Geoff Davies, HMHB's manager from the early days until fairly recently, died just before September's gig in Bristol. His funeral was the week before this show in Wolverhampton. That was a bridge too far for Karen and me. We were away at the coast and chose our own way of remembering this lovely man. Paddy Shennan wrote a piece for The Liverpool Echo where he quoted Nigel. Much of Geoff's favourite music was referenced. At the time when we would otherwise have been travelling to Liverpool, instead we worked through stuff mentioned in the article... Ennio Morricone, Beethoven, Duke Ellington, George Jones, The Clash, Captain Beefheart, Eliza Carthy, Ingmar Bergman soundtracks and Bernard Herrmann. Oh, and HMHB of course. We played God Gave Us Life, being the first track on the demo which came into Geoff's possession all those years ago. And we walked to the end of the pier, to toss some flowers into the outgoing tide.
Karen and I shared stories of our dealings with him. We both had tales of him having to be corrected about the Doors Opening times at these shows. "The doors open at 8," he once said to Karen, when in fact they opened at 7. And he would be left with a hurried scramble to set up the stall. A gig had been announced (Lincoln) but his best description was "That place. Turn left at Chesterfield."
After a late cancellation of a show in Preston, I got into the habit of ringing Geoff a day or so beforehand, to make sure that stuff was still going ahead. Even that caused problems. "Don't ring me during Coronation Street!" Duly bollocked, I made sure that never happened again. The only time I came close was when A Hard Day's Night was on. Apparently, Geoff is somewhere in one of the crowd scenes. A good bloke. Three cheers for him. He even gave me a free Urge For Offal t-shirt at one of the gigs. I wore that on the day of the funeral.
Imagine our surprise when a picture of the band appeared during an episode of Only Connect. The link was "things that are half man and half something else". It was an old photo. And there were five chaps in the picture. That's not been the case with HMHB since the early nineties.
The Humdrum Express supported HMHB in Leamington Spa earlier this year. We saw them playing in Studentland in Leeds at the end of September. This was the full band playing (although the lifesize cut-out of Sally Gunnell was missing). Ian introduced the bassist ("Bernard Bresslaw's nephew") who had won a Take A Break competition, with the prize of a round of crazy golf with Brendan Ormsby, and a year's supply of tinned asparagus. All grand stuff, and I hope that we can get to hear some of these songs at a HMHB evening soonish. There was even an Undertones cover thrown in for good measure. Thanks to Ian for the set list which included some stuff which was new to us. Another album out next year?Chipsticks
With reference to In A Suffolk Ditch, it's true! We will never see Nicolas Witchell ever again after his retirement next year. As seen on the BBC website. There is a low bridge near where we live, which is often hit by high wagons. No buses as yet, but, as happened a couple of days before this gig, it still gives us the opportunity to shout "Helen!!!" as per Satin Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves.
We had a fairly standard journey. Bus into Wakefield, train to Birmingham New Street. Change there for Wolverhampton. We were staying at the Premier Inn nearly next door to the train station. First off, we went for a stroll to search for the venue. On the way, we had our first spotting of a Biscuiteer, being Phil. Having found The Wulfrun, we then took lunch at The Slug And Lettuce. Lo and behold, The Hitchers (tonight's support band) were sitting at the next table. We talked to Niall who very kindly handed over a set list in advance.4.30 Two Down
There were also a couple of notes on there. Andy was taking lead vocals on everything except for Linedancefinalsmassacre, where Niall had the honours. And there was a point about their show taking twenty-nine minutes. That seemed a bit precise, but maybe they were under pressure from the promoter.
The paper review didn't bring much to the surface. We completed the Metro Quick Crossword. Quickly, of course. Metro had a couple of pages covering "the pick of this week's live music". Blink 182, Baxter Dury and Gary Numan all had gigs in their Top Ten. But not HMHB. Karen also had a look in The Express And Star, and the Black Country Bugle. No mention in either of them.
