Jan 10

THE HOUSEMARTINS – “Caravan Of Love”

Popular109 comments • 13,701 views

#581, 20th December 1986, video

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.



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  1. 91
    Tim on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I don’t recall seeing a pop ad in a football programme, I bet the Skint Records / Brighton link up (mentioned above) produced one or two, and I wonder whether Wet Wet Wet had a go at advertising a release when they sponsored Clydebank.

    I think I remember seeing a Trojan Records pitchside hoarding at Leyton Orient at some point in the ’90s or ’00s, but a piece of my brain is telling me the ad was actually for Cherry Red (maybe I’m mixing this up with Cherry Red’s sponsorship of the Hellenic League?)

    Conrad(#77): what a shame to have missed the glorious 89-90 Div 4 Championship season.

    Sukrat (#79): I often used to compare watching Exeter with going to shoddy indie shows, on the bases that (a) no-one went; (b) they couldn’t play very well; (c) disappointment generally resulted; (d) I loved them. That’s the same thing, right?

  2. 92
    wichita lineman on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Re 79/91: I think for lower/non league football clubs the indie comparison really holds true – occasional transcending moment justified weekly attendance. Unless it was the Sea Urchins (unfailingly worse than their records), or Durham City this season (google and weep)

  3. 93
    Caledonianne on 1 Feb 2010 #

    #50 Rosie

    St Mirren left Love Street a year ago. The new St Mirren Park is at Greenhill Road,a mile or so away.

  4. 94
    rosie on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Caledonianne @ 93: They lingered long on Love Street, but not for ever it seems. Where will the creatures meet now?

    Wasn’t there a speedway team, the Paisley Lions, sharing the stadium at one time? Jim Morrison’s diction declined markedly between Break On Through and Riders On The Storm, and there are many adherents to the Morrison-as-closet-St-Mirren-fan theory who believe to this day that in Hyascinth House he sings

    The Paisley Lions disdain

    It certainly sounds more like that to me than it does the official lyric.

  5. 95
    Caledonianne on 14 Feb 2010 #

    Gosh, Rosie!
    There was indeed a fairly short-lived speedway team, called the Paisley Lions. My brother, as well as being a season ticket holder at St Mirren, used to return of a Saturday evening to watch the leather-clad brigade.

    The old ground has a much lower capacity than the old, so much so that when I was at home last weekend my brother was watching the Buddies v Rangers on television because he didn’t have a ticket.

    Although the football team is as you suggest, the church and boys’ school named for the town’s patron saint are “St Mirin’s”. Alumni of the said Academy include Gerry Rafferty, John Byrne and Gerard Butler. It amalgamated with the convent school across the road at the start of my sixth year, to much distress amingst us gurrrls.

    Fans of the football team include Christopher Brookmyre whose “One fine day in the middle of the night” is probably the funniest novel I have ever read.

  6. 96
    thefatgit on 8 Jun 2010 #

    So we say goodbye to Marvin Isley. Passed on aged 56. RIP.

  7. 97
    flahr on 1 Nov 2010 #

    I like this one. Part of its appeal presumably that eternal plus point of the not-technically-brilliant indie singer which is that the listener can pull off a passable imitation of the record (as I have been doing to the annoyance of everyone around me for the past three hours!) 6 or 7 I think.

    Mainly I just want to write out the sleevenotes:
    “Acapella is a musical form, using voices along, which started in the small Northern city of Hull at the beginning of the twentieth century. Out of the many hundreds of young groups now practising acappella around the Humberside region, perhaps one of the best known are The Housemartins, although this particular group to admit to playing instruments on their earlier recordings in order to gain wider public acceptance.
    Suitably shamefaced and apologetic for their dark past involving “pop” instruments such as the electronic guitar and the electronic bass guitar, The Housemartins now proudly present for your listening pleasure and spiritual regeneration a selection of their favourite acapella numbers. May they touch your heart. Power to the people. Respect for the steeple.”

    And under that there’s the tagline “Blenders of Fine Religion Since 1983”.

    B-side watch: a Heaton original called “When I First Met Jesus”, which is frankly a bit rub (even though its earnestness extends only to calling Jesus ‘alright’).

