“Caravan Of Love” — The Housemartins

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Photo by Vasilios Muselimis on Unsplash

For reasons lost in the mists of time, the 1980s was an unusually busy time for a cappella hit records.

A cappella is the musical term for a performance which doesn’t use any instruments. The singers’ voices are all you hear, strictly speaking, although for pop records a few hand claps or finger clicks are also generally permitted.

The 1980s was the decade of self-indulgence, so perhaps the popularity of a simple, stripped-back art form was something of an antidote to those hedonistic times. This was the era of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, after all…none of which were exactly examples of restraint in the recording studio.

Whereas the chart-topping a cappella hits of the 1980s could have been performed pretty much the same way since the dawn of time.

During the 1980s there were three major a cappella hit records in the UK. The Flying Pickets kicked the whole thing off with “Only You” in 1983…that year’s Christmas Number One. Bobby McFerrin came along in 1988 with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”…a UK Number Two and a Billboard Number One.

And sandwiched in the middle was The Housemartins with “Caravan Of Love”, which reached Number One in December 1986.

Despite The Housemartins having Paul Heaton in their line-up…one of the UK’s most successful songwriters of the late 20th century who, along with Housemartins bandmate Dave Hemingway, would go on to form The Beautiful South… “Caravan Of Love” wasn’t written by any of The Housemartins.

It was a cover of a relatively minor US hit by one half of the Isley Brothers after that group had split in two. Ernie Isley, Chris Jasper and Marvin Isley performed as Isley-Jasper-Isley and “Caravan Of Love” was their biggest chart success. Soon after, that particular project drifted apart.

But while it lasted, they gave us at least one truly lovely song.

All three members of Isley-Jasper-Isley are credited as songwriters for “Caravan Of Love”, but it’s widely reckoned that Chris Jasper was the prime mover behind the songwriting. Certainly the lyrics come from the sort of space he was most comfortable in.

He believed the world could be a better place and, through his music, he did his best to nudge us in that direction…

Back in the hedonistic 1980s, “Caravan Of Love” was a plea for people to take care of one another but, like all great songs, it contains a message which still resonates today…

It begs the question — would we treat other human beings differently if we saw them as our brothers and sisters, not as depersonalised units of production to be exploited, or as willing cheerleaders to be moulded and manipulated into supporting us, even when it was to their ultimate detriment?

I strongly suspect we would.

In a world where people are increasingly just groups of pixels on a screen or lines on a spreadsheet, it’s never been easier to lose our humanity.

That’s why it’s never been more important to keep the flame of humanity alive.

Even for people we don’t agree with. In fact, especially for people we don’t agree with.

There’s a very famous poem by a German priest, Pastor Niemoller about the very difficult times that country faced in the 1930s which I’ve always liked…

When we label people, we start to chip away at their humanity. And when you can convince people that another group is “less than human” or undeserving of the same protection under the law that you enjoy, that’s when we start to move down the slippery slope to tyranny, until it engulfs us all.

I’d much prefer to live in a world where we took the labels off and focused on our collective humanity.

I try not to lazily categorise people. I don’t care if you’re male or female, Democrat or Republican, Labour or Conservative, black or white, believer or non-believer, worker or boss.

What matters…the only thing that matters…is whether or not you’re a good person.

In my time, I’ve found kindness in the most unexpected places. And I’ve found plenty of hatred in places I might have expected kindness.

The labels only serve to confuse us, to depersonalise us, to dehumanise us. To excuse actions taken against groups who deserve our protection, our love and our understanding by other people with agendas all of their own.

As The Housemartins put it…

So why not take the labels off the people you meet. They’re not men or women, black or white, Christian or Muslim. They’re people, just like you and me.

Some will help you, some will harm you.

But whether they hurt you or harm you, that’s nothing to do with the lazy, obvious categories you might notice on the surface. It’s all about the personal qualities they have buried deep under their skin. Qualities you can only deduce from the actions they take, not the people they appear to be on the outside.

Do they build people up or break them down? Do they go out their way to support those who need it or do they cross to the other side of the road in order to pass by another human being in distress? Do they speak of love or do they speak of hate?

If you’re going to group people at all, think in terms of whether or not they’re good human beings…kind to everyone they meet, supportive of those less fortunate than themselves and fair to everyone they encounter, irrespective of status, skin colour, gender or belief system.

If they are, that’s all you need to know.

And if they are, why not take a stand together and help make the world a better place?

With the distinctive voice of Paul Heaton on lead vocals, here’s The Housemartins with “Caravan Of Love”…

(PS you might notice another very famous face in the video…Norman Cook from The Housemartins would storm up the charts himself a few years later, having changed his name to Fatboy Slim in the meantime. That’s him in the front row of the church pew.)

If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/58RdxKqvxh631GXrvTxJ2z

And, in case you’re interested, here’s the very different Isley-Jasper-Isley version of “Caravan Of Love”…a nice enough treatment, but The Housemartins get my vote every time…

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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