Sorry I didn't realise this at the time, but a hearty round of applause goes to Daz who reached his half-century of HMHB shows at Lincoln in October. He likes a good night out, does Darren. So I asked him how many of them he could actually remember. "About twenty-four" was his reply.
By HMHB standards, there was a media blitz in The Guide section of The Guardian. This constituted a quarter-page ad for the forthcoming shows. The graphic was the picture of Neil from the front cover of Urge For Offal, with a list of the forthcoming gigs. It was a bit confusing for the completists, though, as the Bilston and Coventry dates were missing. Maybe The Gig Cartel were only plugging their own stuff. I did my best as well. I managed to get Chris Hawkins to mention this one when asking for a request in the 5.15 slot on his 6 Music show.
Thanks to Karen for noting a comment by a TV continuity announcer. "Coming up, brand new Live At The Apollo." Where have we heard that before? And I was pleased to note the incident where a dog was on the field at the India v England test match. A mash-up there between Even Men With Steel Hearts and Them's The Vagaries. What a great pleasure five-day tests can be.
The gap between the Lincoln gig and this one in Newcastle was minimal by the usual HMHB standard. Not much to report at all, although I was pleasantly surprised by the fine form shown by The Monochrome Set at their show in Sheffield. Karen also let me know about an appearance by The Singer Out Of Slipknot on QI. I've always struggled with that programme. This episode was the same as any others that I have seen. I made it as far as the bit where they test out the buzzers. Then I was on my way. I would like to think that Ross Noble led a sing song of Vatican Broadside. But I can't confirm either way.
We also had a night out in Goole (while holding back on the suicide pact) to see a splendid turn, The Warsaw Village Band. Dub Polish Folk, if you will. They are in the See Again file. We also happened upon a few minutes of the Absolute Radio Indie Disco. For those who like their Saturday nights in. Of course, there are some very flexible interpretations of "indie" (we heard Oasis, Blur and St Etienne among others). No doubt HMHB will appear sooner or later.
Bad news about Howie double-booking for this evening. Very careless. In his absence, and to ensure that he was there in spirit, he sent me a note when he was travelling on a train between Harrogate and Leeds. Howie was wearing a Trouble Over Bridgwater t-shirt. He takes up the story.... "The guard comes round doing tickets and instead of the customary 'Tickets Please' he says 'Everybody's doing the Len Ganley Stance'. Cue quick chat about HMHB, revealing that his fave track is Dukla Prague and he didn't know HMHB were still going. That happens a lot! I've genned him up on the Leeds gig." Good work, Howie. You would have made short work of the bar at this place.
This was a new venue to us, and its location looked slightly complicated on the map. So Karen and I undertook some afternoon reconnaissance work. The building is right in the middle of a park on the edge of the city. A fair walk from the centre. We thought we had got it sussed, although we ended up making our way out a totally different way at the end of the evening. Mental note to selves: next time we take some night-time navigation equipment. And some infra-red sight gear, to avoid those swans, particularly if there are cygnets around.
We found our way back to the venue with Tony, and met Jordan and Sally who, as always, were there before us. Good to see Geoff back behind the counter at the shop. He reported that sales of And Some Fell On Stony Ground were going well. And I took possession of the recently available t-shirt. XXXL these days. I also caught up with Craig, who said he was too old for the mosh pit. That's two of us. There is plenty of safe space nearby though, Craig. John, Graham and Jay were other early arrivals, and we had a chat with Neil who shared tales from the band's early days and about vintage football shirts from Toffs. I wasn't aware that Neil had drawn the cover of the Trumpton Riots / Dukla Prague single.
Just ahead of the doors opening at 7 o'clock, we were joined in the queue by Mr Nigel Blackwell. Not sure what he was doing there, to be honest. He told us that he had gone out to buy a sandwich, and had also had difficulty finding his way through the park. Not just us, then. And then we realised that it wasn't just entry with ticket. We had to go back outside into the cold (after we had deposited coats in the cloakroom, I hasten to add) in order to get the obligatory wristband.
Once all the administration was sorted, we were back into the warmth of the great hall. It was an unusually shaped room, with a tall dome. The only other similar space that I know is The Corn Exchange in Leeds, if you are familiar with that. Bit smaller, but much the same design. There was the bonus of being able to stand right up to the stage. Although as it turned out, that was not such a positive, as I didn't pick up all of Nigel's observations (thanks as usual to Tony and Karen for helping out there). Although I did pick up some interesting music being played before the bands started. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gil Scott Heron and Lou Reed were all featured. Pete from Worksop joined the end of our defensive wall with tales of the joys of retirement. John would have won the Best T-Shirt award for his Straight Outta Trumpton number, but I am awarding it instead to myself and anyone else wearing And Some Fell On Stony Ground. Still no prizes though. It's just for fun. Also there was a good effort from Lee, doing his best to be Warden Hodges, complete with ARP helmet. Gomez and Daz were there in good time (that doesn't always happen). And Hello to Alex, for whom this was the first of many HMHB shows.
Special mention for the sheet draped over one of the amps. Written on it was "No more drum sticks until you learn to love each other." This referred to the dispute at the end of the gig at Lincoln. Carl had thrown his sticks into the crowd but the intended recipient found himself in a tussle to keep hold.
