Coventry Empire, Fri 6th January 2017 (08/01/17)

Roger Green:

No gigging to report since the Leeds show in the middle of December, but special mention and hearty thanks to Karen for the Serious Drinking CD Christmas present. I look back and see this band as a prototype HMHB. (John Reed, who wrote the sleeve notes, seems to agree: "...The essence of Serious Drinking would later be resurrected by the likes of Half Man Half Biscuit...") What splendid tunes they made. Hangover, Bobby Moore Was Innocent, Baby I'm Dying A Death, The Revolution Starts At Closing Time. And Young Hearts Run Free, a cover version that even HMHB struggle to match. Only saw them once, at the Harvey Milk bar somewhere in the depths of Leeds Uni. Unfortunately, it was well before the notetaking days. Even more unfortunately, it looks like they have all put their degrees to good use, and there is little sign of recent action from them as a unit.

In return Karen's Boxing Day treat was to be taken to see Handsworth Parramore v AFC Mansfield in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division. Of course, as HMHB fans, we are well aware of how things are hotting up at the top of The National League. But really, the NCEL is the place to be. Handsworth are currently playing their home games in Worksop. We took the opportunity to walk round the lake near the ground where we spotted tufted ducks, black headed gulls and a solitary swan (we kept a safe distance). The club is sponsored by a food distributor and they were kind enough to distribute mince pies to all in the crowd. You don't get that at Old Trafford, or even Sincil Bank! Handsworth won 2-1. The highlight of the game was a tremendous Chris Waddlesque penalty miss by Mansfield's goalkeeper. At least this provided him with plenty of time to run back to his own penalty area before they could start play again.

Well done to Howie for more evangelical work. He takes up the story himself. "So there I was sat on the train to London wearing my Achtung Bono t-shirt when the woman opposite me asked me if I was from Wallasey! Spent the rest of the journey chatting, mainly about music and quite a bit about HMHB, with a parting comment of 'Get yourself to a gig!' I told her the dates of the next four gigs." If that was you, I hope you were able to make it tonight. If not, then at least you have got the dates for the shows in Bilston, Worthing and Oxford.

There is someone else that I hope was able to get there tonight. They had texted Chris Hawkins at 6 Music, to say that they were working in Bridgwater on the Thursday, and were aiming at getting to Coventry on the Friday for their first ever HMHB show. First ever! What? Ever? The Bridgwater connection led to a request for a song from the album featuring the name of that town. It was for Twenty-Four Hour Garage People. Chris didn't play it, but he said in turn that there were more requests for HMHB songs on 6 Music than for any other band. That will be Karen, then. Anyway, whoever you are, I am sure that you enjoyed the gig.

On the day, Karen and I met up at Birmingham New Street on the Virgin Pendolino train that was running to Euston. These things are supposed to have more of a roll to them, but we didn't spot anything particularly special about the experience. We got off at Coventry and went on an afternoon reconnaissance, in search of the venue. The Empire was a half-hour walk from the city centre, situated in what we took to be Studentland. We spotted the Frank Whittle statue, and visited the ruins of the original cathedral. With a bit more time we would have visited the Transport Museum. Instead we pigged out at Nandos. We also walked past Godiva News, where her ladyship no doubt used to call in for her morning paper.

Our Media Watch stretched to a copy of the Coventry Telegraph. Absolutely no mention whatsoever of the gig. In fact the only publicity anywhere appeared to the band's name in big letters above the entrance to the venue. The Telegraph was more bothered about the "jaw-dropping" £850k spent on refurbishing council premises. Nigel referred to this during the gig. As he did to an advert for Fletchers Fascias ("A local family firm you can trust - with no sub-contractors") He said that where he lives there is a similar company called Grangers. The guy running that used to claim that he was related to Stewart Granger. True, apparently. And apparently the pole that you use to open your loft is called a Granger, because the aforementioned actor was the first person to ever use one . The Telegraph needs to be careful about its use of apostrophes. It mentioned "Kaiser Chief's new single" in an interview with Ricky Wilson. And they pointed out that Coventry is one of the top ten most dangerous cities in Europe, according to World Atlas. Naturally, Coventry City got plenty of coverage. But no, definitely nothing at all about HMHB being in town.

