HMHB News Archive
July - December 2002
Two entries in the Peel Festive 50 - 'Breaking News' at no.38, 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel...' at no.14.
Click and discover (they work now!):
Konrad Adams keeps us all informed:
Adrian Chiles did an interview with Fred Titmus on his Radio5Live show last Saturday morning, introduced as something like "Fred Titmus will be here to talk about Lillee, Thomson and Half Man Half Biscuit". Went through the story of how FT only became aware when someone gave him the album, that his daughter was a bit miffed about the song (ha!). Fred was aware that the songwriter was "apparently a cricket fan" and guessed he must have spotted him in a supermarket in the past to inspire the song (yeah). Highlight was a broadcasting of the first verse, complete with bleep that covered about as much as a G-string (I think only the "uc" was missing)...
Stuart McHugh's review of the new LP in Scottish listings mag 'The List':
Half Man Half Biscuit - Cammell Laird Social Club (Probe Plus) *****
"Satisfaction!" "My Generation!" "Trumpton Riots!"
Perhaps uniquely, the Biscuits are one band whose back catalogue grows in stature with every release. Here, they attend a Beatles tribute concert "as the bootleg Mark Chapman", run through 'The Referee's Alphabet' (U is for Umpire - "who's the bastard in the hat?") and heap righteous scorn on Great British institutions like Aga-owning novelists, Turner Prize judges, and Lisa Riley. Musically they mix blues, raucous singalongs, and, on 'She's in Broadstairs', steamroller yer White Rebel Trail of Strokes indie also-rans. 16 years on, Nigel and co remain spokesmen for a generation who can't be arsed.
There's a review of the HMHB 90's catalogue in iJamming - click here.
Paddy Shennan, feature writer on the Liverpool Echo, has been busy promoting the new LP...
Shy Nigel unmasks plans for Biscuits future
ITS opening track rhymes Sylvia Plath with Matlock Bath. Another song pours scorn on Jonathan Ross's less-famous, less-funny brother, Paul. And titles include Paradise Lost (You're The Reason Why) and Thy Damnation Slumbereth Not. Suddenly, life is starting to make sense again - Birkenhead band Half Man Half Biscuit have a new album, Cammell Laird Social Club (Probe Plus), in the shops on Monday. If they played the game and hung out with the music industry's posers and parasites, HMHB would be bigger than Beelzebub. And Will Young. Instead, singer Nigel Blackwell, the publicity-shy wordsmith and sometime tunesmith (fellow founder member and demon bassist Neil Crossley supplied the music for five of the 13 tracks on the new CD) is again trying to avoid having his photograph in the ECHO. The Guardian weekend magazine? That was different. People wouldn't see that. But his mug in the ECHO? That would definitely blow his much-prized anonymity. Well-meaning souls might collar him and say: "I thought you'd packed in for good after that Trumpton Riots single and Back In The DHSS album in the mid-'80s." Which is also why he prefers playing out-of-town (only one Liverpool gig in 10 years). Still, progress is being made: four years ago, the ECHO simply used the Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral CD sleeve alongside a Nigel interview; two years ago it was the Trouble Over Bridgwater sleeve AND a picture of Nigel lookalike Jaap Stam. But in 2002, we present Nigel . . . in shades and cycle helmet. "Well, I do write most of my songs while cyling along country lanes - and it would be irresponsible not to wear a helmet," he explains. John Peel believes HMHB are a "national treasure," while his colleague Andy Kershaw recently dubbed them "Britain's greatest folk band." Nigel, typically, says: "That's a bit over the top, isn't it? Nice of him to say so, though." Apart from a new CD, HMHB fans can also look forward to seeing their most recent gig released on video. Allegedly. It took place in Manchester . . . 10 months ago. Nigel says: "It's out of our hands, but apparently it's very close now! "But the people putting it together can't include our version of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades, which is a shame because I was practising my golf swing during that one." So there will be some more gigs then? "We should be doing something around November." That, like the arrival of the new album, is very good news. Cammell Laird Social Club features a host of wise and witty classics, including Thems The Vagaries, San Antonio Foam Party and the epic She's In Broadstairs. Nigel even speaks up for the men in black (and green) on The Referee's Alphabet: "The 'G' is for the gnarled face of a player on £90,000 a week, who thinks he should have had a throw-in." Half Man Half Biscuit. They're even funnier than "Dr" Fox. Nigel Blackwell? You haven't seen him. Right?
