Much of the prelude to this show was taken up with brainwashing myself with the songs from the newly released No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut. The live environment had helped me become familiar with Renfield's Afoot as well as A Man Of Constant Sorrow (although the latter has a more substantial musical backing on the CD than had been afforded to it when played live). I have always been a little trepidatious when a new album is released. Would it fit in seamlessly with the rest of the band's work, particularly as Urge For Offal had been such a personal favourite? Of course (of course!) there was no need to worry.
Having said that, I tend to take a similar view to John Peel's feelings with the The Fall's work. He was once asked to draw up a list of his top twenty Fall songs. His reply was that you are missing the point if you do that. It should all be seen as one great body of work. By and large I follow that line of thinking with HMHB. But because I am an inconsistent two-faced hypocrite, I need to say nevertheless that All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit is likely to be going on Desert Island Discs with me when I get my invitation. I have always been comfortable in my own skin with that knowledge. Until No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut came my way. My inner self is wrestling with itself, trying to establish just how good a work of art is The Announcement. Back in the day, it would certainly have been Number One in my Festive Fifty vote (subject, of course, to anything else that comes along between now and the end of the year) but time will tell how deeply it grinds itself into the fibre of my being. And I was well impressed by the way that the Down clues on the crossword appear ahead of the Across clues. Defying convention.
If only Swerving The Checktrade had been around at the time, then I would have made a success of my English Literature studies at school. "I've weighed up all the pros and cons of watching Under Twenty-Ones / Oh let me gaze upon your curves instead of Ipswich Town reserves." I had to put up with John Clare with his life turning to clay.
Shock, horror, No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut was straight into "the album chart" with a bullet at number thirty-three. Of course, "the album chart" means different things to different folk. Intrigued, I headed to the Tesco store at Hemsworth. Tesco have their own "album chart". Number thirty-three was a compilation seemingly on the Ladybird label. "How It Works – The Dad" appeared to be trying to complement their book of a similar title. The HMHB fan in me noted tracks by Journey and REO Speedwagon. But they clearly have their own idea of what "Dad" likes. Mine was into Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and the like. Karen called into her local Sainsburys on her way home from work. She reported that thirty-three in their chart was "101 Acoustic", a five-CD set of the "best laid back songs and acoustic versions of the greatest chart hits." On neither occasion did we bother to buy a respective copy. You don't suppose these people draw up their own charts, by any chance? I used to do that when I was about eleven. Sparks hit the top of the charts every time they released a single.
The following appeared in my local paper. Bat walks in Nostell on various dates in May and August. "£5 per person, booking essential, maximum 20 people. Join a family-friendly guided night-time walk through the gardens spotting our furry friends and all sorts of nocturnal residents including frogs and owls… Booking is essential and places get filled up fast, so make sure you call early to avoid disappointment." Great idea for a song there, if Nigel ever gets round to it.
Karen and I had a few journeys round and about. One of which saw us at The Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. Their Protest Season featured sections on the Suffragette Movement and the 1984/1985 Miners' Strike for example. We spotted Ruth Ewan's installation, A Jukebox Trying To Change The World. In among the selection of Peace songs we were delighted to see HMHB's Song For Europe, tucked in next to Cat Stevens' Peace Train. In went the money, but there was already a queue of selections, and we had to make do with singing "K-now Love, K-now Peace" to each other as we wandered along our merry way.
Among my Christmas pressies was a copy of Sit Down! Listen To This! It is a biography of Roger Eagle written by Bill Sykes. Roger Eagle evolved from a DJ into a major figure, involved in ventures such as Manchester's Twisted Wheel and Eric's in Liverpool. Geoff Davies pops up with several quotes in the Liverpool half of the story. (It is "Davies", isn't it? This book has dropped the "e" from his surname.) Mike Badger supported HMHB in Hull in November 2017, and staffed the Probe Plus stall at Leamington Spa earlier in 2018. He also makes a handful of appearances in the book. HMHB also get the briefest of mentions.
