The Housemartins

The Housemartins were an English pop-rock band from Kingston upon Hull that released two albums and assorted singles on Go! Discs Ltd. between 1986 and 1988.

Members: Paul Heaton (vocals), Stan Cullimore (guitar, vocals), Ted Key (bass, 1984-85), Justin Patrick (drums, 1984), Chris Lang (drums, 1984), Hugh Whitaker (drums, 1984-87), Norman Cook (bass, 1985-88), David Hemingway (drums, 1987-88)


Formation, Early Activity

The Housemartins originated as a Kingston upon Hull busking duo composed of singer Paul David “P.d.” Heaton and guitarist Stan Cullimore.

Heaton (b. May 9, 1962; Bromborough, Merseyside) spent his childhood in Sheffield and his adolescence in Chipstead, Surrey, where he played in his first band, Tools Down, with his brother and local youth. He lived for a year in Leeds and busked around Europe before 1983, when he settled in Hull, where he met Cullimore (b. April 6, 1962; Stapleford, Cambridgeshire), who attended grammar school in Birmingham and enrolled (in 1980) as a mathematics major at the University Hull.

They cut a demo tape with the rhythm section of local goth rockers Les Zeiga Fleurs. Heaton and Cullimore pressed 100 copies of Themes for the Well-dressed Man, a demo cassette with nine songs:

A1. “All Men Are the Same” (2:00)
A2. “When Will I Be Released?” (1:45)
A3. “Skatsburg” (3:52)
A4. “Swansea (With Me)” (4:45)
B1. “Singapore” (2:47)
B2. “It’s History” (2:46)
B3. “Time Spent Thinking” (3:12)
B4. “The Day I Called It a Day” (3:19)
B5. “Taxi to Singapore” (2:25)

In October 1984, The Housemartins played their first proper live show at Hull University with drummer Chris Lang, on loan from the local indie act 3-Action! They named their act after the house martin, a European migratory bird.

For the first Housemartins single, Heaton and Cullimore hired bassist Ted Key and drummer Hugh Whitaker, the former rhythm section of Hull psychobilly act The Gargoyles. The London-based indie Go! Discs (an offshoot of Stiff Records) added The Housemartins to its small roster of underground acts (Billy Bragg, Boothill Foot-Tappers, The Box)

On July 21, 1985, The Housemartins recorded their first of four sessions for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, whose 7/29 broadcast (thrice re-aired) featured “Drop Down Dead,” “Flag Day,” “Stand at Ease,” and “Joy Joy Joy.”


“Flag Day”

On October 21, 1985, The Housemartins released their debut single: the ballad “Flag Day” backed with “Stand at Ease,” both joint-written by Heaton, Cullimore, and Key.

A. “Flag Day” (3:32) features guest trumpeter Kevin Abbot, a classical hornist with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
B. “Stand at Ease” (3:26)

The Housemartins cut both sides at London’s Townhouse Three Studios with producer Jeffrey Wood, a budding indie soundman (The Roys, Doctors Children, Giant Sandworms, Snakes of Shake) who later worked with Elisa Waut and Luka Bloom. The engineer, Ben Kape, also has credits on 1984–85 titles by The Sound, The Waterboys, Shooting Star, and ex-Styx guitarist–singer Tommy Shaw.

“Flag Day” appeared as the seventh standard 7″ on Go! Discs (GOD 7) between the 1985 Billy Bragg EP’s Between the Wars and Days Like These. Go! Discs issued the monochrome “Flag Day” sleeve in red- and sepia-tinted versions. According to the back-sleeve liner notes, “P.d. recorded his vocals from the pulpit.”

The single also appeared on 12″ with two additional songs: the Heaton–Key “You” and the Heaton–Cullimore “Coal Train to Hatfield Main.”

A2. “You” (3:18)
B2. “Coal Train to Hatfield Main” (2:30)

In late 1985, Key cleared for bassist Norman Cook (b. July 30, 1963), a Surrey native whose prior band experience included the unrecorded Disque Attack.


“Sheep”

In February 1986, The Housemartins released their second single: “Sheep,” a leftover from Key’s tenure backed with the Heaton–Cullimore original “Drop Down Dead.”

The single appeared in three versions: a standard two-song 7″ (sepia sleeve); a three-song maxi with a Lloyd Charmers song (faded blue); and a five-song EP (blue).

A1. “Sheep” (2:17)
A2. “I’ll Be Your Shelter (Just Like a Shelter)” (4:47)
B1. “Anxious” (2:19)
B2. “Drop Down Dead” (2:10)
B3. “People Get Ready” (1:39)

Veteran soundman John Williams (Aerial FX, Blancmange) produced “Sheep” amid concurrent titles by The Waterboys, Skeletal Family, and Ten Ten.

