The Roadmender, Northampton, Sat 15th Feb 2020 (16/02/20)

Roger Green:

To start with, Tony was keen to sort out an errata, or is it errato, or erratum? It concerns a comment by Nigel at the Hull gig in January. He had talked about Sing Something Simple from the days of yore on Radio Two. Nigel had thought it was the Mike Sammes Singers who had featured on this programme. Tony had disagreed, saying that it was actually the Cliff Adams Singers, and that the Mikes Sammes Singers may have taken over in the later years. But Tony then came back to me, to say that it had in fact always been the Cliff Adams Singers. As always, I am happy to clear up this confusion, but please direct any queries towards Tony.

I can't claim to be a big fan of Peter Crouch's Podcast. I don't have the technology to be a regular listener, but sometimes catch it on Five Live. Not quite fully awake, I heard a section where Peter was talking about fans cheering at corners. His sidekick (sorry, didn't catch the name) explained that one in eight, or one in nine of them lead to a goal. This statistic is described as "rarely" in This One's For Now. I'm sure that someone out there in Biscuitland will have far more substantial statistical evidence on this subject.

Karen and I went to see John Shuttleworth at City Varieties in Leeds. That's the place where they recorded The Good Old Days. No plate-spinning tonight, and no closing chorus of The Old Bull And Bush. But John was on fine form. He has touches of Half Man Half Biscuit, dealing with the minutiae of life. You can almost imagine Nigel Blackwell singing material such as Can't Go Back To Savoury Now. Almost. But not quite. Another point about the evening... At the end of the interval, it was good to see some robust stock-taking as the attendants were cashing up the ice cream sales. Very prudent practice to ensure that everything was in order.

We also saw John Godber's play Angels Of The North. It's a good night (or afternoon) out, if you can catch it on tour, and if you require non-music related entertainment. We didn't see any live music at all between the Hull and Northampton shows.

I was at the Roadmender the last time that HMHB were here. And I came here with Karen when two quarters of Bauhaus were appearing in a semi-reunion show in what had been their home town. The most recent time that I saw Peter Murphy was on the internet when he was being pinned to the floor by a couple of policemen after being kicked out of his own gig in Stockholm. HMHB chose as the walk-on music Bauhaus's Bela Lugosi's Dead. Splendid.

The week before HMHB's return, Storm Ciara had visited our islands, making an impact on the Saturday and Sunday. Some terrible things happened to folk. Again I was negligent, in not getting the name of the reporter, but the BBC had sent a guy to report from the sea front at Aberystwyth. Clearly he isn't a HMHB fan. He reported that a number of trains had been cancelled, but "bus replacement services" were running. I thought that discrepancy had been sorted out in the lyric of National Shite Day.

Just one of those things which plants a HMHB song in your head... Karen was on a train earwigging a group of women talking, one of whom told the others about a recent holiday in Cyprus. She said, "We found a nice little cove." No mention of whether or not other people go there, but Karen was left singing Hedley Verityesque to herself.

Another tune came to mind when March's issue of When Saturday Comes landed. It had a couple of pages on the immortal Mart Poom. Immortal? Well, that's the first word that sprang into my head. Supporters of Portsmouth, Derby County, Sunderland, Arsenal and Watford may choose to agree or disagree. But what breaks him away from the rest of us is the mention in Left Lyrics In The Practice Room. "You Drink Too Much Oranjeboom / Your Jaw Juts Out Like Mart Poom." Indeed.

The weather was a factor again on the day of this gig. Storm Dennis was moving across the country. It was just an average February morning when I stepped onto the train at Wakefield Westgate. But by the time we left Turtle Bay in Northampton, fed and watered later in the afternoon, and having said hello to John, Elizabeth, Andy and Celia, we noticed that Dennis was certainly around. I had wondered about the fact that Dennis was given a double "n". I rattled off a few people that I had heard of. Denis Law? Dennis Hartley? Dennis Priestley? Denis Healey? Dennis Waterman? Dennis The Menace? Maybe the people at Storm Naming Control drew up a long list, and went with the majority. Maybe they just flipped a coin.

We checked in at the Ibis hotel, which had suffered storm damage the previous weekend. This meant that rooms on the top floor were out of order, and some folk had had to be relocated miles out of town. Worst luck. Howie, Daz and Postman Tony were there checking in at the same time.

Karen was in charge of the paper review, and she spotted an article in The Northampton Chronicle. It featured a well-lit black and white photo of Nigel, underneath which was written, "Birkenhead post-punks Half Man Half Biscuit are headlining The Roadmender. The band's 14th album No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Hedge Cut, was released in 2018. Doors open at 7.30pm, tickets cost 20 before fees." Karen won't be alone in noticing that there was a word missing from the title of the album. We'll give it some thought before sending in a letter to the editor.

