O2 Ritz, Manchester, Fri 30th Nov 2018 (2/12/18)

Roger Green:

Insomniacs among the HMHB fan base may be familiar with Dotten Adebayo and his presentation of Up All Night in the wee small hours on Five Live. I'm a regular. One night, not long after the Liverpool gig, I was listening. One of the features on the show is Record Club, where he discusses albums with a variety of guests. Dotten announced that they would be considering albums by The Eurythmics and Sting. Good news for those with a mutual and lasting respect and/or those who like the Barbican rooftop gig concept. I just turned over, and tried to get some more kip.

Thanks to Andrew for the note about the Stacey West podcast, which discusses various matters connected with Lincoln City. He gave me a quote from Episode 7. "John Akinde is like the band Half Man Half Biscuit. He's half Matt Rhead and half Matt Green." I'm not quite sure how that works, but any publicity is good publicity. Look out for a good turnout the next time the band plays that part of the country. It's a shame Andrew couldn't make this show. Hope to see him back at York.

On the subject of Lincoln, Karen and I visited that city. We were at The Engine Shed to see a 40th anniversary show by Jilted John, supported by the ever excellent John Otway. A couple of years ago, HMHB played in the large hall at this venue. Clearly the two Johns do not have the same pull, and they were in the smaller hall. But there was a fair few there, and there wasn't much space. Most of the between-bands music was from the late seventies / early eighties period. However our ears pricked up when we heard Every Time A Bell Rings and Knobheads On Quiz Shows. I congratulated the sound engineer and asked if he might consider playing Swerving The Checkatrade. He was apologetic, explaining that the tunes are pre-set. All very polite. "I'm not a DJ," he added.

I think we are all familiar with the line in Keeping Two Chevrons apart where Nigel muses over how you only ever hear the word "aplomb" in football commentaries. I beg to differ, having read a feature on American band Windhand in Issue 18 of the fine Louder Than War. I was led to believe that the band does Psychedelic Doom with creativity, emotion "and aplomb". So there.

With reference to the lyric from Dickie Davies Eyes, Karen told me about a feature on BBC1's Sunday morning breakfast programme. Roger Dean has an exhibition of his work, celebrating all those years "in the business". Posters on display, no doubt. This news prompted us to re-visit the old Flake adverts. There is one with a "Romany bint" riding on a caravan, and there is another with a girl in a poppy field, painting. The lyric seems to combine the two. After more than three decades, I don't suppose it matters that much.

Another reference came courtesy of Simon Calder, who is the travel correspondent for The Independent, and also covers a lot of issues for the BBC. There was a story in the news about a guy who was suing British Airways for injuries suffered after he had to sit next to a fellow passenger described as "the size of Jonah Lomu". When talking about this on Five Live, Simon signed off by saying, "As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote 'Hell is other people'". Not quite a direct HMHB reference. He ought to have said it in French instead.

Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes came to mind when reading the section on Mute Swans in Tweet Of The Day, an excellent book by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss, based on the Radio Four series of the same name. "The mistaken assertion that 'a swan can break a man's arm' is a favourite among pub bores... In fact a swan is more likely to break its own wing than your arm even if they can be quite aggressive if you approach them too closely." I've no doubt that the band like to get their facts right, but all of that just isn't going to fit into the rhythm of the song.

Because we are all avid followers of the programme, HMHB fans will have spotted that two of the contestants on the latest series of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here are referenced in songs, being Mr Edmunds and Nick Fucking Knowles.

Proof of the band's mystical powers came one morning when I was driving to work. Lark Descending was playing on the CD. When it got to the line about getting a job on the bins, at that very second I passed a council bin wagon. Rhetorical or what?

As always I am late to pick up on these things. In this case, I am more than three decades late. On Danny Baker's Saturday morning programme on Five Live, a listener rang in to discuss Stanley Holloway's recording of the song Let's Go Down The Strand. Danny and the listener did an impromptu duet featuring the chorus "Have a banana". Could that have been lifted, when God Gave Us Life was produced?

Karen's sister got us free tickets for a show featuring comedian Rob Deering. During a musical interlude, we were pleased to hear him sing the opening lines of All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit. He proclaimed it to be the best Christmas song ever written. We were minded to point out that it isn't really a Christmas song at all, but that was neither time nor place for a debate. Maybe do the whole song next time, Rob? We look forward to it.

Karen reckoned there was a new record to report. She ordered our gig tickets on 23 February and they arrived on 16 November. Brinksmanship par excellence.

The papers review, as usual, didn't turn up any mention of the HMHB show. Metro were keen to plug gigs by Def Leppard, Cypress Hill and The Cardigans. We also noted the full page ad for a stage version of The Rocky Horror Show. Meanwhile, the Manchester Evening News mentioned Ross Noble's show tonight at The Apollo. Isn't he supposed to be a HMHB fan? If so, that's bad planning, Ross. We also learned that Tears For Fears are scheduled to appear at Delamere. It didn't say anything about Elbow playing there, but there was the consolation of a photo of Guy Garvey along with some blurb about their appearance at the Sounds Of The City Festival next summer.

