Half Man Half Biscuit: No One Cares About your Creative Hub, So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut

And so, Half Man Half Biscuit’s fourteenth album (yes FOURTEEN) emerges blinking into the cold light of day. And a strange affair it is, to be sure. For those unaware of HMHB, where have you been for the past thirty-odd years? They really are a band like no other in that post-punk c86 landscape.A bit Fall-like at a stretch, but not as plainly batshit and ornery as the great Mark E Smith. Nigel Blackwell is a font of acid-tinged observations about the minutiae and irritations of modern-day British life, and here is yet another volume in his ongoing chronicle.

Their first album, Back in the DHSS landed in 1985, and was a record of youth in Thatcherite Britain: unemployed, skint, trapped with the inanity of daytime telly and the whiff of BBC Light Entertaiment all over the culture. There were few if any other places you’d ever see Farmhouse Kitchen’s Dorothy Sleightholme and ex-England off-spinner, Fred Titmus spliced togther, but here they were, side by side. To anyone outside Britain, the things they talk about are pehaps almost impenetrable, but to those who grew with them, the reference points are mostly known and understood.

So here we are, over thirty years later, and while the production is a little more polished, and the playing a bit less ramshackle, the essence is unchanged. To be sure it’s funny and cutting, but there’s a melancholic feel about this in places. In some ways, as an album it reminds me of This Leaden Pall for exactly this reason. Songs like Terminus and The Announcement have an undertow of the advancing of the years, and a faint nagging feeling of insecurity and mortality; everything is heading south and falling apart in some unnamed way. But perhaps that’s over analysing things, because even the melancholy Terminus has a nice little chucklesome payoff at its end.

Like most of their recent albums, there is one song that seems to be the album’s centre of gravity, and this one’s is Every Time A Bell Rings, with its references to Frank Capra, weary middle-class aspirations, and reminders of reality in the chorus: “Get yer hedge cut, get yer fuckin’ hedge cut…”. It’s a lovely acidic sideswipe at the mundanity of bourgeois suburbanites, and also happens to be where the album’s title comes from.

Of course, along the way, we get warnings about recreational drug use (What Made Colombia Famous), boring pub gigs (Bladderwrack Allowance), organised nature walks (Renfield’s Afoot — this album’s Vatican Broadside), rock climbing (yes, really! Mod Diff v Diff Hard Severe), and the frustration on watching stupid people on quiz shows (Knobheads on Quiz Shows, inevitably).

I love Bladderwrack Allowance, mostly because it has an unexpected and very welcome reference to Stuart Boam, a fondly remembered stalwart of the Boro in my childhood.

Andy Kershaw is right: this is true modern folk music. It marks out, in hundreds of little ways, the times we live in, and is a document of modern life. It helps that the eye is so acute, the wit sharp enough to guarantee more than a few laugh out loud moments, and lines memorable enough to ensure they will be sung back at the band in gigs to come. They really are a national treasure, so if you haven’t heard them yet, WHY NOT?