The Gig

On a not-so-dark, yet definitely cold December afternoon, a 19-year-old in Montreal checked her email, and almost jumped with joy: her favourite fanfiction writer had just updated! But she was studying for her last exam, so it was only sensible to practice the thing people call “delayed gratification” and read the chapter carefully the next day, after her exam. And that was what she did. The chapter was, as always, well-written, British, and satisfying. The writer, probably trying to develop the character a bit more, embedded more music than usual, and one of the lyrics went:

“What’s Chatteris if you’re not there? What’s Chatteris if you’re not there? What’s Chatteris if you’re not there? I may as well be in Ely or St Ives…”

And of course, being the curious – almost foolish – girl she is, she looked it up, both lyrics and the song itself, and allowed YouTube to keep playing the same band for the next two hours.

And that, my friend, is how I got to know HMHB – the single favourite band I’ve ever come to know.

I don’t understand enough of their songs to praise them properly. But coming from Merseyside surely would grant them some status? After all, the Beatles came from Liverpool, 20 years before Half Man Half Biscuit!

I fell in love with their lyrics despite the lack of understanding: their foolish nonsense was the first to capture me. I remember making dumplings in the kitchen and shouting “The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman” and “Time Flies by when You’re a Driver of the Train“, and chuckling to myself about how ridiculous they are. Even then, I knew they are onto some pretty serious stuff, too. And as I started to read more of their lyrics (it may be an ESL thing but I cannot make out many words unless I check the lyrics), and got to know more about Britain over my trip, my admiration only grew. Lord Hereford’s Knob is one of the wittiest portrayal of the Thatcher Era I’ve ever known, and Tending the Wrong Grave for 23 Years is incredibly heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. Took Problem Chimp to the Ideal Home Show is an almost Mother Mother song, just in a different style. And Depressed Beyond Tablets lives forever between the upbeat tune and the abysmal words. 24 Hour Garage People is one of those spit-out-your-tea stories with such an absurd (even disturbing) ending that you’ve got to love. Even National Shite Day made sense after experiencing the bus replacement services a few times myself…

Naturally, it was a shock to know that they’re still going – and still doing gigs! I’d already missed the Coventry one by the time I checked (and they played in Newcastle and Leeds before I got to England), and there were only three gigs left for the year: Bilston (which is in the west Midlands just outside Birmingham), Worthing (south of London, by the sea) and Oxford (posh venue, not-my-type town). It took me some conversation over a facebook fan group, an embarrassing conversation with one of my profs, and a heartfelt email which turned into a little laugh to another prof, and on I went to Bilston!

Also worth mentioning was that I’d been doing my homework… I learnt a number of songs by heart, and a few more choruses. But they’ve got 13 albums and almost 200 songs, so I just did the best I could and hoped for the best…

Feb 2nd came, and I was on the train, rehearsing for the last time Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes. I had about an hour from arrival to a pre-gig curry, and used that time to drop off my duvet with my host. The people at the curry all met at the gig, and they were willing to explain things to me. Someone even brought a seal (for Seal Clubbing)!

HMHB gigs are more like a celebration where people bring homemade swags and wave them into the band’s face to show support. Frankly speaking, the band doesn’t make it a hard job, either. They have songs about bubble wraps, about detachable sleeves (ghost story alert), about trains, JOY DIVISION OVEN GLOVES, let alone the lines that people play with, like “that’s not how I would spell (insert random typo)”… With a band like this, literally anything that is used to be fiddled with can be used for brandishing your arms, and if you have a tattoo on your arm, congratulations, that’s Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo achieved! Thus it is no surprise that someone brought a seal for Sealclubbing – it’s still adorable, though!

We’ve soon named our seal Ron, for Ron Seal. And debates on how to interpret Sealclubbing commenced. There are people who first thought it was a group of seals going clubbing together (me included), and the majority of people took it as clubbing a seal. But when I took the seal and started bouncing it on my hands and arms, a third interpretation emerged: to club people with a seal! Goodness gracious I love English…

We got to the venue just 10 minutes before the show started, and I’d only had enough time to buy myself an And Some Fell on Stony Ground t-shirt (not my first choice though… They ran out of my size for Achtung Bono) and get changed before Joy In Leeuwarden came on… You could only imagine my excitement as I shouted, along with everyone in the crowd, “Korfball’s coming to town, in your diary write it down. Roll on October, hip hip hooray, joy in Leeuwarden for sure!” I didn’t know much word for the next song, but was able to join in when they started chorusing “Bob Wilson – Anchorman“. Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo was the third one, which again got me quite excited (hey I know 3/3 songs so far, pretty good for a 6-week-old fan, eh?). I didn’t know the fourth song but apparently it’s called Fear My Wraith, and Totnes Bickering Fair was the fifth…

“I’m gonna feed our children non-organic food with the money left take them to the zoo”!

We then moved closer to the central front stage, joining a few others at the pre-gig curry. The next few songs were quite strange to my ears, so I was all ready to shout again when F*cking H*ll It’s Fred Titmus came on! Bit of a hint, if you’re Canadian, replace Fred Titmus with Steven Harper – it gets 100 times better!

Some more quiet time for me, but mainly because I didn’t know the words to the songs… Some of their songs don’t really have a chorus and are full of complicated language & references that I don’t get, sometimes even rapping, so I get quite stranded with those ones… But that comes with practice, I think.

