The John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Fri 14th April 2023 (16/04/23)

Roger Green:

We were looking at some of the videos from 2013, when HMHB last appeared here. The band's following travels in bigger numbers than ten years ago, so we were apprehensive about breathing space, particularly after the problems that some folk were having with the heat at the Leamington gig in March.

Trawling through the internet, Karen came across something that Chris had posted. Being HMHB's version of A Legend In My Time, the cover played at their last gig here. He had linked it to an on-air quote from Peel. "We get more requests for Half Man Half Biscuit than for any other band I think, through emails and text messages." More than any other band? That was interesting to hear.

Over in the book corner, I read Wally... Did You No Wrong by Ron Evans. This is the story of Wally Nightingale, an original Sex Pistol who was hoofed out of the band just before things started to take off. Face didn't fit. That kind of thing. A sad tale of a bloke who was seemingly airbrushed out of history. From there, I have moved on to "Pele: The Autobiography". Apart from references to a Brazil shirt with a Number 10 on the back, I can't imagine there are too many HMHB mentions. But I'll let you know as I go along. Not a bad player. In the sixties, most teams would have found a space for him.

Don't tell her, but I've sorted my first Christmas present for Karen. This being John Robb's comprehensive door-stopper The Art Of Darkness - A History Of Goth. I got a signed copy when he was being interviewed about it, at Jumbo Records in Leeds. Maybe I'll dip into it myself to see if I can pick up advice on mascara and all things undead.

Later that day, more Goth was on the agenda. The Webb live just down the road from HMHB, but they were headlining an evening at The Library in Leeds, called Carpe Noctem. The only Biscuit news was that Joy Division Oven Gloves got a spin during the interval. It felt a bit out of place, but it's always good to hear.

Friday night and the gates are low? I wasn't there when Tranmere were at home to Harrogate the other week, so couldn't say. But a draw saw them slide a little further down the table. The crowd will be even lower next time.

Changes are afoot at 6 Music. They seem to be planning various cuts and mergers. HMHB don't get a lot of airplay to start with. So there probably won't be much difference.

Big thanks to Andrew for undertaking driving duties over the weekend. Karen drove the first leg, to Andrew's house, then was in the front dealing with IT queries, such as looking up the cover version (SOS) from the last time the band played in Stowmarket. And I was in the back hitting the wrong keys while trying to put these notes together. We called at Cambridge Services for refreshments. Decent bacon and sausage butties on offer there if you're ever nearby.

I always thought that John Peel lived in Stowmarket. In fact, it was a couple of miles away in a place called Great Finborough. A blue plaque on The Pettiward Hall marks this fact. "John Robert Parker Ravenscroft OBE (1939 to 2004). Pioneering and influential BBC broadcaster who helped the careers of many artists. Lived in this village from 1971 to 2004." Karen, Phill, Andrew and I had a walk round the graveyard at the nearby St Andrew's Church, where Peely is buried. It was moving to see him there. A great man. Even now, the majority of my music collection is from folk that I first heard on his show. The gravestone has become a little worn over the years. It certainly isn't a "celebrity grave". He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

We travelled into Stowmarket itself afterwards, to check out the venue. "JPC" written on the bins outside gave the place away. Inside, we spoke to the lady at the front desk. She had been dealing with a lot of returned tickets. I hope these were matched against folk who were wanting to go. Small venue, big demand. It happens.

After that, it was time for more refreshments. We went to the Lime Tree Café. Nigel, Denise and Neil had the same idea. Andrew and Nigel got into a discussion about the prospects for Bolton and Tranmere, as well as games gone by. There was a slight controversy over the two free biscuits with our order. Andrew and I thought they were with our cups of tea. But they were actually supposed to go with Karen's coffee and Phill's hot chocolate. We scoffed them anyway. The situation was rectified by a further supply of biscuits. Just something to look out for, if you are ever part of a group in such a situation.

We got back to the Travelodge, by which time Tony had arrived from Birmingham. After a bit of rest and recuperation, we were all back in Andrew's car for another drive back into town. And we were outside The Centre in good time for the doors opening at 7.00. Phill was stopping at a pub in Woolpit and wasn't far behind us. When inside, I saw a poster showing what was coming up at the centre. There was a quote from Peel, about HMHB..."I've said it before. They're a national treasure. When I die, I want them to be buried with me." Well, he didn't quite get his wish, but I think we all know what he meant.

There was a steady flow of Biscuiteers arriving. We had seen Howie and Daz at the beginning of their trek. They had made light work of the pubs of Stowmarket. Postman Tony, John, Steve, Brian and Graham Le Taxi all made one in, along with Mr and Mrs Exford. Examining the interior of the building, you might think it would have been a chapel in its previous life. But I was told that it was a corn exchange.

The support band was Birds Of Hell. There is just the two of them. When they began they were seated opposite each other, a bit like one of those Alas Smith And Jones sketches, with a couple of keyboards. From there they moved on to being a conventional guitar-and-drums duo. Multi-talented and a little strange. That fits just fine with me. Just a shame they didn't have a CD for sale. I'm still struggling with this download business, but I'll keep an eye out for them, although they are not from my part of the world. You can't go wrong with song titles like like I've Really Got To Know My Neighbours Since The Apocalypse. And there was the added bonus of the singer being a lookalike of a few people. A bit of Don Van Vliet, Roy Wood, Mickey Dolenz and even Mr Rusty in there. I hope the people of Suffolk can give Birds Of Hell their support.

