You may already think that the Evostik League Eastern Division receives saturated coverage. In which case you will have to excuse my reference to December's local derby between Frickley Athletic and Pontefract Collieries. The game was held up because there was a dog on the pitch. It generated a warmth around the ground that augurs well for mankind. And that's what life's about.
I need to be very clear about this. With reference to the line from Breaking News, under no circumstances whatsoever am I looking for a medal for being up and about at six in the morning. But when this happens I like to hear Tweet Of The Day, a short feature on Radio Four which appears immediately before Today starts. On one occasion it featured Sir David Attenborough talking about sanderlings. I suppose Phil Cool would have been a more apt presenter, but David proved to be a decent substitute.
I was a little surprised to notice the absence of No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut from the Louder Than War list of the Top 100 Albums of 2018. Indeed, Karen did some further investigation online and found that The Most Ignored Band didn't even make their Top 200! There's clearly a lot of good music out there, and I'm obviously well out of touch if that's the case. Long may it stay that way. There was a similar miscarriage of justice involving The Guardian (not for the first time). I'm sure if dear old Peelie had still been around, then the open democracy of his 2018 Festive Fifty would have seen a healthy representation from HMHB.
Another glaring omission concerns the documentary series on BBC4 called Guitar, Drum And Bass. There was a programme devoted to each facet. The first part was presented by Stewart Copeland, covering drumming through the history of pop music. The bit covering the techniques used at Little Richard's early sessions was quite interesting, but as time moved on it became clear that Carl Henry's absence was detracting from the value of the show. Likewise when Tina Weymouth fronted the hour devoted to the bass. Surely she has Neil Crossley's phone number? I had given up on the series by the time they moved onto the guitar.
I'm sure Shatner would have been happy to contribute to that series. But they too have not quite been able to make it into the right address books. I first saw them around 2005 when they appeared at The Tea Time Shuffle at Adam Eve's in Leeds, a straight-from-work-on-Friday slot featuring local bands. All of this was before the gods who made the gods were born, of course. Since then I've followed them here and there. Often Karen and I are among, ooh let's think, a dozen people at their shows. On their behalf I've been knocking on HMHB Management's door for a while and was glad that they got a chance.
Paul the guitarist is no stranger to the idea of providing support at one of these shows. He was one half of The Disclaimers, who supported at HMHB's last show at The Duchess in Leeds, before the venue was closed and turned into a Hugo Boss shop. On the subject of The Duchess, my mate Mark told me a tale from when he and I saw HMHB there decades ago. He told me that there was just one t-shirt available at the HMHB shop at the gig, in a size far too big for Mark. Nevertheless he snaffled it up. And Geoff, generous as ever, even let him have the hanger, which still has pride of place in Mark's wardrobe. Mark has promised to bring the hanger out with him the next time we have a beer.
From what Andrew told me, HMHB get regular mentions on the Stacey West blog, which covers all things Lincoln City. Most recently they had a feature on their old boy Bobby Svarc. It referred to his mention in Fear My Wraith and showed the cover of Some Call It Godcore.
It was good to hear Humdrum Express, a regular HMHB support act, get some national exposure. He featured on a 6 Music tour of independent venues. On this particular day Steve Lamacq visited Marr's Bar in Worcester. Karen and I had seen Ian/Humdrum there a couple of weeks previously, supporting TV Smith. It's near enough his home turf, hence his appearance I suppose. He did a couple of songs, including the excellent Leopard Print Onesie. I agree with Ian's assertion in the song, that a Bag For Life should become cheaper the older you get. I also agree with the comment that was made about Humdrum Express providing the link between Billy Bragg and Half Man Half Biscuit. Looking forward to seeing him again, at the Bilston gig later in the year.
On arriving in York we met a plethora of Biscuiteers, most of whom were stopping at the same place as us, the Premier Inn not far from the venue. First off were Ian and Mariana, then it was Tony and Karen. Tony was a few days short of his 70th birthday. We managed to get the band to sign a card for him and they kindly agreed to have photos taken with him while we were waiting in sub-zero temperatures before the doors opened at the start of the evening. We saw Jay and Ems when we dropped into the Windmilll for lunch. (Jolly nice it was too. Karen opted for tuna salad in a brown bloomer with chips, while I tucked into gammon and eggs.) Outside again we saw Postman Tony who was assessing the merits of drinking beer before a gig, as opposed to saving yourself for the show itself. Across the road we saw Andrew, who was at his first gig of the year. We walked round to check that the venue was still where we remembered it. This is not the same Fibbers that HMHB had played in years gone by. The venue moved across town around four years previously.
