Last month marked the 30th anniversary of London 0 Hull 4, the debut album from self-proclaimed ‘fourth best band in Hull’, The Housemartins. It was 12 tracks full of Agitpop vigour and an introduction to perhaps one of the most successful, yet underrated, songwriters of the last 30 years in Paul Heaton.
Taking in the themes of religion, Marxism and politics, the album was strangely a commercial success, but has always been written off somewhat in the post-Smiths world of jangly indie-pop music. Despite this it stands up well today due to it’s production, the 60s soul music underpinned throughout, and the youthful, maybe naïve but nonetheless pointed, social commentary on the environment in which it was written.
London 0 Hull 4 was written in a time of social and political anxiety for many, and The Housemartins' own leftist ideals seemed miles away from reality in the middle of Thatcher's second term. Yet the group, at this point consisting of Heaton on vocals, Stan Cullimore on guitar, Hugh Whittaker on drums, and a pre-Fatboy Slim Norman Cook on bass, managed to connect to the masses with their message, evidenced by a Top 3 hit in the first single lifted from the album; 'Happy Hour'.
A comment on the casual sexism of office yuppy culture prevalent at the time, the lyrics to the 'Happy Hour', along with it's video, is offset by its upbeat chirpiness and tongue-in cheek directness. It's this juxtaposition in much of the album that gave the notion of insincerity to their critics, rubbed up the wrong way by the brazenness of everything about The Housemartins – even down to their cover art being emblazoned with the slogan 'Take Jesus - Take Marx - Take Hope'.
'Get Up Your Knees' is a call to arms; infectiously catchy, but unequivocal in it's message: 'Some have lost their folks at war, some have given orders / Don't wag your fingers at them and turn to walk away / Don't shoot someone tomorrow that you can shoot today, can shoot today'. It's a militant, angry message cry for action, set to a 3:21 indie pop song that wasn't just posturing. The lyrics to 'Think For A Minute' read in a similar vein to a cover the band included on the re-release of the album in 1992 - Curtis Mayfield's 60s soul standard 'People Get Ready', appropriating their message of collectivism in the face of racial segregation to the socio-political climate in Britain of the 1980's.
However, The Housemartins weren't the only vocally left wing musicians at the time by any means – the Red Wedge collective, led primarily by Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jimmy Somerville, were rallying and performing shows to engage young people with the politics of the Labour Party in an effort to oust the Conservative Government in 1987. The Housemartins eschewed Red Wedge as they [Red Wedge] weren't left wing enough, and felt disillusioned by the other musicians’ reluctance to campaign for nationalizing the music industry. Also, Heaton and co. felt a general dissatisfaction with the Labour Party, who were unable to form a viable opposition under Neil Kinnock, as well as holding a preference for purging its more radical leftist members.
In 2016, this sounds familiar. A series of concerts have been announced by a music promoter and the Momentum organisation called ‘PEOPLE POWER: Concerts For Corbyn’, featuring original Red Wedge artists, Weller and Robert Wyatt.
In fact, if you think of the British political landscape of the mid-1980s it bears a striking similarity to that of 2016: we have a divided opposition, unsure and wrestling with its ideologies on whether to sit in the centre and appeal to a perceived electability or stick to it's traditional ideals, and a controversial government whose mandate is continually under question.
In the 1983 general election, the lack of proportional representation meant that the Conservative were able to hold a large majority in parliament, despite garnering just 42% of the vote. This meant they were able to make sweeping policy changes in a vein not too dissimilar to the current Prime minister having not been elected, yet being able to propose vast policy changes, and most likely holding power for the coming few years at least.
Even in the wake of Brexit, we've seen regional fracturing, as its brought renewed attention to the inequality in the UK whereby many feel that London and the South East have a monopoly over media, business, government and culture. This again was a factor in the climate of the 1980s, with London dictating industry that regional towns lived on. The Housemartins addressed this not only in titling the album London 0 Hull 4, but also signed their record contract for the album with the London-based inside Go Discs on stage at their hometown venue of the New Adelphi Club.
Anniversaries in music can seem pointless. Usually they're an excuse to put out deluxe boxsets with B-sides to capitalise on a meaningless milestone. There's no 30 year boxset planned, and no one has even really noted the anniversary seemingly. But given the recognisable landscape the album came out of, it's worth perhaps taking this one seriously.