60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #57


Back In The D.H.S.S. – Half Man Half Biscuit (1985)

I had two folk sharing the first flat I lived in over in Edinburgh, one male and one female.  He, like me, had an office based job with regular hours, but the woman worked in the hotel/hospitality industry as a trainee manager and get the strangest hours.  It meant we had to be careful not to make too much noise when she was catching up with her sleep, and inevitably, there were days on end when there was no loud music played in the flat.

Which is why I associate the debut album by Half Man Half Biscuit with headphones.  It was one that I had on vinyl but in order to be able to listen to it as and when I wanted, it had been transferred to a cassette and played on the Walkman.

It was already a lo-fi recording with plenty of hisses throughout, which were only magnified by the rubbish way I’d done the recording on what was likely one side of a Memorex C90, with some sort of compilation, possibly full of slow songs/ballads in the hope that maybe one night I’d meet someone who was willing to come back to the flat.

HMHB made me laugh.  I’d picked up on them via John Peel and I particularly enjoyed the cultural references within the lyrics, not all of which were topical. The reverse of the record sleeve also amused me. I knew most of the celebrities name-checked in the songs, and so was well aware that none of the descriptions of who they were and what they did were close to being accurate.  This is the opening number:-

mp3: Half Man Half Biscuit – God Gave Us Life

The count-in of ‘1234, John the Baptist knows the score’ never fails to make me smile.

The gentle start to the song lulls the listener into a false sense of security….a trick that the band have made use of on a few occasions over many years.  Just as you think it’s a ditty about all the nice things in life for which we should be thanking the lord above, there’s a mention of strange men trying to lure kids into cars, before an explosive tirade of celebrities who the singer seems to have no time for.

It’s not the best song on the album, but it captures perfectly everything that made HMHB in 1985 such an essential listen.

The thing is, I don’t think anyone ever imagined they would still be going in 2023, releasing consistently enjoyable albums every few years, and in the process, having frontman and main songwriter Nigel Blackwell become an unofficial national treasure.  I genuinely don’t know any fan of ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’ music in the UK who hasn’t at one time or other expressed admiration for HMHB.  The Voltarol Years was their 15th studio album, and was one of my favourite releases of 2022.

It, like many of their records for a long time now, is nowhere near as rough’n’ready as the early offerings.  Indeed, with almost 40 years experience behind them, it’s probably fair to say that the band are as competent and professional in the studio or on stage as any.  I did consider a few of the other HMHB albums for the longlist, but the memories of listening so intently to the debut in circumstances I’ve never experienced since, became the overall deciding factor.

PS : Come back later today for a bonus posting.  It’s first non-weekend day of a new month.


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