Phoenix, Exeter, Thu 21st Mar 2019 (22/3/19)

Roger Green:

Let's just give a polite round of applause to this place for their quiet efficiency with the distribution of tickets. The gig was announced way back when. Actually it was in the middle of June 2018. As ever, Karen was quick with her finger on the trigger. With some of the agencies, you then have to wait for months and end up fretting that the tickets won't turn up in time. The people at Phoenix work differently. Karen ordered on a Monday, and the tickets were with her on the Thursday. All done and dusted nine months before the gig, when England were still in the World Cup.

Here's a very spurious link, carried over from the York show in February. Nigel had raised a metaphorical glass to actor Clive Swift who had died on the day of the gig. The following day I read this in Robin Ince's book I'm A Joke And So Are You. "Rabies Means Death was the punchline to a public information film in which a foolish woman attempts to smuggle a kitten into the country in her handbag... voiced by the usually avuncular Clive Swift." I'm a bit surprised Nigel didn't mention that.

Karen and I were idling early one Saturday evening with Pointless Celebrities on TV. We were rewarded with two HMHB references for the price of one. We saw Martin Jarvis ("decidedly average on Countdown" according to the line in Epiphany) being decidedly average. The same edition featured Robin Askwith, living up to his mention in Albert Hammond Bootleg.

There is a new radio station out there in Digital Land. One of Scala's biggest signings was Simon Mayo, snaffled from Radio 2. Making the same journey, with less of a fanfare, was Charlie Nove. So he'll still be available for those listening on the sly.

Stuart Maconie sneaked a mention of Nigel when a listener said that he was going to be climbing Lord Hereford's Knob, during the course of a phone call on the Radmac show ahead of an entry on The Chain.

Every now and again HMHB get a mention in When Saturday Comes. The latest was in April's issue. Seb Patrick's TV Watch opened with the line "Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch", before going on to mention an incident in an Everton match where a cat had strayed onto the field of play.

An earlier edition of the magazine featured an article written by a Scunthorpe United fan, Ted Flanagan. That club was ahead of the game when it came to moving to an out-of-town stadium. It seems that a further move is now on the cards. In the article, Ted mentioned that he has been "boycotting the Checkatrade". That's not a term that everyone would use, but I'm sure we all get the gist.

Karen and I decided to break up our journey, stopping in Bristol on the way to Exeter. Nothing much to report, apart from pondering when HMHB might play there again. Arriving at Exeter St Davids reminded me of changing trains there in 2005, on the way to see the band in Penzance. Another place that has not been visited for a while. We wondered if any Devon-themed songs would be included - Totnes Bickering Fair or Westward Ho! Perhaps. And a cover version of an Adverts song would be apt, with them originating in the county. But these decisions are not down to us. We ended up with one out of three, as it transpired.

We had a brief walk around the city centre in the afternoon, mainly covering reconnaissance of the venue. Nearly fourteen years on, my knowledge of the local geography had been obliterated. But there The Phoenix was, tucked away just round the corner from the Central train station. The most obvious feature from the outside is where the place advertises itself in bold letters as a Creative Hub. I could sense a resounding chorus coming up, later on.

The first Biscuiteer that we met was Tony, similarly taking in the sights. We made arrangements for getting to the show, then Karen and I returned to base for a review of the papers. It didn't take long. The show had sold out, which maybe explained the lack of posters at The Phoenix. But there was also total silence in Metro, The Western Daily Press, The Express And Echo, The Western Morning News, and The Independent (no, not THAT Independent - this one is "your weekly best for Devon and Cornwall news and sport"). However, I did notice something in The Western Morning News where it said that B And Q are considering closing fifteen of their UK stores. That'll be bad news for those folks in Paintball's Coming Home. They'll need to get to know their way round Homebase instead.

The doors were due to open at 8.00. It was a busy place with the bar open and lots of tables being shuffled around. The amenable chap at the table confirmed that this was a sell-out with a 350 capacity. I was surprised the figure was so low. We had read that it was more than that, taking account of the raised seating at the back of the hall. As ever, we were there ridiculously early. This allowed time to scribble down the brief note about HMHB in the Phoenix's brochure. "Known for their satirical, sardonic and surreal songs." So that seemed to be the top and bottom of the promotion of this show.

Andrew joined us in what passed for the queue. He was very keen to tell me about Dick Pym, the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper (winners medals in the 1923, 1926 and 1929 FA Cup finals). Born in Topsham near Exeter, also played for England (debut in 1925). I certainly wouldn't question Andrew's claim that Dick lived longer than any other England player, leaving us in 1988 aged ninety-five. But I would have thought that record is under threat at some point in the future.

When the doors opened and we were in the hall, Ian from Belfast came to say Hello. We discussed the practicalities of travelling to these shows. That's a fair distance that he covers, particularly when he goes by ferry and train. Tonight's gold medallist? We also discussed the likelihood of getting HMHB across the Irish Sea. Or likewise with HAHB. Not sure on either score, but it gave us food for thought.

Also, Pete from Bradford popped by, to say that he had found out that, in 1961, Exeter City played Dukla Prague in a friendly. Always good to know. In addition we exchanged Hellos with John (congratulations on the recent grandparenthood), Huddersfield Graham and Ian and Mariana. Howie, Gomez and Daz turned up in due course, having had a long day that had begun in Exmouth in the middle of the afternoon. As usual, when the band played the song, Gomez reminded me that Fix It So She Dreams Of Me was played at his wedding. Neil came out from backstage to present Tony with a belated 70th birthday present from the band, being a painting of St Andrews football ground back in the day. Nice touch. Tony is not usually speechless.

