No messing about with the advance publicity for this one. As early as five months beforehand we spotted a full-page advert for The Leadmill in Now Then magazine (issue 110) mentioning this show. I maintain that this venue is not what it was back in the days of real ale handpumps the length of the bar, but putting on stuff like this, as well as other shows by Tom Robinson and Billy Bragg may get it back on my list for consideration.
On arriving in Sheffield, it was impossible to avoid the Great Lucozade Giveaway at the railway station. Both Karen and I were handed two cans - one Original flavour, and one Orange. We both reminisced about how this drink used to be something that you could only get from Boots or Timothy Whites. Certainly it was something that, when I was very young, I used to associate with being poorly (sold in glass bottles covered in orange cellophane). Nowadays it is all energy, energy, energy. Not much wrong with the taste, but it hardly turns me into John Barnes. We didn't bother with all the promo blurb that came with the free cans ("visit the website and enter your email address"), so if they are reading this, they will have to pester Gez on his site.
Full of fizz, we were off to The Street Food Chef on Arundel Street for our usual feed when we are in Sheffield. I went for the breakfast burrito, while Karen had the chicken mole burrito. Grand as always. I would like anybody with local knowledge to let me/us know if there is anywhere better to eat in the city.
A paper review on the day followed on from Now Then's lead. Metro let the side down a little, preferring to concentrate on The Duke Of Edinburgh's retirement from royal duties, as well as Chris Evans' loss of half a million listeners. No mention at all of happenings down Leadmill Road. The Sheffield Telegraph, on the other hand, squeezed a couple of sentences into their music listings. "One of the late John Peel's favourite UK bands, and Sheffield promoter Chris Wilson, who has been working with them for 25 years or so, is also among their fervent admirers. Witty, sardonic songs - much more than a comedy band, he points out." I remember Chris from the time when he used to put HMHB on at The Boardwalk. One of the last purveyors of hand-written tickets. Therefore a legend of music promotion. (When the band came back on stage for the encore, Nigel quashed a rumour that this would be Chris's last gig. Glad to hear that.) The Telegraph also had a photo of the Wednesday shirt for the new season. They are going back to a blue shirt with white sleeves. That takes me back to the days of Lucozade-as-medicinal-drink.
There was also a good effort from The Star ("Trusted news read by 350,000 every week."). No publicity is bad publicity, but it was a slightly contentious piece, claiming that HMHB's "most famous song" is All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit. I may have to go away and do some scientific research, to see if the numbers back that up. The conclusion of the article looked slightly familiar. "More than 30 years later, and the band, known for satirical, sardonic and sometimes surreal songs, are still going strong." All good stuff, of course, but it sat on the Music Scene page next to a far larger write-up on Ocean Colour Scene and their forthcoming show at Doncaster Racecourse, complete with full band photo (whereas the HMHB bit was accompanied by a tiny photo of Nigel.)
Brian Cant's passing can not go by without mention. Normally when celebrity season tickets come up for grabs, it doesn't make too much impact on me. John Peel was a notable exception. And now Brian. Another bit of your childhood gets chipped away. I am of an age where I remember his presence being a standard on Play School. And his contribution to the Trumptonshire trilogy was peerless. We all know the Fire Brigade roll call. That was Brian at his best. And of course he did the original of Time Flies By, except with slightly different words to the HMHB cover version. Rest In Peace.
Karen and I met with Tony and the three of us were the first to form a queue outside the venue. Soon enough Andrew joined us, relating tales of his time as a student in Sheffield, clubbing at The Limit, and being on nodding terms with Phil Oakey. My tale of my first HMHB gig being at The Leadmill was defeated. The place hadn't even opened by the time Andrew left the city. The entrance was slightly ajar, so we were able to hear the band doing their sound check - A Lilac Harry Quinn and The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train. Security were having none of it though. The door was locked and bolted, and we were left to our own devices.
Jordan and Emily also joined the queue. As did Matt. His journey (Lancing to Sheffield via Market Harborough) is not one that many people take for whatever reason. At 7.30 prompt, the bolts were drawn back, the key was placed in the lock, and we were allowed in. Great to see that the turnstile is still in place (hopefully the same one that was there in 1986). Gives an accurate picture of how many folk are there. Later assessment was that the place was clearly very busy, but not packed out.
Karen went to the bar, and came back with bottles of water priced at a (comparatively) reasonable £1.50 each. A lot of places see fit to charge double that. And The Leadmill also allow you to keep the top on your bottle. Most civilised! There was more catching up to be done. Sally was doing the Air B'N'B thing. John, as usual, was doing the King Of Hi Vis thing. And it was tremendous as always to see HMHB's international fan Thorsten, who had brought his family over from Germany for a gig. The conversation with Pete (from Bradford) and his mate Andy reminded me of a HMHB gig at Queens Hall in Bradford around 1992. This was pre-internet, and I drove through only to find a note on the door saying "gig cancelled". To my knowledge it never got re-arranged, so there is another place for the band to play. Pete seemed to think that their only gig there was at the 1 in 12 Club.
Howie joined us at the front. He had had a good afternoon and early evening. His route to the gig was The Devonshire Cat, The Bath Hotel, Red Deer, Three Tuns, The Rutland Arms, Lord Nelson and Sentinel Brewhouse. Some good choices in there. He even managed to get to The Shakespeare afterwards.
