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Housmartins 4, Everyone Else 0

August 2nd, 1999 and I am at a packed out Supper Club and the lead vocalist of two of the most English pop bands imaginable, Paul Heaton, is complaining of a hangover: “I spent all day in the hotel room watching soap operas and feeling sorry for myself,” he explained with a grimace. But it wasn’t effecting that sweet alto-contralto as he launched into the Beautiful South’s “Let Love Speak Up Itself”.

I am a big Heaton and not just because the of the brilliat popcraft he has brought to the South but equally because of Heaton’s left wing 80s the Housemartins, formed with the then Norman Cook now Fatboy Slim: a sorta mix of Gang Of Four politics married to Church of England and the hookiest pop craftmanship known to man.

The Housemartins were from the (beautiful) South of England, Hull to be precise, and were an instant success in England, opening for the Smiths among others, and releasing single “Flag Day”. They released two albums in their years together, London 0, Hull 4 and The Men Who Grinned Themselves To Deserve; a folkie pop rock sound that the band would dub “quite good” though it was a lot more than that. “Me And the Farmer” a guitar fizz complaining about, er, possession of any kind as they “get along like hand and blister”… or “Sheep” an anti-capitalist, pro-christian screed punning on sheep to the slaughter of the upper crust and Jesus’ flock till the simply lovely ending with Heaton’s falsetto ending.

Live I hear they were great, a very entertaining riot of professionalism and sound and based upon the Beautiful South I don’t doubt it. On record they only released those two albums, both of which are simply superb. Neither of which broke Stateside though I raved about quite a bit at the time.

Well, of they didn’t, Yanks don’t like too much ambiguity in their pop and the Housemartins thrived in the distance between what they sounded like and what they said: Communist to Capitalism, Christ to Atheism, punk to pure pop. Yeah, i didn’t really expect the Housemartins to break big, I expected the Beautiful South to break big.

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