  8. 98
    Billy Smart on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Only a few UK TV appearances of The Housemartins are listed;

    HOLD TIGHT: The Housemartins – Live (1986)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, The Housemartins, Alison Moyet, The Human League, Grace Jones (1986)

    WHISTLE TEST: with Let’s Active, Martin Stephenson & the Daintees, Steve Winwood, Paul Blake & the Bloodfire Posse, The Housemartins (1986)

    WOGAN: with The Housemartins, Michael Korda, Ed McBain, Kenneth Williams (1986)

    WOGAN: with Lynn Faulds-Wood, Hinge & Bracket, The Housemartins, Miss World 1987 (1987)

  9. 99
    Erithian on 18 Dec 2010 #

    I’ve finally dug out the first issue of “When Saturday Comes” – published March 1986 for a princely 20p (originally 15p, so if you have an issue priced at 15p it’s a valuable rarity) – in which Mike Ticher surveys the football/music links in football’s darkest days. Allow me to quote at length:

    “Sadly, there’s no natural connection between appreciating football and liking good music, I’ve had to admit… There are people who hum along to “Container Drivers” in their sleep, but spend their Saturdays in Sainsbury’s or watching old films on BBC2, and similarly most of the people who shiver on the terraces would automatically associate Mark Smith only with Sheffield Wednesday. As for the players, their tastes rarely seem to stretch beyond Lionel Richie or U2, although there is the occasional exception. I seem to remember that George Berry was very partial to some solid reggae, and there was also Hugh Sproat, the famous Punk Goalkeeper. And Pat [Nevin] of course…

    Still, there have been some memorable records about football … and I’m not talking about embarrassing Cup Final songs (remember “Viva El Fulham”?) It’s a sad reflection of the game today that most of them seem to hark back to the supposed Golden Age of English football, and maybe pop music too, namely 1966. Serious Drinking’s “Spirit of ‘66” is an obvious example of this, although personally I always preferred “Love on the Terraces”. The Disco Zombies also come into this category with their classic “Where Have You Been Lately, Tony Hateley?”, available on an obscure indie compilation. Believed to be the only pop song ever with a reference to Brian Labone. And one of the best LP titles of all time must be The Dentists’ “Some people are on the pitch they think it’s all over it is now”. The music is pretty standard 60s pastiche, but with a title like that who cares?

    Coming a bit more up to date, undoubtedly the best record about the 1982 World Cup was by Dennis Alcapone, simply titled “World Cup Football”, which actually made some very valid suggestions:
    “If Inglan wanna do some good / Hear me now, hear me now Ron Greenwood / Put away your pride and prejudice / And carry the man – Cyrille Regis.”
    If only Ron had been into reggae, how different things might have been. But then that would have gone against those famous old West Ham traditions of entertaining, thoughtful football, homely East End charm, and racism.

    Even The Fall haven’t neglected this essential part of Britain’s culture, with the mighty “Kicker Conspiracy”, and apparently some of their famous video was shot at Turf Moor. I’ve always thought the closest connection between The Fall and football was the similarity between Mark E and Brian Clough, especially that odd contradiction of working-class Puritanism and relentless non-conformity. That’s just a personal theory though.

    Of course there are loads of references to football in other records, far too many to mention here. Occasionally, with someone like Paul Weller or even SLF, you get the impression they’re only using football to try and reinforce their working-class credentials (“It’s exams that count, not football teams”), and it’s only with someone like The Undertones that you can be sure they’ve got a real feel for the game. Remember the Subbuteo line in “My Perfect Cousin”? And that line in “What’s With Terry?”: “Even at matches he’d shout and roar / Pretend he’d seen another George Best goal”. This is the stuff!

    Talking of the Undertones, Sean (John) O’Neill is an avid Chelsea supporter, as is Suggs of Madness, and Lloyd Cole, as well as a few other famous people who we won’t mention here. I’m sure Ian Dury is too, because of the line in “What a Waste” about the ticket-man at Fulham Broadway station (Fulham Broadway being the nearest tube to Stamford Bridge). But an even more unlikely person, Vic Godard, definitely is, as revealed in Australian fanzine “Distant Violins”: “I don’t get depressed. If you think, you get depressed, so that’s why I don’t think. I try to live like a moron if possible. I get depressed if Chelsea lose … but I’m not a depressive person.”

