The Assembly, Leamington Spa, Fri 17th March 2023 (19/03/23)

Roger Green:

First time at this venue since April 2018. Of course we've had the pandemic, but the place has also changed hands since the days when the cover photo of Urge For Offal was taken there.

I finished John Anderson's splendid A Great Face For Radio, during which I learned that in the early days of the Olympics they used to have competitions for shooting real pigeons. My, how times have moved on. Every now and then, John pops his head in at these shows. The book is worth a trawl round on the internet, or perhaps just ask him if he's got any copies left.

Dandelion Radio is an internet station which aims to Keep It Peel. To the extent that they run a Festive Fifty every year. HMHB had three entries in 2022's chart. Grafting Haddock In The George was at 16, Big Man Up Front was at 15, and the band's highest entry came with Midnight Mass Murder at 11. I expected Oblong Of Dreams to also score highly, but it wasn't there at all. That's democracy for you. It's a long time since Dickie Davies Eyes and The Trumpton Riots were HMHB's first entries in this chart, in 1986. Dandelion Radio have been keeping the tradition going since John's death in 2004. It's testament to the strength of the band's songs that they have made many appearances down the years, with the highest entry being Every Time A Bell Rings at 2, in 2018.

We had two whole nights out in the gap since the London show! One was at Cast in Doncaster for Graham Fellows' film Father Earth, telling the story of his trips to Orkney, to purchase an old church, with the intention of turning it into a recording studio. We also went out for a curry one night. Hectic schedule.

I see the BBC Sport website now has an "Editor's Recommendations" section, where you can watch disputed offsides, foot-in-touch tries and one-hand catches. Grand stuff, and a nod to the HMHB EP?

We're still not back in the habit of gig-going. Early to bed still seems a better option. An exception was seeing Blowdown, a play about the demise of Ferrybridge Power Station, just down the road from us. No pits, no power stations. It's grim up north. All praise to Red Ladder Theatre Company for telling the story. So that's actually three nights out

As I write this, there is a handful of HMHB gigs in the diary. Stowmarket, Cambridge, Hull. Edinburgh, Llangollen, Bristol and Holmfirth. With Wolverhampton also being added recently, for later in 2023. These things sell faster than ever before, and you're already too late for some of them. Best get moving. The Llangollen one seems a bit complicated. It's part of a larger festival.

Dickie Davies RIP. I nabbed this line off the web. "His most unlikely claim to fame came when the indie band Half Man Half Biscuit paid their own tribute to him in the 1986 song Dickie Davies Eyes." Actually, is that true? Dickie is mentioned in one line, which gives the song its title. But is it a tribute? Hmm, I'll have to think about that.

Radio Four's Word Of Mouth ran a feature on What Makes A Good Band Name. On the website I saw mention of Half Man Half Biscuit ("very high on the list" according to Bob Stanley from the programme) but I can't tell you much more about the whys and wherefores of it. I'm sure it will be available to hear somewhere.

Had a conversation with Andrew about Venn diagrams. That's how interesting life can be. We examined the possibility of a diagram linking HMHB shows and train strikes. He'll make a better job of it than me.

Another couple of copies of Mickey Bates's Leicester City fanzine Bentley's Roof landed. You need to be a supporter of the team to get the most out of it, but there are always gems in there. This time, in one issue there's an article headed The Spirit Of Radio dealing with the pre-Five Live days of sports coverage. Radio Two, 1500 on Long Wave radio. Them were the days. And in the other, there is a piece devoted to the career of Bobby Svarc. Mickey tells us this, about the end of Bobby's time at Colchester: "With Svarc refusing new terms at the Essex club, it wasn't long before he followed (Jim) Smith for a third time, he joined Blackburn for 25,000, a move that later would be immortalise in song by the indie band Half Man Half Biscuit." Poke around on the web and you'll find the fanzine.

While shuffling some papers around at home, I came across a copy of Back Beat fanzine from the Nineties, featuring an article on HMHB, mentioning in particular the release of Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral... "It's good to see that Nigel and the boys have lost none of their wit and perception over the years, as well as picking up the ability to play a few chords. The songs are the usual collection of keenly observed vignettes, and unlike what mostly passes for satire these days, manage to hit the target every time. Oh, and you can mosh to them." Four Skinny Indie Kids and Ready Steady Goa are mentioned as highlights, but the prize for best song was given to Turn A Blind Eye. The article is credited to Tez, clearly a wise and astute individual, particularly when considering the article's closing line... "These Biscuits will never go stale." After twenty-five years, I would have my doubts that this Leeds-based fanzine is still on the go. It was based in Studentland. The editorial team may well have moved on.

