I don't claim perfection in my record-keeping, but this would appear to be HMHB's first appearance in Birmingham since October 2013, when they played at The O2 Academy. Quite some gap. I know there was that little interruption to proceedings with the pandemic, but it is an awfully long time between drinks. That show had the added bonus of having Tony's morris-dancing side Beorma Morris performing outside beforehand. The support band that night, as on many of these evenings was Roja. Whatever happened to them? Can't remember the size of The Academy, but Tony gave an assurance that this place is bigger. A HMHB song came to mind when he said that.
At the end of August Karen and I raised a metaphoric glass to John Peel on what would have been his 83rd birthday. Without him, I might never have got to hear HMHB. Not with those blinking Radio One playlists. Forever a great man.
One evening we were watching a collection of 70s videos on TV. Mull Of Kintyre came on. We wondered about this song, and how it mirrors HMHB's Oblong Of Dreams. Paul McCartney is quoted as follows: "I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with a song about where we were living: an area called Mull Of Kintyre. It was a love song really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was travelling away and wanting to get back there." We wouldn't be surprised if Nigel said something similar about the HMHB song. Karen spotted an online review of Panic Shack, a band from Cardiff, who were headlining a festival at Bodega in Nottingham. They were described as a band "whose music has been described as The Go-Go's meets Half Man Half Biscuit". In that case, they could be worth seeking out. But for the time being, we are reserving judgement. One evening we were surfing the TV channels. That's TV were showing The Kenny Everett Show. Gordon Giltrap appeared. Had to wrack my brain to remember where he gets a mention in the HMHB files. These days these things don't come so easy. Malayan Jelutong? No. Floreat Inertia, of course. Right album, though. The power of recall was put to the test, as the song was played tonight.
One of my regular insomnia sessions was spent (as oft before) listening to Dotun Adebayo on Five Live. With his guest presenters, and folk calling in, he was discussing songs that would be good to hear at The Queen's funeral. A lot of gospel stuff was suggested. Not my strong point, but I liked one of them, called Take My Hand Sweet Lord. And there was a lot of charty stuff. Simply The Best of course. In the dead of night my mind was not properly churning through the HMHB collection. Is there anything in there that would suit? I'll have Dukla Prague at mine. Have a word with the vicar when the time comes...
Gig going has not quite got going. We've got a few more musical appointments in the last third of the year. A re-working of Shakers at Wakefield Theatre was as near as we got since the Castleton show. That, and seeing Doug Stanhope in Sheffield. I will try my best to follow Doug's rule for life. He suggested Radical Apathy. It's the way to go.
We had originally booked train tickets to travel to the gig. Then a strike was announced. At which point Andrew kindly offered to drive us to Birmingham. Then the strike was cancelled. We stuck with Plan B. I gazed idly out of the window as Karen drove us to his house. We left her car on the drive and Andrew took over. A46, M69 and M6 and a break for coffee at Corley North services. Another one to tick off the list. Immense debts of gratitude to Karen for driving on the first leg of the journey, and to Andrew for getting us into the city. The logistics of getting us into the twenty-four hour car park would have caused me to melt down, but Andrew's logical mind got us through all the blips and blaps. There was some fine music played along the way. We had Shatner's Thirteen O'Clock for the first leg. And Andrew had put a fine collection together. Babylon's Burning, Are Everything, Alternative Ulster, Blitzkrieg Bop and Holiday In Cambodia among others. Much talk among the fanbase of canal walks and pub crawls ahead of the gig. We settled for a toddle to locate the venue and a baguette from Greggs. While we were out, I bought a Birmingham Mail, hoping the HMHB show might get a mention. Not a peep. Although there was plenty on West Brom's "malaise" and their failure to get any signings during the transfer window. We retraced our steps back to The Institute, and paused outside the church of St Martins In The Bullring. We looked and looked again. It's true about gargoyles looking like Bob Todd. Proof was there to be seen.
