Gala Theatre, Durham, Fri 29th Apr 2022 (01/05/22)

Roger Green:

Starting with big ups to Karen, without whom none of this would happen. She spotted that I was running low on notepads, so stopped off at the stationery shelf at the Co Op. I am now replenished. Buying some more, when you are running out... I would never be able to work that out for myself.

Been getting stuff wrong. If The Guardian can do this, then so can I. I'm always happy to address Errors And Omissions from previous reviews. God knows there are enough of them. Forgot to mention that Ian turned up at the Nottingham gig. Also, sorry for getting one of the Crapsons songs wrong. It should be Ian Brown Is The Resurrection rather than Ian Brown IN The Resurrection. In my defence, I was copying from their set list (although I should have referred to the song titles on their album). HMHB had mentioned the mansion Wollaton Hall. This was incorrectly spelt in the review. Also, I missed Nigel's comment about Talking Pictures. Thanks to Tony for letting me know that Nigel referred to the regular appearance in their films of Mona Washbourne. I'm afraid I did not quite catch her name at the time. A bit of research tells me that she played the mother in the film Billy Liar. Among other excellent roles.

The Voltarol Years continues to fight its corner in the open market place. When we were in the middle of Leeds we spotted that it had pride of place in the window display at Crash Records. Hopefully that is an indication of how much it is flying off the shelf. My familiarisation with TVY was put on hold, being pushed aside by Crapsons' album Songs To Make A Brew To. Hoping to see them supporting HMHB again soon. And if/when that happens, I look forward to them playing Poor Old Prince Philip in particular.

Live music is definitely falling back into place after all the cancellations of 2020 and 2021. Clearly that problem has not just applied to HMHB. A couple of days after the Nottingham gig we were back at The Brudenell in Leeds to see a much-delayed show by The Beths, the latest hot act from New Zealand. Just as with Steve Ignorant a couple of days before Nottingham, this was a busy night, disproving my flimsy theory that folk don't go gigging on Mondays. Can't remember ever seeing HMHB on a Monday though.

Yet another visit to The Brudenell was for The Lovely Eggs. There was a smattering of Biscuiteers in the crowd. I exchanged waves with John and Elizabeth. We spoke with Nigel and Jo who put in their apologies for a few HMHB gigs which are coming up. We didn't see Graham, but understood that he was also around. The support band was The Bug Club who were described on-line as "a dance-off between Jeffrey Lewis and Half Man Half Biscuit". I wasn't sure that there was too much evidence of that, but I'd happily give them a second hearing, just to be sure.

We also had an evening at another Leeds venue. The Grove is an excellent pub on the edge of the city centre. They hosted an all-dayer which featured The Jim Bower Scenario. Jim was the front man in Shatner, whose final ever gig was supporting HMHB the last time they played in York. The venue itself, Fibbers, did not last long after that, either. The Grove is a fine old place, tucked away in the middle of high-rise modern architecture. I would have thought it would fit nicely into the agenda of those seeking a good ale ahead of the Leeds gig in June. Bit of a trek from that side of the city to Stylus though.

There was some worrying news coming from Sheffield's Leadmill. HMHB played there in the 1980s and have started appearing there again in recent times, the latest gig being at the start of this year. It sounds like the people who run the place have been served with notice to leave. It's a great venue, with happy memories for me, going beyond just seeing HMHB there. Let's hope it all comes good in the fullness of time.

A few days before this show, there was an article in The Guardian by Steve Hill ("My wild night out with the Biscuitmaniacs"). The photos differed slightly between the paper and the online version. John, Chris, George and Eddie featured. And there was one of the band on stage, with Ken on guitar. Must have been some time ago. All good stuff and a grand read, although I would argue with Steve's point about All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit appearing on the Back In The DHSS album.

You get used to Nigel "spotting" celebrities at these shows. We speculated about Trevor Horne, Paddy McAlloon, Paul Collingwood and Pauline Murray, all of whom originated in or around the city. That in turn threw up the possibility of cover versions of songs by Buggles, Prefab Sprout and/or Penetration.

As with most of these journeys, the day began with a bus ride into Wakefield. From there, it was a short walk to Westgate station, where we saw my mate Kevin who had given a lift to the author, Richard Balls. The previous night I had seen Richard in Pontefract, being interviewed about his book on Shane MacGowan. This was at CAT Club where we had also listened to The Pogues' album Rum, Sodomy And The Lash. Must try and get a HMHB album on there some time.

