I make no apologies for rattling on again about the first time that I saw HMHB. It was here at The Leadmill on my mate Mark's twenty-second birthday, February 2nd 1986. I had familiarised myself with Back In The DHSS. And at the time it had become a regular location for us to see bands. It was, it must be said, a hotly anticipated evening. This was around the time when I was starting to go cool on The Fall, with The Nightingales, The Smiths and Bogshed all vying for my attention. But the debate was settled when HMHB opened up with Busy Little Market Town. A jaw-dropping, life-changing moment. This band would do for me.
I've been reading Nige Tassell's collection of football stories, The Bottom Corner. One of the chapters deals with a game where Tranmere Rovers (when they were in The Conference, when it was still called The Conference) play a game at home to Kidderminster Harriers. Tranmere take an early two-goal lead and are cruising towards victory. But then Kidderminster get two late goals, to sneak a draw. On the way out of the ground, the author bumps into "arguably Tranmere's most famous supporter." That's Nigel Blackwell. "Typical bloody Rovers," he comments before adding ("with gallows humour") that at least it livened up the last ten minutes. If you're a HMHB completist, you'll want to get hold of this book. (The author must be a fan of the band. Winding forward a couple of chapters, he is at a game between Lewes and Leiston. Lewes, having had a bad start to the season, are behind for much of the game, but claw back a late equaliser. In the middle of the rejoicing, he notes "for the Lewes faithful… there could just be light at the end of the tunnel. And it may not be the light of an oncoming train.") More news on reading matter. The word on the street is that Nigel is set to appear in Stuart Maconie's next book. Whenever that might be. Nige Tassell also has a new one out soon.
Watching the World Athletics Championship, we both agreed with the line from Them's The Vagaries. "Don't say the light show's excellent." Neither of us were ever going to say that. First time round, when they did the fancy stuff with the lights before the final race, it was mildly interesting, but was decidedly cliched after a few days. More sports non-news came from football's Championship. Luton Town played a game at home to Millwall. I wasn't there, so couldn't swear to it, but on this occasion, it sounds like there wasn't any reason for the Sealed Knot Society to take notes.
I ought to note one of our excursions which took place since we saw HMHB in Cambridge. We went to see the last two shows of The Chesterfields tour. They had played a variety of venues in England, working their way back to their base in the south-west, finishing off in Bridport and Bristol. Like HMHB, they appeared on NME's splendid C86 tape. But you might argue that they haven't quite kept the momentum going. Their gig in Bristol, for example, was at The Louisiana. It was busy that night, but is a far smaller place than ones that HMHB have filled. All good stuff though, along with their support act, Dai-Nichi, all the way from Tokyo, whose version of Making Plans For Nigel is worth a trawl of the web. Desperate for HMHB reference points I have to note that our journey took us through Poundbury, as in Little Miss. All part of life's rich tapestry. And I would guess that you have to be reasonably rich to live there. Or is that just my warped northern outlook?
On gig day, Karen and I met up at Sheffield train station and took coffee at The Showroom Cinema, giving us an opportunity to buy tickets for the forthcoming Ken Loach film. We also caught the afternoon's edition of Countdown, where I got my first ever nine-letter word. Curtailed. After that success, we reviewed the papers. Metro, Sheffield Telegraph and Sheffield Star. All were full of wholesome news, but none mentioned that HMHB were in town. They could have done with the publicity, as Gary Numan and Richard Hawley were both doing shows just up the road. Although, later on, The Leadmill seemed pretty full to me, so maybe word of mouth and notes on relevant web sites work just as well.
At the start of the evening, we had met Tony, and walked to the venue, to form the head of the queue. Neil was there. We chatted briefly, before he left for tea with his showbiz mates. He reminded us that Ken's final gig with the band was at this place (August 2017). Neil was hopeful that Tranmere would pull through this season, despite their current position just above the relegation places. Watch this space.
Other early arrivals were Mike, straight from work, and Brian who was in search of grub. And while outside the entrance, we were approached by at least five individuals or groups who were looking for a pub. My knowledge of Sheffield pubs is not what it ought to be. I recommended any combination of The Royal Standard, The Howard and/or The Tap at the railway station. Of course there is also The Rutland, which is a short walk away. I would be happy to be told if I have missed any others nearby. Back to the queue, right behind us were Jo and her mate, who were at their second ever HMHB gig, having seen them previously at Matlock Bath. Postman Tony also turned up, in full punk gear. Well, trousers at least. He reported that he had helped out with roadying duties. His hi vis coat would have come in useful there. Very Health And Safety conscious.
And it was good to catch up with Chris the promoter. It's a fair while since I used to send him a cheque and a Stamped Addressed Envelope for tickets, when the band played at The Boardwalk.