The Flux Capacitors were the support band tonight. "Bristol's premier vegan band" as they style themselves. Michael and Hazel shared the vocals as usual. Hazel's hair song was a favourite, as always. And there was one with a delightful chorus, "I've never swallowed so much piss without getting paid for it." I was also taken by Michael's song about the family car getting crushed by the wrecker, with them having forgotten about Grandad's ashes being on the back seat. At the end of the evening I bought their CD from Hazel. This would normally have happened at the Probe Plus merch stall. But there was no such thing tonight. Couldn't get the staff? Thanks to Michael for handing over the set list for processing. I don't know their songs well enough to know whether or not they strayed at all from this.

Dr Dr
Fairy T

There was a swift stage clearance ahead of HMHB's arrival. The band were allotted two small bottles each of Springbourne water ("Drawn deep from volcanic hills of Montgomeryshire"). Immediately after these were left on stage, another member of the stage crew taped messages to the edge of the stage which read "Please do not put drinks on the stage." Surely his colleague had just done exactly that?

I was still getting my head round that contradiction when HMHB emerged. Nigel must have been immune to the heat from the lights in a long-sleeved shirt with t-shirt underneath. The rest of the band adopted t-shirt strategies, Neil in a Skids number, Karl wearing one with "Bewilderness" on it, and Carl's had the words Banda Bassetti on it.

There was no "moat" at this gig, so I was standing right in front of Karl, and was only a couple of feet away from Nigel. As often in these instances, I can't hear much that he says. I did my best here, but apologies if these notes do not reflect what other folk heard. For instance, Nigel's very first comment sounded to me like "Are you alright for bags?" What was that all about?

After The Light At The End Of The Tunnel, Tony shouted out "Is that your Brexit song?" Early on, Nigel seemed confused by the running order. "What's next?" he asked. They had only got as far as Fred Titmus, the second song on the list. Nigel asked someone in the audience "Are you from Newton Poppleford?" And to someone else "Are you from Middlesbrough?"

There was a request for "the one about the Zuider Zee". "Which one? There's two," replied Nigel. He talked about the route that the band took to Exeter. He was very complimentary about the B3183. He said the band had stopped at the Slimbridge Wildlife And Wetland Reserve. Nigel had stayed in the van, reading the Radio Times. And they had called at Michaelwood Services. He was disappointed to see that "Michaelwood" was just one word, and not named after a person.

It looked like we were going to get Soft Verges, when Nigel struck up the first few notes. However he moved on swiftly to Asparagus Next Left. A question from the crowd was worded thus... "Where's south on your next tour?" Nigel noted the arcane way of asking that question. He suggested Cambridge as an answer, although that could be classed as "South-East Midlands".

There appeared to be more confusion over the running order when Nigel announced "A Man Of Constant Sorrow". "No, it isn't. Yes, it is." And then he took an age sorting out his foot pedal. Oozing professionalism, having got the pedal right, he asked out loud "Do we sound like Saxon?"

Somebody shouted "Bob Wilson!" to which Nigel replied "Where?" He spotted George Aligayah in the crowd, adding that he looked much better with the beard. During a particularly long pause between songs, Nigel said that it was great that we were all able to talk among ourselves. "It's good to catch up on a Thursday."

Nigel reminisced about going on train trips to Exeter to see Tranmere play. "There used to be a chip shop near to St David's station which sold fish cake in bread crumbs." And the train would also go past Dawlish. Happy days. After Deep House Victim's Mini Bus Appeal, he announced "There's a bucket at the door." Nigel also pointed out to Karl that Wayne Mardle was in the audience.

An element of physical comedy was introduced. There was a request for "the bottle trick". Not sure what that would have involved. But instead, Nigel's response was to take his guitar off, drop to his knees, grab each foot, and then shuffle round on his knees. You had to be there.

Over half way through the main set, Nigel replied to a shout for Totnes Bickering Fair (which had appeared earlier), by asking "What time did you get here?" Someone also asked "Where's Geoff?" Nigel replied that he would be at home watching TV. "One of the things might be Quatermass." John quoted some script from Quatermass, and Tony asked what was Quatermass's first name. "Doctor," suggested Nigel, but the answer was actually "Bernard." Nigel also fitted in an impression of the starter at the Grand National. "Come on then." Again, you had to be there.

I'm afraid there was what my dear old Dad would have called "a bit of excitement" in the crowd. It was all a couple of rows behind me, and didn't appear to come to much, but admittedly I didn't see anything that may have gone on. At the end of Dukla Prague comes the "errrrrr" bit, for which Nigel turned his mike round to pick up the audience response.

This has been discussed previously, but Nigel referenced Magnus Pyke, and how he must have died on a busy news day. As opposed to Rod Hull, whose demise was big news. In the course of some on-stage chat, Nigel referred to Tony selling his theramin, having not touched it for years.

Nice to hear Sponsoring The Moshpits. First time for a while. Nigel mimed advertising boards and suggested "Dirk Hofman Motorhomes" as a possibility. Well, you never know. Thanks to Karl for the set list. Our audit suggested that there was only one amendment. Trumpton Riots was not listed.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Renfield's Afoot
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Asparagus Next Left
A Man Of Constant Sorrow
Look Dad No Tunes
Fix It So She Dreams Of Me
99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
What Made Colombia Famous
Ode To Joyce
Deep House Victims Minibus Appeal
Totnes Bickering Fair
Harsh Times In Umberstone Covert
Little In The Way Of Sunshine
Stuck Up A Hornbeam
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Vatican Broadside
Everything's AOR
Every Time A Bell Rings
National Shite Day
Trumpton Riots

And in the encore

Sponsoring The Moshpits
In A Rut
Joy Division Oven Gloves

A quick goodbye to folk, most of whom we were scheduled to see again twenty-four hours later in Cardiff. It don't stop and it don't stop.