Half Man Half BiscuitO2 Academy 28/9/18
“Anyone here from Crosby?”
“Do you want a fucking medal?”
And we’re off… First ‘local’ gig in over 13 years. Not in Birkenhead, but the Scouse side of the water, just like, err, the last one. Oh well. That would explain the speed at which this sold-out (in hours, apparently). Nigel Blackwell and Neil Crossley are back. Back! And this isn’t lost on the heaving, slightly tipsy and very up for it Friday night crowd. The roar that greets our Wirralian brethren is so huge there are young kids waking from their slumbers in Dovecot. Yes, there’s anticipation and love here on Hotham Street, slight bewilderment on why it’s taken 13 years to play a gig here, but relief that they are, in fact, on stage. On Merseyside. Woo and, indeed, hoo.
If you’ve read this far, one assumes you are aware of the power of HMHB in this part of the world. Blackwell is the greatest poet of his generation and the new album No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub, So Get Your Fucking Hedge Cut has gone into the Top 40, the first HMHB album to do so; basically, because it’s brilliant. The aural equivalent of a rant that you agree with by someone you can overhear in the pub – with added pathos.
In the years that have passed since their debut (Back In The D.H.S.S. was 1985) HMHB have stuck to a route that is unequivocally awkward. No tours, just random shows. No interviews, unless they feel like it. Constant references to places that no-one has heard of. Constant references to people no-one has heard of. Cultural references that no-one (outside of the Wirral) has heard of. Oh – they like the Lake District. And the real nub is a staunch refusal to write and sound anything other than Half Man Half Biscuit. If it ain’t broke…
The fanbase has grown exponentially over the last five years or so, for no real reason other than a slightly aging generation, who aren’t quite finished yet, are finding humour in music a rare beast. So, when it’s as explicit as Blackwell’s barb and basic chord changes there’s a unique homely aura to the proceedings. Coupled with twisted sing-along banter and clever mundane observations, there’s your evening out. Right there.
The set owes much to the band giving the punters what they want, but there’s an overwhelming love of the new record. Songs about bat-walking naked in Royston Park (Renfield’s Afoot) or avoiding going to watch the mighty Tranmere Rovers in a crap cup competition (Swerving The Checkatrade) all sit proudly and comfortably alongside anthems that were the language of schoolboys in the 80s (99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd, Fuckin’ ’Ell It’s Fred Titmus). The fact that the 28-song (28!!) set list smothers the entire career of Birkenhead’s finest is of such elation to this 40-plus crowd. There’s even a sing-along from those that know when Nigel and the band belted out the radio advert “Maincrest Car And Van Hire: seven double three three two oh one”.
With an encore that inevitably gives us Joy Division Oven Gloves (and yes, someone down the front was wearing a pair. Sigh. It’s the equivalent of donning a lab-coat at a Kraftwerk gig) and a rather rousing obligatory cover version (Jimmy Jimmy by The Undertones), that was that.
There’s a local affection for the band that seems to be lost on them, in spite of tonight’s congregation giving it large in that direction. Homecoming shows can put the fear of God into anyone, but the performance tonight suggests a relaxed, confident and, above all, funny band who deserve to be seen by everyone on Merseyside. Now, who wants to book them a show at Prenton Park?