The doors were opened at 7.30. Matt must have been not far behind us in the queue, having made his usual epic journey from the south coast. I had an epic trip to the bar. The fridges were locked, which was starting to cause some fretting among the thirsty punters. That wouldn't have happened when David Blunkett was in charge, when The Leadmill was a council-run community arts facility. Or something like that.
There was some good music coming out over the PA. Is this the same DJ that used to do the gigs at The Boardwalk? It was splendid to hear Smoko by The Chats. Surely a candidate for a future HMHB cover version?
Soon after came the theme to Steptoe And Son. This was the cue for Crapsons (no definite article) to make their entrance. Named after a Pulled Apart By Horses song. Hence the tshirt being worn by the bassist, I would guess. There was just the two of them, one guy playing the bass and taking the lead with the vocals. The other had a very basic set of drums, standing up while playing, and contributed with vocals. This was the kind of ramshackle operation which meets with my approval. From the town of Birkenhead apparently. There is an element of other bands from that town in their content. "This is for anyone who has ever had problems with North Wales police." The song was about being on a speed awareness course. 82 on the 55? Cripes.
Crapsons commented on the difficult negotiation of Snake Pass, and gave a useful tip to not leave your washing out when it's forecast rain. They also announced "We're all over the internet, but older people can just write us a letter." That's good to know. There was also a mantra of "She's got forty-two wheelie bins!" during Shed Talk. Thanks to the drummer for handing over his set list. I hope we can catch Crapsons again some time soon. And I hope they have some luck with getting merch sorted out. It seems they were let down with t-shirts. They are what my mate in New Zealand would call "a hoot". They went as follows.You Don't Know When You're Going To Die
There were a few more Hellos during the Crapsons set, and during the interval before HMHB arrived. Howie, Daz, John, Ian and Mariana and Katherine and Karl all tapped me on the shoulder, or at least we exchanged nods. Lee was also there, his first gig for a while. I got Graham the taxi driver's number (always useful for future reference), and Nigel and Jo dropped by, just before HMHB hit the stage.
The Walk On music had Tony's app totally baffled. I found out later from Carl that it was Clock DVA ("Four Hours"). In the excitement, Nigel had to consult with his set list after confessing to forgetting which was the first song. Shirt news was that Nigel and Neil were both in plain colours. Karl was in a Whitstable t-shirt, with a picture of Peter Cushing on the front. Carl's was a Comsat Angels number.
Nigel informed us that Renfield's Afoot is a true story. He asked if there was anyone in from Sharrow. "It's not that far. Do you want a medal?" He then asked if there was anyone in from Padstow, in answer to which there was a "Yay!" "Hello Rick," replied Nigel, referring to Rick Stein. "You need to bring your prices down."
There was a bottle of beer on the stage floor (possibly left by a Crapson). Nigel took a swig but it frothed over and spilled onto the floor. He gave it up as a bad job and re-located the bottle to the back of the stage.
Rotherham Postie called out "What did God give us, Neil?" Nigel said "You've got competition," pointing at Postman Tony. "You could have some sort of Post Off." And Nigel referred to a survey from a few years back, where postmen were asked which breed of dog they feared most. Various suggestions came from the floor, before Nigel confirmed that Border Collies came out at the top of the list.
As usual, a number of songs were requested. "You shout them out. We probably won't play them," replied Nigel. We were told that Tending The Wrong Grave was another true story. While in the meadow of consolation, Karl's guitar work led Nigel respond with "I didn't expect to be in a Popol Vuh gig." During the same song, Nigel applauded Karl for a glebe cow impression on the guitar.
Nigel informed us that the man who invented crosswords is buried in a cemetery near to the venue. His grave is 11 across and 12 down. There was a shout of "Up The Foxes!" "You're brave to say that here," replied Nigel. He added that ordinarily he would be stopping in and watching Inspector George Gently. But he has been occupied by the recent Instagram spat between the wives of footballers Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney. Nigel's theory was that Vardy himself was behind it all. Nevertheless he would be glad to see it all continue to drag on. "It's the new Brexit!"
"Here's a more sombre song," he said, ahead of Terminus. After that, he went into great detail to describe the band's route to the gig. M57, M56, M62, M1. Once they got into Sheffield, they went in front of the railway station. He said it is frustrating that you can't turn right down Leadmill Street to the venue. I agree. Instead you have to go in a loop onto Matilda Street, and round that way. Nigel suggested that there must be method in all that madness. The band did all that without a Satnav. But he paid a compliment to Street View on Google.
