After a three-month break since my last gig (The Blank Tapes at The Shacklewell Arms, as reviewed here), I only had to wait a couple of weeks to see the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit at the O2 Academy in Liverpool, their first gig in the city for well over a decade.
I had no idea of stage times, or even if there was a support act, when I made it into town, but one of the bouncers told me not to expect anything before 8.30pm so I headed back down the hill to The North Western to get a reasonably-priced decent pint (of Mobberley’s Elysium session IPA – just £1.79 when using a handy CAMRA discount voucher).
I was clearly not the only person enjoying a pre-gig pint, as three fifty-something men were meeting up at the table next to me, all sporting Dukla Prague away kits (well, shirts).
My source of information about set times was far from an expert, so I arrived during Sonnenberg’s penultimate number, so my opinions of them are somewhat under-cooked as a result.
What I heard of the trio version of this act was rather folky, with some David Gilmour-meets-Vini Reilly guitar work, with lead singer Zinney giving a shout out to Probe Plus head honcho Geoff Davies.
Sadly, the lack of pre-gig information meant that I missed opening act Jd Meatyard (as championed by the seemingly-in-hibernation Trust The Wizards boys), whom I’d really liked to have seen. It also deprived the Academy of at least a fiver of my money as I’d undoubtedly have bought a pint in there.
It might seem insignificant to a big venue, but if they can be bothered to create a Facebook event to try to push tickets for a show (though unnecessary for something as rare as a ‘hometown’ Biscuits show), then surely it’s not asking too much to reveal who the support acts are, and some approximate stage times. Especially when several people are posting on the events page to enquire about such things, or even tweeting the venue to the same effect.
Anyway… I could hear the sounds of local dreamy popsters Spinn filtering through from the smaller venue downstairs before the theme music from the film Zulu heralded the arrival of the main event.
This was the third time I’d seen HMHB live, with the previous two occasions involving slightly more beer, so I think I probably enjoyed this time the most.
I first saw them with Kris at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in December 2006, when they were between the previous year’s Achtung Bono and 2008’s CSI: Ambleside, which was imminent when I saw them at Manchester Academy 1 during my brief spell working in that city, going to that one with some mates from the football.
They opened with The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train), the first track off 2002’s fine Cammell Laird Social Club, a great start.
This old-timer was then delighted to be able to sing along to Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus (complete with classic line “Stevie nicks books about kleptomania”), one of the highlights of their 1985 debut album Back In The D.H.S.S. album, that I first came across the following year.
I’d got the CD combining D.H.S.S. with The Trumpton Riots e.p. from my parents for Christmas in 1988 (read more about that pivotal year for me in music here and here!), and then the ACD compilation of live and other tracks for my nineteenth birthday the following year (thanks, Stu!).
I then failed to keep up with the band, not picking up another record until Cammell Laird Social Club in October 2002 and then going back to 2000’s Trouble Over Bridgwater in July 2004.
I had plugged all the missing gaps in time for going to see them in Manchester and have kept up to date with them ever since, having realised the errors of my ways. Their albums are very consistent, even if I still consider their pinnacle to be their very early years, with another peak in the first few years of the millennium.
Without wishing to be an old fart or a luddite, for me the real highlights of the show were some of the classic oldies, such as Bob Wilson – Anchorman from the 2001 ep Editor’s Recommendation.
However, this year’s new album No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut was well represented by seven of its thirteen cuts, with What Made Colombia Famous a singalong high point.
Ten of their fourteen original albums were raided for the set-list, with the most surprising omission being 2014’s Urge For Offal, their most recent album prior to this year’s latest.
There was a great one-two of All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit (one of three from The Trumpton Riots) and National Shite Day from CSI: Ambleside, which really showed off bassist Neil Crossley’s chops. 1966 And All That somewhat incongruously featured two guitar solos by the relatively new Karl Benson.
”We sat and decided as the seasons collided
That our love was fairly utopian
If it wasn’t for my pills, my psychiatric bills
And your unreliable Fallopian”
There was a fair bit of amusing between-song chat from Nigel Crossley, with references made to Crosby, the impending third visit of the Giants, Mathew Street and Walrus cards. Kudos also to the other member of the band, drummer Carl Henry.
After 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd, which was missing its first verse, they added on the Radio City jingle for Maincrest Car & Van Hire (“seven double three, three two oh one”). And yes, I did find out what that was after the show.
The show proper ended with another killer brace in Achtung Bono’s We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune and The Trumpton Riots.
Nigel played a fetching caravan-shaped guitar for Joy Division Oven Gloves, the first song of the encore, which was then followed by a thoroughly enjoyable cover of The Undertones’ Jimmy Jimmy.
While there was a lot of singing along from the audience, there was surprisingly little dancing, with the tiniest of mosh pits emerging late on. However, there was an unexpected crowd surfer during very final number Everything’s A.O.R., the closing track on 1991’s third album McIntyre, Treadmore And Davitt.
So, possibly my favourite Biscuits gig, and probably gig of the year so far for me.
A tricky gig to pick a t-shirt for, but not for the impressive number of punters who were sporting their HMHB ones! I plumped for a Public Enemy one in honour of their shared fine wordsmithery, while there were a smattering of other band tees in evidence, including Deaf School, Joy Division, The Cult, British Sea Power, The Lovely Eggs and Old Grey Whistle Test.
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Here is much of the music from the night on Spotify: