Back-Catalogue Shopping #1

A weekly look at an album from the long and rich history of popular music.

January 9, 2012

Cover image from Soup © 2007 Mercury Records

SOUP – The Housemartins Condensed – Cream of the Beautiful South
A 22-track CD featuring 7 hi-lites from The Housemartins and 15 from The Beautiful South
In some versions, the package also contains a companion DVD of documentaries and performances.
© 2007 Mercury Records


The Ghetto was the name given to a musty smelling library of records (12″ pieces of circular vinyl in decaying cardboard harbingers, for anyone not familiar with the medium) located in the studios of Memorial University’s Radio Society rooms. To me, a young cloistered music fan from rural Newfoundland, the contents were a largely un-curated alphabetical-ish chasm of the weird, woeful and wonderful. The degree to which any of the records in that room would be judged by any of these three categories was as individual as the people who wandered in and out of the room.

Despite the squalorly sobriquet the library was given, no such place so appelated could ever witness more examples of emanicipation, enkindling and euphonious excess as the 13,000 records in this repository. Some bands went through cycles of popularity to such an extent that the call letters of the station, CHMR, were once acronymized to mean “Countless Hours of Marillion Records.”

The forgotten and the neglected could always be counted on to cough up a copy of “The Anglican” by Vancouver band, U-Jerks, for airplay during the Anglican Synod, who were using the radio society’s spare studio as a media base. A 30-minute rendition of Genesis‘ “Supper’s Ready” from the Seconds Out live album was always useful to fill airtime on your show when you got to the station too late to have picked out a setlist.

It was in this incubator of musical taste that an album like London 0 Hull 4 by the British quartet The Housemartins could be found and appreciated.

In the Fall of 1987, their single “Happy Hour” was adopted by most shows at the campus broadcaster as quickly as Brits had drafted the song up their pop music charts nearly 2 years earlier. Other songs like the polemic about suburbanization, “Build”, or the exercise in Motown antiphony, “Caravan Of Love”, received regular counts on the setlists at CHMR.

As BBC presenter Stuart Maconie  writes in the liner notes (remember those?) to Soup, “The Housemartins stopped before they got boring (as if!) and became even more successful as The Beautiful South.”

The Housemartins brief four-year existence gave way to 17 years of a more textured approach to the music with The Beautiful South, although with Paul Heaton as the one consistent songwriter through both groups, lyrically anyway, the song subjects maintained enough extroverted and introverted bite to carry over existing fans while pursuing new ones.  It’s probably a testament to that consistency that a compilation like Soup can even exist.  I can’t imagine a combined Foo Fighters/Nirvana retrospective or Sammy Hagar/His years with Van Halen collection, but then I don’t issue hurriedly considered Best Of’s at Christmas for a living.

I suppose if there is one thing differential I would make between The Housemartins and The Beautiful South, it would lie in my personal tendency to identify with the South’s songs.  Housemartin songs were about a place, a place I’d never been and so whatever enjoyed I had of Hull was purely vicarious.  When The Beautiful South gave me compositions like the plaintiff “I’ll Sail This Ship Alone,” the self-reveltory “You Keep It All In,” the acerbic & obvious “Don’t Marry Her” and the wry expose on songwriting “Song For Whoever,” I was more engaged with the lyrical content believing the words to be expressions of my own thoughts and feelings on women, relationships and self-doubt.

In essence, that is what music should do.  For the purposes of copyright and royalty, we say that songs belong to a writer or artist however the truth of the matter is that once a collection of songs are issued to the unwashed masses, the ideas behind the songs belong to us.  What we elect to do with a song, be it listen to it over and over, tell a friend about it, or put it on a mixtape (or is mixcloud, now?) for a loved one, the song becomes us.

And so even though The Housemartins and The Beautiful South seem to be finished (although a band called The South comprised of former members, and Paul Heaton is working on other musical projects, some involving former bandmates), the legacy of the bands remain with those lucky enough to have heard them.

The essential musical vision of Paul Heaton manifested through the Housemartins, then in the more lead-singer-by-committee structure of the “Southies” (nickname coined by Maconie) gave us a breath of entertainment seen in few groups.  Soup then is in many respects an apt metaphor for this recycled “Greatest Hits” melange.  The ingredients in this package provide comfort and warm the soul. If you’re inclined to think that the mixture could use a little more salt you can find the very excellent The Best of The Housemartins, or if you would have enjoyed a bit more meat, a fine assembly of The Beautiful South can be found on The Beautiful South – Gold, available from Go!Discs or Polygram.


© 2012 VoiceOfRuss – Russell Bowers