Bristol SWX, Fri 6th Mar 2020 (07/03/20)

Roger Green:

So the band has moved into the dynamic world of advertising. Issue 25 of John Robb's magazine Louder Than War features an eighth-of-page ad for all the gigs covering the remainder of the year. The text is in white lettering over a dark background including the doll as featured in the sleeve artwork of No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut.

In Half Man Half Biscuit Support Act News, I've given a listen to Ultracrepidarian Soup, the excellent new album by Humdrum Express. Ian/Humdrum's songs are not always exact replicas of HMHB's work, but certainly the likes of Motivational Wall Art are blood cousins. Karen and I were pleased to note that West Wickhams (who were the support act at February's Northampton show) have a spot at the Long Division Festival in Wakefield in June.

Harking back to an item from the previous show in Northampton, where Nigel said that he ordered tea at a Costa Coffee shop "because it angers them", I put his theory to the test. The venue for the experiment was Costa's franchise at Westgate railway station in Wakefield. Disappointingly, my order was met with what might be described as quiet indifference. More importantly, it was dealt with in a very efficient manner. And the pot of tea itself was pretty good. All in all, it was a satisfactory experience. On that basis I'll be going again. Next time perhaps I will try it with a more provocative "Tea and what are you going to do about it?" manner.

The Sunday morning before this gig, Karen and I wandered round the middle of Chesterfield. Only the betting shops were open at the time. We noticed the Information Centre with script around the outside covering various notables from the area. Gordon Banks was featured (started his playing career with the town's football team), as were Lady Baden Powell (born nearby), George Stephenson the engineer who moved to Chesterfield in 1838, and Bess Of Hardwick who was financially behind the building of the original Chatsworth House. All of which left us wondering about the omission of everyone's favourite anchor man Bob Wilson (born in Chesterfield in 1941). In other anchor man news, congratulations to Jim Rosenthal who can add a lifetime achievement award for services from the British Sports Journalism Association, to the glory of being mentioned in a HMHB song. Sticking with Jim, we notice that he now has the gig commentating on Channel 4's coverage of Crufts.

Sadly this coronavirus bug seems to have taken hold in the country. There have been a few suggestions from Boris and other politicians, to help prevent it spreading. For example, wash your hands for as long as it takes to get through a couple of choruses of Happy Birthday. He didn't indicate whether he meant the song by Altered Images, or the one by Stevie Wonder. Gideon Coe's suggestion was far more useful. He reckoned that the job would be done just as well if carried out whilst working your way through Vatican Broadside. That'll do for me.

We arrived in Bristol in time for a hearty lunch (gammon, egg, chips) followed by a browse round Rough Trade. I knew they had a shop in Nottingham, in addition to their presence in London. But this one was news to me. No HMHB product, as you might expect. But we did find Mike in there, stocking up on his collection.

The papers were similarly bereft. Metro had a review of a live show by Steve Malkmus (actually he prefers to be known as Stephen, if you don't mind). But they were silent on HMHB's show. The same applied to the Western Daily Press. It was still pretty much a full house though.

Unusually, we were located quite close to the venue. Just a couple of hundred yards from the Premier Inn. We met Tony in the reception and took the short walk to join the queue. We bumped into Daz and Howie, who were making an evening of it, with a crawl round the pubs of the locality.

Round of applause for Karen, achieving her fiftieth gig. 11t h April 2014 was her debut, at Leamington Spa. There was a spate of Hellos. Graham, Sarah, Portsmouth Phil, Andy (with whom I discussed the possibilities of venues in Glasgow), Chris, John, Elizabeth, Matt, Postman Tony (busman's holiday for him as he went to great lengths to deliver a birthday card to me - thanks also for the pressie of a bottle of water). Graham Le Taxi arrived, just in time for the start of the show.

I also spoke with Michael, who was staffing the Flux Capacitors' stall. Sadly, their t-shirts didn't go up to the size required by those of us with the fuller figure. Maybe another time. Next door was an empty space. Miles was a late arrival, having battled against the madness of the motorways, and I was able to distract him as he was setting everything up. There was no gossip to be had, not even anything that might fill that gap at the end of the year, between the Leeds gig and Christmas. I thanked Miles, and let him get on with hanging the t-shirts.

Michael abandoned his salesman role to join Hazel and their drummer (known as "The Flux Capacitors' Garrison, The Lush Max Harrison") for the Flux Capacitors set. They had some very interesting walk-on music. It was a speech by Greta Thunberg, mashed up by Fatboy Slim with Right Here Right Now. Greta had been in Bristol the week before. I'm guessing that The Flux Capacitors might have been in attendance.

