Second of 4 (any more to come guys?) HMHB gigs this year and surely the least conventional. This time have dragged my long suffering (but secretly I am sure appreciative of the band) wife and a couple of recent converts to Brampton. How would HMHB work at a New Age-ish folk festival? Went the chatter. In my head, of course, not to others. So we're in the pub in Brampton, and suddenly there's the first Dukla Prague away shirt. Then a smattering of HMHB t shirts materialise. Christ - it's like "The Birds". But in a good way. I'm not the only one here among the Brampton pilgrims who favours songs about Joy Division Oven Gloves over people singing with one finger in their ear about crop rotation and weather cocks. Though perhaps I should not diss, given the band's own clear passion for blues / folk and the insistence of our genial host, Mr. Kershaw, that HMHB are "the greatest British folk band of our generation". He (Andy) was milling around nicely outside the marquee, chatting to punters - I accosted him with the information that the last gig I had seen him introduce (Bundhu Boys, 1990, Loughborough Uni) had been magnificent, and we agreed that this one would be as well. Coming up to 10 pm and the Dukla Prague shirts are manifold now up the front - the HMHB crowd really are a delight to mingle with, the passion, devotion and encyclopaedic knowledge of the songs magical. Speculation abounds as to the setlist, typed out or not..... it's a folk festival, will they do more folky numbers? Acoustic? New stuff? Then they were on and off - other reviews have listed the set list (thanks! - how do you do it?) but for me it was one of the best I have seen them do, some absolute favourites of mine (Uffington Wassail, Evening Sun, Chatteris) and some unexpected treats (Tending the Wrong Grave for 23 Years, Pancake Day, and an outstanding DEAN FRIEDMAN!!!!!!!). Can't stand Magazine (sorry) so Shot by Both Sides meant lavatory time, but the encore really pushed it into overdrive - A Country Practice, extended with other musings from Nigel "buy non-organic food and spend the money you save taking your kids to animal sanctuaries" - and a truly mesmerising "T for Toxteth, T for Tennessee" finale - then they were done. Or were they? In the wings they were just about to come back on (Andy Kershaw confirmed this after the gig) but the bloke who does the PA put the bloody lights on and put a stop to matters. No mate of mine, he.
This was an absolutely tremendous gig - made, given that HMHB are a fantastically tight live band with an embarrassment of riches from their back catalogue to choose from, by what you could call the little things. Specifically:
The crowd - from 5 year olds to 65 year olds, all singing along. No bullshit, no drunks, lurchers, dickheads, over-zealous slamdancers, etc.
Andy Kershaw just offstage, singing along and, like the rest of us, PISSING himself at lyrics he must have heard hundreds of times - some indication of their quality and staying power.
Being able to meet 3/4 of the band (where hell Ken?) backstage after - predictably charming and happy to chat. I often think you really shouldn't really try to meet your heroes, as you run the risk of disappointing or underwhelming each other, but I was really glad I did. Hope the guys didn't mind.
Just another thought in conclusion - Andy Kershaw has also said that HMHB are one of Britain's "most underrated" bands. I can't help thinking he's missed the point somewhat - one of the most appealing things about them for me is that they have never courted acclaim / appeal (much less on a mass scale). In fact could it be said that both of which would perhaps even be incompatible with what they do? I suspect, and hope, they are content to be appreciated by the underground army of devotees & fans that they most definitely have. Next stop Bilston with another convert - can't wait. Thanks again lads - well worth being an M6ster for.