The Housemartins: burning bright but brief

Towards the end of 1983, Paul, a new arrival in Hull, advertised for musicians to join him in his new band. Stan answered the call, and arrived at 70 Grafton Street in an odd mood. After stomping around the house looking for Paul, he stomped back out again. And so it began as it would end, oddly.

The band formed, re-formed and changed personnel several times in those early days, as happens to most bands. What perhaps you would prefer is a neat story split into chapters with a beginning, middle and end. But as virtually nought percent of bands ‘make it’, anyone seeking such a shrink-wrapped story is kidding themselves.

Nobody knew what the Housemartins would become, or how briefly they would shine. But it seems likely that the attention of John Peel got them noticed. For a band, attention is a crystalliser of ambition. With attention you have two options: sink or swim. A weak offering is guaranteed to sink, and the Housemartins with Paul, Stan, Dave, and Norman proved they could swim the channel, if only they could work themselves up to it.

The worst thing that can happen to a band when its members are still in their 20s is overnight success. Joy Division, Fleetwood Mac, even the Beatles, have shown this before. In 1986, and bearing in mind they didn’t have their first number one single Caravan of Love until December of that year, the Housemartins played 106 gigs. Imagine how many shows they could have played after having a number one! But record companies and PR machines, however hard they might pray for human cloning, have to accept that playing one gig a day for 10 years is not only bad for the band members, it can lead to the public growing bored.

What the Housemartins learned too slowly is that a normal pop/rock band can have only one front man. What we realised pretty quickly, perhaps more quickly than the cast of the band, is that there was so much talent brewing here that it could only end in tears.

The front man need not be the most talented musician or the best singer. Just ask Bono. The front man, like the CEO, is something else. The front man is the conductor, the ringmaster, the gel which sticks the whole together and answers to the press. The front man is the band for the fans. As you might have guessed, Paul was the front man of the Housemartins, and once the others realised it, they quit.

These politics carried forwards into the Beautiful South, too, but that is another band for another day.

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Photo by Luke Thornton on Unsplash

Writer. London, England.

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