When we got to the venue, Huddersfield Graham was already waiting outside. He was hoping to be able to swap his balcony seat for one in the rough house. It turned out that he was successful. Seems that this place used to be Digbeth Town Hall and/or an Institute of some kind. Hence the venue's name. Obvs. From the stage during the gig Nigel told us all that when hangings had taken place, the bodies would be taken down to the basement here, to be dissected. Lovely. Internet research also told me that they had wrestling on back in the day, Mick McManus and all that lot. And Tony said he had seen many bands there. Fairport Convention. Hawkwind. Black Sabbath. As we were surveying the scene, he reckoned the folk on the balcony reminded him of Statler and Waldorf.
Plenty of faces old and new inside the venue. Met Dave. And Steffo introduced himself (previously known as "Ian's mate" at the Shrewsbury gig last year). Also loitering were Chris, Nigel and Jo, Graham Le Taxi, Postman Tony, George, Steve and John. Phil and I need to communicate better over wardrobe choices. Both of us were wearing the same design Humdrum Express t-shirt. Tony had done some grand evangelical work. Kate his neighbour, and various other of his associates were milling around. Rose, his son Joel's girlfriend, and Mandolin Phil from the Beorma Morris side.
"Good Evening, Each," announced The Humdrum Express as he took to the stage. "I'm sure you are all aware of the recent passing of Mrs McCluskey from Grange Hill. In recognition, please can we have a minute's applause after each song."
Some fine all-round entertainment from Ian. "My son came home from school in tears. He had done a spelling test and had got the word "Armageddon" wrong. I told him don't worry, it's not the end of the world."
"Anyone here remember Lockdown?" asked Ian, ahead of Staying Inn, his song about opening a pub in your back garden. "I can't believe I've got this far without doing a song about football," he said, before playing Third Choice Keeper. He was still sore about West Brom's defeat to Birmingham City ("The Blue Noses" according to Ian) earlier in the week
Brave Boy is about a fear of needles. Someone else will have to tell you the big word that Ian used. He also said that a Humdrum Express song, Leopard Print Onesie, had made it into a chart of The One Hundred Best Songs By Bands From The West Midlands. Tony asked what number it had achieved. "Never mind what number," replied Ian. "It's there." And we had his best line, "Bags For Life should get cheaper as you get older."
Isn't it grand to see such a close link between performer and audience? "Can anyone give me a lift back to Kidderminster?" asked Ian to one and all. "And are there any prospective employers who can give me a job?". This was fine stuff from The Humdrum Express. Forward Defensive is available on the website. And all the other releases. Get them all. And the t-shirts.
The following songs were playedLookalike Bond
In the interval, there were more Hellos. I had a word with Howie who was going to the Chester v Pontefract Collieries FA Cup tie the day after this gig. Look out for the winners of this tie appearing in the Final at Wembley next May. Tshirt of the Night award goes to Andy, for his L'Enfer C'Est Les Autres number.
I had seen a note posted somewhere or other, saying that HMHB would be on stage at 9 o'clock. And another, where they would be on as early at 8.30. They split the difference and arrived at 8.45. There was a Birmingham theme to the walk-on music, being Daybreaker by Electric Light Orchestra. It's not one that I know. But they were a favourite of Nigel's in the pre-punk days. I'm guessing it was his choice. Mind you, that is probably the case at every show where the CD player is working.
"Good evening, got your Club Card with you?" was Nigel's opening line. He played his caravan guitar for the opening song, Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus. But then he laid it to rest for the duration, opting for more conventional weaponry, or for some of the songs, none at all. Karl also has a new guitar. Hopefully this will be ready for deployment at Blackpool.
I noted a brief conversation between Tony, shouting to Nigel, together with the response. Tony: "Welcome to Birmingham." Nigel: "Thank you. One of my favourites." (A cynic asks... Would Nigel say that everywhere?)
Nigel the showman put his foot on one of the amps. Copying The Clash? Not quite. He was tying his shoelace. The first of many requests from the crowd led to an oft-repeated response: "Yeah, that's one of ours." There was even a request for "John Ganley Stance" after the variation-on-a-theme at Castleton. Nigel spotted glasses of water (or was it?) being handed out by security staff. "Bespoke service," he commented. "Actually, is that vodka? I've never tasted vodka, myself."