We are down to a mere two gigs in the diary. Holmfirth in November, which sold out some time back. And Newcastle in February. Tickets are still available for the latter, but on recent form, action is required if you are going. So, as things stand, the cupboard is a little bare.
We were staying a fair walk away from the venue. On the way, we saw a few folk here and there. Andy was stopping at the same place as us, Graham and Julie were heading for some grub at Wetherspoons, and we bumped into two of The Hitchers at large in town. When we arrived at the venue, we found Tony first in line in the queue, having driven from home in Brum.
Alison arrived with Andy, who was at his first HMHB show. There was an error in the Bristol review, where I referred to Mrs Bad Loser. Her name is Lyn. If required, I will correct the spelling next time. Maybe there's another "n"? When inside the venue, a lot of the regulars dropped by to say Hello: Andrew, Steve A, Chris, Peter, John B, Paul, Andy, Brian and Ian from Humdrum Express with his mate Steph. Ian told me he has a book coming out at some point. Not sure if it's going to be ready for Christmas. Maybe for my birthday next year
The Hitchers set went exactly as per the listing from Niall. Nice touch from him after the first song where he expressed commiseration at Geoff's death. Before hearing them, I had not really known what to expect. This is meaty stuff. These are coveted support slots, with a few bands in the queue, but I could cope with seeing these again. Well in fact we were doing just that the day after this show. The Hitchers were heading north to a gig in Leeds. Report to follow next time.
There were a few more Hellos in the interval. Drew and his mate Chris were down at the front. I'm sure I heard Drew right. They had cycled down from Liverpool. Admirable. And I exchanged waves with Howie who had taken up his place in the mosh pit.
HMHB's walk-on music was Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number One. This was the first classical album to sell a million copies, according to Tony. There will be a gold disc on a wall somewhere. "We were going to walk on to Abba's The Way Old Friends Do," noted Nigel. "But The Hitchers finished with Mamma Mia". Tony shouted to Nigel that Tchaikovsky was paranoid about his head falling off. "There is no punchline to that?" replied Nigel, "I feel sorry for the blighter."
"Are you OK for bags?" asked Nigel before the opening song, A Lilac Harry Quinn. Neil's intro to Awkward Sean was from The Beverley Hillbillies. This great band has such rich and varied reference points.
Celebrity spottings began with Henry Searle. Later it was Robert Bathurst ("he owns the skeleton of Fatty Arbuckle, you know."). Hugh Porter and Anita Lonsborough were also pointed out, but for some reason weren't standing next to each other.
Karl was wearing an Inner City Unit Acid Punk t-shirt. (Some Hawkwind off-shoot, according to Andrew). Everyone else in the band was wearing plain tops. Nigel said that they had been to the Charles Darwen museum in Shrewsbury. A maximum of ten people were allowed in. There were eight people in the queue, so the band just barged in at the front, thereby proving Darwen's theory of natural selection.
"Anyone in from Oldbury?" asked Nigel. "Do you know Macca?" And a follow-up question established that they have seven re-cycling bins. "Seven!" Nigel wondered. "That's for the whole town!" was the response from the floor. In Renfield's Afoot it was noted that Roydon Park was "nowhere near Oldbury". And he pointed out that the song is a "true story".
"Here's one we haven't done for a while," explained Nigel, ahead of It Makes The Room Look Bigger. And there was a decent machine-gun mime from him, on the final line of the song. He said that one of the hecklers sounded like the starter at The Grand National. It was suggested it could be a new career for him, if he joined the Unusual Impressionists Club, probably in Oldbury. Nigel also said that he knows the first man in Kidderminster to have an air-fryer. "Molyneux hasn't half changed," he noted. "We walked down the subway confidently." And he added, about their fans, "they've got a good selection of songs."