We met Tony at an agreed time (6.30) at an agreed place (reception) and then wandered off through the hotel car park, through various subways and arrived at the Roadmender well ahead of the doors opening. This allowed plenty of time to absorb the implications suggested by the somewhat faded warning sign. Drink alcohol in the street and you get clobbered with a 500 fine. Those pesky kids.

Other people not drinking in the street and joining us in the queue were Andrew, Brian, Graham, Sarah, Elizabeth and John. There was much reminiscence of Bury and Bolton Wanderers from Brian and Andrew, as well as updates on their respective plights. Matt also joined us in the February chill.

Inside the venue, the first song on the PA was New Big Prinz by The Fall, auguring a good night ahead. Hearing The Undertones' Jimmy Jimmy and Sleaford Mods' Tied Up In Nottz was also encouraging. I got a Geoff update from Miles on the merch stall. Geoff was on good form last time Miles saw him. He's still hoping to get to one of the shows when the band plays nearer to home. While I was at the stall, I was asked if I knew which album features Running Order Squabble Fest. I pointed my fellow punter towards This Leaden Pall. I'll be in touch with Miles later, to negotiate a percentage. I didn't catch the guy's name, but I'm sure he would have appreciated the live airing of the song later.

There was more catching up to be done. Steve from Worthing said Hello. He had been at the Half Mandolin Half Biscuit gig upstairs at The Rutland in Sheffield, the afternoon after HMHB had played at The Leadmill in 2019. Ian and Mariana also said Hello. By now, the music on the PA was starting to sound like one of my home-taping collections. They played Reward by The Teardrop Explodes and Public Image by Public Image Limited.

Tonight's support band was West Wickhams. After a couple of songs, Karen tapped me on the shoulder and said "Do you think they are trying to be a bit gothy?" Later she nabbed some notes about them from the internet.

"West Wickhams are Jon Othello and Elle Flores, a psychedelique Garage Noir Deux peace, originally from Tresco on the Isles Of Scilly.

Tresco is famously the island of lost souls and is home to subtropical plants and shipwrecked figureheads.

They've recently relocated to Richmond, Surrey, where the creatures rule. West Wickhams are an imagined rival gang to punk style icons the Bromley Contingent.

They are influenced by: Whitby Abbey, Pipe Organs, Flowers, Polka Dot Cats, Dark Punk, Gothic Novels and Rock 'n' Roll Autobiographies, Castles, Abstract Painting, Euphoria, Mist, Autumn, Halloween, Optical Illusions, Edgar Allan Poe and Andy Warhol."

All of which goes some way to explaining a lack of singing along. I can deal with that. You can always understand why there would be a scramble to be the support band on these evenings. West Wickhams are the latest in the queue. Hopefully they'll be at the top of the list again soon. Heartbeat was filmed in and around Goathland. Maybe they can segueway their song into the theme from that programme?

Thanks to them for the copy of their single He's Acquired A New Face. Still in search of a record player, so I'll hear it one day. If you need more info, have a look at https://westwickhams.bandcamp.com or maybe www.facebook.com/westwickhams.

For the record, they played six songs.
Every Move
Kick The Habit
Where The Creatures Rule
Death Of Madonna
He's Acquired A New Face
Goathland

There were more good sounds on the PA. More from The Undertones (My Perfect Cousin) and then Rip It Up by Orange Juice. The interval also provided an opportunity to see the smoke machine being set up. The instruction on the side of the packet must be brief and to the point. "Just add water" I would guess. I've never seen that being done before. Not sure it's a good idea though. I was pretty much in pole position when it started blasting out. Thanks to the security guy who was making great play of blocking the smoke coming out. I was taken back to a Sisters Of Mercy gig in Leeds in the mid-eighties. That one was the king of smoke. Bit of a dry throat the following morning, it has to be said. John was stopping in the same place, so maybe I should have taken medical advice. I suppose "Stand somewhere else" would be the advice. Ho hum. Smoke machine! What the fuck were we breathing? Nigel pointed out later that it looked like some sort of goth party was going on. Yes, well how was he to know any different?

We had Reverend Black Grape by Black Grape on the PA. And Hallelujah and Twenty-Four Hour Party People by Happy Mondays also had Daz's toes tapping. Daz was heading back after the gig on the train to Euston. Then on the night bus to his girlfriend's. I was guessing at the time when he might arrive. He would have to make his own cocoa. And being a small town oik, I still struggle with the concept of buses running through the night.