RIP Dick Quax. Back in the day he held the 5000 metres world record, and won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics. Along with fellow New Zealanders John Walker and Rod Dixon, he was part of a golden age for that country's athletes. Dick and his running shoes were of course immortalised in A Lilac Harry Quinn. Apparently he was born in Holland. Theodorus Jacobus Leonardus Quax on the birth certificate. David Coleman would never have been able to cope with that.
Another hearty thanks to avid Talk Sport listener Gomez for spotting an indirect reference. He was listening to Hawksbee and Jacobs on their afternoon show. They were trying to identify the UK's most popular biscuits. Jacobs said "It's Half Chocolate Half Biscuit. What a band they are!" Fellow presenter Max Rushden chipped in with "I love their song Richard Keys: Anchor Man."
Our papers review amounted to flicking through two freebies, in search of the slightest mention of the HMHB show. Not that any plugging was required, with it being a sell-out. Nothing in Metro, whose column inches were taken up by mentions of Katy Perry, Travis and David Byrne. Similar silence in the Evening Standard who went with a solo gig by Thom Yorke "accompanied by regular collaborator Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri". That's not quite my idea of a solo gig, I must say.
Karen and I were stopping near St Pancras station, a short walk from our arrival point of King's Cross. Being townies, we were, as usual, blown away by the number of folk as we stuttered our way along Euston Road. We didn't bother with the open-top bus tour, and didn't really have time to do justice to any of the galleries or museums. We settled for a cup of tea and an episode of Countdown. Even though we are neither retired nor liberals. Not yet anyway.
Later we met Tony for a ceremonial handing over of a morris dancing tea-towel, and the three of us walked to The Forum. Karen checked on Google Maps. It was a healthy and invigorating 1.9 miles. Not an area of London I've seen before. Of course we had to pick our jaws off the floor when checking out house prices. I stretched as far as a Walls' Magnum. £1.90. Could have been worse. We arrived at The Forum at a ridiculously early hour and met Neil who was catching some late afternoon, post-soundcheck fresh air. I took the opportunity to grill him on Tranmere's prospects. His idea of mid-table reconciliation next season, followed by a surge towards The Premiership sounded optimistic, but it will be an interesting journey. I agreed with his World Cup assessment though. Never bet against Germany. Neil also won the best t-shirt award for his Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers number, as worn on stage.
The rest of the band also showed up. Nigel pointed us in the direction of a George Orwell blue plaque in recognition of the writer's residence in the area. Like me, he was happy with the practice of being handed a free copy of the Evening Standard. And the two C/Karls were also well. There was a fair crowd of us. Matt, Jay, Andrew, Jordan, Emily, Paul, Clark and John all helped to block the footpath. Zinney was there with his daughter. They were staffing the stall. Good to see everyone, but soon enough it was time to move along and inside the venue.
There was some decent music coming out of the speakers. Love Will Tear Us Apart, for example, for that happy, family atmosphere. JD Meatyard (consisting of John, Gary and Tamsin) were prompt on stage at eight o'clock. "Nice venue," commented John. "The developers can't ruin it." I've forgotten a lot of their song titles, but recognised St Peter Won't Let Me In, Love That Girl, and the excellent Ubu At Eric's. John said "It is an absolute pleasure to play with Half Man Half Biscuit." He told us about the happy days of doing sessions for Peel's programme, but "everything changed when he died. Nowadays DJs don't want to know." John also got his wish of a pint of Guinness from the crowd. This was supposedly in exchange for a CD. I'm sure he would have kept to his side of the bargain. This was a great set from the band. First time they have supported HMHB for a while. Casper's Ballroom rounded things off nicely.
After that, we got talking to Nigel and Jo, and compared and contrasted notes on the previous weekend. We had been at the Long Division festival in Wakefield. They had been at the England v Pakistan test match at Headingley. We had a full day's entertainment. They only got half a day. I also caught up with Graham who had just had to cancel a holiday because one of his children had caught chickenpox. Later on came taps on the shoulder from Howie and Postman Tony.
And so to HMHB's grand entrance. There was much scratching of heads at the walk-on music. Nigel adjusted the microphone stand from John's height to his own. A laptop on stage was pointed out. "It's not a laptop," he said. "It's a kids' DVD player." There was silence from Nigel's guitar. Of course, it was not plugged in to the amp. Being the hardened professional that he is, Nigel soon corrected this, and we were ready to go. "This is one that Joni Mitchell rejected," he said before the band played Fred Titmus.
Nigel discussed how the band had done the cliched thing, by buying wraps from Pret A Manger, ahead of going to Hampstead Heath. His top tip was to buy the children's one. "They are a pound cheaper and you get the same cheese." They had seen a bloke on Primrose Hill doing sand sculptures of Pam Ferris. Later in the evening Nigel returned to the Hampstead Heath theme. At the top of the hill he had met some Americans who stressed that not all people from The States are brash. This took him on to a story about Nigel's mate from Birkenhead. He had been on a bus trip to Pompeii and had got talking to some Americans. He told them where he was from. "Birkenhead? What state is that in?" Nigel's mate surveyed the ruined city and replied "Pretty much like this."
There was a big cheer at the opening of Renfield's Afoot. At the end of it, Postman Tony shouted into my ear "It's the new Vatican Broadside." (In a similar way, Ipswich Town shirts are becoming the new Dukla Prague, judging by appearances tonight.) Nigel pointed out that Highgate Badminton Club were looking for new members aged over fifty. Always useful to know for next time I'm down that way.
Daz eventually made his way to the front during Paintball's Coming Home. That song had a line. "They were super excited and super proud (x3) / And they drive round in a lemon-coloured Fiat." Joy In Leeuwarden was written for Betty Stove. There was a mention of the British Museum in The Bane Of Constance. Following a shout for Chatteris, Nigel replied "Just for you, sir," before the band played said song. Round of applause to security staff for handing out glasses of water to a hard-working mosh pit. Nigel spotted this happening and noted "They've got more water than we have" while suggesting that it could be vodka (no, it wasn't).
There was a slight vocal faux pas in "Bad Wools". Nigel sang "…Curry Night were there to play David Gray and David Gray." As usual Jordan shouted for Our Tune. Nigel replied "We'll work on it." Nigel also had to field a request for Sylvia by Focus.
It was good to hear so many songs from No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut. This included What Made Colombia Famous. Nigel introduced that one by saying "This Is About Matt Monro and Connie Francis." There was one celebrity who was spotted in the crowd. "Carol Klein! Did you get the yard decked? You need to use Quicklime! That will get rid of it quicker." What can he have meant?
Just a thought from me. In National Shite Day, does the line about the Mugabe government seriously date the song these days? In Joy Division Oven Gloves, Nigel pointed roughly towards the Quantocks on the relevant line. And in the reading of London Calling he did the same thing at the appropriate point about living by the river.
Nigel reported that the band had stayed in Watford the night before this gig. Made it easier to get to London, bearing in mind potential traffic problems. He described the route from there to Kentish Town, something about Junction 2 on the A1, but he lost me after that. Squadrophenia was given a brief long-awaited reprise, as we all catch World Cup fever and all that. And there is clearly still some mileage in the I Saw Her Standing There / Where Is My Mind mash-up. Nigel lost his way a little with the words during Everything's AOR.
Big thanks to Karl for handing over the set list. Here's how it went from my perspective which is all in line with Karl's sheet:Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Just the three songs in the encore:Swerving The Checkatrade
And that was that. A very civilised "Have a nice weekend" from Nigel saw everyone on their way. It was difficult not to have a nice weekend after such an uplifting start to it. The greatest band goes from strength to strength. My opinion of the live shows tends to be along the same lines as the recorded work. I find it difficult to say that one gig is in any way better than any other one. But this really was among the best. The place was full. The same goes for the show in Liverpool in September, and I dare say there won't be a lot of space at the one in Manchester in November. HMHB are in the form of their lives. But each to their own. My mate was in Clitheroe on the same night, watching Showaddywaddy. I'm sure he would say the same about them. But the most telling point was from Postman Tony as we made our way outside. He said that a year ago he was otherwise engaged and unable to get to these shows. Now all is well. Looking forward to meeting up again next time.