Arriving in Durham, we checked into the Premier Inn just round the corner from the venue. It was the same with Nandos, where we had lunch. Everything was tucked nicely into a concrete plaza. Tesco was close by, where I bought The Northern Echo. Nothing doing regarding coverage of HMHB, although maybe that wasn't required, given the high level of ticket sales for the evening.

There were conflicting, fake news messages concerning the running order. The truth was that doors opened at 6.30. While waiting, I got talking to Ross from the venue staff, who was, it turned out, originally from just down the road from me. (Ross, if you are reading this, the rugby player that I was trying to remember was Ian Wilkinson. A contemporary of yours? Played for Bradford, but I remember seeing him turn out for Upton.) Having sorted out the sound check, Karl emerged, said Hello and went out to take the early evening air. Others in the queue were Tony and Andrew. Phil is usually an early arrival as well, but he had sent his apologies for absence to Karen on Facebook.

Andrew mentioned an episode of Inside Number Nine which was "like the words of The Referee's Alphabet". We will have to track that down. Brian was keen to show his pack of train tickets. His journey had been broken down into little bits, rather than one ride north. Must have been a pain getting on and off trains, but I can't fault him if it saved a few quid. I browsed briefly at the merch stall and chatted with Miles. All was well. Nothing new to report since the release of The Voltarol Years.

Snow Patrol were played on the PA. Most famous band to ever support HMHB? (At the Duchess in Leeds in 2000.) I was there but, no surprise, can't remember a thing about them. Tonight's support band were, as often recently, The West Wickhams. There can't be many bands where one of them originates from The Isles Of Scilly and the other is from Sydney. And to top it all, they met at a concert by A Flock Of Seagulls. You still hear mixed comments about them, but they sound OK to me. Thanks again for the set list.


Looking forward to seeing them again, possibly in Birmingham.

In the interval we got talking to Sally and Michael, and their son Peter. Peter is in a band called Indignation Meeting who are playing an all-dayer at The Brudenell in Leeds on Saturday 16 July. Never heard of them? Not yet, you haven't. I'm looking forward to hearing their song The Bastard Son Of Ed Sheeran. Free publicity? That's how it works, although Peter might want to think about getting me a pie if he sees me there.

Plenty of other Hellos in the interval. Steve, John, Graham Le Taxi, Elizabeth, Andy, Postman Tony and Howie. When HMHB took to the stage, the walk-on music was, according to Tony, Homes Of Fadeless Splendour by The Cardiacs. Later on Andrew gave me a fuller title, being The Alphabet Business Concern (Home Of Fadeless Splendour). I can't claim to an expert on that band's work, so the argument will have to be left hanging there.

Carl is moving further and further away from being a Joe Di Maggio lookalike, now sporting a pony tail. Joe never had one of those. Karl's tshirt was Don Powell's Occasional Flames. And on the subject of lookalikes, is it just me who thinks that Neil is turning into John Higgins? Ever seen the two of them in the same room? Nigel handed Tony a newspaper feature about Jimmy Harris, ex-Everton and Birmingham City centre forward who died in April. Born in Birkenhead, he signed for Tranmere towards the end of his career.

Nigel said "Lovely town et cetera. I don't know what Roger Whittaker was moaning about." He was immediately corrected by a shout of "It's not a town. It's a city!" And so, after a quick burst from Nigel of the jingle "Autoglass repair / Autoglass replace", HMHB were up and running. (There was more advertising later on when Nigel sang "Moulinex make things simple / And that includes the price.") Brian tapped me on the shoulder and said that they would open up with I'm Getting Buried In The Morning. Not quite correct, but Brian didn't have to wait too long.

After the opener, Worried Man Blues, Tony leant over and asked "First time they have started with a cover version?" Thinking about it, my very first HMHB gig started with Busy Little Market Town. But that's a fair while ago, and I can't readily think of it happening since then whenever I've been in attendance. Happy to be told otherwise.

Awkward Sean was introduced as "a song about someone we have all known". The early playing of The Trumpton Riots prompted Tony to suggest that the band was playing the set list backwards. In Renfield's Afoot, BOOKING ESSENTIAL was in capital letters. And yet again torches were recommended, but absolutely not police torches.