Carl's drum solo during Irk The Purists was magnificent. When the band played Evening Of Swing, Tony reminded me that that song had been played at his son's wedding. During Tending The Wrong Grave, in the Meadow Of Consolation section, bearing in mind Karl's guitar work, Nigel commented "I didn't expect a Bulgarian cartoon soundtrack." Karl's glebe cow drooling got a cheer. And this song was another true story. In Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes, the last line was "That's when I was saying / A re-make of The Wicker Man won't work." (A timely reminder that this gig was on the day of Britt Ekland's 81st birthday.)
There was a snippet of Black Night. Similarly with Brimful Of Asha, leading into Vatican Broadside. And there was a demonstration of Nigel's left-arm over-the-wicket technique. Or should that be around-the-wicket? Dukla Prague was dedicated to anyone going on the Wolverhampton Crimewatch Facebook page and asking why the police helicopter is out.
There was a word about Bedford... If you drive anti-clockwise around the main roundabout then the devil appears. When he mentioned Melrose, Nigel looked at me and said "Can we have it in the minutes that I know how to pronounce Hawick?"
As we got to the end of the main set, Ian and Steph had to leave to get the bus home. That's rock and roll. There was a shout for "King Of Capel Curig". "King?" replied Nigel. Could be wrong, but I think he said that, if it has to be anyone, the King Of Couple Curig should be O.G. Jones.
When the band came back for the encore, there was a shout for The Six Wives Of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman. "If I was a reviewer," said Nigel, "I would write 'Yes Songs? No Songs'". Nigel talked about his older brother being a prog rock fan and having gatefold sleeves on his wall. He quoted the lyric to Benny The Bouncer by ELP."
The caravan guitar was brought out to a multitude of cheers. But it was only played for about ten seconds, just to prove that it still works. "This is for those who think this wasn't going to work. Actually, it's not too bad. You could park it in a lay-by in Capel Curig. It's a multi-purpose guitar. You could live in it. You could sit on a Cadbury's Smash tin and play Scrabble with the family in it, when it's raining for two weeks."
There was a musical mix-up. Nigel thanked everyone for coming out, and started playing Joy Division Oven Gloves, but the rest of the band knew that Take The Skinheads Bowling was still to be done. The cover version included the joke about dreaming that you have eaten a giant marshmallow. And then, in the morning, your pillow has disappeared. Joy Division Oven Gloves saw the Rossi/Parfitt manoeuvre between Nigel and Karl. Best t-shirt of the evening was worn by the guy in the Hall, Stairs & Landing number.
Thanks to Neil for the set list. The actual songs played were:A Lilac Harry Quinn
And in the encore:Look Dad No Tunes
I'm Getting Buried In The Morning and Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes were not written down. The latter resulted from a shout from the crowd of "Do you switch the kitchen light out with your chin?" Nigel's response was that, yes, he can still do it with his chin. But he can also use his bottom lip for this purpose.
There were more Hellos on the way out. Mike popped by. And I bumped into Hocky from Bite Back, and three guys over from the United States. There was Sean from Virginia and Bill from Texas. But even with my limited knowledge of American geography, I reckon that Lindsay from Oregon gets the Travelled Furthest award. Afterwards a load of us made an evening of it by heading to the North Street Bar.
On the Saturday morning it was grand to see Pete from Bradford, back fighting fit, in a manner of speaking. Looking forward to seeing him again at the Holmfirth gig. Also on the Saturday morning, we saw Andy's Facebook message where he said that weather conditions had led to train cancellations, which meant he was stranded in Preston, being unable to get any further north. It's four weeks to the Holmfirth gig. Hopefully he can make some progress in that time and we'll see him there.
Very sorry to hear about Mickey's illness. Fight the good fight, brother, and catch up soon.
One last poignant story about Geoff. From Karen, at a show in Bristol some years back. We were queuing up outside, and a particularly harassed Geoff emerged from the venue. Karen asked if he was OK. "I'll be glad when it's all over," he replied. "Life I mean. Not just tonight."