Go! Discs also pressed the three-song version as a picture disc that shows a map of Hull stamped with a giant teal number 4. The liner notes identify The Housemartins as Hull’s fourth-best band (presumably behind Red Guitars, Everything But the Girl, and The Gargoyles).

On April 6, 1986, The Housemartins recorded their second Peel session for the DJ’s 4/14 broadcast, which aired “Over There,” “Get Up Off Our Knees,” and the upcoming singles “Happy Hour” and “Caravan of Love.”


“Happy Hour”

In May 1986, The Housemartins released their third single: “Happy Hour,” an upbeat number backed with “The Mighty ‘Ship,” both Heaton–Cullimore originals.

The single appeared as a standard 7″ and a four-song 12″ EP. The former sports a two-tone sleeve (blue–yellow) with Big Ben. The EP contains an extra Heaton–Cullimore song (“Sitting On a Fence”) and a Hollies cover (“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”) and shows the blower-hatted man beside a colored-shape formation. Go! Discs also issued “Happy Hour” as a shaped picture disc with multiples of the hatted man hovered around the clock tower.

A1. “Happy Hour” (2:20)
A2.
Sitting On a Fence (2:58)
B1. “The Mighty ‘Ship” (1:52)
B2. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (2:05)

The Housemartins recorded “Happy Hour” on January 22, 1986, with producer John Williams. In the song’s video, the band play suited office workers who bob on down to the nearby pub, where they play darts and drink orange juice while claymation replicas come to life and cavort with fellow patrons. Midway, The Housemartins spin into casual attire while their clay versions circle dance. Comedian Phill Jupitus (an associate of Billy Bragg and the Style Council) appears in the video.

“Happy Hour” reached No. 3 on the UK and Irish singles charts. The Housemartins mimed it on Top of the Pops for the BBC music program’s July 3, 1986 broadcast, which also featured in-studio performances by Sly Fox (“Let’s Go All the Way”) and Wham! (“Where Did Your Heart Go?”), plus a video by Gary Numan (“I Can’t Stop”).

Meanwhile, The Housemartins recorded their third Peel session for John’s 6/16 broadcast, which billed them as the ‘Fish City Five’ and featured “Happy Hour,” “He Ain’t Heavy,” “Heaven Help Us All,” “When I First Met Jesus,” and “Peel Show Sig (A Capella).”


London 0 Hull 4

The Housemartins released their debut album, London 0 Hull 4, in June 1986 on Go! Discs. The title, based on a game-score format, names their current base (London) and hometown (Hull) while the numbers signify the band’s rank in each music scene (“4” reiterates the ongoing joke that The Housemartins were Hull’s fourth-best group while “0” implies that London had no good bands).

London 0 Hull 4 features eight songs co-written by P.d. Heaton and Stan Cullimore, including their two recent a-sides (“Happy Hour,” “Sheep”), two EP cuts (“Anxious,” “Sitting On a Fence”), and the first version of their fourth single “Think for a Minute.”

Side One contains a new version of their first a-side “Flag Day,” co-credited to former member Ted Key, who also co-wrote “Freedom” and the upbeat fan favorite “Get Up Off Our Knees.”

Musical journeyman Pete Wingfield (Jellybread, Olympic Runners) plays piano on “Flag Day,” “Anxious,” and “Lean On Me.” The last of those is a Heaton–Wingfield original inspired by the title-sake Bill Withers song.

“Over There” and “Think for a Minute” feature orchestral cellist Tony Pleeth, who also guests on one track (“Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone?”) on the 1985 third Blancmange album Believe You Me.

A1. “Happy Hour” (2:21)
A2. “Get Up Off Our Knees” (3:22)
A3. “Flag Day” (5:25)
A4. “Anxious” (2:19)
A5. “Reverends Revenge” (1:27)
A6. “Sitting on a Fence” (2:57)
B1. “Sheep” (2:17)
B2. “Over There” (2:57)
B3. “Think for a Minute” (3:30)
B4. “We’re Not Deep” (2:15)
B5. “Lean on Me” (4:28) Heaton
B6. “Freedom” (3:20)

Sessions took place in London at Strongroom Studios with producer John Williams and engineer Phil Bodger, a soundman on 1986 titles by Carmel, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Murray Head, Timex Social Club, and the final Blancmange single (“Scream Down the House”).

London 0 Hull 4 sports green and teal-tinted monochrome imagery inspired by the covers of 1950s titles on the Blue Note label.

London 0 Hull 4 first appeared on compact disc in 1987 with four additional tracks — “I’ll Be Your Shelter (Just Like a Shelter),” “People Get Ready,” “The Mighty Ship,” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” — all taken from the 12″ versions of their spring 1986 singles.


“Think for a Minute”

In Sep 1986, The Housemartins released a new version of “Think for a Minute” as a single, backed with the Heaton–Cullimore exclusive “Who Needs the Limelight.” The single also appeared as a 12″ EP with three additional songs: “I Smell Winter,” “Joy Joy Joy,” and “Rap Around the Clock.”

