O2 Academy, Oxford, Fri 22nd Nov 2019 (25/11/19)

Roger Green:

Not a lot of time to absorb life since the gig at Bilston earlier in the month. I was watching an episode of Top Of The Pops 1988 on BBC4 when Deacon Blue appeared on screen. I scratched my head, trying to think which HMHB song featured this band. I had to admit defeat, and texted Karen. She replied thus. "Mars Ultras, You'll Never Make The Station? 'I Am The Girl From Deacon Blue. Da Doo Doo Doo Da Doo Doo Doo.'" Karen's powers of recall put mine to shame.

Another segment from HMHB's catalogue came to mind when driving back home from Wakefield on the Sunday afternoon before the Oxford gig. Flicking through the radio stations, I settled on Talk Sport. Danny Kelly was discussing the way that Euro 2020 is going to be hosted in various countries. And he asked listeners to text in with song titles which mention European cities. I'm an upstanding member of society, so I wasn't going to text while driving. I know this is inconclusive reporting, but I'll just have to work on the assumption that someone contacted him to mention a song that includes "Prague" in the title. After all, Danny gave a shout out to Muse's Stockholm Syndrome. On the subject of Prague, when Montenegro played England a couple of weeks prior to this show, they appeared to be wearing a slight variation of the Dukla away shirt.

Our only gig between the two HMHB shows was at Selby Town Hall to see The Tillers. They are a folk/bluegrass quartet from Cincinnati. A grand evening of fine music. A CD of their music duly found its way to Tony for his perusal. (Tony's musical tip for us was to check out Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. They sound yummy. Described as Psychedelic Stoner Sludge Doom Metal. Can't wait to hear them.) Hoping The Tillers will be back round these parts before too long. The evening didn't provide us with any HMHB cross-references. But it did make me wonder how Neil would look if he were to play a stand-up double bass, rather than his current model. And would it fit in the back of the van? I look forward to seeing any possible developments in that area.

Taking breakfast at the local farm shop (in the middle of November) we had the pleasure of hearing a collection of Christmas songs as we tucked in. You know the ones. Slade, Wizzard, Shakin' Stevens et al. We weren't there long enough to hear the CD all the way through. No doubt It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas was coming up later and we must have missed out on that one. I'm also looking forward to finding out which HMHB song is covered by Chris Kamara on his album release.

Thanks, as oft before, to The Lunch Box in Fitzwilliam for starting the gig day off on the right footing. Coffee and sausage roll. Just right. And that's a sausage encased in pastry, not a bread roll containing sausages. From Fitzwilliam, I got the train to Doncaster. I just had time to re-live past HMHB glories. The last time they played in the town was in 2000, at The Leopard. The concert room upstairs wasn't open, so I had to settle for slugging a Diet Coke in the downstairs bar. It's a while since I last saw anything at The Leopard. But with things having moved on in the last couple of decades, I suspect that the place is now a tad too small for the band. You never know though.

When I got on the train, there was immediately a bit of shuffling about with the seating arrangements. One passenger possibly was not aware that she was almost quoting HMHB when she said "I can't sit backwards on a train". I just kept my head down and got stuck into the paper review. Metro and (perhaps not unsurprisingly) The Yorkshire Post were silent about the HMHB gig. There was a nice interview with Dave Hill from Slade in Metro. That paper also had a feature on Coldplay, who are cutting down on the touring in order to cut down on the environmental damage. It made me wonder if HMHB will go down the same route. Is Neil going to check the Carbon Dioxide figure on the Vehicle Registration Document when he gets in touch with Addhire? And will the band accordingly venture to plant saplings in Royden Park as part of their carbon offsetting policy?

Karen and I whizzed through the Metro crossword, noting the answer to one of the clues. "Musical Performance (7)." "Recital" fitted in nicely. So I will have to use that word in future, to describe these musical performances.

When we arrived in Oxford (bang on time, it should be said), we were straight round to The Jam Factory, being not a factory at all, although that may have been the case in the past. In 2019 it is a café/bar. We had arranged to meet my niece Aimee, her husband Andrew and their recent arrival, my great nephew Rory. Nice pot of tea and great to catch up. I couldn't help but notice how many people there were sitting at tables tapping away at computers. Great place, though. Not much personal interaction going on. A bit like what I'm doing right now.

