I can't claim to know much about Southampton. Edric Thornton Bates, Matt Le Tissier, Jona Lewie, Bobby Stokes' winner in 1976, Titanic set sail from there, Terry Paine (tremendous loyalty and great sidies). That's about it. There's also Craig David, of course (thanks, Karen,) And Tony was at University there. Oh, and one of my Mum's friends moved there to get married. Well, actually, on checking, that was to Lymington. Miles away really.
Any gap between HMHB shows is too long. Not even The Lovely Eggs and/or Shatner and/or Stanley Brinks and/or a fine theatrical adaptation of The Damned United and/or Attila The Stockbroker can quite properly satisfy the appetite, although all these events provided a high quality of entertainment. It's a fair old trip, and it was useful to have a direct train from Sheffield. If ever you do that run, make sure you have more than a copy of Metro to occupy your mind. That just about lasts you to Chesterfield. And there are still a fair few miles to cover after that.
One thing that I need to share. A couple of nights before this gig I was out for a curry with my sister and brother. We ended up back at my brother's pub, where I was drawn to his fancy new digital juke box type machine. He has a fine selection of HMHB songs available. I chose Albert Hammond Bootleg to delight everyone. And the response. "It sounds like the Macc Lads"!! I really didn't have an answer to that. I stayed silent and went back to my Leeds Pale.
Karen received a mixed up email about the gig. "Doors Open 19.00. Curfew 11pm." Such blatant confusion over use of the twenty-four hour clock. Standards are falling. But we got by.
We were evidently not alone in Southampton. Howie followed us off the train, and Daz was also waiting at the station. Their agenda was more beer-based, ours was centred more around venue location and relaxation therapy. The Engine Rooms (note the plural) was based in the midst of a load of motor dealerships - Hyundai, Honda and Ford were all nearby, as well as various other engineering operations etc. For most of the rest of the day I had The Fall's Industrial Estate buzzing around my head. That would have been an ideal cover version for the gig. While we were out and about, we met Neil. I was wearing my Urge For Offal t-shirt, making this the first occasion in my life where I have had a conversation with someone while wearing a t-shirt with their face on it. There's a first time for everything.
We were on track for seeing the entire band at large when later on we saw Nigel and Denise. Thanks to them for the directions to the Marks And Spencer food hall. We all remarked on the set-up round there. With John Lewis and all the others dominating the skyline, these are not shops, they are mountains. West Quay is a veritable concrete jungle. Nice sandwiches and biscuits at M And S though.
I didn't exactly scour the media for HMHB mentions. But I noticed an appearance in the Southern Daily Echo's listings. They were up against Paul Young (that Paul Young?) at The Brook. And local TV were live at the Cranbourne Chase cider festival. One for the HMHB calendar in 2017?
Despite the confusing advice from Karen's email, we found that the Engine Rooms did not open its doors until 19.30 (7.30pm). Once inside, we were faced with possibly the largest moat ever, between band and audience. A tape measure would have been useful, to establish the exact gap. Maybe they were expecting bother.
Several familiar faces were there. Tony had already taken his place in the queue ahead of us. Daz, Howie, John and Graham were also there. And it was great to see Paul, having made his way from Leith. Although even he had to take second place in terms of travelling distance, to John's friends from Germany. Jay appeared to be doing some roadying, a chief task of which seemed to involve dropping a large bag of crisps on stage near to where Nigel was going to stand. Somebody's got to do it, I suppose. (The crisps were later handed out to the crowd. I got a packet. Glad to help out with spending the rider.)
JD Meatyard were first on, augmented by two of the Flux Capacitors who had supported HMHB earlier in the year at Bristol. Singer John was sporting his usual Celtic beanie hat and played a collection of favourites like Standing On The Shoulders (he said that the Hip Priest In Salford was great when he went to see The Fall the night before in Bristol). There was also Sad Song Of A Singer Songwriter and Pablo Picasso. And he had a jibe at the Southampton fans in the crowd. "Are you going to steal any more of our players?" John made an observation. "I've had twenty-five years of supporting Half Man Half Biscuit. I've progressed a lot." Karen and I were interested to hear John say "This is where everybody at the Sheffield gig walked out" during one of his songs. Maybe so, but we certainly didn't, and we agreed that we ought to look out for JDM playing more gigs in their own right. Even Tony was puzzled by HMHB's walk-on music. I had to check afterwards with Geoff, who confirmed that it was the theme from How The West Was Won. Francis Benali was spotted in the audience, and later made a guest appearance in Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis ("Why, it's Francis Benali! It was you all along!"). Nigel was in agreement with my view of some of the shops in the locality. "I thought the Warrington Ikea was the biggest one, but this is even bigger." He said "Inspired by Ikea, this one" ahead of San Antonio Foam Party.
In reply to a heckle, Nigel replied, "You're the Welshman who can't speak Welsh, aren't you? You're from the south." In retrospect this would have been more apt at the Cardiff show the following night.
Nigel said that the band had been worried about being delayed on the M6 on the Friday. As a result, they had travelled south the day before, with an overnight stay in Oxford. "It's the city of dreaming spires, but we stopped at the Cowley Road Industrial Park." He rattled off the route to Southampton from there. "A34, M3, M27, M271. Dead easy," he said, "but try telling that to Geoff. He has satnav, I just have maps." He said they had been to Flowerdown Barrows, and had dropped in at New Alresford "where John Arlott was from." He went on to reminisce about Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts. "I was scared of Andy Roberts," he added.
I noticed the security people dancing to When The Evening Sun Goes Down. That certainly isn't something that you would normally expect. Or maybe you would. Perhaps that's what we should expect all the time.
David Peach played for Southampton in days gone by. Nigel talked about him. "The best penalty taker ever. Left foot, always placed it in the corner. Never seemed to miss."
Someone shouted out for Chatteris. "We have a seer in the audience," said Nigel as the band proceeded to play the aforementioned. Nigel encouraged the crowd to "keep shouting out, you'll never get it" during a particularly noisy period of requests, before announcing Tending The Wrong Grave. There was even a shout for All For One, the new Stone Roses single.
During the sound effect bit in Tending The Wrong Grave, Nigel asked Ken "is that a nightingale?" Also he said it sounded like a Van Der Graaf Generator concert. Ken was also announced as the first man in Wallasey to own a Dyson.
"I grew up in the same road as Nigel Adkins," said Nigel. "I'm not even the most famous Nigel in our road." Then came a tale about a guy that Nigel (Blackwell not Adkins) knew, who went on an Antarctic Survey. There was a craze for putting football shirts on penguins and having your picture taken with them. The penguin in question had worn this guy's Everton shirt and waddled off with it. "A walrus has probably got it now."
Nigel said to Tony. "Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool. Edinburgh is the most westerly. Put a ruler on a map and you'll see." Try it at home. There's hours of fun to be had. And there was the joke about the manager of the local Imax cinema dying recently. "The funeral is next Thursday, at 1.30, 4.30 and 7.30."
I could have misheard (I almost certainly did) but I think he put his foot down in Northwich rather than Nantwich, during Look Dad No Tunes. And a cover of a Johnny Thunders song was slipped into the encore.
The songs came out in this order:The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
And in the encore:You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
I followed the not inconsiderable crowd back to The Dancing Man where I quaffed quality ale with Howie, Daz, Graham, Tony, Paul, John and Thorsten. Graham even persuaded the chap at the next table to take a picture of us. So no doubt that is now floating around somewhere on the internet. All of us were looking to re-convene in Cardiff. And try as hard as I could, I really couldn't convince myself that this band sounds like The Macc Lads.