More quotes from Nigel, that didn't make the paper:
THOSE "ALSO AVAILABLE" FROM PROBE ALBUM TITLES... "I've been building them up for a while. I've got a few more of them which I'm saving for an EP next year, or something. I did them with a mate, Steve Hardstaff. Geoff (Davies) didn't know anything about them, until the album was ready. "It'd be good if some of them actually existed - or if people actually tried to order one from Geoff. The Charlie Drake album, for example. The market is there, isn't it? And I'm sure some Hull bands could do something with The Stooges Of Humber/Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hull . . . 'Oh, to be in Humberside,' or whatever." ANDY KERSHAW'S "BEST FOLK BAND IN BRITAIN" COMMENT... "With 'folk' you either think of something like the Houghton Weavers, or proper folk. Like this . . ." It was at this point Nigel produced his copy of the CD The Voice Of The People Volume Three: O'er His Grave The Grass Grew Green - Tragic Ballads (if you're interested it's on Topic Records TSCD 653), which includes the likes of Packie Manus Byrne and Paddy Tunney. Thankfully, he didn't put it on. GIGS. JUST TO CONFIRM . . . "There should be something around November - probably in the Lancashire/Yorkshire area." Nigel adds: "We'll definitely have a stab at reproducing things like San Antonio Foam Party and She's In Broadstairs, although there's two or three guitars on Broadstairs. But we did play it live in rehearsal. And we'll have to do some new covers . . . I've always fancied doing Holiday In Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys." MORE ON SONGWRITING IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS... "I wrote Monmore, Hare's Running" while cycling along the embankment at Leasowe and Deep House Victims Mini-Bus Appeal while walking the Wirral Way, from Hooton to West Kirby - I remember it was snowing." WHO WROTE WHAT ON CAMMELL LAIRD SOCIAL CLUB . . . Nigel wrote all the words. Neil wrote the music for She's In Broadstairs/If I Had Possession Over Pancake Day/San Antonio Foam Party/Tyrolean Knockabout/27 Yards Of Dental Floss (or was that Status Quo?) Nigel wrote the music for the rest... THE LINE-UP . . . "This is the most settled line-up we've ever had and I remember the first gig me, Neil, Ken and Carl did together - Grimsby '96". SAN ANTONIO FOAM PARTY. WHAT'S THAT ALL ABOUT, THEN? AND WHAT'S THAT LINE AFTER "THIS IS ME PLEADING FOR SOME CIVIC PRIDE"? "It's just the usual random observations. It isn't really about anything. But that line is 'This is me pleading for some civic pride, using or losing the park and ride. Twin town said we just weren't cool, so now we've got a suicide pact with Goole.'" THEM'S THE VAGARIES . . . You do sing "Them's the aviaries" at the end, don't you? I hope you do! "Yeah, that's where we do get silly. Sometimes I don't care. But you can't be stern-faced all your life." REFEREE'S ALPHABET - THE FIRST SONG FROM A REF'S STANDPOINT? "It's just this thing about players expecting them to change their minds. He might be a dickhead or someone who wants to court publicity, but he's not going to change his mind about a throw-in or penalty." MORE ON BROADSTAIRS ... "Neil had the music, but it took me ages to get the right three words to fit the chorus. It took me a few runs, that. But it eventually came to me at the bottom of the Causeway. I don't know where it came from, but I often fall back on place names when I'm stuck. "I then rang up the Kent Tourist Board just to make sure that Broadstairs was on the Isle Of Thanet - cos I had that to rhyme with "planet." PAUL ROSS "The worst mistake he ever made was appearing on the same show as his brother." NIGEL EXPLAINING HIS STAPLE DAILY DIET OF RADIO MERSEYSIDE (ESPECIALLY ROGER PHILLIPS' LUNCH-TIME PHONE-IN) AND THE LIVERPOOL ECHO... "You've got to know your locale before you start talking about international affairs." VOICE-OVERS... Nigel plays me the radio ones he did for BP Connect Stores. Very impressive. "The bloke who asked me has now moved on so that's it now. I did four. I probably would have done them for nothing. I've got no qualms about doing them again for somebody else - anybody else! - for any amount of money. The best time was when the TV advert came on as I was sat watching a Test match on Channel 4."
