Half Man Half Biscuit
The Boiler Shop, Newcastle, 26 April 2019
Friday night, and the gates are anything thing but low. Everyone’s favourite sardonic (almost) scousers have packed this old shed out, and that’s a fact.
First things first: when I say “old shed”, I mean it (man). It really is an old shed. And it is amazing. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to The Boiler Shop, the site of George Stephenson’s original works, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s all brick and pipework, but given a slightly boho makeover. It’s also the biggest venue I’ve seen them play in; this is time number four. I have form here(1).
The support is provided by Sonnenberg, doing an acoustic performance without some of his usual collaborators. It’s a really lovely little set, and made me go and search out some more. If you like folk-tinged acoustics, with tablas (and why on earth wouldn’t you?), it’s really rather good.
But to the main business of the night. The lights go down and the band’s entry music strikes up. Beautifully, it’s Highly Likely’s theme to Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? How could it be anything else?
The set is a pretty varied one, it must be said, taking in everything from stuff from the latest album (a thunderous Every Time a Bell Rings, for example), to the very earliest of songs like 1966 and All That. Lesser aired bits of the back catalogue like 27 Yards of Dental Floss and the always wonderful Bad Review also get a run out. I’m quite pleased that Terminus, a lovely bittersweet number from No One Cares… for which I have a big soft spot, gets played. That’s one thing you can say about a HMHB show: with a canon so big, you’re always sure of a few surprises.
But it wouldn’t be the same without some old favourites, and we get a bunch of them: Tommy Walsh, Fred Titmus, Bob Wilson, Tony Gubba and Dickie Davies all take a bow. And of course, classics like Dukla Prague Away Kit and Trumpton Riots are delivered with gusto.
The set closes with a banging National Shite Day, featuring some minor man, mullet, mallet, Millets confusion (and a lament about the fact that in the current climate, surely Millets cannot survive much longer. If this is so, where will we get our camping essentials then, he wonders…). And that’s it.
But of course they come back…
The encore features a nice little surprise. Nigel proclaims that they’re struggling for a cover. Unfortunately for us, they don’t know Lindisfarne’s Meet Me On The Corner, they don’t have the pipes for anything northern folky, and Kathryn Tickell sadly isn’t available this evening to help out, so in honour of Chas Chandler, and because new(ish) guitarist, Karl, has the chops, they turn in a more than passable version of Hey Joe.
The last song is a thundering Everything’s AOR, with its crowd-pleasing Kendo Nagaski chant, before the lights come up and off we head into the slightly damp (but no unpleasant) Novocastrian evening.
More than thirty years after first emerging, blinking into the light, Half Man Half Biscuit are still here, ever-changing, yet changeless. Some of the personnel may shift from time to time, but the essence remains, and is still as vibrant as scathing as ever, And yet, as songs like Terminus show, there’s more than a hint of thoughtful mid-life rumination impinging into the picture to bring a bit of extra colour to an already varied palette. Long may it continue for the band who really are the curators of our popular culture in these ever weirder times.
There’s another, more detailed review of the show from a regular over at hmhb.co.uk
- Restless Legs
- Running Order Squabble Fest
- Renfield’s Afoot
- Harsh Times in Umberstone Covert
- Tommy Walsh’s Eco House
- San Antonio Foam Party
- Bad Review
- Dickie Davies Eyes
- Joy Division Oven Gloves
- What Made Colombia Famous
- Left Lyrics in the Practice Room
- Rock and Roll Is Full of Bad Wools
- Ode to Joyce
- 1966 and All That
- Hedley Verityesque
- Look Dad No Tunes
- All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit
- Every Time a Bell Rings
- 27 Yards of Dental Floss
- Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus
- Gubba Look-a-Likes
- We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune
- The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light of an Oncoming Train)
- The Trumpton Riots
- National Shite Day
- Bob Wilson – Anchorman
- Hey Joe
- Everything’s A.O.R.
(1) I’m a repeat offender. This is my fourth time watching HMHB. The first was way back in 1991, when Sunderland Poly was still a poly.