Their set list was on stage before they were. I scribbled what it said...

Where Do You Fall
Practice Punching My Hands
Los Yarmouth
Tesco Express

There was also a note "Switch From Guitar Amp To PA". But I think that was an instruction, rather than a song title. At the end of their set, there was a bit of a medical drama when a guy near us passed out. Dr John swung into action, and all appeared to end well.

In the interval, Andrew noted that the music on the PA was "not very John Peel". Yes, I suppose Undertones / Nightingales / Cocteau Twins would have been more apt, rather than the funky stuff that we heard. The Exfords were diverted by a skull and crossbones sticker on Carl's drums. It wasn't the Achtung Bono variation. They suspected it was from St Pauli football club.

HMHB appeared at nine o'clock. I spotted Sheila Ravenscroft holding the door open for them. Thanks to Tony for identifying the walk-on music, as Theme One by Van Der Graaf Generator. Karl was wearing a Status Quo t-shirt, featuring the band's silhouettes. Might have been one to commemorate their final gig. Carl was wearing a Be A Refugee shirt (a Van Der Graaf Generator reference). And Neil's was his bass guitarist number.

After the opening song (The Light At The End Of The Tunnel), Nigel sang the jingle "Washing machines live longer with Calgon." And he asked "Is anyone in from Aberystwyth?" He answered his own question... "There never is."

James Scowcroft was the first celebrity spotting of the evening. Later on, Nigel also called out Orla Guerin. He wants his foot spa back. Through the evening, Nigel had repeated guitar strap problems. It kept coming unhooked. Ever the professional, he soldiered on. As before, in Renfield's Afoot, patrons were invited to bring a torch - "But not a police torch!"

Nigel had been told that today was New Year is Sri Lanka. He also pointed out that it was the anniversary of the demise of the Titanic. "It's going to sink in about three hours." Nigel said he preferred the Kenneth More film above the Leonardo DiCaprio version. Although he didn't like the way that the baker from Birkenhead (Charles Joughin) was portrayed as a drunkard. He was a hero, and was also on the SS Oregon when it sank. Not exactly a lucky charm, though. Tony reckons he died by drowning in the bath, having survived those two traumas.

In the course of a conversation, Exxo shouted out "Deffo!" in reply to a point. Nigel said that that was the first time that the word "Deffo" had been used in Stowmarket. With two 'f's of course. A visit to Woodbridge Farmer's Market was highly recommended.

The closing line of Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes was "That's when I was saying Foot Golf in the UK just won't work." I'm sure I heard the opening line of Song To The Siren ahead of For What Is Chatteris. Ninety-Nine Per Cent Of Gargoyles is about an electrician from West Virginia who went to Inverness, to buy a Vauxhall Viva from his brother-in-law. Nigel referred to the song What Made Milwaukee Famous before the song about Colombia. And that song had the traditional snippet of Black Night at the beginning.

There was some banter between Nigel and Postman Tony about being a resident of Collyhurst. And Nigel recalled a recent funeral he went to for a traffic warden. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave there was a knocking sound, and the occupant said "I'm not dead.". The Vicar said it was too late now as he has already filled in the paperwork.

Persian Rug Sale At The URC is "another true story". There was a shout from the floor of "How many of yous lot know?" Nigel had to think about it before recognising the song. "Oh yes, I know it. We'll do it next time." For years now, he has been sticking a plectrum to his forehead during the "job on the bins" bit in Lark Descending. It happened again tonight. Ahead of Joy Division Oven Gloves, Nigel announced "We'd better do this in tune." It all sounded OK to me.

After four decades, Neil is still easing his way into the band. He got mixed up between the opening notes of Oblong Of Dreams and When I Look At My Baby, playing one while the rest of the band was playing the other.

Midnight Mass Murder was dedicated to the Reverend Sarah Jenkins. "Every Christmas Eve she gets them coming out of The Chestnut Horse." The song says it all. We were invited to "join in if you want" when they played How I Wrote Elastic Man. All grand stuff, as usual.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
Ode To Joyce
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Swerving The Checkatrade
I'm Getting Buried In The Morning
Renfield's Afoot
Look Dad No Tunes
The Best Things In Life (just the "slippers" bit)
Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes
Tending The Wrong Grave For Twenty-Three Years
For What Is Chatteris
Ninety-Nine Per Cent Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
What Made Colombia Famous
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Persian Rug Sale At The URC
National Shite Day
Tess Of The Dormobiles
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
The Trumpton Riots
Lark Descending
When I Look At My Baby
Oblong Of Dreams
Joy Division Oven Gloves

And then in the encore...

Midnight Mass Murder
How I Wrote Elastic Man
Every Time A Bell Rings

Thanks to Karl for handing me his setlist. No changing the order, no additions, no deletions. This was exactly how it all went.

I exchanged Hellos with Mike, in his Ipswich Town reserves shirt. There was a quick chat with Sheila on the way out. I asked her to get this band back as soon as poss. It was throwing it down as we made it back to the car. Andrew got us back to the Travelodge. And that was the end of the evening. Not really all that long to go until the next gig...