Controversy from the outset. Karen sorted out tickets for this one, paid the customary administration fee and then received a text saying "Hi. We've noticed that your tickets may have been printed with the wrong year for Half Man Half Biscuit at Leamington. They should have said 27 April 2018 but they might say 27 April 2017 instead. Sorry if this was a bit confusing. The venue know all about it and your tickets will still be accepted on the night. You don't need to do a thing, just show up and have a great night!" As with the Hull gig last year, when you pay an exorbitant admin fee, you might expect slightly better than that. Nevertheless, we turned up and followed their advice about having a great night.
Life has been imitating art again. Ahead of his Spring Statement, I was getting fed up of hearing Philip Hammond saying that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Andrew Marr was interviewing him. If Marr had been a little more clued up, he would have given a suitable response. On another occasion, also on the BBC, they showed the Rochdale v Tottenham FA Cup tie. The home side had equalised right at the end of the game. Gary Lineker said that that goal was scored "with aplomb". Oh, and there was also an occasion during the Winter Olympics. It was lunchtime at work and a few of us were in the canteen, watching the bobsleigh competition. You don't need to be told what one of my colleagues said.
I read Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds, an analysis of "postpunk 1978-1984". Essential reading for documentors of Biscuit lyrical references, in particular Eno collaberations. You even get two entries for the price of one in the section about Devo… "It was settled that the record (Devo's first album) would be produced by Eno at Conny Plank's studio." You just can't get away from Brian. I picked up the final printed copy of NME from Jumbo Records in Leeds. This included a review of David Byrne's album American Utopia. The song Everybody's Coming To My House is on there and we were told it was "written with long-term collaborator Brian Eno." NME RIP. A great shame it had to fall such a long way. Happy memories of lunch breaks on Wednesdays in WH Smiths in Pontefract, leafing through Melody Maker and Sounds, before buying New Musical Express.
I was driving home one day, with Five Live on the radio. Adrian Chiles was interviewing Jonathan Wilson about his book The Outsider – A History Of The Goalkeeper. The interview included a guest on the phone. Bob Wilson. In the course of the conversation, Yev Lashin, quite naturally, was mentioned. And they played a Russian folk song which was written in his honour. Afterwards Adrian asked Bob (perhaps innocently, perhaps knowingly) if anyone had ever written a song about him. Bob said um, well yes, but it was a song more about his broadcasting career than his goal-keeping. "It wasn't terribly complimentary," added Bob. Unfortunately he didn't say who had recorded the song. The band was named in another Five Live feature though. I got into the car after work and found myself in the middle of a discussion led by Tony Livesey concerning songs with unusual titles. There is, of course, a bucketload of choice in HMHB's catalogue. At the behest, I think, of a listener, they gave us a snippet of Baguette Dilemma For The Booker Prize Guy. There may have been some Pink Floyd to follow, but I had already stopped listening by then.
In the realm of HMHB, another sportsman with awkward questions to answer is Precious McKenzie. He made a brief TV appearance at the start of the Commonwealth Games. Still on a sporting theme, early morning (our time) radio listening was provided by the cricket test series between New Zealand and England. At one point you could clearly hear the absolutely crazy Barmy Army singing to the Hokey Cokey / Petty Sessions tune. All that was missing was the Kill Kill Kill Stab Murder And Despatch line from either Jon Agnew or Vic Marks. Sadly they were slow off the mark. Thanks also to Gomez for pointing out that Alwin Schockemoehle was a discussion item on Talk Sport. Must have been deep and meaningful stuff. And Yuri Gagarin was back in the news. A statue was erected in Belgrade, but lasted little longer than his oft documented flight in space. It was taken down after being ridiculed for being out of scale in relation to its plinth. It goes on and on. While casually flicking through the channels one Sunday morning, Karen and I found ourselves watching an episode of TOTP2 on the Yesterday channel. Whitney and T'Pau appeared. We wondered what had happened to Vandross and Sade. Not everything is AOR.