Ten out of ten to Steve Lamacq for playing Naughty Miranda by Indians In Moscow and Camouflage by Stan Ridgway, just before we set off for the gig. After a brisk walk back to The Empire through the cold early evening air, we arrived stupidly early and then spent half an hour or more waiting for the place to open up. I spotted various members of the HMHB entourage heading to the venue with carrier bags of supplies. That's as entertaining as it got. Thankfully we were joined in our little queue by Matt from Lancing who was excited about the forthcoming gig in Worthing, which is within walking distance for him. Soon enough, Sally, Jordan, Tony, Andrew and Jay turned up and we were inside. I would guess that this place used to be a cinema, or possibly a theatre. £2 for a bottle of water. Could have been better. Could have been worse.

Jordan showed me that he was wearing his loafers again (as sported by Nigel on previous occasions), but Nigel later pointed out that he was wearing different shoes tonight - a pair of blue Sebago Docksides. It was also the first time I have seen Graham for a few gigs. Moving house, and a tear duct operation were the reasons given. John was also there, fresh from the Coventry Music Museum, and furnishing a sign that he taped to the front barrier. "This Area May Experience Wave Rage During Periods Of Peak Moshing." Best to be compliant with Health And Safety regulations these days. I'm sure that complied. Just in case we have any of those little incidents. I also briefly exchanged nods with Pete, and chatted with Chris and Tim. No sign of Nigel/Charles/Exxo though. Maybe serving a one-gig ban after indiscretions at Leeds? I think they must have had a copy of Eighties Heaven for the public address system. I heard Mirror Mirror, Young At Heart, Take On Me and Kids In America among others.

There was a slight change from the usual protocol for support bands. This was NOT one from the Probe Plus corporation. I understand that The Broken Rebels are locals. I picked up the title of their opening song, The Ballad Of Johnny Bigcock, and Tony noted part of the lyric of one of their others: "Lightning Strikes Very Rarely Twice". Or maybe he was just making a general observation. It's hard to tell. Tony thought they were a bit young and mainstream to be a HMHB support, but good luck to them. They will no doubt be all over 6 Music by the end of the year.

The sound level went up a few notches, and it was Lieutenant Pigeon's Mouldy Old Dough that accompanied HMHB onto stage. I was slightly puzzled by Carl's green football shirt, which he confirmed later was the Palestine national one. Howie, Daz and Gomez did their usual last-minute arrival, in time to see Nigel having trouble getting any sound out of his guitar. "I knew something wouldn't work," he said. One of the stage crew helped out, twiddled one of the switches on the amp, and everything was solved. "Just keeping you on your toes," added Nigel. When HMHB opened up with Hedley Verityesque, Tony said to me that this was the first time that they had begun with that song since the show at Roadwater many years ago. I wouldn't have a clue. I just write stuff down.

There was an unfortunate incident early on. Nigel seemed to try and backheel his packet of crisps and succeeded only in bursting the packet. It left a bit of a mess on the floor. Hope he cleared it up afterwards. He played a bit of the theme to Pointless and announced "Missed that tonight." Nigel then started talking about Mick Coop, former Coventry City player. "He changed his name by deed poll. He was originally known as Mick Co-Op but decided to get rid of the hyphen." Nigel explained that he was out cycling and ended up in a cafe in St Asaph where Mick's sister worked (although she wanted to move to Anglesey). But she wasn't aware of Mick's fame.

There were a couple of photographers in the moat. Not too much of a distraction, but at one point I noticed that one of them appeared to be taking photos of the other one. The opening drumming on Totnes Bickering Fair sounds fairly similar to The Sweet's Ballroom Blitz. Accordingly, Nigel said "Are you ready, Ken?" at the appropriate time.