The Gig Cartel must be a very high-discipline operation. They had a (typed out) running order on stage, for the acts to see. Doors 19.00 (didn't realise they were still going), Support 20.20 to 20.50, Half Man Half Biscuit 21.00, Curfew 23.00. Everything ran like that almost to the minute. Maybe there are penalty clauses if you run late. "Support" was Sonnenberg who appeared at the allotted time. They are constantly changing their line-up. Tonight they had Zinny singing and playing guitar as usual. Saul playing the tabla as previously. And a lady backing vocalist, and a guy playing viola. The people who know about these things assured me it was a viola rather than a violin. They have definitely dropped my favourite, Sweet Sweet Life, from their set, but they still managed to get through six songs before the timekeepers gave them the push.Beautiful Morning
The band battled well against the general yatter from the crowd (Zinny asked "Can you hear us?") I suppose they get used to that. But I heard Zinny's comment: "Stay positive. Brexit and all that. Trump and all that." A short but sweet set. Another song was included on their list, but they were ushered from the stage by dedicated venue management who were keen to stick to the schedule.
There was an enthusiastic welcome for HMHB as they entered the stage to music from the soundtrack of The Big Country. Neil was wearing a Ruts t-shirt. Nigel was in a UBIK t-shirt. A campaigning group for dyslexic Brexit supporters? Well no, apparently it's a novel by Philip K Dick.
After a couple of songs, Nigel said to Neil, "Lisa Stansfield, from Rochdale. Gracie Fields, real name Gracie Stansfield. Also from Rochdale. No relation. It's not as small a world as you might think." Nigel also made an early request for "more vocals in the monitor, please" as well as pondering on why a spork is so called. Quite rightly, he wondered why it isn't called a foon instead. He dispelled the myth that he is an "outdoors" person. He said the only time he went camping was in Tenby in 1985. The tent leaked and he ended up sleeping in a Ford Capri for the rest of the week. Nowadays, Nigel just does Grade One scrambles at most, and always looks to get back home afterwards, rather than staying out. He phoned the president of The Ramblers Association, but he wouldn't come to the phone.
There was a shout for £24.99 From Argos. Nigel said he would be happy to do that, but the others couldn't play it. His response to the guy who shouted out was to say "That shirt looks like £2.99 from Primark." He also suggested that the heckler does not allow a chameleon to walk over it, because it would die of exhaustion. He also said that the shirt would get a better reception with an outside aerial. There was yet more reference to it during "Dukla Prague". The dodgy transformer cost £3.10, "which was more expensive than your shirt."
There followed talk about the band's route to the gig. "Unusually we came out of the Wallasey Tunnel, and went on the M6 and then A66. We were going to stop at Kirkby Stephen, but didn't in the end. We stopped at Durham Services instead, because they just wanted a cup of tea." Nigel said he called in at Durham on his way to a match at Spennymoor. His ultimate comment on Durham was "Great cathedral. Shit services."
We also had a bit of a song which was a tribute to Len Cohen. Sorry, didn't recognise it. Also there was a message to posh golf clubs in the winter. To the tune of Winter Wonderland, the opening line was "Bacon rolls on arrival" and the gist was "stick to the municipals". In response to a request for Nerys Hughes, Nigel gave a blast of the opening riff, and there was a bit of the Pointless theme also in there.
Tony enquired why Phillipines is spelt with "Ph", but Filipinos begins with "F". Nigel suggested that Tony should have the microphone and is worth a fiver of your ticket money alone. I thought there could have been a reference to Mansfield's very own Steve Evans in Lark Descending. Nancy Kominsky was the guest interfering with the ski lodge in Vitas Gerulaitis.
Nigel was unsure of the answer when Jordan asked him what the middle button on his foot pedal was for. "Volume, I think," he said before consulting with Neil. There was a shout for Sealclubbing. "Yeah, that's one of ours." Bob Wilson Anchorman was introduced. "This is about the boy Primrose." At one point Nigel's guitar lead came unplugged. "Happens every time, that," he said.
There was, it must be said, a little bit of unpleasantness during National Shite Day. At these things you might expect a little bit of a-pushing and a-shoving, but I've never quite understood why it ever needs to go beyond that. Sad but true.
I'm not sure why this happened, but Nigel was handed a pair of glasses to try on. He then said that he qualifies for free eye tests because glaucoma runs in the family, "but I'm not sure how they check that's true."
In 1966 And All That, the brown anorak was replaced by "favourite blue raincoat". When the band came back for the encore, Nigel noticed that John was holding up some bubblewrap. No song accordingly though. The caravan guitar was brought out for Bain Of Constance. Someone shouted that the band had been on American Pickers. There was also a request for them to come and play the Isle Of Man. Nigel said he no longer travels by air or sea, but talked about 1972 when he did visit the Island. He was on a train trip around the island and went to see a recording of It's A Knockout at Noble's Park in Onchan.
Thanks to John for raiding the stage after the gig and handing over one of the setlists to Karen. An audit showed us that the band had originally planned to play Bad Wools and Chatteris. And Vatican Broadside does not appear on the set list (which was written on a page torn out of a 2001 desk diary), but was played. HMHB performed the following...A Lilac Harry Quinn
And in the encoreBane Of Constance
We had a chat with Graham and Sarah, and then Ian and Mariana afterwards, and headed back through the darkness, again skilfully avoiding the swans on the lake. They can break your arm, you know. Then onwards to York the following night for an hour or so in the company of Mark E Smith and what currently constitutes The Fall.