Manchester, Fri 28th November (29/11/03)

Jon Marshall (aged 33 3/4):

My annual pilgrimage to see HMHB at Manchester began this year, as usual by catching a cramped dirty train from Huddersfield. I perched on the little folding seat thingy by the door and a few minutes later offered it to a lady I noticed was looking very tired, she declined my chivalrous offer but (obviously bored) struck up a conversation with me, when told I was going to see HMHB she replied "Never heard of them...........what sort of music do they do?" This, as ever, stumped me "Er.......sort of Folk Rock.....but not really, they are fantastic though" I enthused. Suitably unimpressed and none the wiser she got off at Stalybridge (I think it was her stop anyway), another chance to convert a non-believer missed !

On reaching Manchester I made my way to the Academy, dead easy to find, just followed the trail of ticket touts which were illuminated by the display signs of what seemed to be a Kebab shop every twenty yards.

The support Mark Silverman's set was already underway when I started making my way to the front of the stage. He was an amusing acoustic singer who seemed to be trying to be a cross between Loudon Wainwright III and Bill Hicks and not really finding a comfortable middle ground. He was however entertaining enough and made most of us smile and tap our feet.

Next up was Hovis Presley who I had never seen before, and having seen him I now no longer need to imagine what Johnny Vegas will look like if he ever lets himself go to seed. Despite his appearance he provided many genuine belly laughs, although he was billed as a "Poet" he was more of a stand-up comic, but no worse for that. He did a short but funny set despite a drunken heckler who managed to be both boring and repetitive, leading to the well observed put-down from Hovis of "Look just Fuck Off will you!"

Then came the main event.....The Biccies who walked on to a piece of classical music that everyone knows but the name of which escapes me (Used on loads of adverts and party political broadcasts).

Nigel seemed to have problems initially with his equipment, and this seemed to set a precedent for the rest of the evening, as most of the band ( apart from Carl ) seemed to be having technical difficulties - although everything sounded fine to me ( although Neil seemed to do less vocals than usual ).

The opener was "Fred Titmus" and the set then ran into the usual mix of newish stuff with the odd older song interspersed. Due to the absence of my mate Shaun (missing probably his first Biccies gig ever) coupled with a poorly leg, I avoided the mosh-pit for once and instead leaned against the rail at the front of the stage and observed the band perform. At times it was like "Stars in their eyes" with Ken doing a "Chuck Berry" duck-walk whilst playing, and Neil posturing his Bass in the style of Peter Hook with it somewhere round his knees, and then during "Uffington Wassail" playing it in "Mark King of Level 42" thumb slapping style - nice.

The set went down well, although mid way through a few dickheads started throwing plastic pint glasses, beer cans and what looked like digestive biscuits onto the stage, and one boring sod insisted on shouting "What did God give us Neil" in the gaps between songs, in an attempt to get "God Gave Us Life" played, suffice to say it became a little grating after the fourteenth time he said it (probably why he didn't get his wish).

Nigel stumbled through the words for "Paintball's Coming Home" as usual and then made up for it by introducing some hilarious new verses. They also did the ever popular crowd pleaser "Twenty Four Hour Garage People" during which Nigel slipped into a passable version of Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" to illustrate the song playing in the garage attendants head.

The band went seamlessly through most of their catchier tunes, to the delight of the Moshpit, my personal favourites were "Everything's AOR" and "PRS Yearbook" which for my money is still their best track yet.

After almost an hour and forty minutes of great stuff, mainly from "McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt, Four Lads who..., and Voyage... the band walked off only to return a few seconds later for an encore.

"We've run over time" announced Nigel; "We didn't know but we're going to do one more anyway" the band then launched into a storming version of "What do I get" that rivalled that of the Buzzcocks themselves.

And with that over they were away, and the crowd melted into the cold night.

As predictable as Xmas itself, another great HMHB gig which will keep me smiling till February, and hopefully by then I will have an answer prepared for anyone I meet on a train who asks me what sort of music the band do, at the moment the best I can think of is "Fucking fantastic" !