At a badly-promoted & therefore even more badly-attended Pete Wylie gig last December at the Leeds Irish Centre I remember Pete musing sadly on John Peel's demise and asking his audience of about 75 forty-something diehards: "who's going to play me new record on the radio now ??" Things were then looking bleak for airplay for artistes like Pete, and, I remember thinking, also for Half Man Half Biscuit - who in 2002 had played the Leeds Irish Centre's only equally-badly-attended gig ! Thursday night and the gates were low....
....so imagine my surprise when I brought me mate along to HMHB's next Leeds gig, last July ... and they'd sold out all 550 tickets ! "Somebody else must have been giving the Biscuits some airplay" I cursed apologetically to my mate before squeezing my way inside and finding him a spare ticket from a bloke who told me, if i remember rightly, it was Stuart Maconie who'd plugged the gig on Radio Two of all places, and yes indeedy, respect, the statuesque- forty-something-ness of the audience seemed to confirm this.
And then this Liverpool gig. About 1200 tickets sold out, touts outside, the works. The last time I saw touts outside a HMHB gig it was the first London gig in early 86, when Nigel still had more hair than me.
Apart from Reading festival 1990 (& maybe Manchester the same year ?) have the Biscuits ever played to a bigger audience ? As I pulled me kecks off I was thinking that I didn't remember as many HMHB gig virgins waiting expectantly since that Kentish Town gig in '86 .....
What do you mean what do I mean "pulled me kecks off" ? I was just stripping down to the full Dukla Prague away kit. Well the song does say `kit', not `shirt'. Not for me just a £40 mail order Toffs & Co. Dukla Prague to.....there's a sports shop in Prague where you can get the lot for £15, and if I'm going to be an indie kid I'll be independent in my dress sense thank you very much. One of these days I'm going to build meself a wobbly subbuteo base to go with the kit - it'll help me weeble around in the mosh, irking the purists as I go. If I can make a folding one I can just take it off and jog home.
Anyway, talking of irking sections of the audience, it was good to hear the `Rockford Files' theme played to bring the band on, bringing back many misty memories of Friday nights at Prenton Park in the seventies to this particular Wirral 42-year-old .....and then another Wirral 42-year-old ambled on to the stage , debunking the tension by laboriously fumbling various set lists out of his pocket and distributing them around the stage and around his band mates. These must have included spoof set lists , if the one I was shown on the train later that night (by the bloke from Warrington at the front) was anything to go by - wish I could remember some of the spoof song titles it had on it but i was well wasted by then !
Nigel had spoken in the recent `Echo' interview about being nervous playing in front of people he knows (this was only the second Merseyside gig in 13 years - unlucky for some eh ?) and he clearly wasn't kidding - these nerves manifested themselves in the first few songs just being introduced by "This is a Song about ..." followed by the title ..... and thus went "The Light at the End of the Tunnel", "Fuckin' ell it's Fred Titmus", "CORGI registered Friends", "Running Order Squabble Fest" and "If I had possession over Pancake Day." In proportion to the size of the gig it was undoubtedly the most sparsely-populated HMHB mosh I've ever been in (including even the Leeds Irish Centre !) but this spaciousness did enable a very personable young lady to reach round and use her hands to assist me with my bouncing for a short while. She wasclearly unable to resist all that genuine Czech shiny replica nylon. Whoever you are - thank you - you made an old man very happy !
The riotous applause of 1200 friends seemed to relax Mr. Blackwell and he began to pad out his intros with a bit more banter after setting the scene for "Restless Legs" in Rome of all places ! As for setting the scene for "Monmore Hare's Running" in William Hills in Birkenhead, I think we guessed that Nigel ! Meanwhile we'd had "Turned up, Clocked on, Laid Off" and "For What is Chatteris", and "Monmore" was followed by "Them's the Vagaries", "Bob Todd" and a short version of "Hallelujah" which became "Vatican Broadside" on the cue line of "you don't really care for music do you ??" Perfection. the moment when at one minute to midnight one night a couple of years ago Peely played these "Who the feckin' hell are Slipknot in relation to me getting out of bed?" lyrics in all their glory will always remain one of my all-time John Peel show highlights.
Most songs proceeded unadapted : "CAMRA Man" and "Shit arm, Bad Tattoo" were next. By the way, at this point I must comment that Nigel's statements in The Echo that "Shit Arm" isn't referring to any one band in particular seem to rank alongside John Lennon's denial that Lucy in the Sky was about LSD or that he didn't mean his "bigger than Christ" comments.
Then "PRS - Quick the Drawbridge", "Paintball's coming Home", "Wrong Grave for 23 years", "Dukla Prague", "Letters Sent", "Len Ganley Stance" and one of the real highlights - probably the only time I stopped moshing and had a little rest - "FOOTPRINTS", where yes, thanks to another reviewer on the band's website, who has reminded me of God's `live version' rejoinder to his doubting Thomas : "You stupid, stupid bastard ..".
"Look Dad No tunes" was followed by the night's surprise cover : "I think we're Alone Now." This needs no comment other than that we loved it in the mosh and that the purists, if any there were, must have been well and truly bloody irked.
My only regret from these last 2 gigs since the release of "Achtung"( I can't bring meself to type the B___ word) is that it appears that the wonderful "Asparagus Next Left" & its outstanding guitar break is not yet to be a live track. Nevertheless the finest poet of middle-aged rural England ;-) was on fine form for "We built this Village", "Everything's AOR", and of course "24-hour Garage People", before "A Country practice " ended the main set with 15-minutes of Mantra-filled Oompah & I guess the last thing I heard was Sting singing on the roof of the Barbican."T for Toxteth, ... T for Thatcher ..... old lady, you labelled me an idle layabout". Yes indeedy. Respect.
It was always going to be a 3-encore night. My first snobbish instinct was that the chant of "There's only One John Peel" was "a bit Nationwide League ", but what the feck I soon realised that I'd regret it forever if I didn't join in, and what is a HMHB fan in a Dukla Prague away kit anyway, if not "a bit Nationwide League " ?
The moshpit swelled slightly, but nowhere near as much as I'd expected, for the encores : "Venus in Flares", introduced with words of tribute to Peel which the sheer emotion of the moment doesn't enable me to recall, "Joy Division oven Gloves" and the 20th Anniversary (-ish) outing for "Trumpton Riots". Most of the audience had just stood, admired and applauded, but now they yelled semi- wildly for the more "more" I knew they wouldn't get, as I rushed out desperate for water after 2 hours of daft bouncing and with my sweat-soaked Dukla Prague Away Kit in need of urgent removal.