The ongoing HMHB media frenzy continued with Radcliffe And Maconie playing Joy Division Oven Gloves on their Sunday Morning Glove Songs feature. I didn't catch the name of the person/people who requested it. But praise be, to them.
During one of many idle moments, I gave due consideration to the line in Every Time A Bell Rings about Sky replica kits. With the impending demise of that team, will the line remain as it is? The song refers to a type of person who will ditch the Sky gear and be down to the virtual shops as soon as the Ineos kit is available. I'm sure Nigel will be on the case.
HMHB get a mention every now and then in When Saturday Comes. Sometimes directly, but often it's something more spurious. The latest example was a letter from their correspondent Paul Readman. Paul was referring to a birthday card he had received in the 1980s, featuring a photo on the front taken at a Chelsea v Middlesbrough match. This was re-produced on the page next to his letter. There in the background is Stuart Boam. My lack of technical know-how, together with the possibility of a copyright breach, means that you will have to seek out When Saturday Comes issue 386 if you need to see the evidence for yourself.
HMHB's absence from 6 Music's Liverpool Festival did not go unnoticed. Gang Of Four (formed at Leeds University) got a slot, so the performers were clearly not picked based on geographical location. The tunnel under the river would not have provided too much of an obstacle. There's a bus that runs that route, so they wouldn't have even needed to hire a van for the gear. But then of course Tranmere were at home over the weekend (beat Carlisle 3-0). So maybe that explains it.
And so to Cambridge on a Friday night. Well, not quite. Karen dropped me a text late on the Thursday morning to say that the show was in doubt. And from there it progressed. By the middle of the afternoon it was clear that it wasn't going to happen. The venue seemed to be dragging their heels, and confirmation came from within the HMHB communication network. Ticket agencies also seemed to be slow on the uptake. What a surprise.
Sod it. We went anyway. I got off a train at Stevenage station, to change for Cambridge, whereupon I bumped into John who was also meeting an accommodation obligation. We speculated that it might be a good idea to meet at The Flying Pig later on that night in place of the show. Karen was agreeable and off we headed. Postman Tony was there, showing off his tattoos. Yes, we recognised Jimi Hendrix. But the other one? Close up, it might have been Paul Weller. But from a distance, I agreed with Tony, it may have been Lenny Peters from Peters And Lee. We had a chat with John, and waved across the table to Chris. Also Keith and a few others were there. Soon enough we gave our apologies. Nice ale, it has to be said, but we were saving ourselves for The Wedding Present in Leeds on the Saturday night. We dropped in for a night cap at the Duke Of York, then headed back to our base. Good to see that it's all been re-arranged for later in the year.
Andrew brought my attention to an article in Mojo magazine. They are putting together a chart of the top ten HMHB albums drawn from votes and suggestions from readers. I suppose it's great to have a bit of publicity for the band, but I won't be taking part. I tend to refer to something that I remember John Peel saying when he was asked to do a similar thing regarding The Fall. "You're missing the point," he said, suggesting that it is preferable to see everything as one great body of work. And get well soon, Andrew. A bad back kept him away from Newcastle. Hope he is fit and working again at Edinburgh.
I gave Celebrity Painting Challenge about a minute of my time. I needed to see a trio of HMHB references in one programme. Mariella Frostrup, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen and Phil "Tuffers" Tufnell (mentioned in a live version of God Gave Us Life) combined to make the TV licence a worthwhile investment.
And so to Newcastle on a Friday night. My fifth HMHB gig in the city. And the fifth different venue. HMHB are struggling to find a natural home. Or maybe the promoters in Newcastle are a fickle bunch. The Boiler Shop was easy enough to find, not very far from the train station, and about fifty yards from where we were stopping, where the Stephensons did their stuff back in the day, designing Rocket and all that. (The line about meeting Stephenson The Engineer had us pondering the likelihood of Bob Wilson Anchor Man being the opening song in HMHB's set. Actually it made it into the encore.) Having undertaken our reconnaissance in the early afternoon, we had a hearty lunch at The Empire. We might have expected to be priced out of the market at somewhere so central, and close to the station, but fish and chips (me) and tuna panini (Karen) were very reasonable, and top grade stuff. Excellent service from Mike as well. And we were also able to gauge the progress of Mark Selby trying to win back world snooker title, as he took on Gary Wilson.
