This was my first foray into the world of live Half Man Half Biscuit so I approached the day with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had some vague descriptions of fellow posters on the mailing list. I was fairly sure I'd spot Sinister Dexter in his pink Mohican and Charles Exford (or was it really Nigel?) in his full DPAK but was unsure of the others. The meeting venue was the Salisbury Arms pub somewhere in Cambridge at an unspecified time.
Clearly organisation was not our strong point.
We set off across country to Chatteris; a tempting short drive from Cambridge. It is as perfect a fenland jewel as Nigel leads us to expect. It was smaller than I had imagined, but a compact and pretty little town bristling with civic pride, especially the Chatteris in Bloom displays with their touching tributes to the dead. "This hanging basket is dedicated to the memory of ..... " There is even a Trumptonesque bandstand and a hairdressers called Curl up and Dye. I saw the swings in the park but I think the swimming pool may be an invention.
Lured too long by the charms of the Envy of the Fens we had to rush to the Salisbury and had just missed Charles (or was it Nigel) so we enjoyed a fine pint of Tribute bitter and sampled the impressive juke box before heading for The Junction.
The car park was full of men in Achtung Bono T-shirts and big grins. The venue is pretty standard gigging architecture; black everywhere, minimal seats and a low rent bar. I tried the Jamaican beer and shortly afterwards regretted the choice. The girls in the burger bar cooked us a very passable hamburger and soon the support band Bomb Factory came on. The lead singer reminded me strongly of Alexei Sayle. They raised a smile. Their anthem about blowing up the university got a good response.
In the interval I tracked down Sinister Dexter and Charles (now confirmed as a Nigel) and got a hug and a view of a very impressive camera. Mrs Dexter and I bonded over our men with their techy obsessions. We settled in the front row but at a camera friendly side angle. The band don't exactly make a big entrance. No lasers or explosions; more a folky ambling on and nodding at the audience. And so we began.
God they rock. I asked my friend who posted me a Biscuit lyric some years back "Do you get screaming guitars with that?" Well it seems you do, or at least a tight, musically spot on band who can make the music fly. Nigel likes to tease us with guitar snippets: Jimi Hendrix, The Who and ...is that the Crossroads? Yes, but the daytime TV version, not Robert Johnson. We opened with Fuckin'ell It's Fred Titmus and the audience was very definitely up for it as we all shouted the rejoinder. I knew most of the songs but as a relative newbie I had the delight of hearing some for the first time. Charles (Nigel) lead the moshpit and soon they were off their heads in the best way, stripped to the waist and making a passable attempt at crowd surfing. The rest of us stood and grinned and jigged a bit and shared a joke or two and heckled. The audience highlight was an impromptu rendition of Albert Hammond Bootleg for which Nigel (the famous one) stood back from the mic and enjoyed. One of the joys of the gig was the to and fro between audience and band. We had numerous requests; half of them for the new favourite Chatteris, one for Hair Like Brian May Blues got us a rare treat. There was an awkward moment when none of the shouted demands was for the next song on the set list. Nigel was forced to heckle the audience for the right request.
I caught a throw away joke when Nigel flipped his guitar to reveal "How am I playing?" on the back. A golf club made an appearance but I can't tell you what iron it was. The thing niggling at me was what the ghetto blaster was for perched on top of one of the amps. All was revealed in 24 Hour Garage people. It was meant to play the shuffle selection on the iPod. It didn't work on the night despite some thumping but instead we got a description of what was on the play list from Nigel. Probably better value.
The gloves came on for Joy Divison Oven Gloves. Suddenly the mosh pit looked like extras in a Delia Smith series. "How to whip up a crowd..."
Thank God others have made a set list because it all went past in a wonderful blur. We got so many favourites and treasures. I particularly enjoyed Evil Gazebo and Lark Descending which featured Ken on bird whistle (or possibly whale as Nigel observed). Who else but Nigel could work the words "thistle milk" and "Claire Rayner" into the same song? We had a nod to the literary heritage of Cambridge suburb village Grantchester "Is there heroin still for tea?" Such is the elusive magic of HMHB; English Romanticism, punk values and the camaraderie of the mosh pit. It all makes your head spin. The body and gut engage fully but unlike other gigs, the brain is still fully challenged.
24 Hour Garage People; a personal favourite, had a queue of people behind us this time, all wanting petrol and the villain has his hands on his hips "but not like John Le Mesurier". "He should watch Dad's Army, it's good" said Nigel.
We had a stonking cover of Shot by Both Sides and the closing number was We Built This Village on A Trad Arr. Tune, which has special appeal to me as I suspect I live there; the panto season is a highlight. It makes a good rousing closer. A few glasses made their way to the stage but most were crunched under foot as we said our goodbyes and made our way home hindered only by the vagaries of the motorway maintenance crews.
A great night.
Come South again soon.