During the photo shoot, I asked Nigel about the band's picking up running order since Karl joined the band. Things don't seem to have changed that much. Neil calls at his Mum's to collect his gear and for a cup of tea, before calling for Nigel, then Carl and finally Karl. Not a lot of change from how it worked previously, so the logistics have not required much re-appraisal. We also saw Graham who was looking for a pub ahead of the gig - not a difficult job in York.
Nothing in York's The Press about HMHB playing. Nor was there anything in Metro. So that's the papers reviewed.
An early finish was scheduled so there was a lot of military precision to the timings. Doors were open at 19.00 hours. While waiting outside, we got talking to Zinney who was on Probe Plus ambassadorial duties, running the shop. It transpires that he is one of the victims of Brexit, looking at a move back to his native Germany. Not sure what the implications are for Sonnenberg.
As advertised, Shatner were on stage at 19.20. Perhaps surprised to be playing in front of a crowd, they whizzed through their set with a minimum of chatter (later on, HMHB adopted the same tactic in the second half of their set). Although Jim the vocalist did note how Nigel had told him about Speed Of Dark being his favourite Shatner song. Jim also said that Shatner did not normally do cover versions but would make an exception tonight, referring to the late Pete Shelley before playing Buzzcocks' Love You More. Thanks to guitarist Paul for handing over the set list, which differed a bit from their actual running order.We Go Woo
Matt was impressed enough to buy a Shatner t-shirt. I don't think he'll find too many other people with one of them, when he gets back to Sussex.
In the interval a few more folk turned up. Gomez was there, for his first show for a while. He and Daz and Howie were not to be caught out by HMHB's early stage time (8.15). Great to see Nigel and Jo and their daughter. This was an easy drive home for them, back to Goole. I also caught up with Katharine and Karl from my locality, although in fact I had only seen Katharine a couple of days earlier at the chip shop. And Sarah from Shatner popped in to say Hello. Andrew introduced me to Lucy and Ron, who said they are getting hitched in a HMHB-themed wedding in Sheffield in a few weeks. Sounds intriguing. Our invite must still be in the post. I also had a chat with Bradford Pete. Pete shared a Health And Safety concern. An apocalyptic warning to us all. "In the 60s and 70s, they found out that asbestos was killing us. Then they got worried about diesel engines. The next thing will be smoke machines."
It was a tightly packed room, particularly right at the front. I know from previous experience at this place (when The Fall played the first gig after the place had opened) that vantage points at the back of the room do not provide great viewing. I understand that was the case tonight. I also learnt the lesson that standing too near the front is not great for listening. Some of Nigel's comments were a bit blurred, so apologies for possibly getting things wrong, or missing them completely. I'm typing these notes the morning after the show, and my hearing is still a bit fuzzy.
For much of HMHB's set, I was next to Jordan, who had re-located from his usual central perch. He has a very unique style, a combination of head-banging and expressive dancing. I can confirm that his Head And Shoulders is doing its job.
On arriving on stage, Nigel talked about his blue and white hooped jumper. "Four quid from the Roy Castle charity shop. You'd pay eighty pounds for this in John Lewis." Later on, when Nigel took the jumper off, there was a shout of "Get 'em off, you sexy bastard." The opening song, Bob Wilson Anchorman featured a new line: "I'm cold and I'm hungry in the centre of York." Later on there was a similar variation in a line from Fear My Wraith - "When your horse leads the field inside the first furlong of The Ebor, you think that it is going to win." And it wasn't long before Nigel was calling for "more vocal in the monitor, please." In the same vein, he asked "Can we not have the flashlights? There's epilepsy in my family and I've been told not to have them."
And early on, Nigel raised a glass to Clive Swift, who had died earlier in the day. Star of Keeping Up Appearances, aged eighty-two. But he was better known to Nigel on television as Dr Black from the MR James mysteries. While he was at it, Nigel told us all that Geoffrey Hughes as Onslow was the worst ever actor in a sitcom, whereas Patricia Routledge, from Birkenhead, was OK. Nigel also paid respect to others who were no longer with us. William Thackeray and Robert Southey, for example. Both of whom died in the nineteenth century. Nigel also referred to Jeremy Hardy who had died aged fifty-seven. "Diane Oxberry was the worst one though." There was also a little point about York. "You can't come here without saying Tote Ebor."