Phill Jupitus was a contributor to "My List", a feature in The Yorkshire Post where celebs are asked what they have been reading, watching and so on. One of the sections was "The live performance I'd recommend". His comments were "Top of the list are The Lovely Eggs, who are a Lancaster husband and wife duo and they are exceptional. I'd also recommend The Nightingales and Half Man Half Biscuit. I tend to like bands who have been around for a while. They know what they are doing, and they know what the audience will like."
My mate Mark and his wife went on holiday to Bulgaria. They met a couple from Birkenhead. Mark asked them if they knew of HMHB. They said "No". You suspect that world domination is still some way off for the band. Not so for sometime support band JD Meatyard. Karen spotted a guy on Top Of The Shops wearing one of their t-shirts.
Karen and I had a little chuckle during an episode of Countryfile. There was a feature on Emily Bronte. The dining room at Haworth parsonage was described as a creative hub. There was no mention of the hedge though.
At Peter Ross's suggestion, we were casting an eye over John Betjeman's Death In Leamington as the train arrived in said town. An ideal introduction to the town. We saw Jay wandering the streets just before we met Ian and Mariana to discuss all things HMHB. This included their tragic double-booking absence from the forthcoming Liverpool show, taking place on their doorstep. That's why Karen and I are always wary about booking holidays.
The afternoon provided an opportunity to rummage through the local press. The Courier did a bit of what felt like cutting and pasting when noting the gig at The Assembly. "Cult musical heroes Half Man Half Biscuit bring their satirical, sardonic and sometimes surreal songs to the venue." An Adele tribute was afforded far more space.
Karen and I made our usual prompt arrival at the venue, but as oft before, we were beaten to the punch and were third and fourth there. Sorry for not getting the names of the couple who were there before us. We engaged in speculation about the impending release of No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut. Would it / wouldn't be available tonight? As Nigel was to say much later in the evening – "It's being released on 18th May. With a tag." The grand total of seventy-five were available at the stall which was manned by Mike Badger, who had supported HMHB at the Hull gig.
Tony joined us in the queue. As did Jordan and Emily. Emily had been to the Co-Op and had bought a bag of custard doughnuts. She offered them round. It would have been rude not to accept. Only a slight spillage on my Trumpton roundabout t-shirt. Andrew was also there, to discuss Bolton Wanderers' chances of avoiding relegation. Inside we were able to tick a few names on the attendance register. Mike, Jay, Postman Tony, John, Daz, the two Grahams (one of whom obtained the last Creative Hub CD at the stall), Howie (who was too late to get a copy), Ian, Mariana and Matt. And it was great to see Ian / Humdrum Express . Thanks also to Gomez, for providing backing vocals in my right ear for the first three or four songs from HMHB. And by the way, I achieved a personal best at the bar. £3.50 for a bottle of water! The Assembly's margins are clearly in good health.
Sonnenberg were the support tonight. Just two of them, Zinney and Saul. They played Into The Light, Better Together, a couple of songs that I didn't recognise, and finished with Better Together, an anthem for the Brexit generation. I could be wrong, but I believe that Sonnenberg are also the support band at the Liverpool gig later in the year. Looking forward to seeing them again there.
HMHB were up against the clock. Friday night is disco night at The Assembly, which requires clearance of the venue at an early hour. The band was on at 8.15 and gone by 10.15. That perhaps explains what felt like slightly less chat than usual. Could be wrong there though. Maybe it is just the old excuse of my hearing not being as good as it used to be. Too much loud music at gigs, you see. Thanks to Carl for letting me know that the walk-on music was Ghost Rider by Suicide. Tony helpfully shouted to Nigel that April was Irritable Bowel Syndrome month, as well as International Guitar month.