On 6 Music, Radcliffe And Maconie mentioned The Goombay Dance Band. And that was the day after I had been listening to Alan Brazil on the Talk Sport breakfast show. It felt right to then re-visit Our Tune. Every day is a Biscuit day. Likewise, there was a question on University Challenge, asking for the name of the computer program which beat the chess world champion Gary Kasparov. Karen and I both shouted out "Deep Blue!" Just another example of how the band's songs add to your general knowledge. Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess was overdue a hearing.

In other media news, Karen got in touch with Radcliffe And Maconie on 6 Music, to arrange what I believe is called a "birthday shout out" when I hit sixty the week before this show. As if that wasn't enough, I now get free prescriptions and there's the added bonus of bowel checks.

I was having a look around on the internet and came across Peter Ross's Big Issue article from a few years back, where he investigated us lot. "These Biscuiteers make even the most obsessive Dylan fans, the Bobcats of legend, look like mere dilettantes." I'm not arguing with that. And reading this feature made me wonder about Half Man Half Bike Kit. Are they still going round and about, keeping up with developments? They were mentioned recently on Chris's site.

We tuned into Gregory Keith on the internet, fronting his programme Into The Music. He was listening to Knobheads On Quiz Shows. He didn't seem to know what a knobhead is, but that goes to show how things get lost in translation across the Atlantic. Gregory was well impressed with the "guitar tone", but he wished there was more "lift" in the vocals. Are you taking note, Nigel?

On gig day, Karen was behind the wheel, for the drive to Andrew's. We had Cammell Laird Social Club in the CD player. That ensured a good singalong as we hurtled down the A1. And we had the added bonus of Karen spotting a Soft Verges sign on the way. Andrew took over for the second leg to Leamington. This time we had The Smiths. Could have been far worse than that. He also told us of the time he saw The Go-Betweens supporting Orange Juice. Wish I'd been there. We regaled each other with tales of losing keys and mobile phones. But I couldn't match him when it came to damaging his back while getting into a British Aerospace Jetstream at his local museum. Never heard that reason for a personal injury.

The first Biscuiteer spotted was Phil as we were checking in to the Premier Inn. Later we bumped into Gomez, taking a photo outside The Assembly. And John chatted with us as we took lunch at Bill's restaurant (chicken shawarma for Karen, and eggs benedict with chips for me). And we caught up with Huddersfield Graham when we got back to the hotel.

There wasn't much to consider in the Paper Review. The Coventry Telegraph was devoid of anything relating to tonight's show (although they pointed out that roads were being closed, with it being pothole-repairing season). The Courier got close. There was a picture of The Beat, who were due at The Assembly the following night. In other media news, our gig preparation was livened up when Steve Lamacq played The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train as part of his National Anthem feature.

Outside the venue, we met Tony, Andrew and Phil. There was an interesting note from Phil. Seemingly, Leamington was the home of Sam Lockhart, the first man to train elephants in the UK. Inside, I got talking to Finn and Matt, two fine chaps from Derby, who had already found their way to the bar, and seemed convinced that I was Jeff Dreadnought. I couldn't believe how rarely they got to these gigs. You live on a main train line, lads. You need to get to more of these shows. George joined in on the conversation. There was debate over George's shirt. Surely it was Ferencvaros, not Fenerbahce!

I exchanged greetings with Steve, who was in a I Used To Think That It Matters t-shirt. And then there was Ian, Elizabeth and Paul. Paul and I reminisced about the time when we saw HMHB in a school field in Brampton, Cumbria in 2006. Happy days. While there I had talked to Andy Kershaw (who introduced the band on stage). At the end of the evening, I had an uncertain walk in the pitch black, back to the next village, where I was staying. That was a grand night out.

Just before The Humdrum Express arrived on stage, I caught up with Arthur and Linda, who were there from Yorkshire, making their HMHB debut. Postman Tony also said Hello. And I exchanged waves with Mike and Graham Le Taxi.

Normally, The Humdrum Express is just Ian on his own. This evening, it was the full band with him. All well and good. John Chiedozie was mentioned, having seemingly written a letter to "Mr Express" in which he mentioned Postman Tony. Brian tapped me on the shoulder and said "I could be wrong, but I think Chiedozie used to play for Crystal Palace."

Ian took off his jacket to reveal a West Bromwich And District Sunday Methodist Table Tennis League (Runners-Up) t-shirt. He also had a cardboard cut-out of Sally Gunnell, adapted from his album cover. Thanks to Ian for organising a chorus of Last Of The Summer Wine. Growing old. That's me.

Here's what The Humdrum Express played:

Chip Sticks
When Peter Shilton Tweets
Online Beer Club
Denim In The Dugout
Brave Boy
Secret Troll
One Man's Tat (Is Another Man's Treasure)

One or two more attire spottings. There was a guy in a Barnstoneworth shirt, and someone else in a Primark FM number. There is a brand of clothing evolving from HMHB lyrics.

