We went to the final of the Battle Of The Bands. A coveted slot at the Friarwood Festival in Pontefract was at stake. Creditable performances and decent cover versions on offer. But, as HMHB state in Fretwork Homework, "We're gonna win 'cos we've got the most fans." Never was a truer word sung. Four bands were supposed to be appearing but one of them had already jacked it in. Musical similarities, I would have thought. To top it all, we won a box of artisan chocolate truffles in the raffle.
We went to a wedding. The ceremony as well as the night time. Dancing Queen was played, of course. We put in a request for Midnight Mass Murder. No such luck.
In the gap between the Cardiff gig and this one, Rogation Sunday came along. Plenty of prayer and fasting for everyone? No, me neither. I bought a copy of Mojo, which featured extracts from Nige Tassell's book, Whatever Happened To The C86 Kids? When people ask me what kind of music HMHB play, I always mumble something like "Well, there's two guitarists, one of whom sings. And there's a bass guitarist and a drummer." To which they reply, "You mean like The Beatles?" So I say, "Yes. Just like The Beatles." Of course, in future, I will just say, "Half Man Half Biscuit? They're a C86 band." In which case I will expect the reply, "You mean like We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It?"
There's another book coming out. Maybe it's already in the shops. I Heard The Strokes Before You by Dorian Cox. Before the gods who made the gods were born? Buy it, and you'll find out.
HMHB continue to advertise in Vive Le Rock. A nice lime green background made it stand out. It was a list of the forthcoming shows, beginning with Cardiff (which had already been and gone) and running through to London next January. It all reflected a true and fair view, although you never know what is going to be announced just round the corner.
On one of my many nights of insomnia, I listened to a bit of Colin Murray's show on Five Live. He was putting together an imaginary mixtape of songs where the lyrics were gibberish. Joy Division Oven Gloves made its way in there. Gibberish? Other songs in the mix were Birdhouse In Your Soul, Champagne Supernova and MacArthur Park. It was a slow news night.
At HMHB gigs, Nigel often points out Carol Klein in the crowd. We saw her presenting on BBC2 from The Chelsea Flower Show. No mention of her being on the lookout for quicklime though. And Monty Don was on the same show. HMHB reference point after reference point after reference point
On his show on 6 Music, Gideon Coe often has themes to his evenings. One such theme was that all the songs had to relate to "hair". HMHB songs seem to appear less and less on the airwaves these days, so imagine our joy when Hair Like Brian May Blues got a spin. The same show also featured Nina Simone's Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair. Does that sound familiar? Adapted into the lyric of We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune. (By the way, is there a graph anywhere showing the relationship between HMHB airplay, record/CD sales, and attendance at gigs? Maybe I'll make some figures up.)
I've been reading Robin Ince's The Importance Of Being Interested. He mentions his mate Chris, who spent a lot of his childhood in and around Castleton, and is now a professor of geology. When HMHB play there later in the summer, if you see someone examining the rocks in the cave, rather than watching the band, that'll be Chris. On the subject of Castleton, I was talking with a colleague at work. He had visited the town and had spotted a poster advertising August's HMHB show. One whole poster! That is some marketing campaign.
Checking up on the publicity for the Leeds gig, I think the University could do with updating their info. This looks familiar. Perhaps a Cut And Paste job from a few years back? "If Half Man Half Biscuit did not exist, it would be imperative to invent them. Since their formation nearly thirty years ago, their presence has been a necessity. In essence the vehicle for the observations, ramblings and creations of front-man Nigel Blackwell, they are counterblasts to the processes of modern life. Throughout changing times, they have spanned the decades, released thirteen full-length albums and dropped a thousand-and-one pop culture references from BBC Radio's Charles Nove to former cricketer Fred Titmus." I think they'll find that the band has done a bit more than thirteen albums now. And of course we can say that the formation of the band was nearly forty years ago, not thirty.
The papers review started the night before the gig. I thought there might have been a mention in the Yorkshire Evening Post's supplement The Guide. No chance. It was the same with Friday's Yorkshire Post. I'm sure they used to carry gig listings. Not anymore.
Our journey to the gig was far shorter than usual on these occasions. Bus into Wakefield. Walk to Westgate station and we got the train from there. In Leeds, we ambled across town to Pie Minister, where I was tucking into my Kate And Sidney Mothership when we had our first Biscuiteer sighting of the day. Andy was heading purposefully towards Kirkgate market.