From there, we were away to our home for the night. Down Iffley Road, past the spot where Roger Bannister famously became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. He certainly wouldn't have done it in a car on the afternoon when we were there. Nose to tail all the way.

Our afternoon continued with the latest action from the Countdown studio. And we completed our paper review by going through The Oxford Times. They did a piece on that Chris Kamara album, as well as a feature on Tindersticks. But, as we might have expected, there was nothing on HMHB.

This was what we might call an "early" gig. Ten o'clock and HMHB were due out of town. As a result everything else in the schedule was ahead of the usual. The doors were due to open at 6.30. Therefore, of course, we were lined up with other early arrivals. Phil from Portsmouth was in the queue, with an improvised tea, being a sandwich from the Tesco across the road. Similarly, Brian had made use of one of the many outlets dotted along Cowley Road. Just a coffee, but it keeps the local economy going. Tony, Andrew, Matt and Postman Tony were others showing up early.

Inside the venue, I managed a quick Hello with Miles, who was in charge of the Probe Plus stall. There is a message on their website saying that t-shirt stocks are running low. They will be even lower now, judging by the queue which had already formed within ten minutes of folk being allowed in. Trade seemed brisk.

Dogminder were tonight's support. In a previous life they had supported HMHB in Oxford nearly a decade back. "Half Man Half Biscuit very kindly asked us back," said the guy on guitar. Didn't catch his name, nor that of the drummer. She shared the singing with him. "Last time we covered a HMHB song. So we're going to do it again now." This was their cue to honour She's In Broadstairs. It was a grand working of the song. Next, perhaps they can start work on Visitor For Mr Edmonds? This was a nice set from this band. It's a shame if we have to wait seven years, and have to go to Oxford to see them. Just as much of a shame was the denial of an encore. The populace requested it, and the duo were ready to respond. But they were past their time slot. There was a good half hour before HMHB took to the stage, so I'm sure they could have fitted in a couple more minutes of pop fun. I made a note of @dogminderuk. Not sure what you do, but that seems to be the way of communicating with them.

In the gap between the bands, John said Hello and I waved to Elizabeth. John informed me that this was St Cecilia's Day. I had forgotten to send out any cards (St Cecilia being the patroness of musicians - I hope she enjoyed what she saw.) Tony said that this would have been Benjamin Britten's birthday, so Cecilia is in good company. Howie and Daz had to forego an hour's worth of beer in order to be in place for HMHB's arrival. Early starts (8 o'clock in this case) fool us all. Even Nigel. He had the dregs of a cup of tea with him at the start of the recital. "I would have finished this, if we hadn't been on so early."

Quick Hellos also to Ian, Mariana and Nigel/Exxo ahead of the appearance of HMHB. The fanfare was Alternatives by Alternative TV. All four of the band were in plain t-shirts with the exception of Karl. His Coghlan & Lancaster & Parfitt & Rossi number made me wonder if one of them ought to turn up in a shirt naming all the members of The Polyphonic Spree.

As oft before, a total lack of foresight led to me standing a couple of feet away from the speaker. I will pay for this one day. If nothing else, the note-taking was affected. For example, Nigel's first comment was something about Ludlow Castle. Can't remember what though. However I did notice a slight amendment to Petty Sessions. The recorded version makes reference to "Hymn Number 252". Tonight though we were invited to sing 242.

Nigel's high kicking, especially in Restless Legs suggested a man in peak form, although his gravelly voice, and the snorting of a Vicks inhaler might have meant a slight drop. Of course it might not have been Vicks. In Renfield's Afoot, Nigel said "Sadly and unfortunately no dogs." And at the end of it, he added "True story."

Nigel pointed out Shirley Ballas in the crowd. And later on he also picked out Kate Humble ("Did you get your decking done? Do you want some quicklime? He won't bury himself."). And he mentioned something about taking tablets. To which the reply from out front was "I want what Willie Johnston had." Nigel responded with "You mean a curtailed career?"

