This is the fourth time I've seen HMHB in Cardiff. This is the first time they have played twice at a venue in the city. Karl's second gig with the band was in Cardiff when he was temping, with Ken having gone off sick. I've never known a temp to perm deal take so long. (Karl had also covered at Frome, the night before.) At that show Nigel went solo with a version of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. I remember him rummaging through his notes to check the spelling for me. Which brings us to his appearance on BBC Radio Cymru where he appeared with Neil. A different Neil. This particular Neil is Nigel's Welsh language teacher. They were being interviewed on his learning the language, and music in general. By and large I didn't understand a word, although I did pick up references to one or two Welsh bands, as well as a couple of namechecks of John Peel. The interview was punctuated by excerpts from The Trumpton Riots, Every Time A Bell Rings, National Shite Day and Descent Of The Stiperstones. Pirx The Purist goes straight to the top of the class for translating the interview and dropping an English version into Chris Rand's site.
Capel Curig also got a mention on the radio a few days before this show. The town got half a month's rain in the space of twenty-four hours. There was no mention of any bottlenecks, but I would have thought that would have been enough to cause tailbacks at the very least. There was also a Brexit-related Tweet to the album where that song belongs. Theresa May had talked about many people wanting the latest stage of the process to be over. And she added "I am on your side." To which someone had replied "Not sure this re-write of Bridge Over Troubled Water really scans." That, in turn, prompted a response from the former England cricketer Mike Selvey. "Trouble Over Bridgwater as Half Man Half Biscuit had it. And a lot of other places besides."
Being the second leg of a double-header, we were in Exeter the night before this show. Karen, Tony and I got on the train at Exeter St David's, changed at Bristol Temple Meads, and duly arrived at Cardiff Central. Nice mocha at Temple Meads while we were waiting, by the way. Tony gave me his copy of The Guardian, and we scoured a copy of Metro, but there was no mention of HMHB's show. As per usual. There was a nice, pleasant article about Norweigian black metal in The Guardian though.
First Biscuiteer sighting was while Karen was out and about gathering supplies in the afternoon. She met Lee who had taken the long haul from Rotherham. We had a tough afternoon watching Countdown and getting ready for a relatively early start. Doors were opening at 7 o'clock. Plenty of time to prepare for The Flux Capacitors, who were opening the show an hour later.
Karen, Tony and I were at the head of the queue and were joined soon enough by Phill from Portsmouth, and Ian who was heading back to Belfast the day after the show. We all stood watching as a number of warning signs were stuck on the windows. I assume the venue has had a problem in the past. "No Crowd Surfing" we were warned. And more to the point, "Crowd Surfers Will Be Ejected Immediately." We looked round at each other and I think we all agreed that our collective crowd-surfing days lie in the past. Tony suggested another notice. "If You Have The Energy To Crowd Surf, You Are Probably At The Wrong Gig".
When inside the venue, I went to the merch stall. Michael from The Flux Capacitors was there. They had a monopoly in the market. As on the Thursday in Exeter, there was no Probe Plus presence. So I invested in a book of Hazel's poetry. Spreadsheet Roger wondered about how much brass HMHB might have lost there. But that's too much like being at work.
The Flux Capacitors had a couple of HMHB reference points in their set. Michael began their first song with the intro from The Trumpton Riots, as lifted from To Be A Pilgrim. And Hazel plonked the Black Sabbath-bam-a-lam lyric into one of her songs. They have also nailed their on-stage banter. "Hazel, why don't you sing a song about suicide?" Looking forward to seeing them again some time. Who knows where. Who knows when. Their set list was the same as the night before.Melt
The interval provided a chance to say Hello. John was there again. Postman Tony had missed Exeter but there was there tonight, dressed appropriately for the Buzzcocks cover version. Ian and Mariana, Huddersfield Graham, Howie and Daz had all made the journey from Exeter. It was a bit of a squash. If this wasn't a sell-out then it must have come close. Ideal conditions for crowd-surfing really.
The walk-on music was Men Of Harlech. Nigel was again in a long-sleeved shirt, with the rest of the band in a range of t-shirts. Neil was in a Stranglers t-shirt. Karl's was worded thus. "I'm the same age that my father was when I first thought he was OLD." And Carl had a picture of Marty Feldman on his. And it was noted that he changed into a Flux Capacitors number between the main set and the encore. Michael was keen to get a photo of that.
The most obvious thing to note was that Nigel sang most of the songs without his guitar. In gigs gone by, this has happened a few times, but I don't remember it ever being the policy for more than one or two songs. Was he trying to be Chuck D, perhaps, as he paraded round the stage? It gave him more scope to avoid the photographer who was trying to take a picture of him from the moat. There was certainly a touch of Mark E Smith when his foot caught a wire which brought down the microphone placed against Karl's amp. And his style had me thinking. Mike in one hand, and elbow of the other arm resting on the stand? Didn't Tom O'Connor used to do that? There was more than usual jumping off the drum riser.