There was a mystery surrounding a shout from the crowd. Neil thought they were calling out "Croutons", while Nigel felt it was "Wu Tang" as in Wu Tang Clan. According to Lee, who was standing right behind Karen, they were actually shouting "Wootton", being Lee's surname. Glad to clear that one up. Nigel jumped into the moat and held his microphone out so that one of the punters could do the final shout of "Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus". That song was yet another true story, "except it wasn't Lenor."
Nigel said he has always wanted to swim with tuna. He has told his tale previously about them. Tonight it got another airing. Tranmere had an away game at Scarborough. It was scheduled as a 11am kick-off, which meant that he and Neil had to get away from Lime Street station at 6am. However, when they got to Scarborough, they discovered that kick-off had been put back to 3pm. This left them with time to kill. They headed for the Aquatic Museum. Nigel spotted a tuna. He had gone through life thinking that a tuna is the size of the tins that you buy in the supermarket. But now he was put right, and shouted out "Hey, Neil, have you seen how big a tuna is?"
Tonight's big joke. "How many A and R men does it take to change a lightbulb? I'll get back to you on that." We were told that Evening Of Swing was based on an incident in the Mabinogion. (Tony knew what that one meant, but Karen and I had to look it up.) While adjusting the mike stand, Nigel said that after thirty-five years he had finally worked out how these things operate. Ahead of Vatican Broadside, there was a snippet of True Love Will Find You In The End by the late Daniel Johnston.
After Joy Division Oven Gloves, Nigel said "We haven't got any. We've just got fridge magnets." In National Shite Day, the note to Phil Cool was signed "Yours in sport, Stringy Bob." There was a John Shuttleworth quote tonight. Between We Built This Village and Shit Arm Bad Tattoo, for some reason or other Nigel said "Can't go back to savoury now."
Nigel talked about Neil's white bass. "You bought that in 1980 for £605 pounds." On the subject of instruments, unlike at recent shows, Nigel played the guitar for the majority of this gig. And he even changed models, with the caravan unit coming out ahead of Dukla Prague. Later, when propping the guitar against the back of the stage, after saying it was a bit heavy, Nigel expressed worry that it might get a parking ticket there. He ran through the names of a load of Sheffield bands. This included Tony Currie. To appease the Wednesday fans, he added Jim McCalliog.
Geography. Not my strong point. But it felt wrong during The Light At The End Of The Tunnel. On the "New Mills" line, Nigel pointed in the direction of the railway station (and therefore vaguely towards the north). It might have been more accurate for him to point over his left shoulder?
A toy unicorn was thrown onto the stage. After an unsuccessful attempt to sit it on top of his amp, Karl found a home for it propped up against the speaker. Not a patch against Ron Seal though.
When the band came back for the encore, Nigel explained "If it was going well, we thought we'd do this one," before they performed A Country Practice. The amended lyrics included "Let's hear it for bitter ex-soap stars who are now in Peaky Blinders, and guests on The One Show" And there was a line about Andrew Flintoff. "Do you know what? Flintoff's autobiography is called Do You Know What?" I think Nigel's feelings came through there.
Another quality show. Thanks to Karl for the set list. Full audit follows. I reckon it went like this, including a cover of a song by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (as they were then known). Everything was played in exactly the same order as the set list. That doesn't happen very often.Bob Wilson - Anchorman
The encore wasA Country Practice
Karen, Tony, Brian and I walked across town to the Wetherspoons for drinks and gig consultation before retiring.
But that wasn't quite the end of it for the weekend. The day after this show, Ed had organised an afternoon show upstairs at The Rutland, just round the corner from The Leadmill. This involved "folky" covers of a variety of the band's songs. A very interesting afternoon, which backed up a claim I once heard from Andy Kershaw when he said HMHB is one of the greatest folk bands. It also proved how well the songs stand up in a different format. There was a variety of singers. The instrumentation involved a concertina, a fiddle, a guitar, a tin whistle, an accordion, a cittern, a banjo and even a Theremin appeared (well it had to, as they performed Look Dad No Tunes). There was also a mandola, giving them their name for the afternoon, Half Mandola Half Biscuit. Karen, John, Steve, Nigel/Exxo, Brian, Postman Tony and I were all squeezed into our seats at the back, and proceedings began.
Their set wentTwenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss
At which point there was a beer break. They came back withUffington Wassail
Another beer break. Postman Tony and Brian had to leave. Brian was on his way to Old Trafford to see the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Salford. Commiserations on the result. Half Mandola Half Biscuit finished off withBad Losers On Yahoo Chess
They played two in the encoreJoy Division Oven Gloves
And that was it. I congratulated the guy who played Dukla Prague, and then we were on our way. Great stuff. Something else that needs catching again.
(By the way, if anyone has a note of a support band at that 1986 gig, please let me know. Mark and I think the venue didn't always have more than one act. Or perhaps our perceptions were affected by the high quality bar facilities on offer at the time.)