    Sadly, Elvis Costello has made his views abundantly clear on this subject. Maybe, like The Pogues, he “knew an Arsenal from a Tottenham Blue”, though there are obvious Celtic connections there too. Likewise the 4 Be 2s, with their masterpiece “Why Don’t Rangers Sign A Catholic?” … I’ve even heard the name of David Nish being taken in vain at a Yeah Yeah Noh gig. The message is clear – football is a recurring influence in our popular music. It just takes a bit of imagination to spot it, that’s all.”

    Interesting that Mike considered “Some people are on the pitch…” to be a great LP title, whereas now we’d probably consider it hackneyed. But this was before the “They Think It’s All Over” TV show and the institutional football nostalgia of later years. In fact when this article was written, we were at roughly the same remove from 1966 as the South Africa World Cup was from Italia 90. In the spring of 1986, as we’ve said, football was perhaps as far removed from being trendy as it ever has been since the concept of “trendy” was invented. What it needed, at least according to some, was something to make the game glamorous again. This isn’t a poke either, Tom, but if you want to consider it as an open goal I’ve laid on a plate for you…

  10. 100
    Erithian on 16 Mar 2011 #

    Re #60 – RIP Smiley Culture, meeting a violent death after an encounter with a Police Officer. Heavy, heavy irony.

  11. 101
    punctum on 16 Mar 2011 #

    “stabbed himself to death”

    It really is the eighties all over again, isn’t it?

  12. 102
    Jimmy the Swede on 16 Mar 2011 #

    I think we ought to wait to see what really happened before assuming that Plod simply burst in on an innocent black guy in the small hours and took him out with a blade. It is very unlikely, for example, that that the weapon which killed Smiley (who was due in court soon on a charge of conspiracy to supply coke) belonged to the coppers. But none of us here are in a position to naturally assume police brutality. We must wait for the invesigation, which the Plods know only too well will be followed very closely by many people.

    I am, perhaps, more devestated about this than any of you, as I have a distinct link with Smiley through my old days back in Stockwell, as I outlined some time ago on Popular. In precis, I was at school (and good buddies) with a boy, who later became the reggae artist Asher Senator, someone who became a close recording confederate of Smiley’s. I never met Smiley himself but “Asher” was very much cut from the same cloth, West Indian stock but a Londoner all day long. Smiley thus succeeded in reaching across to everyone, even (and this is the ultimate sad irony) to some coppers, and it’s for this reason that his passing is a terrible shame.

  13. 103
    DanH on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I had a circuitous route in finding out about the Housemartins. The Barenaked Ladies quoted the chorus of “Happy Hour” in the opening track of their debut album Gordon “Hello City.” I then spun “Happy Hour” and proclaimed it the best BNL track that BNL never actually did. Seriously, Steven Page must have studied Paul Heaton’s vocal styling. I still like “HH” a lot, and liked “Five” and “Me and the Farmer,” but never looked deeper in their catalogue.

  14. 104
    hectorthebat on 22 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 20
    Musik Express/Sounds (Germany) – The Best Single 1980-89 (1989)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)

  15. 105
    Duro on 17 Nov 2016 #

    If I could request a reevaluation of any number one on popular, it would be this one. 9/10 all day long!

  16. 106
    Peter Dempsey on 8 Dec 2018 #

    Yeah, you’re not religious Tom. We get it, you’re too cool for all that. Just like your Frank’s APA mates. No need to keep mentioning it.

  17. 107
    Auntie Beryl on 12 Dec 2018 #

    That’s Tom told.

  18. 108
    benson_79 on 28 Sep 2020 #

    This it has a real spiritual quality which allows it to fit snugly into my perennial Christmas playlist (which has actual carols and stuff as well as the obligatory Slade, Wizzard etc). I hadn’t considered the socialist dimensions until Tom’s review, this just makes me love it even more.

    Sadly the heavy festive rotation means I can’t countenance playing it during the other 11 months of the year.

  19. 109
    Gareth Parker on 13 May 2021 #

    A song and a band that I respect/admire more than I actually like. I would agree with Tom’s 5/10 here.

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