A1. “Think for a Minute” (new version, 3:20) features trumpeter Guy Barker.
A2. “I Smell Winter” (3:21)
B1. “Who Needs the Limelight” (1:46)
B2. “Joy Joy Joy” (1:36)
B3. “Rap Around the Clock” (5:12)

Go! Discs also pressed the standard 7″ version of “Think for a Minute” as a picture disc, which shows a picture of a rusty toilet emblazoned with the words “PICTURE DISCS ARE CRAP.”

In the video of “Think for a Minute,” The Housemartins mime in a dim-lit studio with a vintage red ON AIR sign alight in the background. Barker appears midway for the trumpet solo, but Heaton knocks him down and overtakes the instrument. The band reappears on a baseball field, where they line dance and depart. The video closes with the text “Hugh Whitaker is available for weddings, parties, and private functions,” followed by a gargoyle-eared silhouette of the drummer.

“Think for a Minute” reached No. 14 in Ireland and No. 18 on the UK Singles Chart. In Spain, the song was a No. 1 hit. The Housemartins mimed the ballad on the October 16 and 23 broadcasts of TotP, which also featured autumn ’86 hits by Billy Idol (“To Be a Lover”), Cyndi Lauper (“True Colors”), The Mission (“Stay With Me”), Pet Shop Boys (“Suburbia”), and The Pretenders (“Don’t Get Me Wrong”).


“Caravan of Love”

In November 1986, The Housemartins released their fifth single: “Caravan of Love,” an a capella remake of the recent R&B hit by Isley-Jasper-Isley; backed with the Heaton–Whitaker co-write “When I First Met Jesus.”

In addition to the standard 7″, Go! Discs issued “Caravan of Love” as a 12″ EP with three additional songs: “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “So Much In Love,” and “Heaven Help Us All (Sermonette).”

A1. “Caravan of Love” (3:40)
A2. “We Shall Not Be Moved” (2:42)
B1. “When I First Met Jesus” (2:46)
B2. “So Much In Love” (2:06)
B3. “Heaven Help Us All (Sermonette)” (4:12)

“Caravan of Love” was a major hit across Europe and Oceania. It reached No. 2 in four countries (New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and West Germany) and peaked in the Top 5 in Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands. The song went all the way to No. 1 in Ireland and Sweden.

On the week of December 20, “Caravan of Love” topped the UK Singles Chart, where it ousted “The Final Coundown” by Swedish hard rockers Europe and became the Christmas 1986 No. 1 single.

Go! Discs included the two-song 7″ version of the “Caravan of Love” single in The Housemartins Christmas Box, a quadruple-7″ set that gathers the first three standard-issue a- and b-sides.


The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death

The Housemartins released their second album, The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, on September 27, 1987, on Go! Discs (UK) and Elektra Entertainment (US). Its title makes back-handed reference to members of the British Royal Family.

Grinned features twelve songs co-written by Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore, including their pre-released sixth a-side “Five Get Over Excited” and the followup singles “Me and the Farmer” and Build.”

1. “The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death” (3:33)
2. “I Can’t Put My Finger on It” (2:28)
3. “The Light Is Always Green” (3:59)
4. “The World’s on Fire” (3:20)
5. “Pirate Aggro” (1:52)
6. “We’re Not Going Back” (2:53)
7. “Me and the Farmer” (2:54)
8. “Five Get Over Excited” (2:44)
9. “Johannesburg” (3:55)
10. “Bow Down” (3:04)
11. “You Better Be Doubtful” (2:32)
12. “Build” (4:45)

Norman Cook – bass, vocals
Dave Hemingway – drums, vocals
P.d. Heaton – vocals, guitar, trombone, harmonica
Stan Cullimore – guitar, vocals

Guy Barker – trumpet
Sandy Blair – tuba
St. Winifred’s School Choir – backing vocals on “Bow Down”
Pete Wingfield – piano, keyboards

John Williams – producer
The Housemartins – producer
Phil Bodger – engineer
David Storey – sleeve design
John Sims – sleeve design
Phil Rainey – front cover photography
Derek Ridgers – band photography
John Woods – band photography

May 1987
A. “Five Get Over Excited”
B. “Rebel Without the Airplay”

Aug 1987
A. “Me and the Farmer”
B. “I Bit My Lip”

Nov 1987
A. “Build”
B. “Paris In Flares”


“There Is Always Something There to Remind Me”

Apr 1988
A. “There Is Always Something There to Remind Me”
B. “Get Up Off Our Knees”


Discography:

  • London 0 Hull 4 (1986)
  • “Caravan of Love” / “When I First Met Jesus” (1986)
  • The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death (1987)
  • “There Is Always Something There to Remind Me” (1988)

Sources:

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