The people who grinned themselves to death

When I was younger I went to boarding school. This was the 80s, 1986 to be precise for my first year. The house had approx 60 boys, which meant a lot of older brothers! My music taste was generated during these formative years. I was exposed to lots of 80s indie, rock, metal, and the odd blast of the Macc Lads. Sweaty Betty will live with me for ever.

A few bands stuck early. (I did move on to the Smiths and REM later), but first the wonderstuff and the Housemartins. I loved both of these groups, and having older ‘brothers’ I could get copies of their albums. Sprock (no idea of his real name or where he is) had a double tape deck, and a big collection. With a few packs of TDK 90 minuted tapes, I was set up. One album each side. This did mean I would often not hear the end of some albums – it took years for me to hear the final tracks.

One tape had the Housemartins two albums, London 0 Hull 4 with Happy Hour and The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death with Me and the Farmer, and Five Get over excited.

I still think it is a great album. It has really stood the test of time. Paul Heaton has grown as a songwriter through the Beautiful South, solo and now with Jackie Abbott. The political element still holds, maybe not as overly militant as the 80s.

But it is the title track of People I love. It holds up well still. A discourse on class and the British Royal family, the song could have been written this year.

Also strange to think the members of the band moved on to do many different things. On bass was Norman Cook, laterly Fatboy Slim, with the previously mentioned PD Heaton singing and songwriting. Dave Hemingway joined the Beautiful South and Stan Cullimore became a writer.

They didn’t last very long, but the impact of the Housemartins was great. For me, I listened to them for years, and go back every so often. And during the lockdown, I have been listening to a lot of music from my youth. It gives a sense of comfort, of looking back. Even when looking at the dreary 80s, living in the midlands in the UK!

Latest lockdown listening

After catching up on Peaky Blinders, I have listened to a lot of Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. The series is highly recommended by the way, another career high for Cilian Murphy. My wife and I loved it.

But this evening, after a hot day, my 8 year old son saw his two best friends playing together next door from out of his window. One of them does live next door to be clear. We are still under quarantine in our house, despite the government supposedly easing the lockdown. So he found that really hard to see, and it devastated me. He is young, and half his life his mum has been ill, in intensive care twice, and now at risk of another serious virus.

So I have been resorting to art now, and tonight Polly Harvey, and particularly Down By The Water, from 1995.

I have had an on off relationship with PJ Harveys music. I liked her early stuff, then lost touch until Stories From The City in 2000, and again until Let England Shake in 2011. But working back I have found her whole catalogue, and this tune is especially good. The spoken word ending, “Big fish, little fish, swimming in the water, come back here and bring me my daughter”. She has mesmerising way with lyrics, and a ghostly way with a melody, that combined bring an almost spiritual feeling to the song, that at times seems like you have known it forever, but are still hearing it for the first time.

I can really recommend it, and in the current climate, suggest it as a great way to make the pandemic go quickly.


So the question has to be – WTF? What on all that is holy has Boris Johnson decided now? The most muddled response to a crisis any of us are likely to have ever seen, apart from our transatlantic cousins. No one seems to understand the requirements placed on the country, and large parts of it dont seem to give a fig.

Well, we do. My wife could still end up going to intensive care, because people are bored with the lockdown, or want to have a conga to comemerate VE Day (because Winston Churchill famously led a conga line at Yalta). Sometimes it is embarassing to be British – our so called ability to ‘Keep calm and carry on’ – unless a BBQ and beer is involved. We will keep our self isolation in place for as long as it takes. Work dont expect me back in the office, and we wont send the kids back unless absolutely necessary.

We are still healthy here – the stress of being confined is the worst aspect, but we are very lucky to have a garden and seperate rooms to be in. Home schooling is tough for an 8 year old, but more structured for my 14 year old.

The next tough thing is the amount of food we get through – four of us for three meals a day – it takes a lot! But we are being very structured, and planning well. Only the odd arguement along the way.

That is all for now – keep on, keep safe, protect the NHS. Don’t listen to the Government, they are only out for their moneyed friends, and dont care about us.

One from Neil to leave you with – one of the greatest songs of all time!