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Horse – God’s Home Movie

135158655465113129597_horseI gave up my status as an ‘amateur’ singles buyer in 1989, turning ‘professional’ shortly after landing my first ‘real’ job, working in one of Edinburgh’s two hmv record shops. Most people probably think of this period as the dawning of The CD Age, but vinyl, and in particular vinyl singles, still seemed to retain a special place in most record buyers’ hearts. For me, there was something thrilling and extremely satisfying about being on the front line, watching the records which were flying off the shelves in my store climbing the UK top 40 the following week. But it became apparent almost immediately that one didn’t automatically follow the other and I was quickly introduced to the concept of regional bias.

During my first week, The Blue Nile released The Downtown Lights, the introductory single from their soon to be critically lauded album Hats, the much anticipated follow up to their A Walk Across The Rooftops debut. I couldn’t understand why, despite clearly outselling several current top 20 hits, their record limped into the UK charts the following week at no.83.

Now, it’s easy to put it down to the fact that there’s no accounting for taste and one man’s pop is another man’s pap – and there’s no denying the charts could get unfathomably eclectic in the late 1980s – but Scottish record buyers in particular seemed to be wholly unwilling to slavishly follow the national crowd and, time and time again, could be found wholeheartedly throwing their considerable collective purchasing power behind home-grown acts or showing disproportionate support (sometimes inexplicably) towards certain artists or genres. So, while nothing really explains the Scots unmatched love of Scooter and all things ‘happy hardcore’ in the early 1990s, it’s not too difficult to see why the likes of Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, Gun, Texas and Big Country were scoring bigger hits in Scotland even before they crossed over into more mainstream acceptance in the rest of the UK.

One such victim of the McPopvoid ™ were Horse – the Scottish rock band who took their name from their formidable lead singer, Horse MacDonald. A ‘triple threat’ vocalist, with a voice which combined real power and an impressive range with unexpected subtlety and texture, MacDonald’s soft vibrato – imagine Belinda Carlisle after overdosing on Benylin – made her voice as instantly recognisable as that of Annie Lennox or Kate Bush – to Scottish ears at least. Taken alongside her distinctive image which, in the pre-Beth Ditto days where ‘rock’ bands were more likely to be fronted by girls who looked like Shirley Manson and Wendy James, MacDonald gave her band something of a unique selling point.

The band’s repertoire consisted of a brace of solid, unmistakably commercial, pop/rock songs – the type of songs which would soon be delivering sizeable hits for the likes of Texas and The Corrs – so it’s hardly surprising they swiftly signed a deal with Capitol records, who duly set the band to work recording their debut album.

The immediate fruits of their labours, The Same Sky, quickly afforded the band a ‘next big thing’ buzz north of the border but the album itself soon attained the status of, ‘as difficult to find as hen’s teeth’, thanks to the label’s inability to match their manufacturing turnaround to keep up with demand. Delivering the bad news that you were in fact out of stock of The Same Sky to a stampede of angry Horse fans is surely one of the criteria for receiving a Victoria Cross. Thus, despite releasing four decent singles, including the emotive ballad, Careful, the band failed to break out of the lower regions of the UK singles and albums chart.

By the time their second album was ready to launch in 1993, it was clear expectations of success were considerably higher. Now signed to MCA, a label which seemed to have a better grasp on the band’s commercial potential, God’s Home Movie was similarly bursting with suitably radio friendly fair and potential pop hits. But when introductory single, Shake This Mountain, failed to climb any higher than no.52, it was perfectly clear this particular Horse had more chance of winning the 2.30 at Aintree than scoring a top 10 single in the UK singles chart.

Horse’s best hope of hitting big probably came (and went) with the release of God’s Home Movie, the title track of their second album.

Against a backdrop of melancholy, lush strings and gentle acoustic guitar, God’s Home Movie imagines what it would be like to be able to rewind and re-watch the entire history of the planet and the lives of everyone on it. Initially thrilled by the thought of being able to watch every second of a loved one’s life – from birth until the moment of their meeting, experiencing every treasured memory as if you were actually there – the realisation soon hits that the narrator is being given the opportunity to become a spectator at every important historic event. From watching the planet’s very creation, to ‘spying’ on key figures throughout history, the thought becomes overwhelming and truly awe inspiring. In terms of subject matter, as well as in its musical palette, God’s Home Movie sounds vaguely like something Kate Bush might have recorded for inclusion on The Sensual World. As quirky as it is assured, it sounds both deeply personal and grandiose, with MacDonald’s final hum sounding as warm and intimate as Bush’s delivery of the Molly Bloom-esque lusty soliloquy on her aforementioned album’s title track.

In the end, even God’s Home Movie stalled at no.56 and despite a further push around a third single, Celebrate, Horse failed to score any UK top 40 singles from either their debut or second albums, seemingly destined to remain just one Tin Tin Out remix away from hitting it big. Ironically, it would seem the team at Stress records felt the same. In 1997, more than half a decade after its original release, Careful was treated to a series of remixes which transformed the ballad into a full-on club track. While mixes from the likes of Brothers in Rhythm and Sasha may have turned it into the most unlikely Ibiza anthem, a remix by James Wiltshire gave the song a daytime radio sheen which helped push the song to no.44 – the closest the band would ever get to breaking into the UK top 40. Oh, and that regional bias was still very much in effect, with Careful managing a no.14 peak across the border in the OCC’s official Scottish Chart. Now, if that’s not enough to spark interest in another referendum, I don’t know what is.

Unknown

Entered chart: 23/10/1993

Chart peak: 56

Weeks on chart: 1

Who could sing this today and have a hit? – I’m convinced that Kate Bush will make a covers album one day, but in the meantime – having already covered Careful for a Glastonbury ‘live and acoustic’ broadcast a few years ago – it’s obvious Will Young is aware of the band and I think he could make a pretty decent pass at this.

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