In answer to a heckle, Nigel replied "Have you finished your course?" He followed up by asking "Have you got an advent calendar? I got one in Birkenhead, but the windows were all boarded up. I can say that because I live there." A further calendar joke followed. "A guy was found guilty of stealing a calendar. He got twelve months." And they kept coming. Nigel said to Neil. "You used to work in a calendar factory, didn't you? But you got sacked because you took a day off."

A bit of mixing up of lines in 1966 And All That. "In hell it will rain, and I'll die on the floor." Maybe it's better like that. Tony asked Nigel if it is still possible to get milk of magnesia. Nigel thought you could. I'll check next time I'm out shopping.

Before Hedley Verityesque, Nigel said "This is about forcing yourself to like walnuts because you've heard they are good for your health." Afterwards he referred to the line about Alsatians. "Of course these days it would be a labradoodle or cockerpoo. But I can't wait to see a King Charles Rottweiler." Tony asked about a Prince Andrew Rottweiler. Nigel was amazed that we were an hour into the gig, and this was the first time Prince Andrew had been mentioned.

One of the security staff was standing near me for most of the gig. A couple of times, he moved to a more central location to keep an eye on some lively activity in the mosh pit. And I also saw him running across the moat to the other side of the stage. Maybe the chips had arrived. When he came back, Nigel was mid-sentence, paused and said "It would be rude to talk while you were walking across."

"Good goalkeeper though," said Nigel after Bob Wilson Anchorman. I am sure at one point, he gave us a brief excerpt of The Fall's Joker Hysterical Face.

Nigel produced a wishlist of Christmas presents from when he was younger. "No one makes a list after the age of fifteen." The list included a black and white Rubik's cube, a laboratory coat, some springs, a spatula once used by Gracie Fields, and news on rheumatism, good or bad. As an aside, Nigel mentioned that jokes about homeopathy haven't been proved to be funny. He also mentioned a documentary about country music that was on BBC4 at the same time as this recital. Produced by Kenny Burns, after his career with Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest.

I can't remember the last time L'Enfer C'Est Les Autres featured in a live show. The song is a true story, according to Nigel. It's a true story for everyone really. "Fuckin' 'Ell, it's Charles The First!" he announced, pointing into the middle distance. He also had to field requests for "Sex Pistols!" and "Peaches!" The response was to tell us about seeing a fight between a hedgehog and a rat. The hedgehog won on points.

There was a different ending to It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas. "I saw Kate Bush at the ICA on Christmas Day in the morning." When the band returned for the encore, there was a chorus from the crowd of The Len Ganley Stance. Nigel was fairly complimentary. "That's a bit like The Unthanks. But not quite as good. Maybe more like The No Thanks." Nigel tried to get some feedback from the monitor at the end of Look Dad No Tunes. Nothing doing.

The evening went like this:

Twenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss
Petty Sessions
Restless Legs
Renfield's Afoot
Running Order Squabble Fest
Bad Review
Every Time A Bell Rings
Irk The Purists
1966 And All That
Hedley Verityesque
What Made Colombia Famous
Bob Wilson Anchorman
Rock 'n' Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
Floreat Inertia
Mod Diff V Diff Hard Severe
National Shite Day / The Best Things In Life (end bit)
The Trumpton Riots
L'Enfer C'Est Les Autres
Harsh Times In Umberstone Covert
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Joy Division Oven Gloves
It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train

And in the encore:

Look Dad No Tunes
Shot By Both Sides
Everything's AOR

Thanks to Karl for handing over his set list. There were a couple of points to be mentioned by the auditors. "Fred Titmus" does not show on the list. Conversely, We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune was scheduled to appear between All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit and Joy Division Gloves. But that one got dropped.

I also chatted with Mrs Exxo before leaving. So that's it for the year. Both Karen and Tony suggested that this was the best offering from HMHB in the whole of 2019. Thanks to Tony for the lift back to base before he headed back to Brum. The following morning we compared notes with Postman Tony at the train station before heading back north. We were on our way to Derby where we saw A Good Neet Aht, a one-man play written and performed by Phil Green (no relation). It was as it said on the tin. And it was a bit close to home. About life in Sharlston. That's close to home. But of course mentally we were already in Hull at the end of January.