Geoff's at the vinyl frontier of pop scene
LIVERPOOL label Probe Plus is celebrating its 21st birthday - and it's most famous act,
Half Man Half Biscuit, have a new album out. PADDY SHENNAN reports.
HE once ran the greatest record shop in the world. He continues to put out albums by the greatest band in the world . . . And he's lost a fortune on a whole host of weird and wonderful (and some not so wonderful) acts. Basically, he loved them and wanted the whole world to love them. But, on occasions, the world said: "You're joking, aren't you?" Step forward Mr Geoff Davies, the craggy-faced, bald-headed, 59-year-old godfather of Liverpool's independent music scene. With his first wife, Annie, he opened Probe Records 31 years ago. And he's now celebrating the 21st anniversary of the label it spawned: Probe Plus - still the home of the wondrous Half Man Half Biscuit (his involvement with the record shop, now in Slater Street, ended in 1986). It's a label which has had its ups and downs. And a few more downs. "These are all my mistakes," the often dour and deadpan one says dismissively, pointing at some of the unsold vinyl cluttering up one of the upstairs rooms of the rambling home he shares with his second wife, Anne, close to Sefton Park. He doesn't really mean it, though. He has no regrets. He doesn't believe in them. The Probe Plus success story, it could be argued, begins and ends with Half Man Half Biscuit. Their debut album, Back In The DHSS, is thought to have sold more than 100,000 copies (their debut single, The Trumpton Riots, has sold a similar number). Probe's next-biggest-sellers? All the other HMHB albums. The worst-selling album? The band's name has been withheld for diplomatic reasons, but it shifted about 120 copies. Geoff says: "I would say about 96% of what I've done on the label I have put out because I thought it was great and deserved to be heard. I'm a great believer that if I like something then other people will. And I believe 'the good will out' - although it might only happen when you're dead. "I was almost bankrupt in 1991, but I kept trading through. Sometimes I think 'What am I doing this for?' I have been very disillusioned." But, despite a lack of funds and, at times, a complete lack of interest from radio stations, I can't see him stopping. He's still an enthusiast. Life would perhaps be easier - and more profitable - if he simply concentrated on Half Man Half Biscuit. But Geoff couldn't do that. He'd feel guilty. During our chat, he plays me Probe stuff old and new - an old 12-incher from Accrington band Gone To Earth ("Just listen to that combination of fiddle and electric guitar!") and the ethereal sounds of the recently-released 4-20 album ("This is completely irresistible!") And he talks me through other Probe releases, including The Walking Seeds' Skullf**k album - "They were Liverpool's only grunge band and reputedly influenced Nirvana. Cook Da Books sold quite well and there's still a demand for The Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus - they were an odd bunch. "The Onset included La's founder member Mike Badger; Levellers 5, from Darwen, were real quality and a great favourite of John Peel. Then there's The Dead Poppies, Liverpool's only truly psychedelic band." And Calvin Party, The She, Mr Amir (first Probe Plus album), Kelso, Marlowe . . . There's no stopping him. And we haven't even talked about Ex-Post Facto (first Probe Plus single), Brenda And The Beachballs, the excellent Jegsy Dodd and The Sons Of Harry Cross, Poisoned Electric Head, Fflaps, Fishcake Shake and The Doonicans. "I've released about 100 singles and albums and pressed and distributed more than 100 others." (And if you want to relieve him of some old vinyl, ring him on 0151-733-1810!). Then there's Half Man Half Biscuit . . . "Thank God for Half Man Half Biscuit!" says Geoff.