One other feature of his guitarless performance was an increased use of international sign language, with him having his hands free. I noticed an interesting impersonation of "Bollocko" at the end of Renfield's Afoot. Karen spotted that he mimed keeping wicket for the Quakers, and in We Built This Village, he mimed bowling when he came to the line about a cricketing farce. The lyrics in Twenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss were slightly mixed up. "Would you like to go the zoo? She said Been Yesterday."
Nigel was winding the mike lead around his arm, and said "Look! I'm turning into a crooner." Tony replied "Next stop the rocking chair," to which Nigel responded interestingly "I'm not sure why this is, but I'm terrified of rocking chairs. Them and sandpaper." Just as interestingly, he also said that he had had a tin of sardines while sitting in the van earlier.
Nigel had a carrier bag with him. He was asked "Is that the merch?" Nigel replied that the band crisps were in it, being helpful to explain that it was "band" crisps, rather than "banned" crisps. On a food theme a shout of "Super White Army" was met by Nigel with "Super white barm cakes. My favourite snack."
Nigel talked to me about jet-washing his wheelie bin. He is clearly not impressed by the middle-class couple down the road, who pay to have it done. Later he returned to the subject when introducing Ode To Joyce. "This is about a woman who has never jet-washed a wheelie bin in her life."
He also asked one and all about the massive T on the wall at the back of the hall. "Is that for 'Tramshed' or is it Tennent's Lager?"
Tony asked Nigel "What about playing the guitar?" Nigel replied "Good point" before putting it on for Look Dad No Tunes. There was a request for Westminster Bridge. Nigel said he wanted to record the noise a bin lorry makes when it is reversing, and use this is in a song. He did this in Upon Westminster Bridge.
An old joke was given an airing. Karl went to a Malaysian restaurant and had Pelican. It was lovely but the bill was massive. There was a conversation between Nigel and Tony, continuing on a theme which had started in Exeter the night before, regarding Quatermass. This moved on to WH Auden's involvement in the film Night Mail. We also established that Magnus Pyke had died on a busy news day in 1992.
The line in Joy Division Oven Gloves about checking out the Quantocks had Nigel pointing in all directions of the compass. There was a shout for "John MacNamara". Yes, I wouldn't mind hearing The Announcement some time. I also made a note that I could have done without the rotating lights at the back of the back of the stage. But that's probably just me.
We had maybe expected a little more Welsh from Nigel. This was limited to a couple of lines from Mochyn Du before they played Vatican Broadside.
In reply to a shout of "Gerry Gow", Nigel replied with an excerpt from an adapted Twelve Days Of Christmas, from his card-collecting days. "Three Gerry Gows, Two Alan Birchenalls, and a Stiff Little Fingers LP." He noted that Suspect Device by Stiff Little Fingers is probably the best ever opening song on an album (Inflammable Material). And by the way, when checking the spelling of Birchenall, we spotted that Alan was awarded an MBE for his charity work, and that he was given the Freedom Of Leicester in 2009 alongside Engelbert Humperdinck and Sue Townsend. There should also be an award for his kiss with Tony Currie. That will be made into a statue one day.
Apparently Nigel wasn't feeling too great, which perhaps explains the length of the show. 85 minutes from start to end. Normally they hang around for longer than that.
Here's how the evening went. Thanks to Neil for handing over his list. If I'd known in advance that Nigel's guitar playing was going to be so intermittent, I would have marked the songs where he was strapped in. Shoddy. Happy to be told otherwise, but I think the only ones where the guitar was played were Look Dad No Tunes, Lark Descending, Every Time A Bell Rings, Everything's AOR and Vatican Broadside.Bob Wilson Anchor Man
And in the encoreWhat Made Colombia Famous
Neil's set list took some auditing. There were a lot of crossings-out and additions to the original version. Going through it in order, "Geraldine" was originally scheduled to be second, and was replaced by Twenty-Seven Yards. Pancake Day was written between Renfield and The Light At The End Of The Tunnel, but was crossed out. Three songs were down to appear between Look Dad and Bane Of Constance (Twenty-Seven Yards, Moshpits and Man of CS) but they were crossed out and Geraldine and Lark were written instead. Sunshine was crossed out, having originally been written in between Terminus and Joyce. Bad Wools, showing immediately after Joyce, was also crossed out. Lark D was also crossed out, having been written between We Built This Village and Joy Division Oven Gloves. And Trumpton Riots, as at Exeter, had not appeared at all on the original sheet.
Thanks to Ian for making sure we were all supplied with water throughout these two nights. Much appreciated. Afterwards there was a brief Hello with Lee. Nigel had spotted his Standard Liege scarf during the show. I also saw Mike in what may have been an Ipswich shirt. Representing the Under 21s?
Saturday morning and we were on the train heading northwards. Back home in time for El Classicoal, Pontefract Collieries v Frickley Athletic. And counting down the sleeps to the Cambridge gig.