At some point, the seal’s owner chucked it onto the stage, and Nigel promptly ignored it until I think someone shouted, “there’s a seal at your feet!” (or something like that)

Of course, being Nigel, he picked it up, and chucked it to Neil, who caught it, and complied when someone at the back shouted, “club it”!

Cheers went on for a few seconds, and the innocent little seal (whom had been used by me to club myself) now sat haughtily on the piano… Does it bark?

We were approaching the build-up when 27 Yards of Dental Floss came up, followed by King of Hi Vis, a song I’d never heard before. But the person invited me to the curry was so delighted that he started dancing with his King of Hi Vis jacket… Almost felt like a sacred moment! (I was told later that it was the first time ever they played the song)

Not sure what “Lilac” means on the gig review… Surely it can’t be “On Passing Lilac Urine” as I don’t remember hearing it? Anyways, apparently DPAK means All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit, another song that I’ve been listening to since Day 1 but never knew the words of…

And then, Vetican Broadside came on…

Following that was a series of even more classics… National Shite Day, which is apparently their most liked song in 2016, and Trumpton Riot, a song, according to my Creative Writing Prof, that is “very apposite for these times” came with little pause in between. A mash-up between Lark Descending, The Unfortunate Gwatkin, and a song I’ve never heard of came on immediately after that, followed by…

Damn, I still can’t believe it!

They did quite a fun version of Chatteris live!

And that brought out Joy Division Oven Gloves, and the lady beside me took out her oven gloves with pictures of Joy Division ironed on them and just waved them as we joined the chorus…

They ended the “proper” concert with Everything’s AOR, a song I’m not really familiar with. But even so, everyone knew not to let them go yet! After all, I haven’t heard neither Time Flies By nor The Light At the End of the Tunnel! So… Encore, encore, encore…

A bit embarrassing for me to say, as out of the three encores, I only know the final one, which, as I expected, was

The light at the end of the tunnel is the light of an oncoming train.

Perfect. This is just perfect. Even better, I didn’t trip myself over the “No frills, handy for the hills. That’s the way you spell New Mills” part!

A bit of chatting after the gig, and we asked our seal back lol. Ron’s rightful owner, much to my embarrassment, gave me the seal and asked Neil to sign it for me (somehow I’d always thought he’s Ken… lol). Then the lady whom I got to know quite well over the night (I believe – it could be someone else) asked a staff to take it to the backstage and have it autographed by the whole band, claiming that I’m brand new and from Canada. They’d also offered (and succeeded) to buy me food & a ginger ale earlier, too… I can’t be more grateful for such a generous welcome!

Me, still clubbing myself with Ron again… With one of the new friends made earlier!

Same seal, plus the lady with Joy Division Oven Gloves. I gotta remember to do something like that… Or maybe dress up as a Half (wo)Man Half Biscuit for next Halloween…?! (Inspired by curry-time conversation)

And that’s the night for me. Over the past weeks, my respect for HMHB and the fan community had only grown, and now I think I have good reason to keep it up… To be honest, their songs were sometimes the only thing to pick me up in the morning, and kick me out of bed to even attempt attacks on my massive to-do list. And at other times, they calm me down and bring a smile upon my face when I’m on the verge of being swarmed by anger, fear and anxiety. All the “I need to learn how to mock people” aside, I think this alone is worth a hundred rounds of applause. The people from the community, and the atmosphere at the gig also helped me a lot with releasing a bit of that despair since Trump (especially his immigration ban). I am now seriously considering going to Worthing and Oxford, but only if my budget allows it… Now, let’s take a good look at Ron my adopted Club…

On the very last note… I’d always pictured Nigel as this a bit awkward guy who’s got too much going on in his head and thus too little social skill, and I’d say his signature really reflected it… I can somehow picture in my head him chewing on the sharpie (not biro, sorry) not knowing what to say, and squeezed out a “best wishes” in his “best” yet still childish scrawl… Or maybe I’m overdoing it?

5 thoughts on “The Gig

  1. Mr ed says:

    Fantastic review. It was great to meet up with you in Bilston and to see a new fan have so mich fun. I hope you can make it to Worthing and Oxford.


  2. Andy Harvey says:

    Hi Alice,

    We met at Jivans. I have a t shirt I can send you over. Brand new and HMHB related. It’s XL, so might swamp you, but you’re welcome to it.

    How I’ll get it to you is another matter, so if you’re interested, let me know via this forum & I’ll get it posted.

    (the one @ Jivans in the stripy red & white shirt)


  3. ttb says:

    Great read. As an Irish fan I empathise to a great degree both with your enthusiasm and occasional lack of understanding of nuances within the songs or lyrics as some of the cultural references are distinctly English …even from this relatively near vantage.

    Chris Rands HMHB Lyrics Project is an excellent resource -clearing up what lyrics actually are and their meanings. One example -We Built This Village On a Trad Arr Tune has a line “The mummers, the poppers, the best of the coppers”.
    Mummers it transpires are folk singers -more folk choirs actually I think. Its a reference I wouldn’t have gotten but it turns out we do have mummers here in Ireland -in the south east especially with “wexford mummers” being notable. The Coppers were an English folk music group. Again -no chance I’d have gotten it. Poppers had a lot of people scratching their heads -I’m inclined to agree with whoever opined it’s a reference to the illicit drug Amyl Nitrate.


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