Michael was wearing a tremendous silver jacket. Wouldn't have looked out of place on Wheeltappers And Shunters. And in true superstar mode, he had a roadie trotting backwards and forwards, swapping his guitar after nearly every tune. Fairytale Of New Look was introduced by Michael as addressing the problem of going vegan, losing loads of weight and then facing the nightmare of having to buy a whole wardrobe of new clothes. And there was Carcass, dealing with the family forgetting about Grandad's ashes, until they realised that they had been left in the car when it had been sent to be crushed. It seems that Enid is the name of Michael's boat.

Vocals are shared between Michael and Hazel. Her performance of Satan (Love Song For Bill Hicks) was a particular highlight. I don't know if they have permanently dropped Hazel's poetry from their shows, but I can recommend her collection, I'm Afraid Of The Pig In The City Farm. The band's CD, Courtesan, is also worth dipping into your pocket.

Thanks to Michael for the set list. Brief and to the point, written on a thin strip of paper, it read...


More Hellos in the interval. Ian and Mariana in particular. They have some mates who run a café in Ulverston, which they were suggesting as a drop-in point during the day when HMHB are there. It's the Fourpence Café on Kings Street. Their business card says they are "famous for our real lemonade, range of homemade products, distinctive dishes, all served in our pleasantly odd surroundings." That all sounds good enough for me. We'll put them to the test in April.

Tony was not tested at all by the HMHB walk-on music. He was straight in with Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. "The first piece of classical music to sell a million records," he added. Who am I to disagree?

Karl was in a Neu! T-shirt, and Carl was wearing his Super Tit t-shirt, last seen at the Castleton show. We also noticed that Carl had a grown a beard. "Are you alright for bags?" Nigel asked, to all in general in the audience. As usual, there was a degree of getting ready. Nigel said to the photographers waiting patiently in the moat between band and crowd "Normally bands walk on stage and start playing straightaway. We don't do crap like that." He then struck plenty of poses for them while they took shots during the first couple of songs. "I think that's the most we've had our pictures taken ever," Nigel added after the photographers had left. "They'll all look like mugshots. Good job we always have gig haircuts."

There was an early crowd spot. "Trevor Tainton, ladies and gentlemen!" To balance things up between City and Rovers, Nigel also spotted Alan Warboys later on. Another football comment came after Bob Wilson Anchorman. "I've said it before. He was a great goal-keeper though."

In Renfield's Afoot, Nigel said the line about bringing a torch and added "But not one of those police torches. It scares the bats." At the end of the song he noted "True story." Nigel performed a lot of this show without playing his guitar, instead doing the Mark E Smith / Chuck D patrolling of the stage thing.

He said that the band had travelled straight to Bristol without stopping. "Smart motorways doing their job" (but compare and contrast with Miles' experience a couple of hours later.) Norton Canes would have been out of the way, and they didn't bother with Michaelwood (not named after the historian, it would seem.) Nigel had intended to go and see Parasite at the cinema, but then realised that he needed to do his fixed odds coupon at William Hill's. He opted for a tuna wrap in Queen Square.

There was some ruthless logic from Nigel when he introduced one of the songs by saying "This is about Restless Leg syndrome." There was a Norman Collier moment when Nigel's microphone started working intermittently. Great work from the lady doing the sound, who was able to fix up an alternative. And before What Made Colombia Famous, Nigel commented "This is about certain people that I know."

Here is something that I have never noticed before. I saw the letters "SWX" imprinted on the foot of Karl's mike stand. I assume this is to prevent any misappropriation of assets. I'll look out for that at other venues. Nigel proved himself to be an all-round entertainer with a couple of light bulb jokes. "How many A and R men does it take to change a light bulb? Can I get back to you on that one?" And "How many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb? It takes a hundred. One to change the light bulb, and the other ninety-nine to sing about how great the old light bulb was." (I can remember seeing John Cooper Clarke telling that second one when I went to see him thirty or more years ago.)

There were a couple of shouts for Precious Mackenzie, being indirect requests for I Left My Heart In Papworth General. Nigel tried to recall how to play the opening bars. Neil was more successful with the bass line, but they decided to leave it at that. Nigel said "In a similar vein..." before the band played 99% Of Gargoyles.

Nigel spoke a little about the band's first visit to Bristol when they played at The Tropic Club in the mid-eighties. "After John Peel had just played us. Is it still open?" Apparently not. But the gig does get mentioned on a retro web site about the club. With the problems highlighted in Running Order Squabble Fest, Nigel added "It happens to every band."

He started talking about a football annual in his possession. There is a picture of Howard Kendall and his girlfriend sitting on top of a Cortina. On the next page, there is Nerys Hughes in a Wales kit. Nigel suggested that she might have been a better player than most of the current Tranmere team. Terminus was inspired by the story Cadbury, The Beaver Who Lacked by Philip K Dick. Nigel may have said "Cadbury, The Beaver That Lacked".

In response to a shout for Rock 'n' Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools, Nigel was engaged in a conversation where he said he got called a "pure wool" by someone in Kirkby. His answer to that was that he could make it into the middle of Liverpool in ten minutes, whereas it would take forty-five minutes from Kirkby.

There was some more celebrity spotting. "Marcus Trescothick, ladies and gentlemen." Used To Be In Evil Gazebo was "about someone I used to know" and saw Nigel produce the big table-tennis serve. All the subject's songs are about death, destruction etc, and on this occasion, also Diazepam. There was also specific reference to Pankhurst's album entering the charts at Number Four. Nigel made out to look impatiently at his watch during the part where the song reverts just to Neil's bass.

Louise Minchin was spotted by Nigel. "Do you need some more pallets?" he asked, before adding "Did you get the quicklime? He's not going to bury himself." Someone asked what she was doing at the gig. Nigel answered "I don't know. Ask Marcus Trescothick."

I lost the plot a little when they played Television Personalities' Part Time Punks. Great song. Great cover version. Look Dad No Tunes was "another true story". There was a brief playing of the intro of Black Night. Postman Tony got in his shout of "Stanley Mortensen" at the end of 1966 And All That.

A treat for Gary Numan fans... Somebody shouted out "It's cold outside!" to which Nigel helpfully continued... "And the paint's peeling off of my walls." Nigel then told the one about it being so cold that he saw a lawyer walking round with his hands in his own pockets.

Nigel noted that the band had missed a trick by not having face masks available on the merch stall. And hand sanitiser "if you can get hold of it". HMHB face masks? There's an idea. During Every Time A Bell Rings, Nigel mimed a yawn on the line about Boardman bikes and the cycle to work scheme. Nigel did a nifty "One Two Three Four" count-in at the start of We Built This Village On A Trad Arr tune.

When the band returned for the encore, Nigel acknowledged a request for Buzzcocks' Operator's Manual. In Paintball's Coming Home, the line was "They know where things are at B And Q / They've got a loft full of toilet rolls." (I suppose that is also a true story by now.)

I caught part of a conversation involving Neil. "He drives the van," said Nigel. "It's a lot easier for him now that we have smart motorways. And he's quite good as well," he added, turning to Karl, who started playing 20th Century Boy.

At the end of the show Nigel's farewell message was "Have a good weekend, weatherwise or otherwise" before he placed a Public Service Announcement sign at the front of the stage saying "Now Wash Your Hands". Thanks to Carl for screwing up his set list and throwing it across the moat. My catch reminded me of my days at mid-off in the under thirteens. Except that I usually dropped the ball on those occasions.

The songs played were

Westward Ho! - Massive Letdown
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Bob Wilson Anchorman
Renfield's Afoot
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
A Lilac Harry Quinn
Restless Legs
What Made Colombia Famous
Irk The Purists
Ninety-Nine Per Cent Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
Hair Like Brian May Blues
Running Order Squabble Fest
Shit Arm Bad Tattoo
Used To Be In Evil Gazebo
National Shite Day
Part Time Punks
Look Dad No Tunes
Vatican Broadside
1966 And All That
Every Time A Bell Rings
Joy Division Oven Gloves
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
The Trumpton Riots

And in the encore

Paintball's Coming Home
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
20th Century Boy
Everything's AOR

Browsing through Carl's list, I noticed a few amendments. Fred Titmus was not scheduled. Vatican Broadside and 1966 And All That swapped places. Descent Of The Stiperstones was originally included, between Joy Division Oven Gloves and Dukla Prague, but was dropped for some reason. And Paintball's Coming Home had not been planned. Maybe Nigel was keen to get that line in about toilet rolls in the loft.

Afterwards Karen, Tony, Postman Tony and I retired to the Bay Horse for beer and recollections. To be joined by John. There were also several other attendees round and about. I hope we are all able to re-convene in Ulverston.