After false starts, involving Neil and Karl appearing on stage to plug in or tune up or whatever, HMHB appeared at near enough nine o'clock. "Hats off to the weather," was Nigel's first comment. Rightly so. In Renfield's Afoot, he mentioned about a torch being recommended. "But not a police torch. They're too strong." The song was also marked as a "True story" by Nigel. He also noted "I saw a lawyer walking round with his hands in his own pockets."

He acknowledged Dave Bowen, Northampton Town and Wales legend, player and manager. The same with Alan Moore, comics writer. Regarding local celebrities, further into the evening Nigel also remembered "Bob Harris, of course." Some notes on attire. Karl was wearing an Amon Duul II tshirt. Nigel had "wind stopper" on his shirt. Apt for the day we were experiencing. Later on, Nigel also spotted Pam Ferris.

"Norton Canes before you ask," said Nigel in anticipation of a question about stop-offs during the band's journey to the gig. "I had a tea from Costa, because it angers them. And a flapjack." In response to further questioning, Nigel noted that "We're from The Wirral. Quarantine capital of the UK. We're a peninsula, so they can cut us off if it gets out of hand."

After Restless Legs there was a chorus from the crowd of the der-der-der bit of Jackie Wilson Said. Nigel said he was surprised that this had never been turned into a football chant. Or maybe it had, at somewhere like Raith Rovers? "Starks Park," he said. "Ask me another one."

After Ode To Joyce, Nigel shared some information. "We had an Auntie Joyce, but not a real Auntie. Just somebody we knew. She developed amnesia of music from the 1980s. There was no Cure." He also told us about his mate who lives in North Korea. Nigel had been in touch to ask "What's it like living there?" His mate replied "I can't complain."

The final line in Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes was "That's when I was saying we are down." Nigel exchanged knowing nods with Neil and spoke about Tranmere having no creative midfield, and having nobody up front. "The next one would do a better job for us up front," he added, before the band played The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman.

There was a security guy standing in front of the stage. Nigel pointed at him, and then at John. "Competition!" he said, referring to the hi vis jackets. "His is better than yours," he said to John. "Yours is a bit weather worn."

A tree had been blown down on Sheep Street. There was a fight going on nearby. Carl had called Special Branch. The teenager in Footprints came downstairs and watched Rainbow and The Sullivans. Nigel produced a fair golf swing on the final line of that one.

Karl struck what appeared to be the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night. This led to a lively community singalong. Good for the soul. Marilyn Monroe is still "on the scag" according to tonight's version of 99% Of Gargoyles.

I didn't hear the shout in question. Somebody requested one of the songs. Nigel replied "We did that in the soundcheck. You should have been here earlier." However I did hear Postman Tony's request for Len Ganley Stance. No such luck. Nigel's delivery of the vocals on Dukla Prague was lost and confused. "After forty years, the rocky road has begun," he said. He turned to Neil and asked "Who are you?"

When the band came back for the encore, Nigel thanked everyone "for coming out in... the weather." Very kind, but it was the least we could do. The band gets better with age. While they had been off stage, Neil had had a phone call from home. His pet chameleon had died of exhaustion, crawling across a tartan rug.

At the end of the night, I exchanged farewells with Andy from Dumfries. Also with Nigel and Jo. Nigel reminded me about Goole's recent penalty shoot-out victory over Pontefract in one of the local cups. It was grand to see Graham Le Taxi making one in, having missed a couple of the recent shows . And it was the first time for a while that I had a chat with Denise. And that was us out of there. Early train back on the Sunday. No direct weather problems, although we noticed many fields under water. And there were the inevitable signalling problems at Daventry. We could handle that. Only just though. Very nearly missed the connection at New Street.

Here's how the HMHB set went. The ensemble deserves its place. We also had a sniff of a possible eel-related new song rolling round on the production conveyor belt. That's A Moray. And there was a lovely Killing Joke cover version in there.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
Venus In Flares
Renfield's Afoot
Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess
Running Order Squabble Fest
What Made Colombia Famous
Restless Legs
Ode To Joyce
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Terminus
Bob Wilson Anchor Man
Letters Sent
Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes
The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman
Look Dad No Tunes
Floreat Inertia
Every Time A Bell Rings
Footprints
A Hard Day's Night
Vatican Broadside
99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
Joy Division Oven Gloves
For What Is Chatteris?
The Bane Of Constance
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
National Shite Day
The Trumpton Riots

And in the encore...

Ready Steady Goa
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Wardance
Everything's AOR

Thanks to Karl for the written set list. There were a couple of comings and goings. "Terminus" was originally written in, then was crossed out and replaced by "Colombia". "Terminus" was then written in the place where it was actually played. And there is no mention of When The Evening Sun Goes Down . Finally, "Floreat" appears to have been originally planned for the encore, but was replaced by Ready Steady Goa. On to Bristol now.