to praise the talents of Paul Heaton. He enjoyed a barrow load of hit singles and albums in the 90s, and I’m guessing that if that hadn’t been the case, he would be one of those songwriters bloggers would be writing about every day. Instead, we ignore him because he was a friend who became successful. And as someone else once wrote, we hate that….

So looking back over the stuff that I own by both bands, here’s five tracks that I still enjoy:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – Flag Day
mp3 : The Housemartins – Get Up Off Our Knees
mp3 : The Housemartins – Five Get Over Excited
mp3 : The Beautiful South – Straight In At 37
mp3 : The Beautiful South – I Think The Answer’s Yes

And to round things off, here’s the attachment Sven sent over:-

mp3 : The Beautiful South – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

Enjoy. I certainly did. And if by chance you’re reading this Sven, once again a huge thank you.