Paddy also sent me this article (text below includes a few paragraphs not printed in the paper), from Friday July 17, 1998:
JOHN PEEL calls them 'a national treasure' and their devoted fans feel they should be bigger than the Beatles. But all their singer wants for Christmas is . . . a small terraced house in Prenton. They are Half Man Half Biscuit: Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral. Their new album of the same name is in the shops now and, fresh from a prestigious appearance at Peel's Meltdown event at London's Royal Festival Hall, Birkenhead's finest are planning their first Liverpool gig in six years. The Biscuits' story is one of what might have been, what still could be, and what frontman Nigel Blackwell, who writes the band's words and music, would quite happily live without. This is the man who split up the band - a split which lasted more than three years - at the height of its early success. Dickie Davies' Eyes, the follow up to The Trumpton Riots, was top of the independent singles' chart and the group was on the eve of a seven country tour of Europe and America. But after a date in Holland, the only country Nigel's ever visited, he realised that touring wasn't for him: "I've got to wake every morning in my own bed," he says today. Since reforming, the Biscuits have played only one-off gigs and the band remains as wilfully under-exposed and anoymous as ever: no names or pictures on album sleeves and no pictures in the Echo, please. Over the last six years, they have bypassed Liverpool because Nigel felt uncomfortable playing in front of so many familiar faces, including lads he sees as he follows his beloved Tranmere Rovers around the country. He feels more comfortable about that prospect today - hence the gig planned for somewhere in Liverpool in September - but Nigel would never feel comfortable playing the pop music game. Nigel, 34, says: "I love the idea of big bucks. A common misconception is our so-called stubborn independence, but it's just this 25-date tour thing." The endless itinerary of touring, travelling and daily interviews with people who have no idea who you are is the reason Nigel has been happy to stay with Liverpool's Probe Plus label, run by independent guru Geoff Davies. Nigel adds: "I've never really had any money, but it's probably not as much of a problem as people think. I'm very easily pleased. I have no material aspirations. I can't drive. I don't go on foreign holidays. I've never flown and don't like sailing. I gave up smoking and I don't drink. "At the moment I'm doing my damnedest to get a mortgage for a little terraced house. If a big label came along and said 'Here's a load of money; do this, this and this', I'd probably take the money, buy a house, and then get myself dropped on purpose and go back to Probe. "We've got so much freedom with Geoff. I've got control over everything we do." Nigel describes the new album as "OK, acceptable," before adding: "Geoff will kill me for saying that." Geoff actually reckons the Four Lads Who Shook The World can be outdone by the Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral. He says: "The Beatles are fantastic, but there are always stinkers on their albums - things like Maxwell's Silver Hammer. "So, for me, every Beatles album is marred: 80% of it will be absolutely great, then I'll hear a McCartney track I don't like, or something by George or Ringo. "But I can play every Half Man Half Biscuit album all the way through and there's never one weak track. And I find that amazing, because I'm such a moaning, critical swine. "If I said this to Nigel, he would be highly embarrassed, but I sincerely believe it." Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral contains many top tunes, part comedy and part sharp, savage social commentary. Like the album, it's impossible to pigeon-hole Half Man Half Biscuit - or Nigel himself. At a recent gig in Cheltenham, a poster advertising future gigs explained the type of music played by each visiting band. After one, it said "blues/funk", another said "punk." Then came Half Man Half Biscuit . . . "We just had a load of question marks," said Nigel.
The new LP, "Cammell Laird Social Club", has been delayed slightly (at 'the other end', apparently) - it will now be released on 23rd September.
The Peel session (recorded live in one take) was broadcast on Tuesday 3 September:
HMHB recorded six tracks in three lumps for Andy Kershaw's Radio 3 programme last Friday night (2nd August).
1. When The Evening Sun Goes Down
2. If I Had Posession Over Pancake Day
3. 27 Yards Of Dental Floss
4. Twenty Four Hour Garage People
5. There Stands the Glass
6. Running Order Squabblefest
During the session, Nigel mentioned that there could well be some gigs in a couple of months' time. More session details here.
The new LP, "Cammell Laird Social Club" will be released on 2nd September; the tracklisting is still to be finalised. Tranmere Rovers' mooted relocation from Prenton Park to a new development on the site of the Cammell Laird shipyards is merely a coincidence...
It is confirmed that HMHB will be recording a live session in Manchester for Andy Kershaw's Radio 3 programme on 2nd August, which may or may not have a tie-in with the Commonwealth Games...