Just as Europe’s as close as we’re getting to hair metal, The Housemartins are our nearest brush with 80s indiepop. This isn’t their strident and strummy side, of course: instead it’s a showcase for their deep-rooted brand of socialist Christianity. “Caravan” is to say the least a radical take on Isley-Jasper-Isley’s squelchy 1985 original, turning it into slimmed down Northern gospel and by doing so giving it a sense of place and purpose.
To do this, the band make one small but important change to the song – instead of “the world in which we were born” they sing “the place in which we were born, so neglected and torn apart”. And that, of course, means England, and in the context of 1986 it turns the line into an attack not on sin but on Thatcherism. And that in turn puts a different spin on “Caravan”‘s calls for unity and fraternity. But they don’t stress the point: instead they concentrate on finding the still centre of the song. “They” really means Paul Heaton, with the others used as Flying Pickets style backers – his rough-edged white soul voice has got the right amount of character for this record, stops it becoming too bland.
I would have sneered at its religiosity at the time, but really I disliked it for no more sophisticated reason than boredom. I’m no more God-fearing now but I think it’s aged quite well. I like the record’s serenity and stolidity better than I would a more evangelical or passionate reading. This is a brass band away from the Salvation Army, and I can get behind that culturally even if I can’t spiritually.