Half Man Half Biscuit
|Track||Album / EP / Single|
|Irk The Purists||Trouble Over Bridgwater|
|With Goth On Our Side||Trouble Over Bridgwater|
|Eno Collaboration||Voyage To The Bottom
Of The Road
|Ballad Of Climie Fisher||Trouble Over Bridgwater|
|Them's The Vagaries||Cammell Laird Social Club|
|We Built This Village|
On A Trad. Arr. Tune
|When The Evening Sun Goes Down||Cammell Laird Social Club|
|27 Yards Of Dental Floss||Cammell Laird Social Club|
|Tommy Walsh's Eco House||90 Bisodol (Crimond)|
|Restless Legs||Achtung Bono|
|HMHB the early years|
|Sealclubbing||Back In The D.H.S.S.|
|99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd||Back In The D.H.S.S.|
|Architecture, Morality, Ted And Alice||The Trumpton Riots EP|
|All I Want For Christmas|
Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
|The Trumpton Riots EP|
|Dickie Davies Eyes||Probe Plus PP21 single|
Contributors: Rick J Leach & Rob Morgan
If you are half-way to being a music fan – and I suppose you might well be if you’re reading this – then there will be one or two artists who are up there for you. Head and shoulders above the rest of the music you like and probably head and shoulders above the music you love. Artists who, by and large, can do no wrong. Artists who, even when their critical and commercially successful star has waned, you will have a soft spot for and whose records you will continue to get, come what may.
It might be Springsteen, Prince, the Stones, Coldplay even. It doesn’t really matter that much. There is, there will be, someone. I’d bet you’re reading this and thinking of your top two or three artists.
For me it’s The Fall and Bob Dylan. No question. I’m thinking that there are many more long-term Dylan fans than there are Fall fans. After all, there are Dylanologists out there; I’m not sure if there is an equivalent for The Fall. There may well be some Dylan fans reading this very piece.
And as much as I love Dylan (my bookshelves groaning under the weight of numerous books, whole CD racks devoted to all his studio albums as well as a few hundred live recordings) and would argue vehemently about his undoubted skill as a writer, poet and artist, whenever I listen to Half Man Half Biscuit I get to wondering.
I wonder this. Dylan is great, superb, inspirational, game-changing, mould breaking etc. But HMHB do all that and more. They make me smile. They make me laugh. How often does Dylan do that?
If you haven’t heard HMHB or only come across them in passing, then you might well be excused for thinking that they are a sort of latter-day Barron Knights. A post-punk comedy troupe from Birkenhead. Favourites of John Peel and a bit of a laugh, but not really serious artists. Certainly not in the league of Dylan or whoever.
Nigel Blackwell’s (HMHB founder/singer/writer) lyrics on first listen can seem a tad sarcastic and even cynical – possibly exacerbated by his slightly sneering delivery. The more I listen to them though, beyond and beneath this, it seems to me that not only are they words of someone resigned to the awfulness and sadness of the modern world, but there is a certain amount of pathos and even optimism in human nature lurking around. Just the small things that can add up to more. Something that you don’t always get with Dylan.
What do you actually get with HMHB? There are useful barbs at popular culture, and especially music. This to me is a ‘good thing’. There is too much guff said and written about music. Ironic, hey? Television is also touched upon and life in small towns and all things in between (dental floss, Goths, football, hiking) are also preoccupations. It would be a simple exercise for me to start quoting huge chunks of HMHB lyrics as part of this piece, but that would be far too easy. Or far too difficult and long-winded. You just need to look at the titles of the songs themselves to get an idea.
Where to start with HMHB? That’s a tough one. Personally, I am not a big fan of their first two albums. Back In The D.H.S.S. and Back Again In the D.H.S.S., although there are some mighty fine songs on both of them. A bit too post-punk for me; even though that is my favoured genre of music. You may like them though (see below). Worth a listen.
Any and each of their albums from 1990’s McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt to 2011’s 90 Bisodol (Crimond) are uniformly excellent; as are all the EP’s they have released in this period. They only tend to release an album every couple of years or so, with an EP in the intervening year, so there isn’t a vast catalogue to explore.
These are my Top Ten. In no particular order/preference etc. just my Top Ten. I hope you enjoy Half Man Half Biscuit as much as I do, and just remember – they’re going to get Radiohead to switch off the Blackpool lights.
Rick J Leach
It is early 1986, it is late at night, and as ever I am listening to John Peel’s radio show with my headphones on and my finger poised over the pause button of my tape recorder in case he plays something good. He introduced a song called Sealclubbing by a band called Half Man Half Biscuit. Great band name, great song title, I started recording it … It sounded rough as hell, the recording was a bit hissy, the band’s playing was on the spirited side of not quite competent, but above it all there were the words – funny, punning, sarcastic, sung in a Liverpool drawl that was charming yet cynical. I was smitten, who were this odd band who could turn David Essex’s Nightclubbing on its head?
Sealclubbing was one of the highlights of Half Man Half Biscuit’s debut album Back In The D.H.S.S., issued late in 1985 on Probe Plus Records, which is related to the famous Probe Records shop in Liverpool. It only cost £40 to make and in places it sounded like it, but it was the first chance to step inside the worldview of leader Nigel Blackwell. The songs felt like they came from the mind of someone watching 70s television while partaking in some rather good weed. Songs populated by the names of half-forgotten TV celebrities and non-entities, alongside characters from the world of sport (and “World Of Sport”, ITV’s Saturday afternoon equivalent of BBC’s “Grandstand” sports show) and children’s TV like “Camberwick Green” and “Blue Peter”. Oh, and some adverts too. It was life as lived by someone on the dole – collecting Giros from the post office, searching for a deal on Lenor, and hating Nerys Hughes (because she may have been in “The Liver Birds” but she was Welsh!). Highlights? Well, Sealclubbing for a start, the joyous 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd, the roll call of Z list celebs in God Gave Us Life, the gloriously rude Fuckin’ ‘Ell, It’s Fred Titmus (oh the joy I had trying to stop my Gran from looking at the LP cover when I received it as a present) alongside the more thoughtful Reflections From A Flat.
Then there was All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, a bitter remembrance of going over to a friends to play Scalextrix that never worked, then Subbuteo. It was utter genius – a whole generation of men of a certain age nodded their heads in recognition of that moment in their lives – and ended up being one of their most famous songs.
John Peel loved them and had the band in session a few times during the first half of 1986. Their profile was quite high but there were already signs of being uncomfortable with whatever level of fame they had acheived. They were offered a spot on “The Tube”, a Friday night music show which had made a lot of bands famous already – but they turned it down as it clashed with a football match by their favourite team, Tranmere Rovers. The LP was followed by an EP, The Trumpton Riots where the children’s TV show favourites have a riot of their own. It was loud, brash and funny. The whole EP was full of little gems like Architecture, Morality, Ted And Alice, packing three songs into three minutes. HMHB were also asked to contribute to NME‘s C86 compilation cassette, giving them I Hate Nerys Hughes. More Peel sessions were recorded but it was clear that HMHB didnt want the fame or the fortune, and being lumped into the NME‘s much reviled C86 movement didn’t help, so they split up towards the end of 1986 issuing Dickie Davies Eyes as a farewell single. Another classic song, this time gently ripping apart a Lord of the Rings obsessed Roger Dean poster loving hippy; it showed great development, as did the songs compiled from singles and Peel sessions on Back In The D.H.S.S. Again, which again hinted at darker territory in Reasons To Be Miserable (Part 10). There were also riotous funny songs like Rod Hull Is Alive – Why? and The Best Things In Life. Did they do the right thing by splitting up? Possibly. They left behind a small but perfectly formed collection of sharp sarcastic pop tunes and a fanbase eager for more. Luckily they reformed in 1990 and have continued to create more wonderful music since, and I can’t argue with Rick’s choices in his Toppermost. But I would add one more post-reformation song – Running Order Squabble Fest (This Leaden Pall), a rather Spinal Tap-ish rant about what time a band will play on a festival line-up, ending with the classic line, “You’re going on after Crispy Ambulance.” Well it makes me laugh anyway.
As Rick has written, it would be far too easy to quote huge chunks of lyrics. But we don’t need to because it’s all here (see link above), everything from The Len Ganley Stance to Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis, from D’Ye Ken Ted Moult to Keeping Two Chevrons Apart. Genius.
You can read more about Rick’s musical tastes in his book Totally Shuffled: A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod which is available in e-book and paperback., and Rob’s musical adventures on his blog, A Goldfish Called Regret.