Don’t call me Norman

Ex-Housemartins bassist Norman Cook resurfaces as a DJ and producer.

Future musicologists will be able to draw a direct link from mid-’80s English pop to edge-of-the-millennium dance music, thanks to Norman Cook. The former Housemartins bass player, now known for his remix work under various pseudonyms, will spin at Electrolush this Saturday as “Fatboy Slim.”

If you were an Anglophilic pop music fan a decade ago, you probably can still quote the lyrics to the Housemartins’ sole American hit, the lovely a cappella “Caravan of Love.” If you weren’t, a memory jog: The Housemartins hailed from Hull, in Northern England. Their music was modeled on ’60s American soul, with a bit of gospel thrown in; singer and lead songwriter Paul Heaton’s falsetto could curl your hair. The Housemartins’ sound could be compared to both Simply Red’s (but with smarter lyrics) and the Smiths’ (but with a sense of humor substituted for Johnny Marr’s guitar playing). Eventually, Heaton and Cook suffered “creative differences,” and the Housemartins broke up in 1988.

Fatboy Slim

Showbox, Saturday, March 14

When artistic incompatibility splits up the old gang, the two combatants usually go on to form their own bands, and two things can happen: 1) both new bands carry on the same general sound as the old band (e.g., Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy of Uncle Tupelo); or 2) one of the new bands sounds a lot like the old band but with something missing, and the other new band sounds like everything but the old band—and both are disastrous (e.g., Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash).

In the Housemartins’ case, though, things got better when Heaton and Cook moved on. Cook worked as a remixer and DJ, and teamed with a bunch of studio musicians to form Beats, International, whose first club hit was a dub version of the SOS Band’s “Just Be Good to Me.” The loosely bound group disbanded when Cook moved on to Freakpower with singer and instrumentalist Ashley Slater. Along the way, Cook has released a bunch of singles under various other aliases: Mighty Dub Katz, Pizzaman, and most recently, Fatboy Slim. This latest incarnation has brought Cook his greatest US success. Last year’s Fatboy Slim full-length, Better Living Through Chemistry (Astralwerks/Caroline), is a collection of funky-breaks tracks, skillfully melding house-music beats with the odd Who guitar riff or vocal loop. There’s even an ’80s pop vibe buried beneath the track “Santa Cruz.”

As for Heaton, he’s managed to elude success in America with his new band, The Beautiful South, which he formed with Housemartins drummer Dave Hemingway. Heaton carried the Housemartins’ sound to its natural conclusion with TBS, writing jazzy, Burt Bacharach­influenced pop music spiked with wickedly barbed, ironic lyrics. Though popular in Britain, The Beautiful South never caught on in the US, and after its first two full-lengths, Welcome to The Beautiful South and Choke, the band’s records were only available as imports. This situation was remedied in 1996, when Miles Copeland’s label Ark 21 released the band’s sixth and most recent record, Blue Is the Colour.