Others who turned up were Ian and Mariana, Nigel and Jo, Graham from Liverpool (sorry we didn't get to talk), Pete from Worksop and Mr and Mrs Exford. Apologies to those around me but I was engrossed in conversation with Katherine and Karl for much of Sonnenberg's set. Most annoying and hypocritical of me. I won't complain any more when I experience that distraction myself.
I'm not quite there with the names of all of Sonnenberg's songs. But I know that Believe, Into The Light, War No More and Better Together were all played. Karen would have liked to have heard Beautiful Morning, and I remain sorry that they appear to have dropped Sweet Life from their set. There were just the three of them playing tonight. We had a good chat with Zinny outside at the start of the evening. The band might get a bit busier towards the end of the year. We hope to be able to see them play in their own right.
I always thought that HMHB chose the walk-on music. But Nigel didn't seem to know what it was tonight. Nor did most of the crowd. John had guessed at The Naked City. But Katherine has one of those app things on her phone which identifies tunes in a sort of you-hum-it-I'll-play-it way. The device gave the title of The Man With The Golden Arm. Someone else shouted out the same thing, so we'll go with that. It was also commented that The Sweet used to walk on stage to that music. Nigel's reply was "Are you still collecting the school vouchers? I've moved on to the Lego Create The World vouchers now." At this point I also noted that Carl was again wearing his 3743 BMTS t-shirt.
At the Rotherham Postie's first shout of "What did God give us, Neil?", Nigel replied that he would take a pound for that, having bet with Neil that he would show up and shout that. Nigel also said that he thought he had seen The Postie at Wentworth House earlier.
Someone (we think it might have been Charles) shouted that Ken Hancock is a genius. "Yeah, but he puts his bin out on the wrong day," countered Nigel. After which there was an extended conversation about wheelie bins. Apparently Nigel just has two, and in Liverpool they have purple bins, while Tony said they have four in Birmingham including the newspaper box. Nigel was surprised by this, saying that they put the newspapers in with their recycling.
Nigel observed "There's a bluebottle on stage. Keeps you on your toes." It had landed on his head and had generally buzzed around while they played Fred Titmus. This was an ongoing distraction throughout the evening. Tony shouted out that flies hear through their legs. Nigel adopted a martial arts pose when facing up to the fly. "I'll practice origami on it." This got a laugh. "You won't laugh if I turn you into a fucking yacht," he continued.
Nigel mentioned ice creams and said that whereas Magnums could be a bit expensive, you could get Majestics from Iceland (the shop not the country). He particularly likes the peach flavour. "Four for a pound. I would have written that line into Little In The Way Of Sunshine if I'd known about it at the time." In answer to a shout of "Nerys Hughes!" he replied that the band did a song about her.
There was a request to "turn the lead up". Nigel wondered what was meant by "lead". "I play the lead guitar myself sometimes." This was borne out later following a shout of "You're a dead man, Fisher!" He played the opening riff of Climie Fisher. "Just so that you know that it's me playing on the record, not Ken."
There was talk about The Invisible Heroes. "You might have heard them, but you won't have seen them." They had had a gig at The Rhythm Method Club, but had had to pull out at the last minute. "We were going to play this..." he said, ahead of Tommy Walsh's Eco House. There was a shout for Reflections in A Flat. "That's one of ours," said Nigel. "Funnily enough, it's in the same chord as this one (Lark Descending)." During Lark Descending there was the traditional application of plectrum to forehead. The line from that song tonight was "And I wouldn't have to pretend that I know what Eponymous means."
"Clive Swift, everyone," pointed out Nigel, gesturing vaguely into the crowd. The spotlights went up in the corner. "It could be him after all," he said. Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off was all about going to a Behind Closed Doors friendly, and ending up with a restricted view (points towards Neil). The three men admired most were "The father, son and Donny Most."
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit was about setting the satnav for Chepstow and ending up in Ludlow (points towards Neil again). Nigel reminded us yet again that "you've got to watch what you say in PC World." I may have misheard but in Look Dad No Tunes I'm sure that the foot was stamped down on the amp switch in Northwich rather than the more traditional Nantwich.
Nigel couldn't remember if he needed the capo on his guitar for Evening Of Swing. Someone shouted "Capo Dilemma!" to which he replied "That should be the name of your band. Minor chords only. And sign to a subsidiary of Sub Pop." For What Is Chatteris was preceded by a verse of The Twelfth Of Never. Neil and Ken swapped places for Twenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss and The Bane Of Constance. While they were doing this, Nigel gave us a bit of I Saw Her Standing There, interspersed with what sounded like the backing vocal from Where Is My Mind.
During A Lilac Harry Quinn, Nigel told the joke that sails over your head. "What has three legs and eats fish and chips? Don and Ivy Brennan." Ken was the first man in Wallasey to have a pogo stick. Martin at the front asked Nigel what is his favourite cheese. "I've been all round the houses with cheese," he replied. "But I always come back to crumbly Cheshire. With salad cream in a sandwich. With some crisps." Nigel asked Martin what was his favourite. That was Stilton. Nigel also added that Lancashire makes the best cheese on toast.
The set list for this fine evening was:Bob Wilson Anchorman
And four songs in the encore:She's In Broadstairs
One or two in there that have not appeared for a while. Albert Hammond Bootleg? A great gig attended by great people. It would have been nice to round it off with a beer but all the pubs we called at had closed for the night. Sheffield is some way short of being a twenty-four hour city. Although it was a Thursday, I suppose. Great burritos, though.
...and finally, a happy retirement to Philip.