There was a shout for "24 Yards". Nigel pondered this. "That's just outside the penalty box. You can curve the ball round the wall into the net." There was some nifty guitar intro work from Karl. In a gap between songs, he gave us bursts of Deep Purple's Black Night, as well as Rumble. Likewise Nigel played Irish Washerwoman. Neil was on fine form too, with the bass getting lower and lower towards his knees. There was only one note of admonishment when Nigel was ready to start a song. "In your own time, Neil…"
Nigel asked if anyone knew what is the nearest city to Liverpool, as the crow flies. I wouldn't have guessed St Asaphs, so was suitably educated when he let us know. And while we were at it, Amlwch was said by him to be the most northerly town in Wales. Absolutely not Flint, as was suggested from the floor. More education came concerning that fruit-machine fan Alistair Crowley. Nigel said it was disappointing that no one ever acknowledged that he was a great mountaineer. And he was from Leamington Spa apparently.
During Petty Sessions, Nigel did a theatrical yawn about the Barmy Army, on the line "They're absolutely crazy". He admitted that he was playing for time because he didn't know what they were supposed to be playing next, when noting that Kate Humble was in town. Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis was reportedly about being forced to drink Kool-Aid (a la Reverend Jim Jones).
Someone who had obviously previously heard Alehouse Futsal, shouted out "Delamere Forest" (which appears in the lyric). Nigel thought they were shouting a request for A Forest by The Cure. So the band proceeded to play the opening bars of that song. "It's tricky is that," said Nigel, "but we are where we are." A request for Charlotte Sometimes followed at the next break between songs. And there was a good heckle from Postman Tony. After All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, he shouted "Is that another new one, Nigel?"
The playing of Something's Rotten In The Back Of Iceland prompted us to follow up Nigel's previous note on Peach Melba Majestics being four for £1 at Iceland. They were in stock at the local store, but are now £1.50. Fifty per cent inflation over twelve months? You're joking. On the subject of food, Nigel gave the big ups to The Royal Fish Bar.
Nigel said he had heard that there was now a cure for dyslexia. "That's music to my arse," he added. "I didn't know we were supposed to be doing that one," he said after Running Order Squabble Fest. There was a bit of chat about Nigel Blackwell lookalikes. Judd Trump, Jaap Stam. "I started following Reading when Stam was their manager. Years ago I also used to get Kevin Ball." Just by own opinion, but I also think there is a bit of Lee Harvey Oswald in there.
According to Tony, Wagner got a mention (not the manager of Huddersfield Town). Something about being a genius because of ninety-seven leitmotifs in the Ring Cycle. I still don't know what that's all about but is obviously worth mentioning.
For years now Nigel has placed a plectrum on his forehead for the "job on the bins" section in Lark Descending. This happened again tonight. Another tradition is Jordan's requests for Our Tune. He said that he and Emily are going to name their forthcoming baby after Nigel. "He'll get teased at school," was the reply. "I was OK, because I went to a comprehensive and there were three Nigels in my class." And of course the question was asked. What if it's a girl? Nigella? In the course of this conversation, Nigel queried Jordan's Brum accent. "You must come from south of Birmingham because you don't sound like Paul Henry."
A few things to note in tonight's reading of 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd. Marilyn Monroe was actually just a hag. Nigel held the vocal of Fiorucci for an admirably long time. And he also fitted in a couple of lines from Renaissance's Northern Lights.
There was a slight injury worry during the encore. Carl, in a Peter Hammill t-shirt, was only drumming with his left arm, having had a tweak in his right. Proof that even just with one stick, he pisses on most other drummers. Happily, he reported that all was well at the end.
The songs were as follows:She's In Broadstairs
And in the encore it was:National Shite Day
Thanks to Karl for handing over his set list. A full audit reveals that neither Everything's AOR nor The Trumpton Riots were originally planned. There are a few weeks to go before the London gig. That should be plenty of time to learn the new album. It will be a good singalong as usual, if everyone is familiar with all the words. No excuses.