Thanks to Tony for relating Nigel's dream, far better than I had interpreted it. He had had a dream in which the poet Swinburne appeared. Nigel had called him Walter Swinburn, whereas his name was actually Algernon Swinburne. At another point, Nigel said that Pirates Of Stone County Road by John Stewart was the best ever song about childhood. And he asked whether Rhinestone Cowboy was written by Jimmy Webb or Glenn Campbell. It turns out that it was actually Larry Webb.
On their way to York, the band had stopped near Bingley. Nigel said that they saw an ice sculpture of Digby, the biggest dog in the world. He said they had seen a hedgehog having a fight with a rat. Fortunately someone shouted out "Who won?", which gave Nigel the opportunity to hit us with the punchline "The hedgehog won on points." Dick Krzywicki was the villain with the ski lodge in Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis. Nigel noticed a plug socket on the ceiling and wondered what that was doing there. Maybe that gives a clue as to how his mind wanders during these shows. During Joy Division Oven Gloves he pointed vaguely in the direction of the Quantocks.
Earlier in the day, Nigel had sat at the bottom of Clifford's Tower with a tuna wrap, listening to The Residents, John Stewart and John Shuttleworth. He acknowledged that twenty years previously this would have been a tuna sandwich, but "you change, man."
In answer to a shout about Carl's drum kit, Nigel related the story about Carl buying the kit on the internet from a guy in Doncaster. The seller had brought the kit to The Leadmill in Sheffield, where Carl had used it for the first time. Staying on the subject of kits, Nigel mentioned York City's from the 1970s. They had a maroon shirt with a white "Y" down the front. According to Nigel this was far better than the Coventry City and Wales kits from the same period, both of which are seen more. He also mentioned some of the York City greats from those days - Jimmy Hinch, Chris Topping and Barry Swallow.
A shout of "God Gave Us Life" was replied by Nigel. "Close," he said, before the band played Reflections In A Flat. Bette Midler had a puma in The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman. Nigel talked about times when the band played at Fibbers' previous home in Whipmawhotmagate, and then mused on the possibility of doing a song for Strathspey Thistle, who are vying with Fort William to be the worst team in the Highland League. Ode To Joyce was introduced as "a song about the neglected."
Karl gave us a snippet of Black Night and his high backing vocal in Harsh Times In Umberstone Covert was very impressive. I applauded him. When the band came back on for the encore, Nigel spoke about Bobby Farrell from Boney M dying in the same place (St Petersburg) as Rasputin, whom he had sung about in one of their biggest hits. This took Nigel on to a thought about the house where he (Nigel) was born. If ever he feels that his final moment is impending, he will knock on the door and ask if it is OK for him to die in the bedroom, so that he might breathe his last in the same room where he breathed his first. At the end of the show there was some fine feedback after guitars were left up against amps.
The songs went as follows.Bob Wilson Anchorman
And there were three songs in the encore:Harsh Times In Umberstone Covert
Thanks to Karl for the set list. Vatican Broadside was not included on there. However Bad Wools was shown on there. My hearing was not that bad. Unless I simply forgot to write it down, that one was not played.
Afterwards I caught up with various folk. Mrs Exford was taking a very circuitous route to the Ladies. I said that I tend to cut down on pre-gig beer because otherwise I would constantly be distracted by visits to the Gents. No good at all. I'm sure she was delighted to be told that. (On the subject of which, there was no wonder there was such a queue, when considering the capacity of the place with the facilities available. Shouldn't there be some kind of "per capita" ruling?).
Had a brief conversation with Paul who had made the journey south from Leith. Mike, John and Elizabeth were all hanging around. Karen chatted about forthcoming gigs with Graham and Sarah.
Afterwards I headed back to the Windmill with Karen, Tony and Andrew to discuss this, that and the other, in particular how we would all be getting to Exeter for the next show about seven weeks henceforward. I'm afraid we lost some of the others who said they were heading for a beer. But if you struggle to find a pub in York, then you are not looking hard enough. Maybe hot soup would have been more appropriate on a freezing night like this.