One thing to add to the Hull review. Congratulations to Jo for a magnificent t-shirt. "Come to Hull: It's not shit anymore." So that's that cleared up.
2018 was already in full swing for us regarding gig attendance. Our friends Shatner are, like HMHB taking their time over the production and release of their next CD. We saw them in front of, let's see, tens of people on the first weekend of the new year. It was quite different with the Halle Orchestra packing out Leeds Town Hall. Top view from the cheap seats. And the week before HMHB made their first appearance of the year, we were at The Leadmill in Sheffield to see The Wedding Present. Great to see Nigel and Jo there, but sad to be told that they weren't making it to Bilston. And we were also aware of the presence of the mighty Rotherham Postie. "I love you, Mr Gedge!" was his cry at this event, rather than "What did God give us, Neil?" to which we are more accustomed.
Santa was good to me. A Bullseye game and the latest Sparks CD among other gifts. But l was also well pleased to unwrap a copy of Peter Ross's collection of stories, The Passion Of Harry Bingo. Here is a tremendous piece of work. Hey, I'm biased of course. One of the stories is the Big Issue article that Peter wrote when he came to the HMHB gig in Holmfirth in 2016. "The Biscuiteers" is in among happy, sad and tragic tales. There are many pearls of wisdom in there, for example "The best shoehorns are from Ikea." All life is in there. Read this book and you will be a better person for it.
A few words, if I may, about Mark E Smith, as it has a bearing on my appreciation of HMHB. "Not everybody's cup of tea" as I have been told. A lot of my favourite music ever was made by The Fall in the first half of the 1980s. My travelling in their slipstream never quite reached the lengths that I achieve with HMHB. But if my head had not been turned in the middle of that decade, then it is likely that I would have continued to follow them hither and thither. Of course I still dipped in every now and again. At Fibbers in York in 2014 there was a memorable virtuoso performance from the man. Their third to last gig was in Wakefield. Seeing MES being wheeled off stage was also memorable in a different way. That was me and him saying our farewells. He was my cup of tea, and the world's a worse place. I wasn't surprised to hear about the punch-up at his wake. It's what he would have wanted.
I took the train to Birmingham. A fellow passenger spotted my Urge For Offal t-shirt and commented "Half Man Half Biscuit! A great Geordie band!" Of course I could be wrong, as I haven't heard that one before, but I begged to differ. I met Karen at New Street station, from where we got the tram to Bilston. Straight after arriving, we saw Jay with his early contender for t-shirt of the day, a Humdrum Express number. Like us, he had a room at The Robin's hotel, next door to the venue. After checking in, we went for our usual nourishment at The Major chip shop, pausing only to listen to an extraordinary karaoke version of Something Inside So Strong, coming out of The Horse And Jockey. At three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon. That was a good effort.
Press review. Karen leafed through The Express And Star ("Britain's best-selling regional newspaper"). No mention of the HMHB show but there was a fair feature on a sell-out gig by The Wurzels at Harper Adam's University. Didn't realise they were still ploughing the furrow, but maybe their fans think the same about HMHB.
The Robin 2's Club Magazine And Gig Guide didn't tell us anything that hasn't been said before. "Famed for making ill-tempered music with a social conscience, Birkenhead band Half Man Half Biscuit, formed in the early eighties, 'merely as a way of getting through the day'. Quickly picked up by the angst-ridden youth of the eighties, their punk-driven, lyrical rants and protests against all things celebrity and fake, became the unofficial anthems of the underground."
We were slugging tea when John knocked on our door to say they were heading into Wolverhampton for a curry. Another time, perhaps. Countdown was on. We were engrossed, along with all the retired liberals.
The band had arrived at the venue and were setting up on stage when I saw Geoff and Miles pull up outside. I gave them a hand with carting the merch inside, and was able to catch the sound check. There was evidently a lack of anything coming through Nigel's monitors. This was something that would re-surface during the gig. The band tested everything out with A Lilac Harry Quinn, When The Evening Sun Goes Down and King Of Hi Vis, as well as a fair blast of The Fall's Fiery Jack. This gave a hint about a possible cover version. But this was quashed later by Nigel, who said that a Fall cover would be "too obvious". I got the lowdown from the rest of the band on recent developments and future developments. There's a new album on the way. Geoff said it could be about a month away, but perhaps it's best just to expect it when you see it. There's also a few more live shows being arranged for later in the year.
A loosely constructed queue formed ahead of the doors opening at 7.30. Many of the usual faces started to show. Jay re-surfaced, and Tony, Andrew, John, Mike, Jordan and Emily also showed. We took a brief look at the guest list. I hope Mr and Mrs Pommer enjoyed the show – perhaps a Thank You for using his tune for the HMHB walk-on music.
The support act, not for the first time at this venue, was The Humdrum Express. "Bilston. So much to answer for," he announced. Some people call him Ian. A bloke with a guitar and some quirky songs. A Godin guitar as it turns out. "You don't see a lot of those," as Tony pointed out to me. In Double Edged Swords he says "It's like being offered a slot on Later With Jools, as long as you let him join in." There was also a Blackwellesque observation: "I once got heckled by a bloke who looked like Ike Godsey out of The Waltons. He was livid." I was ready to buy a Humdrum Express t-shirt, but, same old story, he didn't have any in my colossal XXXL size. You can't have everything, but we did have an excellent set...Botox Lunch Break
I exchanged nods with Pete, had a chat with Graham and his HMHB debutant mate Danny (who said he would be back at some point), and also talked with fellow Yorkist Peter. Postman Tony also tapped me on the shoulder. There was a spectacularly late entrance from Howie, Gomez and Daz – but better spectacularly late than spectacularly never. Great also to see Ron Seal at the gig, making one of his customary aerial stage invasions.