Nigel said that the band's route to the gig was M6 then A66. "We are still barred from Kirby Stephen Services, so we went to Tebay. I upset the duck. We didn't buy anything. Instead we went to Tesco in Kirby Stephen and got a Meal Deal." I'm Getting Buried In The Morning was described as "a new song off the new album. No, it's not a new song. It's about a year old."

The whole evening was punctuated by requests from the stage for various guitars to come through various monitors. As Nigel said at one point... "Turn up the volume, by popular demand." And it was like Play Your Cards Right. "Lower. Lower. Higher. Higher."

There was a little bit of Deep Purple's Black Night ahead of She's In Broadstairs. Nigel took up position on the drum riser, a proper pop star pose while Karl and Neil did their vocals on that song. Nigel said "Here's another new one" ahead of Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus. I couldn't hear all Nigel's conversations with folk in the other side of the hall. I think it was Token Covid Song where he nodded towards Neil and said "It's one of his tunes. I wrote the words." When the punter was asked which they preferred, words or music, Nigel answered "Dr Henry Kissinger". Maybe a diplomatic response from someone in the crowd.

Big Man Up Front was about foregoing a family walk, in order to stop in. Christian Gross was spotted in the crowd. In reply to a request, Nigel said "That's one of ours. You're in the right place... If we play it." There were a few lines from Song To The Siren, ahead of Vatican Broadside. Ellen McArthur was spotted. "Obviously you can follow up by saying she is from Landlocked Derbyshire."

Ahead of Ode To Joyce, Nigel said "This song is about two minutes ten." Then afterwards he said, "Actually that was two minutes twenty," the difference being down to an extended "slower ball" pause. He also talked about eating ginger nut biscuits on stage. "The only thing I've learned from forty years on stage is that you shouldn't bring chocolate on. It makes a mess when it melts under the lights."

Upstairs at the back of the venue was a sold out circle of seats. There was a lot of celebrity spotting there. Carol Kirkwood. Mona Washbourne, Barry Fry ("or you've got a Barry Fry mask on"), Carol Klein ("Did you get that Quicklime sorted? He's not going to bury himself.") and Matthew Amroliwala. Nigel asked "Where do you go when there aren't any seats?"

Midnight Mass Murder was dedicated to The Venerable Bede. In reply to which there was a shout of "What about St Cuthbert? He never gets fuck all." In turn, Nigel said "That's a double negative there." (After this song, Brian said that it was worth the admission money alone.)

Nigel said he had been out for a meal with the North West chess champion. It was all right, but he took half an hour to pass the salt. (That got a "bum tish" on the drums from Carl.) When the band came back for the encore, Nigel had his caravan guitar. "It won't be in tune. It was left in a lay by overnight." Sure enough, it wasn't, so it was discarded, and he went back to his original instrument. All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit was dedicated to Melissa. "She knows who she is." Cue screaming from the back of the hall.

It's difficult to judge any one of these gigs against any other. But this really did feel like one of the great nights out. (Mind you, I could probably say that about all of them.) We saw several more folk afterwards - Paul, Mike, Sarah, Graham and Lou. While the band was playing, I looked round every now and then and saw Nigel/Exxo in the engine room of the mosh pit. Back outside, several folk headed off in the direction of beer (including Postman Tony whose subsequent timely appearance at the breakfast table is to be applauded), while Karen and I headed off in the direction of zzz. Also on the Saturday morning I bumped into Nigel from Swindon, grumbling about the fact that he won't be at the Cardiff show, but will be back on the circuit soon enough. Ta to Karl for the set list. Everything was as per.

Worried Man Blues
The Trumpton Riots
Awkward Sean
Renfield's Afoot
Tommy Walsh's Eco House
I'm Getting Buried In The Morning
She's In Broadstairs
Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Token Covid Song
Deep House Victims Minibus Appeal
Big Man Up Front
Venus In Flares
Running Order Squabble Fest
Vatican Broadside
Ode To Joyce
Fear My Wraith
Joy Division Oven Gloves
National Shite Day
For What Is Chatteris?
Oblong Of Dreams
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
Midnight Mass Murder
Everything's AOR

We have got used to four songs in the encore. Tonight there were just three.

All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Blitzkrieg Bop
Every Time A Bell Rings

I've only been to Durham on a handful of occasions. You forget what a haul it is back up the hill to the railway station with a rucksack on your back. But we made it, as did Brian with his rich and varied journey home. Less than two weeks to Cardiff.