The evening took place in front of a Van Halen backdrop. Neil's handiwork apparently. Six years to the day since the band played in Worthing, here they were in Leamington. Carl had a skull and crossbones on his bass drum. Maybe a St Pauli reference? And Karl had a badge on his guitar strap, a design based on the front cover of Hawkwind's Space Ritual album. It went nicely with his Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters t-shirt. Karen's googling skills to the rescue again

It was around then that Howie turned up, with news of his pre-gig pub crawl with Gomez. The Boiler Room, Woodman, Fizzy Moon, then back to The Boiler Room. Didn't sound too bad, but I don't know the area so can't really comment.

When the lights go down and the music is turned up, you expect the band to walk on nearly straightaway. Not so tonight. A handful of tunes were played (Link Ray's The Rumble, I Fought The Law by The Clash, Turn Turn Turn by The Byrds and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths) all of which looked like they were going to be the one. But the band finally appeared during De Profundis (Out Of The Depth Of Sorrow) by Dead Can Dance.

Tony pointed out quite correctly that "we haven't had this for a while" as the band played the first song, Westward Ho!. That same comment could have been applied to a few songs tonight. Nigel had seen Caroline Lucas earlier at Norton Canes. She was filling in a betting slip, and asked him, "Are you doing that one about me?"

"Anyone here from Coventry?" asked Nigel. "Do you know John? I've got a mate there called John." Nigel saw a punter sitting on the shoulders of a fellow fan. "You should have brought some step ladders," he said.

In Renfield's Afoot, the note about booking was in capital letters. ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. And don't bring a police torch. There was an old line about origami. The local group had folded. "You won't be laughing if I turn you into a yacht."

The Unfortunate Gwatkin was written by a guy (possibly called Gary Bastow) who lives on a house boat between Beckenham and Penge. I noticed Nigel pointed at Karl during the line "Gwatkin as is no longer represents Gwatkin as was." And at the end of this song, Nigel added "True story."

When Nigel requested "More of Karl's guitar in the monitor, please," the response from Karl was "less of Nigel's vocal, please." There was plenty of Rossi and Parfitt stuff going on between the two of them. There was also much tuning up. Even Carl got involved, adjusting his cymbals. "Well, it's not Ronnie Scott's" noted Nigel.

"Birkenhead is like Beirut without the sunshine," said Nigel in conversation with someone from the crowd. There were a couple of fans in from those parts, one from Ackers Road, who was recognised as a WEBB - Woodchurch Estate Boot Boy. Later, he asked, "Anybody put their bins out on a Tuesday evening, ready for collection on the Wednesday?" Not much response... "I'm surprised there's not more," he added. "It makes you feel smug the day after. Especially if you also get it jet-washed".

Nigel mentioned that the Anarchist Society had been advertising for a treasurer, a secretary and a chair for two years, but have had no luck because... no one wants to recognise the hierarchy. And his wife had recently been to the West Indies. Jamaica? No, The Bahamas and St.Kitts.

Following The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman, Nigel added "To be fair, Lydia is a wonderful song." There were many "that's one of ours" in response to song requests, but we got a "We'll do that one someday" following a request for M-6-ster.

Nigel had trouble spotting The King of Hi-Vis in the crowd. A number of gentlemen were feeling the heat at the front, going topless. I didn't feel too bad myself, but a flow of air never goes amiss.

Ahead of Joy Division Oven Gloves, Nigel thanked everyone for coming along, and hoped that the band wouldn't mess it up with this final song. I hadn't noticed on the many times they have played this song previously, but Neil veers into the bass riff of Joy Division's Digital.

Before the three-song encore Nigel said it would be good to hear The Jesus And Mary Chain doing a cover of Help Me Rhonda. The list of songs from the evening was:

Westward Ho! - Massive Letdown
Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)
I'm Getting Buried In The Morning
Renfield's Afoot
Bottleneck At Capel Curig
In A Suffolk Ditch
I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves)
The Unfortunate Gwatkin
King Of Hi-Vis
Knobheads On Quiz Shows
Urge For Offal
The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman
The Light Pours Out Of Me
Busy Little Market Town
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
For What Is Chatteris
National Shite Day
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Vatican Broadside
Midnight Mass Murder
Oblong Of Dreams
When I Look At My Baby
The Trumpton Riots
Joy Division Oven Gloves

And in the encore

Every Time A Bell Rings
Everything's AOR

We don't always get two cover versions (Magazine and Status Quo), and even less likely is a 100 per cent match with the original set list. Thanks to Karl for handing his over. No additions, deletions or swapping around.

Afterwards, I said Hello to Drew, and then I was involved in a photo-shoot with other folk. I bought one of the new Humdrum Express t-shirts from Lorraine on the stall. And then we all negotiated the stairs back down to street level. Next stop, Stowmarket. Oh, and on the Saturday, Karen noticed that Haverfordwest gave Airbus a pasting in the Welsh League. Wonder if Awkward Sean was there? And did the away fans turn up in numbers?