One of Britain's more popular indie guitar pop groups of the late '80s, the Housemartins' post-Smiths guitar jangle and subtle updating of catchy, melodic British beat groups earned the Hull-based quartet a substantial critical and popular following within the U.K. Though the group never gained much more than a cult following in America, their balance of simple, memorable melodies and cutting sarcasm helped them rise into the British Top Ten, as well as earn consistently strong reviews. The Housemartins broke up in 1988, just before they fully broke into the mainstream. The group's lead songwriter, Paul Heaton, formed the Beautiful South the following year, and his new band capitalized on the success of the Housemartins to become one of the more popular U.K. groups of the early '90s.
Paul Heaton (vocals, guitar) formed the Housemartins with Ted Key (bass), Stan Cullimore (guitar), and Hugh Whitaker (drums) in 1984. From the outset, the group cultivated a distinctly English image, blending a cynical sense of humor with leftist political leanings and a low-key, commonplace appearance. In 1985, they signed with Go! Discs and by the end of the year, Key was replaced by Norman Cook. "Happy Hour," the Housemartins' third single, became the group's first hit in the summer of 1986, climbing all the way to number three. London O Hull 4, their debut album, followed shortly afterward and, like the single, it cracked the British Top Ten. At the end of the year, the a cappella "Caravan of Love" became a number one hit.
Due to their success in 1986, the Housemartins were award the BPI award for Best Newcomers. Before they recorded their second album, Hugh Whitaker left the band and was replaced by Dave Hemmingway. The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death followed later in 1987, spawning the hit singles "Five Get Over Excited" and "Me and the Farmer." Though the Housemartins were developing into one of the most popular bands within Britain, they broke up in the summer of 1988, claiming they only intended to stay together for three years. In reality, Heaton and Cook were suffering from creative tensions, as the singer wanted to move into sophisticated jazz-pop while the bassist was eager to explore dance music. This difference in taste became apparent in the groups they formed immediately after the disbandment of the Housemartins. Cook formed Beats International, who had a few hits in the early '90s before Cook became a full-time remixer and producer as Fatboy Slim. With drummer Hemmingway, Heaton formed the Beautiful South, which carried on the aesthetic of the Housemartins, but added more complex melodies and arrangements. Toward the end of 1988, a compilation of Housemartins' singles and rarities called Now That's What I Call Quite Good! was released. In 1993, original drummer Hugh Whitaker was imprisoned for wounding with intent and arson attacks on a business partner. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine