A GUEST POSTING FROM THE ROBSTER
Check Your Sheds!
Another Half Man Half Biscuit Imaginary Compilation
I swore to myself I wouldn’t do another one of these. I’ve done five already and I don’t want to be greedy. Besides, this whole business of choosing 10 songs by your favourite artist(s) lark is bloomin’ hard work and messes with your head. Those acts worth compiling have way in excess of double that number of songs that you simply can’t do without, so it’s a real psychological struggle with yourself to whittle it down to 10. No matter how hard you try, you always feel you could have done better, and there’s that obscure b-side you wish you’d included just so everyone thinks you’re a proper hardcore fan. I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through it any more.
Yet, here I am again, which begs the question – why? Why do this to myself? Well, in a recent series of exchanges between myself and JC, he happened to mention that I “promised” a volume 2 to his Half Man Half Biscuit ICA.
I dispute that I actually promised such a thing, I merely mentioned that I’d consider it. To be fair, I completely forget I even said that. Anyway, the point is I was also considering the future of my own blog and hit upon an idea for a new series. This series seemed to coincide with JC’s request for this ICA, so I agreed to do it, though there is an ulterior motive which I shall reveal at the end. In the meantime…
Like all ICAs, this was tough. In compiling the songs, I made sure I avoided everything JC included in his original (hence no Joy Division Oven Gloves or Trumpton Riots) while attempting to cover the band’s entire 30-year recording career. I also wanted something that sounded like a coherent album and represented the band’s styles and moods as well as Nigel Blackwell‘s frequently brilliant lyrics. There are some glaring omissions, but rather than focus on those, here’s what I ended up with.
1. The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train) (2002, from ‘Cammell Laird Social Club)
A big fan favourite this one and a regular in their live set. The tale of a couple who’ve split up because she craves a more upwardly mobile lifestyle in Notting Hill “where the cocaine is Fair Trade”.
2. Westward Ho! – Massive Letdown (2014, from ‘Urge For Offal’)
Westward Ho! is a North Devon seaside town I spent a lot of time in during my youth. It was our preferred beach when we were kids, then as a teenager it was where I and my friends would hang out at weekends. There was a nightclub there where the DJ would play some of our records for us in a half-hour rock slot. Then, in my 20s, I was a regular at The Anchor, the best live music venue in North Devon. While mainly local bands played there, my mate got Chumbawamba, Credit To The Nation and a few other recognised names to play there in the early 90s. Happy days.
The Anchor is now, inevitably, expensive apartments and Westward Ho! really is a massive letdown. It remains, however, one of only two towns in the world with an exclamation mark in its name, and the only town that’s known to be named after a book. It’s also worth noting that the album this track comes from, ‘Urge For Offal’, is the band’s most recent, their 13th, and their highest charting since the 80s!
3. Everything’s A.O.R. (1991, from ‘McIntyre, Treadmore & Davitt’)
After breaking up due to “musical similarities” in 1986, Half Man Half Biscuit reformed in 1990. The first album following their reformation was ‘McIntyre, Treadmore & Davitt’ which contained this gem, another song they still play live. I particularly love the line “I can put a tennis racket up against my face and pretend that I am Kendo Nagasaki.”
4. Restless Legs (2005, from ‘Achtung Bono!’)
We’ve all suffered from restless leg syndrome, haven’t we? Only Nigel Blackwell could write a song about it though. “Milky drink and Sudafed / That should sort you out, she said.” If only it were that simple, eh? HMHB don’t do videos, but fans often make their own. Perhaps the best of them all is this Eraserhead tribute:
5. Dickie Davies Eyes (1987, ‘Back Again In The DHSS’)
This wasn’t in my original countdown (I had The Bastard Son Of Dean Freidman from this album instead), but then I realised JC didn’t include it in his! Surely some mistake? A stone-cold classic.
6. Irk The Purists (2000, ‘Trouble Over Bridgewater’)
Bridgewater is a town in Somerset. Nigel’s clearly a big fan of the westcountry. This track is all about music snobbery, or to be more specific, winding up music snobs. For that reason alone it’s genius.
7. Tending The Wrong Grave For 23 Years (2003, ‘Saucy Haulage Ballads’ EP)
Somehow Nigel has the uncanny ability to take a sad, even tragic situation and make you laugh at it. Imagine finding out that the grave you’ve been visiting for 23 years is not actually that of your loved one but a complete stranger’s instead…
8. Even Men With Steel Hearts (Love To See A Dog On The Pitch) (1995, ‘Some Call It Godcore’)
HMHB during the 90s just didn’t tick my boxes, and even in retrospect I don’t seem to have the affection for this period of the band as I do with their earlier and later eras. Nonetheless there are still some standout tracks of this time, and this is one of them. Those of us of a certain vintage can well remember the days when you would occasionally get a dog running around the pitch during a top level league match:
(Interestingly, this video includes footage of a Honved match, and we were all teenage armchair Honved fans, were we not?) And while Nigel laments the lack of dogs in the game nowadays, this little fella trended on Twitter after this appearance:
9. We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune (2005, from ‘Achtung Bono!‘)
One of my fave tunes this one. The lyrics are classic Blackwell, but for me it’s just an all-round great song so there’s no other reason needed to include it.
10. The Referee’s Alphabet (2002, from ‘Cammell Laird Social Club)
Another classic, sung from the point of view of a football referee. Sentiments most true fans would agree with here, I’m sure. The final refrain sums it up for me: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we gave the ref a gun.”
Debate away, friends. I’m sure there’s all manner of alternative thoughts out there. Which brings me back to my ulterior motive as mentioned above.
Over in my little corner, I have run a few series known as ‘The Genius Of…’. So far I’ve covered David Gedge, Tim Smith, Jack White and Nick Cave. I thought next up I’d do Half Man Half Biscuit. But then I thought – no. Everyone loves the Biscuits, so why not let everyone contribute.
So here’s the deal – send me a piece about your fave Half Man Half Biscuit track. I don’t care what the song is or what you have to say about it, just write something (max 500 words) and send it to me. In exchange I’ll say nice things about you and will buy you a pint if we should ever meet. If I remember. I’d love to hear from you and it might just give my blog the kick up the backside it needs.