HMHB walked on stage to Georg Pommer's Penny Pennies. When the band was ready to start, Nigel said "Turn it off now. It goes on for ages." Maybe he should have let it continue, as Nigel was immediately faced with problems with his mike stand. Aided by Martin the Mechanical Engineer ("Have you got initials after your name? ME?"), who was standing at the front, this was solved soon enough, although Nigel had to hold the mike and stop playing guitar for much of Stuck Up A Hornbeam.
After just two songs, Nigel made his first request for more vocals in the monitor. Neil asked for "the far guitar" (meaning Karl's) to come through his monitor. Nigel homed in on "The Far Guitar" and wondered aloud about a band with that name supporting The Triffids. "I'm a bit like Crisp or L'Escargot tonight. I'm a little ho(a)rse," he added. Even so, he was happy to tell us "something for nothing" about Boney M. Frank Farian was one of the vocalists with the group when they did their recordings including Rasputin, but it was Bobby Farrell who appeared on TV and in their videos. Farrell died in 2010, in St Petersburg on 30th December. "And guess who else died in St Petersburg on 30th December?" That would be Rasputin, in 1916. "I hope no one does that Twilight Zone thing," Nigel said, "otherwise I will have them ejected."
On the day of this gig, it would have been James Dean's 87th birthday, and apparently it would also have been Bob Marley's birthday. Nigel didn't seem so sure about marking birthdays of folk who were no longer around. "What about Methuselah?" he asked out loud. Nancy Kominsky may have been the guest star in Vitas Gerulaitis. She was after the ski lodge.
A birthday card was thrown onto stage. Neil picked it up and handed it to Nigel. On seeing that there was a very rude word on the front ("Happy Birthday, You Big Cunt"), Nigel decided that it was actually meant for Neil, and handed it back. The guy from the crowd then shouted that he wanted it back, and so the full circle was completed.
There was some discussion about middle names after a shout of "Primrose" following Bob Wilson Anchor Man. What is Rupert The Bear's middle name? What is Atilla The Hun's middle name? That kind of thing.
Nigel was on the ball when Tony asked him who was on the tannoy when Roger Bannister broke the record for running a mile. "How do you know it was a tannoy, and not just a PA system? 'Tannoy' is a trademark." On the subject of middle-distance runners from the 1950s, there used to be an advert that made Nigel go "Chattaway, Chattaway, Chris Chattaway." I'm culturally out of touch. Nigel is light years ahead of me on that one.
More problems with the monitors. Nigel shuffled them around so that they were all in an arc in front of him, and he also moved a little to his right, so that he could hear out of Karl's. "I can hear it now," he commented, "but it's ruining my stagecraft."
Bridgedale was described as a "vicious, vicious bastard" in the course of The Unfortunate Gwatkin. During a discussion about their route to the gig, Nigel pointed out that the band had never been to Knutsford Services. "But we might go there on the way back." The band's route earlier in the day had avoided the M6 ("the oxymoronic smart motorway"). I heard mention of the M53, the A55, the A5 and the A483, but you would have to know the route in order to put it in some kind of order. Nigel commented that people always think it will be quicker going back on the M6, "but that's when you get all the roadworks."
He also mentioned going to see his mate Sid in Kingstanding. "Everybody thinks it's a dump, but he says it's heaven on earth." Nigel told us about Sid falling victim to ID theft. So now he is just called "S".
There was a shout of "Morning Ma'am, I've come to read your gas meter." Nigel replied, "You can't do that at our house. The meter is on the outside." And to a request for Jarg Armani, Nigel's reply was the usual "Yeah, that's one of ours." There was a top tip from Nigel during Emerging From Gorse, "2.30 Lingfield tomorrow. Dusty Carpet. Never been beaten."
Clive Swift was spotted in the crowd by Nigel. "He was wasted in Keeping Up Appearances. He was much better in that MR James series." Nigel invited us all to join in on Joy Division Oven Gloves. "There's a lot of shouting on this."
When the band emerged for the encore, Nigel was asked why he brought a plastic glass onto stage with him, but he was drinking his water out of a bottle. Nigel explained that he had been drinking tea out of the glass when they walked out at the start of the gig. But he added, "Well spotted, you should have been on Screen Test." Which in turn led him to ponder whether or not presenter Michael Rodd is still alive (checked afterwards – yes he is, as at the day after this gig, 9 February 2018). Nigel also reflected on how he had missed the death of Magnus Pyke. Must have been a busy news day. (And by the way, Andrew nudged me to tell me that his mate had been on Screen Test back in the day. He was on the winning team.)
It was goodbye and hello to Graham. Like us, he was heading to Leeds the day after this gig, to catch The Lovely Eggs in action. Didn't see him there though.
Nice cover of The Stranglers. Carl very kindly handed me his set list. Just a couple of amendments to the actual running order. "Village" was in the original plan, but did not appear. And Vatican Broadside looks like it was a last-minute addition.
The band played these:Stuck Up A Hornbeam
And in the encore:Restless Legs
There was something else missing tonight. We realised afterwards that Dukla Prague had not been played. If I could be arsed, I would look back and check for the last time that happened. But I can't be arsed, so you will have to check yourselves. See also: Trumpton Riots. I also have it in my mind that this was my 150th HMHB show. One day I'll consult with my mate Mark who was at a lot of the early ones with me, so that I can come up with a definitive list. We may or may not see the new CD at or before the Leamington Spa. That's as much as I know.