I hadn't been able to get to a HMHB gig since Liverpool last November so it was with eager anticipation that I boarded the 13.00 National Express Coach from Liverpool. ''Get me to Sheffield with plenty of time to spare'' I rather smugly thought to myself as I settled back into the velour seat with a copy of this month's Trout & Salmon. Almost five hours later my coach rumbled into Sheffield like a flak-damaged Lancaster Bomber having been enmeshed in the wide spread traffic chaos effecting South Yorkshire that day. But enough of the grumpy old gets type rhetoric, many gig-goers that day (including the band) found themselves in a similar coracle.
Like your first par 3, a tax rebate and an against-the-odds away win, a HMHB gig is an occasion made for pure hedonistic enjoyment. The Boardwalk is the kind of venue that seems tailor made for bands like HMHB small but not restricting and just intimate enough. The support act, Calvin Party (also on the Probe Plus label) gave an admirable performance that convinced me they may be worthy of further enquiry despite the singer's clichéd 'I hate New Labour' ranting.
HMHB took the stage at 9.50pm and burst forth with Mathematically Safe, perhaps a passing nod to Nigel and Neil's beloved Tranmere Rovers narrowly avoiding relegation this last season. The night's set continued apace, despite a couple of equipment snags due, rumour has it, to a hasty sound check necessitated by the aforementioned transit problems. The glitches did, however present Nigel with a few more ad-lib opportunities. We where kept swinging or moshing to an excellent selection of tracks such as three gems from the last album, Corgi Registered Friends, Shit Arm - (it's not about Pete, it's about a spin bowler / musician with declining powers) Bad Tattoo and 'For What Is Chatteris? ''Prick Barriers at both ends'' - a handy device to thwart ''what did god give us Neil'' man? Along with an excellent selection of all-time favourites including CAMRA man, The Light at The End of The Tunnel, Bob Wilson, and that fixture of the fixture list 24 Hour Garage People though I'm afraid I didn't catch how much the crisps where this time.
I don't know if I'm alone in my almost child-like anticipation of the night's cover tune. We've been treated some cracking, imaginative renditions of well and not-so well known songs over the years. This time it was Elvis's Latest Flame which continued the fine tradition. One thing did briefly worry me as I heard the first chords of the number - was the performance inspired by the ex Tranmere Goal Keeper, Eric Nixon's rather embarrassing Elvis impression at half-time during the last festive season home game? Happily my fears where swiftly allayed. Inevitably the night was over too soon but thankfully, the encore included Joy Division Oven Gloves, a track that has quickly established itself as a HMHB classic. The caravan (trailer - US) shaped guitar which Nigel brandished during the latter part of the set is worthy of note, if only to the instrument heads among us. It is a rare copy of an 'Airscreamer' model made by Epiphone. The originals where made for a band called The Trailer Park Troubadours, who tour the US playing caravan conventions.
It's undoubtedly one of life's impossibilities is to go to a HMHB gig and not have a laugh. Next time you go to one just stop and take a moment to look around you at all the smiling faces and as you do, clock some of the T-shirts! Apart from the ubiquitous Dukla Prague Away Shirts and the bands own merchandise numbers have a look at some of the amusing, unusual or just plain weird motifs and slogans. I swear one guy had a photo of Ken Dodd consummating the act with a Dalek or it could have been a wheelie bin and Cherie Blair - well it was dark!