Gomez asked Nigel if Ken was the first man in Wallasey to go to Grangers. The reply was "No. But he was the first man in Wallasey to get involved in this..." ahead of Joy In Leeuwarden. I only picked up part of a conversation about Philip K Dick. There is a programme coming up on TV, either a documentary or a dramatization or something. "It looks all right does that. It's a good preview," replied Nigel. Ahead of San Antonio Foam Party, he said "This one we learnt in February of some year."

Before the Gods were born in Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes was Nigel saying that Wasps and Coventry City together just wouldn't work. He then talked about an article in the Telegraph where it said that there were divided loyalties at Hinkley RUFC ahead of the forthcoming clash between Wasps and Leicester Tigers. He also discussed Coventry City's squad from days gone by, when he could name most of them - Carr, Glazier etc. Tony shouted out "Jeff Blockley". Nigel agreed, adding that Blockley was a tall guy (and giving the appropriate international sign language gesture for "tall guy"). Nigel also said that his brown trousers tonight were in homage to Coventry City's brown away kit from years ago.

According to tonight's rendition of All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, you could get a 30% discount on dodgy transformers if you got them at Grangers. "Bat Walks" got another airing. Booking essential. Bring waterproofs. As usual, Ken and Neil swapped instruments for Bane Of Constance. The chorus about Midge Ure was particularly vitriolic from the mosh pit. Nigel played an instrumental which Tony recognised as Irish Washerwoman. He then played another, which Tony didn't recognise and said "You would have known it if Ken had played it." Jay shouted out that it was Nigel's gig, so he could therefore play what he wanted. "That's the best comment I've ever heard," replied Nigel.

Tonight the guest signing into Camber Sands was Jeff Blockley. Jordan asked if he could play the recorder on Lark Descending. Nigel said he didn't like recorders, but anyway it was a flute on that song. About forty-five years ago, my brother told me a joke about why bungalows are so called. A builder was building a house and was running out of bricks, so decided to bung a low roof on it. Nigel told this one tonight. Took me back. There was a genuine, from the heart, thank you to everyone for turning out tonight on such a cold evening. Just like you get from proper entertainers.

When the band came back for the encore, Nigel asked "Is Mike Winters still alive?" He had been discussing the Schnorbitz franchise with Carl, and this question was raised. Somebody raised the name of Les Dennis. "I quite like him," said Nigel, "ever since he took the piss out of himself on Extras." Someone else in the crowd starting singing Time Flies By When You're A Driver Of A Train. "We have a song that goes like that," said Nigel, "but we don't do it anymore because the family of Freddie Phillips would sue us." However, a couple of songs later, they did perform it. In Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis, the baddie with the ski lodge was Steve Ogrizovic (as predicted by Karen). The night finished with Joy Division Oven Gloves. (We checked later. Mike Winters died in August 2013. Must have been a busy news day.)

The whole set was

Hedley Verityesque
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Tonight Matthew I'm Going To Be With Jesus
Running Order Squabble Fest
Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride
Totnes Bickering Fair
Bad Review
Joy In Leeuwarden
San Antonio Foam Party
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes
Gubba Lookalikes
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Bat Walks
Bane Of Constance
Lark Descending
For What Is Chatteris?
The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman
Rock 'N' Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Everything's AOR
Trumpton Riots
Vatican Broadside
National Shite Day
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train

And in the encore

You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis
Time Flies By When You're A Driver Of A Train
Joy Division Oven Gloves

Thanks for Tony for lending me the set list which Carl gave to him. From that we can ascertain that Time Flies By and Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes were not originally scheduled. And Tommy Walsh's Eco House appears on the list, but was not played.

On the way back afterwards, Karen and I wondered if they could have included Epiphany tonight. With it being January 6th and all that. Never mind, eh.