HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT are a band that I heard on a John Peel show way back in the mid 80’s, I saved my paper round money and headed into my local branch of Woolworths to see they had a copy of ‘Back in the DHSS’, they did, on cassette (it was the 80’s after all!) I parted with my hard earned £5.29 (or whatever the cost of cassettes were in the mid 80’s) and raced home to play it on my SAISHO twin cassette ‘Ghetto Blaster’ purchased a few weeks before from DIXONS. It is said that Nigel Blackwell recorded the album at Vulcan Studios in Liverpool where he was working as the caretaker and did so for the sum total of just £40!
The tracks on the cassette blew me away, although the theme of the album probably flew over my then 14 year old head, I was still mesmerised at the simple yet effective songs that pumped from my portable player. I was particular enamoured by “Fuckin’ Ell it’s Fred Titmus”, “Sealclubbing” and “Time Flies By (When You’re The Driver of a Train)”, they sounded great, simple yet effective and left me wanting more.
Although it only reached number 60 on the UK album chart, it did manage to hit the top spot of the (then rather underground) indie chart, thanks mainly to the one and only Mr John Peel who played their music regularly on his shows and I believe had them in for 12 Peel Sessions throughout the course of his tenure on Radio 1.
Their sophomore album ‘Back in the DHSS Again’ was released in 1987 and I was stood outside the shop, waiting for it to open so I could get my grubby mitts on it and be the first in my class to own it! I marvelled at the pink cartoonish cover and read the liner notes repeatedly to learn about where it was recorded and any other nuggets of information that might prove useful if anyone had engaged me in conversation about the band…..they didn’t but hey-ho, what else is a 15 year old lad to do apart from spending hours in his room playing on his ZX Spectrum and masturbating over well-thumbed copies of Razzle? Standout tracks from this album included “Rod Hull is Alive – Why?”, “The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman” and of course “All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”, which I’ll admit, took me a few weeks to understand what ‘Dukla Prague’ actually meant! This album reached the heady heights of number 59 in the UK album charts and narrowly missed the top spot of the indie charts, settling in at number 2.
Whilst I wasn’t a gig goer back in the mid 80’s (far too young and my father would never take me!) I dreamt of the chance of seeing HMHB on a stage somewhere, anywhere, belting out the hits that turned me onto the band so many years ago. My prayers were answered in late 2018 when I saw that they were touring and playing at the Exeter Phoenix on 21st March 2019. Okay, 14 studio albums had been released in total up until this point but I was only really au fait with the first couple of albums, would this matter? I doubt it, as I dare say that most of the people in the room would be waiting for the early material to make an appearance and stand there, singing along to every word! I’m a middle aged man now and I’m sure I will be joined by people in the same demographic from every walk of life, to enjoy a great night of entertainment, alternative humour and fabulous music!
Opening the evening’s entertainment was Bristol three piece vegan rock band THE FLUX CAPACITORS who fused observational humour with catchy, infectious rock music. The set included a poem about a time when they supported The Blockheads (Ian Dury’s band), a song abut becoming a vegan and losing far too much weight and having to go shopping for new clothes despite an irrational fear of retail therapy and an ode to the late, great BILL HICKS which kicked off with the token words “I’m too old to suck on Satan’s cock….”, I would like to add at this point that the band are available for bar mitzvah’s, weddings and children’s parties!
Michael McNeil told us of a vegan festival that he’s involved with called VEGETABLE STOCK, I laughed like a drain when I heard this but after checking Facebook, I can confirm that it is actually happening! I loved the band and I felt that they were the perfect band to prepare the sold out crowd for the main event.
Half Man Half Biscuit took to the stage to rapturous applause, a rare treat indeed as these guys don’t tour very often and rarely promote any new material at all so to see them on my doorstep at Exeter’s Phoenix was brilliant. With the opening chords to “Fuckin’ Ell It’s Fred Titmus’, the room started to swell and we were off….
After a short appraisal of some Exeter B roads and a bit of banter between frontman Nigel Blackwell and various members of the audience, they continued with their incredible set which included classics such as “99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd”, “What Made Colombia Famous” and Seal Clubbing”.
The between song banter was very amusing and Nigel announced that he could walk on his knees, I think he regretted saying it as there was no way that he was going to get away without proving this incredible party trick, with that, he dropped his guitar on the stage and proceeded to walk the length of the stage on his knees!
Further hits followed including “All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”, “Vatican Broadside” and “Every time a Bell Rings” but I feel the strongest receptions came from the more upbeat offerings such as “Everything’s AOR” where quite possibly, THE BEST lyric appears in the form of;
She’s the main man in the office in the city
And she treats me like I’m just another lackey
But I can put a tennis racket up against my face
And pretend that I am Kendo Nagasaki.
Nigel asked the audience if they knew that Magnus Pyke had died and went on to say that he had completely overlooked it and that it must have been a record day for celebrities dying as there was no coverage in the press at all, he explained that he was a huge fan of Magnus (though he never had a poster on his wall, he did used to really look up to him), very amusing indeed….. After more banter with the audience, they launched into “Joy Division Oven Gloves” and “Trumpton Riots” which really bought the house down and left the fans wanting more, but to be honest, after a near 2 hour set, I feel that every punter left the gig completely satisfied.
It may be along time until HMHB venture down the M5 to Exeter again but never say never, it’s a mystery what goes on inside the head of Nigel Blackwell and who knows, they might just pop up at a village fete or a supermarket opening in your area soon!
Words and ‘rubbish balcony cameraphone pictures’ by Steve Muscutt