Having bumped into Brian from Bury earlier, we then saw Ian and Mariana who were less than chuffed with their hotel by the Quayside. That's how it goes. We retired, to undertake a review of the papers. It didn't take too long. The Northern Echo failed to live up to its name, being silent on the HMHB show. It was the same with Metro, although Karen spotted a Life Imitates Art article in there. A poll carried out by Easy Jet concluded that the painting of Mona Lisa in the Louvre gallery in Paris was "the biggest sightseeing disappointment in Europe" for British travellers. Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie was in second place. Lower down the order, but still in the Top Ten, was the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. So it's not just the folks in Fear My Wraith who are of that opinion. Life had also borrowed from Art earlier in the week when I was at work. One of our drivers presented a fuel receipt from when he had filled up at Rothersthorpe South. These days they have cameras in their vehicles, so I will check later, to make sure he was keeping two chevrons apart.
A soundcheck rendition of Bad Review was floating through the evening air as Karen, Tony and I gravitated towards the venue. I peered through the window and exchanged waves with Neil. As the three of us made our way round to join the queue, there was a shout behind us. It was Nigel. It was great to see him back in business after the Cambridge cancellation. He told us about a slight twinge in his back, which meant he would be guitarless again later. When asked during the show where the guitar was, he replied "Wetherby Services." He also explained that his guitar was "superfluous. It was never even plugged in."
Nigel also shared his thoughts on Tranmere's promotion chances. He reckons they have done well to be where they are, but they will still be in League Two next season. Nigel also considered the wisdom of Friday night gigs. It tends to be a night for motorway closures, with loads of routes coned off. He wondered if Thursdays might be better. No skin off my nose. It might mean booking an extra day off work, but, sod it, the fortnight in The Maldives can wait. Karl also came over and said Hello. After that, we were round the other side of the building to join the queue.
Being searched at various events seems to have become more of a norm these days. A gentleman stuck his hands inside my trouser pockets. Purely for professional reasons, I was led to believe. That seemed to do the job. Pens and notepad were unaffected. When inside we took up our usual location. "Health And Safety Reasons" was the excuse given for removing the top from the bottle of water that I purchased at the bar. At some point, when I can be bothered, I will spend a bit of time examining this issue. Clearly it is not just this venue which adopts this policy, but it is a total ball ache having to keep the bottle upright while making notes. The healthiest and safest option seems to be to not buy water at all, of course.
Neil and Carl were out at the front and we had a chat with them. Neil had a picture for sale at the Probe Plus stall. He had done St James Park. We discussed this, that and the other. Neil was a bit more specific than Nigel about Tranmere's promotion chances. He reckoned that they will lose to Forest Green in the play-off final.
It was an evening of Ians. Ian from Belfast had taken the usual route via Stranraer and Glasgow with his mate, also called Ian. Then Ian and Mariana took up position just behind us on the edge of the mosh pit. And then Ian from London tapped me on the shoulder to say nice things about these reviews. There were a few people there who were not called Ian. My friends Katharine and Karl had driven up from Yorkshire and were heading straight back afterwards. John also said Hello, fully equipped as usual, with jacket with detachable sleeves, hi vis tabard, and a Styx patch. Postman Tony was there, with Howie and Daz turning up in their own time.
Support tonight was from Sonnenberg. Well actually it was just Zinney, multi-tasking as merch seller and pop star. Hospital appointments and other commitments meant he was on his own. I ought to know all his songs by now, but I only recognised The End Of The Rain and Better Together. The irony of the latter was not lost, with Zinney being one of the victims of Brexit, seemingly heading back to Germany.
HMHB walked on stage to the theme from Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? I was familiar with the chorus but lost it once it moved onto the verse. As the music faded out, Nigel spotted his first celebrity. "Irving Nattrass! In Whitley Bay now, aren't you?"
An early spot from our side of the sizeable moat was the fact that Karl and Karen were wearing identical t-shirts. Clearly both are fans of The Webb. Some might argue that they are Birkenhead's second best band. Carl was wearing a "fck:kfc" number. And when Nigel returned for the encore he had on a La Vie Claire retro shirt.
Nigel explained that he learned to swim in the lake at Gosforth Park lake. He bought a cagoule in Alnwick in 1973, and asked us all to note that he hadn't pronounced the "l" or "w" in Alnwick. Yes, well done.
