"Get Up Off Our Knees"
"Reverend's Revenge" (instrumental)
"Sitting on a Fence"
"Think for a Minute"
"We're Not Deep"
"Lean On Me"
"I'll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter)
This album was largely responsible for my ongoing failure to connect with the opposite sex (and indeed my own) during first term of University. This was also a tape cassette purchase, another aspect of my ongoing dismal failure to connect with cooler vinyl. In turn this ensured my ongoing failure to connect with the cooler kids at University remained intact.
To make matters worse, the fashion crisis that had enveloped Mr Heaton and company had been revisited upon the contents of my wardrobe - 'The Summer of the Cerise Cardigan'. In a decade of fashion disasters that were visited upon my wardrobe, this cardigan was only surpassed by the awesome work my teenage hormones wreaked when I was let loose, unsupervised, in a men's boutique during the 'Year of Living Purplishly'. The purple thing reached it's nadir when I attempted an ill judged hook up with a girl from school called Kerry. I was wearing a purple and white checked short sleeve shirt. I was wearing a purple knitted tank top. I was wearing purple corduroy trousers. And I had grey slip on shoes on my feet. In my mid teens. In public. In daylight. I should have been arrested. Kerry took one look and ran back to the family newsagents. Her family had a dog - a boxer, I think - that was terrifying. Her Dad exemplified the corrosive casual racism that was (and probably still is) endemic in the town - he had taught it to bark whenever anyone said 'Paki'.
The boy who ought to have been a man was still wearing £10 jeans from the Rochdale Indoor Market. The jeans were made in the town, and were a fraction of the price of a pair of Levi's. Since my family was decidedly unbranded, we were marched into town at irregular intervals to get measured up (we grew irregularly in those days). The changing room had a denim curtain, and the stall was surrounded by pet food dealers, fruit and veg merchants, and the 'cheap' butcher, so purchases were infused with a damp, mildewy fragrance, and top notes of offal and sawdust. There was a choice of flared, straight leg or tapered, but whichever 'style' you selected, there was a peculiar bagginess to the material that caused it to bunch up around the groin. In common with many of my peers, I spent an unusually significant amount of time in my youth readjusting my crotch, but at least I had a fashion based reason to do so. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Of course, these days I'm desperate to wear subtle unbranded bespoke denim jeans, hand stitched by the provincial working class in a restored mill, but back then I couldn't give them away...
My mimicry of The Housemartins knew no bounds. In addition to the fashion issues, I had also acquired a short back and sides with a fringe on top so that I could look just like them. This was a significant move forward from the Bono style mullet that had previously graced my bonce, and represented a major leap forward in hair care and indeed basic presentation skills. Previously, my Dad had hauled me along to the local barber with both of my younger brothers on a Saturday morning for a quick trim of the mullety mess on the top of my head. A flat top haircut was acquired at some point between fresher's week and Christmas that year, so I must have moved into the world of men's haircare products too.
Lacking any other role model, the student disco was also introduced to my interpretative piece entitled 'One Legged Indie Dancing' - a phenomenon evidenced in the video for Happy Hour and slavishly mimic'd by impressionable teenage boys of all ages. There are no politically correct words to describe the twitching mass of humanity that appeared on the dancefloor when the DJ put 'Happy Hour' on the decks. The scent and sizzle of hormones drifted across the dancefloor, masked by the unmistakeable whiff of snakebite and stale vomit.
So, I really, really, really liked the Housemartins, principally because in their coy Northern charm there was something that I thought that I recognised in myself, and their outlook on life chimed with my own. London 0 Hull 4 was character forming. The music I had listened to up until now had been about the tunes, of course, and acted as social lubrication in my peer group, and I had a very vague but self important sense that I wasn't listening to 'just' pop music. This meant mainly that I could scoff at TOTP by listening to U2 rather than Culture Club. 'London 0, Hull 4' brought personal politics to the fore, and, like The Smiths, The Housemartins challenged my younger self to see the world beyond the end of my own nose. They reinforced my (minority) view that dogs that bark at Pakistani people were not cool. They reinforced the world view espoused by The Guardian, which had recently replaced the Daily Express as the paper of record in our family home. There are lines from the songs from this album that are still almost a mantra to me, a way of looking at the world that has calibrated my moral compass.
That compass pointed to Sheffield, when I discovered that The Housemartins were playing the Sheffield Octagon in Intro Week. Twenty four years on from my first live experience, I saw Paul Heaton tour his 'Acid Country' solo album in late 2010, in the confined space of King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. My wife had been to young to see the Housemartins live (this sounds like a terrible humble brag), but she was also a huge fan. Seeing Paul Heaton sing 'Sheep' onstage after all this time was a revelation; not only could I sing along word for word, I still meant every word of it.
I sang along, almost sobbing the words out, remembering the first time, remembering the young boy who sang them just as tunelessly then as I did that night, and I realised that although 'London 0, Hull 4' had widened my personal political horizons it also reduced the physical horizons of my world. It reinforced a fear of London, it secured the chip on my Northern shoulder. These days I'm even further North, and that chip on my shoulder is a hand roasted chip, marinated in a single estate Tuscan cold pressed olive oil, cooked in iron pans, over wood grown in a sustainable coppice in Umbria. It's bloody heavy too. I'm thankful for the music they gave me, but regretting the opportunities that I spurned by embracing a provincial mindset that would be reinforced in the coming years, when God Created Manchester....