Patrons going on the batwalk were advised to wear "an extra layer". Neil's vocal solo at the beginning of Awkward Sean was Oh! Mr Porter. He slightly, but only slightly, changed the original words. There was a heckle requesting that Nigel do the Skippy joke. Nigel wasn't going to be caught out. "I knew that joke in 1972. I say 'I don't know', and you make the Skippy noise Tchk Tchk Tchk as if tutting." He said the Dad in Skippy was played by Ed Devereaux. Graham Le Taxi pointed out that Ed didn't play Skippy's Dad. He was in fact Sonny's Dad. Nigel confirmed that that was the case. He continued the theme in the following song, Lark Descending... "My hands are stained with Skippy milk" and also "signing in to my chalet as Ed Devereaux". And as usual in that song, we had Nigel sticking his plectrum to his forehead in the "I could have just got a job on the bins" section.
Andy Roxburgh has bought the house next door to Nigel's sister, after having lived in the Philippines and worked as Technical Director with the Asian Football Confederation. And he owns the skeleton of Jon Pertwee.
Nigel said he was going to turn his foot pedal off, because he wanted to sound like Newton Faulkner. He forgot the lyric during For What Is Chatteris and had to get a reminder from the audience about the "game reserve short of pheasants" line.
Tony shouted out that Neville Southall was sixty-four on this day. "One of my five favourite players ever," replied Nigel. "Best goalkeeper in the world in his day." There was (I understand) a Black Sabbath interlude, performed by Carl and Karl. I can't claim to be an expert on their stuff, but I'll work on it.
Nigel said "That's a Public Information song" after Bogus Official. He spotted Matt Baker in the crowd. With Julia Bradbury. "Any time this year with that wheelbarrow, Julia." Later on, Nigel also reminded Julia about the Henry Hoover.
I had hoped for a Nightingales cover at this show. The Prefects were an adequate second place. "That's one of yours," said Nigel to the crowd in general, at the end of Barbarellas. There was a false start to Every Time A Bell Rings. Karl thought Neil was playing in the wrong key. 'Appen.
Carol Klein was spotted in the crowd. "She believes that if you thumb backwards through an A to Z of Lowestoft, then the devil will appear." Nigel read a limerick. It started "There once was a man from Japan / whose verses never would scan..." I couldn't pick all of it up, but the last line was something about "fitting in as many syllables as he can." Someone else will remember it all.
Persian Rug Sale At The URC was described as "a newish one". Ahead of Joy Division Oven Gloves, Nigel thanked us all for coming out. "I hope it's not raining." On the line in the song, he pointed towards The Quantocks. Not sure how accurately though.
The first song in the encore was introduced as "a slightly local one apparently". Sure enough, Neil and Karl sang along. "She's In Broad Street." The moshing was particularly lively during the Magazine cover version. Nigel bade us a traditional farewell at the end of the night. "Have a great weekend. Weatherwise or otherwise."
The evening ran as followsFuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
And in the encore we hadShe's In Broadstairs
Thanks to Karl for the set list. There were a few amendments along the way. For example, Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus was originally scheduled well down the running order. And The Trumpton Riots and National Shite Day swapped places. But it all came together in the end. Best gig of the year? Don't I say that every time?
A few Hellos and Goodbyes on the way back out onto the street. There was Brian and his daughter Gaby. I nodded in Mike's direction. One of them nods where you are not sure that the other person has seen you. And there was a real celebrity there. Hocky from Biteback, who supported HMHB at Leeds Uni earlier in the year. In fact, there was another celeb. Apparently, James from The Nightingales was also present. Going to try and see them on tour when they play later in the year.
Back into Andrew's car on the Saturday morning. Another excellent soundtrack. He located the original version of A Song From Under The Floorboards. We also had Jilted John, Leader Of The Pack, I Wish I Was A Spaceman, Psycho and One Chord Wonders. The soundtrack was just me tapping on the keyboard as Karen drove us back into Yorkshire. Immense thanks to both chauffeurs.