Nicholas Witchell was spotted in the crowd. "Can we have him removed, please?" he asked over the mike. "I can't stand him." Apparently he was with Matt Allwright, also given the boot, in whose world everybody would be happy.
Nigel referred to a statue that he had seen outside a nearby church and asked who it might be of. "It was very nice, as was Greggs." There was a reply of "Cardinal Basil Hume". In more local talk, he said that the band was mentioned in one of the Byker Grove books.
Nigel sang a bit of a jingle, "Long grain rice all the way from America", used to advertise Batchelor's Savoury Rice. He told a tale of the band getting cut off by the tide when on Lindisfarne. The previous drummer only had one drumstick, but managed to get a nearby fisherman to whittle a new one for him out of some wood.
After a request to "Do the one about the Zuider Zee", Nigel said they would do a song about stupid people. "Nicholas Witchell, when you don't see him on telly." The song in question was What Made Colombia Famous. "Should have just had a cup of tea," he suggested helpfully afterwards.
Nigel mentioned the "genius" of Having A Good Time With Ken Goodwin. I remember him from The Comedians many years ago. Jim Bowen, Colin Crompton et al. Nigel repeated a story he had told us earlier. The day after this gig Tranmere were due to play at home to Bury. His mate from Bury would be coming along. On a previous occasion, a local scally had suggested that his mate hand over a fiver, and the scally would look after the car for him. "I don't need anyone to look after my car," said the Bury fan, "because there's a vicious Alsatian in the back." "Yes, but can it put out fires?" asked the scally. (As it turned out, the game was postponed, so everyone would have to wait a few more days.)
"This is for anyone in the audience with this name," said Nigel, ahead of Ode To Joyce. And he announced "This is about a good man" before they played Hedley Verityesque. Throughout the show he repeatedly dipped into a Tesco carrier bag. Full of crisps presumably, but I couldn't quite tell for sure.
After Every Time A Bell Rings and before Twenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss, Nigel made a link by saying "Same people, same houses, this song..." On the line about "Platform 3" in Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus, Nigel pointed over his shoulder, roughly in the direction of the train station. Similarly in Bob Wilson Anchor Man, regarding Kent, Gwent, Senegal and Stephenson The Engineer. But I couldn't possibly say how accurate he was with each one.
Nigel's mate Sid fell victim to ID theft, and is now just known as S. Ahead of National Shite Day there was a bit of showbiz gubbins from him. "This is our last song. Thanks for coming out on such a bad night." In the middle of that song there was an extended ramble about Milletts.
When they came back for the encore, there was a shout for Fog On The Tyne. Nigel said he would have preferred to have played Meet Me On The Corner. He said they could have done any number of folk songs but they didn't have any Northumbrian pipes. Also Kathryn Tickell was not available. Instead they went with Bob Wilson Anchor Man and meeting Stephenson. After that, as promised there was a "strong reference" in the cover version. Tony and I felt sure we had worked it out. Chas Chandler was in The Animals, and went on to be Jimi Hendrix's manager. During Hey Joe, Postman Tony tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to his Hendrix tattoo that he had displayed in the pub in Cambridge. Karl had clearly been doing his fretwork homework in preparation for that particular song.
Without the guitar, Nigel was free to wander the stage, moving around to the back to stand next to Carl, and at one point he peered over the frame at the back of the stage. We can only wonder at what he would have seen. Empty crisp boxes perhaps? He was also able to do quite a few sporting mimes. There was snooker during Bad Review, and he did some wicket-keeping on the appropriate line in Joy Division Oven Gloves. Not strictly a sporting move, but the high kick during What Made Colombia Famous was better than I've ever been able to manage. There was a golf swing in Hedley Verityesque, and his arm came over slowly (as you might expect) on the "slower ball" line in Ode To Joyce. Then he did a spot of shadow boxing in Every Time A Bell Rings. Truly, an all-round sportsman.
Towards the end of the show, one of the bouncers offered glasses of water to folk near the front. "It doesn't look like water," suggested Nigel. In that case, I'm glad I didn't try any. Thanks to Karl for the set list. Not much variation there, from what was actually played. Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus was not included originally, and Hey Joe was written on Karl's sheet as Oi Joe.
Here's how it went:Restless Legs
And for the encore...Bob Wilson Anchor Man
It's a busier than usual year for HMHB. It feels unusual to have to wait seven weeks for the next show, in Edinburgh, but the clock is counting down already.