Our pre-gig preparation involved an episode of Countdown featuring Jenny Eclair living up to her characterisation in You're Hard. We were stopping at the same place as Tony, so it was easy enough for us to meet and make our way to The Ritz, pausing only to say Hello to Mike who was mid-conversation on his mobile as we saw him in the street. As usual, we were there well ahead of opening time. Nevertheless we were beaten to the punch, and were numbers four, five and six in the queue.

Early on, there was confusion over what time the band was going to be on stage. Fake news, as some might call it. Perceived wisdom was that HMHB were due on at 8.00. But while we were queueing, one of the Showsec personnel showed me a sheet saying it would be 8.30. As it turned out, they appeared at 8.10. Later on, Nigel was asked about this. "Nothing to do with us," he explained. "It was because of the crowd-funneling outside."

While outside, we saw Graham who was trying to get rid of a surplus ticket. It's a sign of the times. These days you can't afford to just rock up on the day. The last three shows have been sell outs (there or thereabouts) in three of the biggest cities in the land. Cash on the door is not always an option. There's a reason...

Once inside, we exchanged Hellos with Biscuiteers from far and wide. Graham had been successful in offloading his ticket. Matt had again travelled further than most, from Lancing. Jordan (usually at the front of the queue outside) was later extremely animated when his repeated requests for Our Tune finally bore fruit. We said Hello to Joel and Mel, and Nigel and Jo, who had missed out on the Liverpool show. Huddersfield Graham chatted for a bit, before returning to his vantage point on the balcony. Howie and Daz arrived, as usual, just in time for HMHB's arrival. And Ian and Mariana were also there. Later on, I caught a glimpse of Nigel/Exford in the midst of a lively, but friendly mosh pit. Ian and Cathy were standing next to me during the evening, Cathy being the first Australian that I have spoken to at one of these shows. Thanks to Ian for letting me have the title of the Tom Waits song ("Martha") which Nigel sampled during the HMHB set. And it is always good to have a natter with Peter from Bradford. John was wearing a "Garage In Constant Use" hi vis jacket, a gift from his recently departed brother, Chris. Nigel dedicated Everything's AOR to Chris. Ever the rebel, John had actually been told to remove said item by the vigilant security staff. They had also confiscated his Access All Areas pass. So much for self-expression. Postman Tony had a similar tale of officialdom, having had to show a receipt for a cup of coffee, being proof of "sobering up" before he was allowed in to the venue. Karen also noted the poster for "Half Man Half Cocktails" on the wall at the bar. John told me that this place was the only venue in Manchester to still have a spring-based floor. Not great if you're carrying a quantity of pints. Later on, Nigel said to all and sundry "I bet someone next to you has mentioned the sprung dance floor." Yes, well maybe.

With military precision, JD Meatyard were on stage at 7 o'clock. It was another variation of their line up. JD as always was doing vocals and guitar. He has a habit of offering to trade a pint of Guinness for a free CD. Jay was obviously alive to this possibility by leaving a pint at the front of the stage near where John stands. Tamsin was playing guitar. But it was "same mallet, different drummer", as Tony put it. I'm sure this guy has played with them previously, and I'm sorry I can't remember his name. Should have asked Tamsin when I spoke briefly with her outside the venue at the end of the evening. Their set concentrated on their new album The Batchain Pullers (available at all the best places including the Probe Plus desk - good to catch up with Geoff there, by the way). However, they were still able to throw in a couple of favourites. It will be a while before I tire of hearing Ubu At Erics. No doubt they'll be back supporting at any number of the gigs in 2019. And good luck to Tamsin, whose other band, LIINES, are on tour with Sleaford Mods in the new year.

HMHB's walk-on music was Magic Trumpet by Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass. Before they started up with Westward Ho!, Nigel pointed out a mate at the back of the hall and said "I've got those rawl plugs for you". He also spotted Annabel Tiffin. Later on he spotted Diane Oxberry, and said "Your weather forecasts are better than Sara Blizzard's." Pam Ferris was also there ("Did you get the quick lime? He won't bury himself.").

Postman Tony led the requests for "The one about the Zuider Zee", which seems to have replaced the shouts for God Gave Us Life. Nigel asked "Where did you go for your tea? Nandos? When there's a city full of good restaurants?" He said he sat on a bench at Boggart Hole Clough, and had a strip of biltong. Glyn Pardoe used to hang out at the same place, playing badminton in order to settle his nerves before a match. And then when he went back to collect the shuttlecocks the following day, they had all disappeared. He was puzzled as to why, but Nigel reckoned that squirrels were to blame.