Afterwards, we had the customary afternoon in front of the TV, picking off the HMHB references. Jenny Eclair guesting on Steph's Packed Lunch and then almost inevitably Claire Rayner's son appeared in Dictionary Corner on Countdown.
There was an early start to the evening (mainly because of the early finish). Karen, Andrew, Tony and I bundled ourselves into a taxi, headed for the university. We saw Graham and Sarah there and formed the beginnings of the queue for the gig. Funny how on a warm, sunny evening like this, you queue indoors. Whereas when it is sub-zero in February, you end up queuing out on the street. Andrew had recently been to Norway. He had been unable to pick up a Strømsgodset shirt, and had to settle for a Vålerenga number, which he was wearing tonight. (Stunning work here from Karen on the computer keyboard, sorting out that circle, and the crossed out "o" thing.)
The main topic of discussion was the price of beer. No one could match Tony, whose first pint was Hook Norton Mild, costing the grand sum of 10d. In the days when it was "d", before it became "p". Eee, them were the days. Karl dropped by, on his way to report for duty with the band. And just ahead of doors opening, Karen handed me my ticket from an envelope where she had written the dates when this show had been arranged and re-arranged. First of all, it was set for 6 November 2020, then it was 28 May 2021. And now here we were on 10 June 2022. That's pandemics for you.
Slight delay actually getting through the door. Everyone who had bought tickets online were simply being zapped and allowed through. But we, who had supported local industry by buying over the counter at Jumbo Records, had to queue again (like you do when you go to vote) at the desk and wait for the lady to tick our names off. Good ol' bureaucracy. There's a lesson in there for us somewhere.
When inside Stylus, we got talking to a pleasant security guy, telling us about how Titan are now employed there. Good work from them later on when handing out water ("Nice touch," commented Nigel when that happened). They also had to deal with not one, but two, crowd surfers.
First time for a while that I've heard Big Decision by That Petrol Emotion, as featured on the pre-gig PA. Lou was one of the early arrivals. She was taken by the idea that the bar was selling still water in cans. Not every venue does this, but you wouldn't say it's a rarity these days.
Tonight's support band were Bite Back from Birkenhead. A fine set of chaps playing punk rock. Nothing wrong with that in my book. There is a link to HMHB from the Instant Agony days. A punk song called Growing Old will always grab my attention. The guitarist/vocalist is Hocky, whose style had a bit of Diggle and a bit of Jones (Steve and/or Mick). One of their songs borrows the film title Whisky Galore! This earned a shout of "Gordon Jackson" from the crowd. "What a great audience," said Hocky, "we normally only play in pubs in front of five people." With his flat cap, Hocky is the complete geezer. Memo to HMHB management... please can we have these again. As with Crapsons, surely everyone can squeeze into the same van. I'm thinking of the petrol that can be saved. I'm just sorry that we were ushered out at the end of the evening. I was after picking up one of Bite Back's CDs. Maybe next time, eh. Thanks to Hocky for the set list, complete with plastic wallet. Here's what it said.Truth
More sightings in the interval. Postman Tony, who had had a pizza with Nigel earlier, and Hellos exchanged with John and Andy. Katharine and Karl also tipped up, as did Michael, Sally and their son out of Indignation Meeting. Future support act? George edged in at the front, and Daz and Howie were there promptly. Howie gets the award for a particularly circuitous route to the gig. Dumfries-Carlisle-Newcastle-York-Scarborough-Whitby-Goathland-Robin Hood's Bay-Scarborough-York-Leeds, taking in a couple of nights at Scarborough. And he even had time to become an Internet sensation when he dared to have tinned tomatoes with a Full English breakfast. That's not for everyone.
HMHB's walk-on music was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. "The cannons strike up in a bit," said Tony, but the band had started playing by then. Nigel, with a carrier bag, looked like had just got back from Tesco Express. Maybe that was the case. "Mr Udagawa!" was his first spot of the evening. Unusually, Nigel started the gig with his caravan guitar, but soon noted "It's too heavy!" and picked up his other one.
There was a strong emphasis on "Booking Essential" in Renfield's Afoot, which Nigel also pointed out was a true story. He tried to pull the microphone away from the stand, like pop stars do, but it was clamped in too tightly. A shout of "What did God give us?" was met with the customary "Yeah, that's one of ours."
