Limerick Post Newspaper asked Housemartins fan Niall Quinn of indie band ThemeTune Boy and The Hitchers to pop down to Limerick Milk Market last Friday to report on Paul Heaton’s gig Live at the Big Top. Take it away Niall!!
by Niall Quinn
FIRST a confession – I was a huge Housemartins fan. I consider their 1986 debut London Nil Hull Four to be the finest debut album by anyone ever. I’ll have it over the Smiths, The Stone Roses, Are You Experienced, the Ramones and whatever you’re havin’ yourself. It’s that good. There’s not a duff track on it and selecting singles from it could’ve been done by eeny-meany-miney-moe with zero loss of quality.
Secondly –another confession –I could pretty much take or leave The Beautiful South and it’s no coincidence that my preferred Beautiful South songs tend to be the ones that sound most like The Housemartins. Old Red Eyes for example. Though Heaton evidently felt he needed a bigger sonic palette to work from and the Housemartins jangly guitar and gang vocals trick had gone as far as it could take him.
So in came the more expansive polished arrangements of the Beautiful South and extra textures and characters brought to life by having three lead vocalists.
Which brings me to my third and final confession – I didn’t really like ANY of the three female vocalists that passed through the ranks of the BS. They’re all good singers for sure but all had that certain blandness about them as well with vocal styles that’d leave a much loved great aunt tipping them for X-factor because she’s just heard them do Mustang Sally at a wedding reception.
I’ll temper this apparent but unintended misogyny by adding their BS co-vocalist and latter day Housemartins drummer Dave Hemingway to that list as well. His dulcet tones no doubt served Song for Whoever well but they were too sweet for The Housemartins and helped turn Build –the darkest angriest song on the Housemartins second and last LP The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death –from a call to arms to a coyly mumbled complaint. Not to lay all the blame at his feet either Build has the sticky paw prints of producers all over it. I sometimes imagine they’d a bet on to see how much they could make it sound like Blacks’ Wonderful Life.
It’s too easy to forget just how huge a canon of notable works Paul Heaton has had hits with. I suspect half a dozen acts could sustain careers trading off chart successes with songs he was unable to find room for in tonight’s set. Don’t get me wrong –it’s not a complaint – I’m merely marveling at the guys phenomenal output. On Halloween night he, Abbott and their band played a set utterly wedged full of hit singles spanning near a quarter of a century and the party humored throng in Limericks milk market lapped it up (no pun intended). Yet there was no room for A Little Time (#1 for a month in 1990), Song For Whoever (#2) , You Keep It All In (#7). It’s incredible. I could keep going. I will sure. 36-D, Five Get Over Excited, I’ll Sail This Ship Alone, Liars Bar, Think For a Minute… You’re well on your way there to an entire alternative set absolutely stacked with hits.
So what did they play then? Well I missed the first song which I didn’t recognize as I dashed up Ellen Street but straight after we were treated to one of the Housemartins finest moments We’re Not Deep and thereafter they proceeded through a set peppered with chart successes like One Last Love Song, Good As Gold and the aforementioned Build –as well as notable misses “this song only made it to #52. It’s alright we forgive ya…” said Heaton introducing the Housemartins second single Sheep which the bands record company had felt was a dead cert to crack the UKs top 30. It’s failure to do so prompted the ‘doubles or quits’ decision to invest everything in an expensive stop-frame animated video for the third single Happy Hour. The rest is rock’n’roll jangle-pop history.
Tonight that history is being brought to life and Limerick is absolutely loving it. The stand-out moments are Old Red Eyes and, rowing back on my haphazard slights toward Jacqui Abbott, Don’t Marry Her. She has an adoring crowd in her pocket for Everybody’s Talking -and Rotterdam as well.
In fact winning the crowd over tonight is very much an exercise in kicking an open door. Heatons voice is showing no signs of wear either. I’ve always felt it was to his credit that he’s never indulged in the kind of caterwauling largesse for which he’s far better equipped than many who do. His voice serves his songs and never the other way round. But he gives us a few scales and whoops in the outro of Caravan of Love with which they bring down the curtains on a tremendous show. After all a curfew is a curfew and anyway he’s keen to remind us all to be up early for the anti-water charges marches.
ThemeTune Boy and The Hitchers will be rocking one of Limerick’s outstanding venues in due time.