"Maybe even a torch" was added to the requirements in Renfield's Afoot. Nigel talked at length about Thinsulate. "All you need at Christmas." He added that it was the time of year when you buy inappropriate gifts for elderly relatives. He bought his Nan a copy of Replicas, which prompted her to write her own obituary, which included the line "Me, I disconnect from you." And Nigel said he once drew a bad picture for his uncle, of Roy Kinnear and Brian Murphy from George And Mildred. Nigel "signed" them as if from those actors. His uncle was made up about this, thinking they were real signatures.

A couple of times during the evening, I noticed Nigel throw his guitar lead over his shoulder. He also went off to the side of the stage to ask for some smoke to add to the atmosphere.

Nigel turned the subject of conversation to Dynasties, in particular to the penguins on the programme. "The bastards keep giving, don't they?" He was reminded of the tale of the Antarctic Survey where photos would be taken of penguins wearing football shirts. One of them had disappeared while wearing an Everton shirt. Maybe it had been killed by a walrus? "Notice, I didn't say Polar Bear."

At some point I will check my facts, but I can't remember Joy Division Oven Gloves being played this early in a set. During Evil Gazebo, Nigel explained that "that's his favourite bit" when Neil played the bass solo just before the pause in the middle of the song. Before Bladderwrack Allowance, Nigel said "This is for anyone who was in the Briton's Protection earlier, and wishes they were still there." The transformer in Dukla Prague was 3.10 as usual. "Should have gone to Home Bargains," Nigel added helpfully. Nigel was wished a Happy St Andrews Day. He replied that the walk-on music was going to be Flower Of Scotland, but he couldn't find it on a CD anywhere. He started talking about his mate Duncan Bruce from Stonehaven, who funnily enough used to go out with a girl called Joyce. "But not this one," he added as the band struck up Ode To Joyce.

One or two notes about tonight's version of Footprints. The Lord referred to "the trials and suffering and all that crap." A honky horn was added to the instrumentation during the song. And there were particular additions to the teenager's actions after he woke up at midday. He was mad about having missed Homes Under The Hammer and The Sheriffs Are Coming. He went outside and saw Mr Galbraith from next door. Mr Galbraith had two jokes for the teenager. "What's black and white and can't turn round in a corridor? A nun with a javelin through her head." The teenager punched Mr Galbraith, who then told him the second joke. "What's got three legs and eats fish and chips? Don and Ivy Brennan." The teenager punched Mr Galbraith again. After which he went to see his father about the golf clubs.

Nigel explained a bit about Swerving The Checkatrade. "I wrote it a couple of years ago when Tranmere weren't in The Checkatrade. It's about my mate who supports Rochdale." Umberstone Covert was inspired by a mate who, instead of making sand sculptures, just makes sand castles. There was also a random line... "Matthew Amroliwala, what were you thinking of?" Possibly a germ of an idea of a song for the future.

Nigel asked another mate at the back of the hall "Did you get your wheelie bin jet- washed?" And also he said to anyone where this is appropriate. "Now that your dog's been found, it would be nice if you took the posters down from the lampposts." Oh, and the nymph in Tending The Wrong Grave had turned into Tim Buckley. In the same song, Nigel said that he didn't expect a pod of whales. He hastily corrected himself. "You wouldn't really, because it's a school of whales, and a pod of dolphins." He was dressed like a dandy for the summer eights. He lifted up his leg and said "Had on my Sebagoes."

A fine collection of tunes as always. Here's how it went. They even put on some Velvets!

Westward Ho! - Massive Letdown
Our Tune
Depressed Beyond Tablets
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Terminus
Renfield's Afoot
This Leaden Pall
What Made Colombia Famous
Totnes Bickering Fair
Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off
Joy Division Oven Gloves
Used To Be In Evil Gazebo
Bladderwrack Allowance
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Ode To Joyce
Footprints
Swerving The Checkatrade
Tommy Walsh's Eco House
National Shite Day
Running Order Squabble Fest
Harsh Times In Umberstone Covert
Everything's AOR
Tending The Wrong Grave For Twenty-Three Years
Vatican Broadside
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train
Every Time A Bell Rings

And there were four songs in the encore:

Left Lyrics In The Practice Room
White Light / White Heat
I Hate Nerys Hughes
The Trumpton Riots

Carl overarmed his set list into the crowd. I was fielding too close and it went way over my head. Thanks very much to Karl for handing his over in a far more civilised manner. Graphologists would spot that Nigel wrote out the first couple of songs in lower case, but then reverted to capitals. Analyse that! Regarding the actual content, there were just two omissions (from the written list). Neither Vatican Broadside nor The Trumpton Riots were scheduled to appear. And Nigel always writes a "?" before the songs to be played in the encore. I suppose this is just in case the punters turn round and head home after the band finishes the main set. I've not seen that happen yet, but there is a first time for everything.

Karen and I were in Sheffield the day after this gig, scoffing burritos at the excellent Street Kitchen. In the course of this, we debated which was the best HMHB show of 2018. Not much of a debate, really. For us, things always sparkle on these nights. But at London in June, it reached another level all round. In just less than nine weeks we will be back in attendance at the York gig. More of the same, please, in 2019.