At one point Nigel was having problems trying to untangle a guitar lead. He started singing "We are leads! We are leads! We are leads!" and added "That was the whole point of booking this gig." We were treated to a variation of That's Amore. "When you swim in the creek, and an eel bites your cheek, that's a moray".
Neil again did a mighty vocal opening to Awkward Sean. Nigel pointed straight at me on the "That's him there" line. "Anyone here from the Marshall Islands?" asked Nigel. No reply. He followed up with "What about Rothwell?", which raised a few cheers and then said "Told you..." to Neil. Nigel asked the Rothwellites if they knew Mad Macca. "Every estate has a Mad Macca".
"Which actor won an Oscar, and then the next year his son also won an Oscar for best song in a film?" asked Nigel. The answer was Rex Harrison who won an Oscar for his performance in 1964's My Fair Lady, and his son Noel won one for the song Windmills Of Your Mind in 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair. Not quite "the next year", but let's not quibble. It's a good question.
Sophie Raworth was the next celeb spotted by Nigel. At the end of Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes, the line was adapted from John Denver's work "That's when you were singing, that's when you were singing... Wilfred Rhodes take me home, to the place I was born, West Yorkshire, where I belong." Etc. etc..
Another request from the crowd. You know how it goes. "Tess Of The Dormobiles!" "Yeah. That's one of ours. These don't know it, but I'll play it for you in the corridor later". Nigel spotted Damian Grammaticus in the crowd. "That's not your real name, is it?" Tony suggested that it could be an anagram. Yet again, Karl earned his wage just by doing the "Geraldine" backing vocal. Maybe that was something to do with his microphone not working for most of the second half of the gig. Karen noted some particularly great drumming by Carl on In A Suffolk Ditch.
I didn't have a barometer on me, but I'm sure it would have shown the atmospheric pressure to be "stuffy". Good job then, that I could see one of the stage doors being opened, to let some air in.
Nigel gave us a tremendous variation to the regular lyric of Song To The Siren. "Long afloat on shipless oceans / I did all my best to smile / Until your singing eyes and fingers / Drew me loving to your isle / And you sang... Marching on together / We're gonna see you win / We are so proud, we shout it loud...". That met with the approval of all the Leeds United fans there tonight. And presumably all the Tim Buckley fans. And all the folk who fall into both camps. An interesting mash-up.
There was a shout of "Albert Hammond!" from the floor. "Where?" replied Nigel. Later he pointed out "Clive Myrie, ladies and gentlemen... That trestle table's mine." With Myrie, Raworth and Grammaticus, there was surely a BBC News outing going on tonight.
Ahead of We Built This Village, Nigel sang a snippet of a song that could have been called I'll Never Be Man Enough For You. Neither Tony nor Andrew knew anything about this, so there was no point whatsoever in me doing any research there.
The mosh pit was building up considerable steam, particularly from National Shite Day onwards, with security keeping an eye out. The moat between stage and crowd at Stylus is larger than usual at these places, so they were able to patrol to good effect. Things got a little tetchy with one git in particular. At the end of the main set, Nigel gave us his usual farewell, "Have a great weekend. Weatherwise or otherwise."
Here is how the evening went:She's In Broadstairs
And three songs in the encore:Time Flies By When You're A Driver Of A Train
Very generous of Karl to once again hand over his set list. This time round, there was a discrepancy. The band played When I Look At My Baby, which was not included on the written list.
It was a 10pm clear out, so there wasn't too much chat in the second half of the show. Maybe the band had one eye on the clock. Understandable. It was one of the few times when you come out of a gig and it's still daylight. We discussed heading to The Fenton, along with Graham Le Taxi, Brian and Daz. Howie had met his cousin and went to Foleys. Maybe Daz made it into the pub, but there was a queue to get in by the time we arrived. Instead we headed into The Dry Dock across the road, with Tony and Andrew also at our table. Steve, Glyn and Alison were at the next table. Sarah, Graham, Andy and Celia had also dipped out of the queue at The Fenton. A few Dukla shirts were in the bar as well my own. I exchanged waves as folk came and went.
We read up on Tranmere's possible ground move. I thought Nigel might have mentioned this. Or maybe it needs to wait until things become clearer. He was also silent on the subject of prospects for Le Tour. And maybe I didn't catch up with folk as much as I could have done, only exchanging brief Hellos with Mike and many others. There's a two-month lay-off now, until we meet up again, deep in the cave at Castleton.